NASS Leadership: Ahead of the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly in June, the All Progressives Congress (APC) members-elect of the Senate and House of Representatives are worried by President Muhammadu Buhari’s apparent silence on the ongoing struggle for the leadership of the legislative chambers.
Some of the lawmakers-elect, who spoke with Daily Independent in confidence, said given the bitter experience of 2015, they had expected the president to have met all the contenders and spoken with them on the need to respect the position of the party.
While the ruling APC has endorsed Senator Ahmad Lawan, the current Senate Leader as its preferred choice for the position of Senate President, Ali Ndume, his predecessor, who represents Borno South, and Danjuma Goje, from Gombe State, have since declared their intention to contest the same position.
The APC national leadership had also zoned the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives to the South West and endorsed Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos for the position. But some lawmakers from North Central are protesting the decision.
While it was gathered that Goje had said he would wait for directives from President Buhari before making his decision whether to back out of the race or proceed with it, Ndume on his part said nobody had asked him to withdraw from the race.
Speaking to journalists in Lagos, Ndume stated that there was no time the APC officially asked him not to run for the position, adding that he consulted widely with a lot of party leaders in APC and none had asked him to withdraw for anyone.
He said even the national chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, said the party leaders only recommended Lawan as their preferred choice and were not trying to impose him on the senators.
“I don’t expect the president to take sides with anybody. The president has never interfered in the electoral process. The party has only recommended Lawan. If the party decides wrongly, I will not follow the party. Nobody has said to me ‘don’t do it’. I have not heard otherwise.
“I consulted widely before I made my intention public. I consulted President Muhammadu Buhari; the national leader of the party, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and other leaders of our party and they gave me their blessings. I am in Lagos in continuation of that consultation.
“I am encouraged by the feedback. I wrote a letter to the party to inform them of my intention. So far, nobody has told me to suspend my aspiration because they know that doing so will amount to denial of my constitutional rights,” he said.
Speaking with Daily Independent, one of the senators-elect from the South-West said from the way things were going, the mistakes made by the party in 2015, which led to the coup plot that produced Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, may repeat itself.
He said: “I am beginning to get worried by the way things are going. Honestly, I think the leadership of the party and Mr. President are not giving this issue the attention it deserves.
“We expected that this issue will be one of the major things the president will address upon his return to the country. But since Mr. President returned on Sunday, he is yet to meet with the gladiators.
“I read the report by Ndume that since he informed APC leaders, including Mr. President and Asiwaju Tinubu, nobody has told him to withdraw from the race. That is not good enough. Also, Goje said he is waiting for directive from Mr. President and right now, I don’t think that directive has been given.
“I think, based on his experience in the last four years in the hands of the leadership of the National Assembly, the president should be more decisive and meet with the gladiators. Nothing should be left to chance.”
His position was also shared by another lawmaker from the North-West who said the plot by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators to cause an upset like they did in 2015 was real.
“I believe it is time for the leadership of the APC, including Mr. President, to talk with the other contestants both in the Senate and House of Representatives. He is very much respected and I believe the likes of Ndume and Goje will listen to him.
“On our part, we understand some APC lawmakers are conniving with some rebels to go against the party’s wish. That is why we are insisting on open voting where every lawmaker will queue behind the candidate of his choice. On that day, the whole world will see you and see who you voted for.
“If that happens, many of the members will comply because they will not want to be seen as traitors. I think the PDP knows the implication of this and that is why they are insisting on secret ballot. That cannot stand,” he said.
However, another ranking senator from the North-East said he believes the president was working underground on the issues and it would be resolved even before the end of May.
According to him, “It is wrong for them to say the president is not working to resolve the issue just because we haven’t seen his pictures with Goje or Ndume, or the media was not invited.
“What if he had talked with them on phone? I believe negotiations are ongoing and the president is very much interested because he needs a National Assembly leadership that will be on the same page with him in delivering his Next Level agenda”.
Also, the APC said it was in support of the open ballot system, saying only those with hidden agenda would clamour for the secret ballot system.
The APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, said: “Secret ballot is not known to any democratic practice. It is only people with hidden agenda that look for secret ballot anywhere. If you believe in something you should be able to stand for it.”