Olalekan Adetayo, Sunday Aborisade and Leke Baiyewu
Leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress have started reaching out to some senators and leaders of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in a bid to stop the PDP members in the Senate from either contesting or supporting other senators to occupy leadership positions in the 9th National Assembly.
Specifically, the APC chiefs are lobbying the PDP leaders and lawmakers to support their move to make Ahmed Lawan the next Senate President.
APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, had said the party did not need the opposition party’s votes to clinch the presiding and principal offices of the 9th Assembly.
However, sources within the APC told one of our correspondents on Friday that the APC leaders who had earlier called the opposition senators’ bluff, over the leadership of the Senate changed their tactics when they discovered that the division among their party members in the Senate was real.
Apart from Lawan, two other APC senators, namely Danjuma Goje and Ali Ndume, have indicated their interest in becoming the President of the Senate in the 9th Assembly.
Subsequently, the senators have been moving round to gain the support of the opposition senators for their ambition.
An APC senator-elect told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity in Abuja that the party leaders had tried to convince Goje and Ndume to drop their ambitions without success.
The source said the party leaders’ decision to ‘anoint’ Lawan as Senate President without wide consultations had caused a great division within the party and among the senators-elect.
One of our correspondents learnt that both Goje, who was a two-term governor of Gombe State, and Ndume had been working behind the scenes to outsmart Lawan by secretly forming alliances with the PDP.
A source close to Goje confided in one of our correspondents that the senator was playing his cards close to his chest.
The APC senator-elect, said, “Goje is a very experienced and tactical politician.
“He understands the politics of the chamber better and he knows that making noises on the pages of the newspapers would not help any of the aspirants.
“He is not disobeying the leadership of the party by making up his mind to contest against Lawan. He is only exercising his rights as a ranking senator whose geopolitical zone has been asked to produce the Senate President.”
Asked if Goje was targeting the 41 bulk votes of the PDP in the Senate, the source said, “Anything is a possibility.”
He, however, ruled out the possibility of the Gombe State-born lawmaker picking a PDP senator as his deputy.
Efforts made by Saturday PUNCH to speak with Goje to confirm or deny his interest in the Senate presidency and his alleged pact with the PDP failed as of the time of filing this report.
He did not answer calls to his mobile line or respond to the text message sent to him.
However, Ndume, who has already constituted various committees to realise his dream, confirmed to one of our correspondents on Thursday that he was still in the race.
The Borno State-born lawmaker also said nobody had so far discouraged him from exercising his rights.
However, Ndume, who said he had the backing of many people within his party, said he would congratulate Lawan if he defeats him.
He said, “It is within my constitutional rights to contest the election. It is not as if I’m disrespecting the party, but people should be allowed to elect their leaders.
“I’m in the race till the end. If Lawan wins this election, I will be the first person to congratulate him.”
Saturday PUNCH learnt that some of the APC senators-elect who were loyal to Lawan held separate meetings with the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and Oshiomhole on the tension in the upper chamber.
They were said to have told both leaders that the best way to ensure victory for Lawan was to reach out to influential members of the PDP within the upper and lower chambers.
One of the sources said, “I can confirm to you that all of us are involved in the lobbying. We know that Goje and Ndume will contest against Lawan but we are not taking chances. We need PDP senators to win and we are already talking to them.”
Lawan told journalists during the week that he needed PDP votes and that he had started reaching out to them.
It was on the strength of this, one of our correspondents learnt, that APC leaders began holding meetings with their ‘friends’ in the PDP.
A senator-elect from Ekiti State, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, however, told one of our correspondents in an interview that it would be against global parliamentary norms and practices if any PDP senator decides to contest the Senate presidency on inauguration day.
He said, “Nigerians have given the APC the majority of the seats in the Senate and they expect the party to control the Senate.
“Nobody should therefore try to subvert the will of the people by trying to play any game or create a division, even among the majority party, such that the will of the people, freely expressed at the polls, could be subverted.
“I do not expect any PDP member to contest the leadership positions meant for the party with the majority seats during the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly.”
PDP senators weigh offers from Goje, Ndume, Lawan
Following intense politicking, consultations and meetings, PDP senators have started weighing the offers from the camps of Lawan, Goje and Ndume.
It was learnt that the PDP leaders and senators had yet to conclude on whether they would endorse one of the three APC candidates or field their own candidates for the Senate presidency and other presiding offices.
But party insiders said that there were indications that some PDP leaders and senators, especially those from the North, favoured Goje.
A PDP ranking senator told Saturday PUNCH on condition of anonymity on Friday that his colleagues were studying the offers.
The lawmaker said no definite decision had been taken on who the opposition members would support.
He said, “We have four options at the moment. We have three offers to support one of the three aspirants. The fourth offer is to bring out a candidate among the PDP ranking senators.
“We are still studying them. We had yet to ‘anoint’ any of them.”
Ndume, others have two months to step down –APC
But the national leadership of the APC on Friday said members of the National Assembly elected on the party’s platform contemplating moving against their decision on the National Assembly leadership had two months to step down.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lanre Issa-Onilu, disclosed this in an interview with one of our correspondents.
Issa-Onilu was responding to questions from Saturday PUNCH on what the APC would do to lawmakers who refused to drop their ambitions.
He reminded such federal lawmakers that since they belong to the party, they had no choice but to obey the party’s constitution and regulations.
The spokesperson said, “We do not want to pre-empt any member because we still have about two months to the day they are expected to elect the new leaders of the National Assembly.
“It will be unhelpful if we begin to pre-empt and pass judgment, two months away from that day.
“We understand that our members know that the country’s constitution does not recognise independent candidates. If they are elected on the platform of a particular party, it means that they are ready to abide by the position and the constitution of that party.
“We are confident that by the time we are ready to have new leaders in the National Assembly, the members who are doing things that appear contrary to the position of the party would have seen reasons to step down and abide by the party’s position.”
Issa-Onilu said the party would ensure that the leaders of the National Assembly emerge with the consensus of the party.
He said it was because of the party leaders’ desire to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2015 that they decided to start the process early.
He said, “The consensus arrangement is what you see us doing. You will remember that there was nothing like this in 2015.
“We are starting over two months to the day, you can see that we are taking steps that we need to take. The steps are on, it is not everything that is in public domain.
“What is important is that the APC is showing the way democracy should be practised. Party supremacy is what you get in best of democracies and we want to be one of such.”
On the remaining zoning arrangement the party promised to release, Issa-Onilu said consultations were on.
He said it was not necessary for the party’s National Working Committee to hold a formal meeting on the matter.
He added, “On a daily basis consultations are on. It is the outcome of all of these that we are going to bring to the public.
“We have to build a consensus around the decisions we are making. It is not just that the NWC will sit down and decree.
“No, there are stakeholders that must be carried along. Those consultations are ongoing at all levels.
NWC shifts House of Reps zoning formula meeting to next week
Meanwhile, the APC NWC has shifted its meeting over the zoning of the presiding and principal offices for the House of Representatives to next week.
The NWC was scheduled to meet this week but a top member of the committee told Saturday PUNCH that the meeting could not hold because Oshiomhole was out of the country.
“We could not meet this week, apparently because the chairman is out of the country. We will meet next week,” the NWC member said.
Responding however, Issa-Onilu said Oshiomhole’s trip was not in any away delaying the zoning arrangement.
He said, “If we are saying that consultations are going on, then there is really no list to be released yet.
“So, there is no way we can link his trip to the delay in the release of a list that is not available.”
The 21-member NWC has reportedly concluded a tentative zoning formula for the presiding and principal offices for the Senate.
In the tentative zoning formula, the ruling party zoned the positions of the Deputy Senate President and Senate Majority Leader to the South-South and North-Central respectively.
It also zoned the Deputy Majority Leader post to the South-East while the Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip positions were zoned to the North-West and South-West respectively.
Lobbying is normal in politics, says APC
But reacting to the reported moves being made by the APC to lobby the PDP senators and leaders, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Issa-Onilu, said while there was no formal arrangement made by the party to lobby the PDP leaders and lawmakers, the APC was free to do whatever it felt would help its course.
He said such step must, however, remain within the limit of the party’s rules of engagement with other political parties.
Issa-Onilu said, “I am not confirming that we are lobbying the PDP leaders and lawmakers because there is nothing formal, like a committee, doing that.
“But it is normal that, in trying to get a position, you will stretch your hands beyond members of your party. It is normal in politics that you don’t just stay in your own corner and expect that everything will fall in place.
“But the lawmakers can do whatever they feel will help their course, as long as they stay within the limit of our rules of engagement with other parties. Otherwise, there is nothing to it.”
But, in its reaction, the PDP said it was politicking and normal for the APC leaders and senators to lobby the PDP senators and leaders for Lawan.
The PDP Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Diran Odeyemi, criticised Oshiomhole and Tinubu for sticking to ‘winner takes all” approach.
He stated that the PDP had its plan and would shock the APC.
Odeyemi said, “It is normal for the APC to lobby the PDP lawmakers. It is however unfortunate that the leadership of the APC, like Oshiomhole and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, have advocated “winners take all” for their members which is not possible.
“This has altered whatever is expected to be a healthy lobby with the PDP and I can assure the APC and Oshiomhole of a shock.
“Just as Senator Dino Melaye said, INEC will not be involved in the election to select the leaders of the chambers. This is an election that cannot be declared inconclusive neither can it be manipulated.
“As a political party, we obviously have our joker and plans and will display it at the appropriate time. Nigerians should wait for our last-minute card.”