- Saraki/Ndume Camp Swells As More Senators Identify With Them
By Obute James
The attempt by the leadership of All Progressive Congress (APC) to conduct primary election for major contenders for Senate Presidency, suffered set back on Saturday as a group loyal to a former Lagos State Governor, and a leader of the party, Ahmed Tinubu pulled out from the retreat when it became obvious that they were in minority.
The APC 5-man committee led by Segun Oni, APC Deputy National Chairman, South mandated to come out with the zoning formula of National Assembly principal officers and other major positions in President Muhammad Buhari Administration recently submitted its recommendations to the party leadership but there was no deliberation and ratification of the report as the committee was expanded and asked to make further consultations with relevant stakeholders including governors-elect and President-elect.
Though the details report of the 5-man committee was not made public it was discovered that the committee recommended zoning the office of the Senate President to the North Central Geo-Political Zone and Deputy Senate President to the North East Geo-Political Zone.
The party on its own decided to conduct a primary election for the main contenders namely, Senator Bukola Saraki (Kwara Centra), Senator Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North), Senator Ali Ndume (Borno South) and Senator George Akume (Benue North-West).
The two-day retreat began Friday evening with a cocktail party for the lawmakers. In a short remark during the cocktail, APC National Chairman, John Oyegun urged the Senators to remain united and not to allow the election of Principal Officers to divide them.
However, having understood that Senators loyal to Saraki/Ndume are in majority, the Tinubu group backing Lawan/Akume decided to stay away from the retreat. They group later joined the retreat after holding separate meeting at a different location.
However, few hours into the retreat Tinubu’s camp, codenamed “Senate Unity Forum” walked out of the event and addressed a news conference, where they declared that they had resolved to support the joint ticket of Senator Ahmed Lawan and George Akume for Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively.
The group of five Senators led by Senator Barnabas Gemade (Benue North-East) which did not disclose its membership strength, said, “We, the Senate Unity Forum, comprising senators-elect from various states and various zones of Nigeria, have met, held extensive discussions and resolved to support Senator Ahmad Lawan as Senate President and Senator George Akume, as the Deputy Senate President of the 8th Senate.”
Interestingly, some hours later, no fewer than 24 senators-elect, under the aegis of ‘The Like Minds’, filed out of the retreat and announced that 35 members of the group had adopted Saraki (Kwara Central) as their next Senate president.
They also said each of the 35 members of the group had signed a document, which indicated their commitment to the Saraki’s candidacy and had followed it up by a jointly signed letter, which they would present to the national chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
The senators, in their resolution read by Dino Melaye (Kogi West), said, “Senators of the Like Minds are here today at the retreat organised by our dear party, the All Progressives Congress, which is meant to equip and empower Senators-elect of the 8th Assembly to prepare them toward the challenges ahead.
“We commend the leadership of our party for this timely and well-focused exercise. The issue of National Assembly leadership is about integrity, competence, discipline and leadership skills and not about fixing of candidates just for mere horse-trading.
“Our stand is about electing a senator, who eventually becomes the chairman of National Assembly and relates with the executive on behalf of Nigerians, fellow Senators and the National Assembly as an institution.
“Furthermore, leadership of National Assembly is about the Senator, who has the wherewithal to stabilise the legislative institution, working with the executive and judicial arm of government to be effective and perform to their optimal capacity.
“In addition, we are aware of the fact that all senators from the North-Central zone have taken a firm position that they are only interested in the office of the Senate President, which has been earlier zoned by the National Working Committee of our party to the zone.
“We are also aware that the North-Central Senators have resolved to abide by the resolution of the zone on a single candidate and anything short of this is an attempt to jeopardise the collective interest of the zone.
“Of the 59 Senators of the APC, 35 of us present here today hereby reaffirm our collective commitment and resolution to ensure the candidacy of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki as the Senate President of 8th Assembly.
“We have also resolved that the office of the Deputy Senate President be zoned to the North-East.”
There are also indications that apart from Saraki/Ndume enjoying the support of 35 APC Senators, majority of PDP Senators-elect led by Senator Andy Uba and Godswill Akpabio are also backing Senators their candidature. This is also a strong indication that Saraki will emerge Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively.
Almost all the APC Senators-elect from North East and North Central are in support of Saraki/Ndume candidature.
A Senator who does not want his name on print said there is a saying that “charity begins at home” but some aspirants said no that “charity begins abroad”. According to the Senator “We are waiting to see how this will work out in Nigeria” indicating that over 90 percent of Senators from North Central and North East are in support of Saraki/Ndume. While Saraki is from North Central and have over 90 percent support, Ndume is also from North East and enjoys over 95% of his people. Senator Lawan and Akume are from North East and North Central respectively.
Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe), Chairman North East Senators Caucus was among the senators that openly identified with Saraki Ndume group. North East caucus had also distanced themselves from Senator Lawan purported endorsement by other caucuses in a press statement issued sometimes ago. Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa) was also among the Senators that addressed the press conference in favour of Saraki/Ndume.
A source who spoke to universalreporters247.com said it is unfortunate to see Senator Akume who declared support for zoning formula during a press conference will jettison the zoning formula few hours later. The source said “I don’t even think any serious minded person will take Senator Akume serious on the issue of zoning in the first place considering the kind of politics being played out in Benue State.
“They are only two major tribes in Benue State. These include Tiv and Idoma. It is unfortunate that for the past 39 years that the state was created, Akume’s Tiv people never see any reason to zone power to Idoma land but he will be agitating for zoning at the national level.”
According to the source who spoke on the condition of anonymity, since 1976 that Benue State was created no Idoma son or daughter had served as executive governor of the state. Akume served as the governor of Benue State between 1999 -2007 and handed over power to his Tiv’s brother, Gabrial Suswan who is completing his eight years term on May 29, 2015. The Governor-elect, Samuel Ortom is also a Tiv by tribe.
On what may be the reaction of North East over the development, a Senator from North East who spoke to universalreporters247.com on the condition of anonymity said “the issue here is not because we in the North East do not want a Senate President to emerge from our zone but we are trying to abide by the party position on the issue of zoning.
“As you can see it is not that the issue of zoning is completely broken down as being speculated. This is why many senators from other zones did not aspire for the office of Senate Presidency, leaving only four Senators from North East and North Central to vie for this position.
“Again the office of the Senate President is bigger than any individual. We are trying to discourage imposition of candidate and god-fatherism in Nigerian politics.
“As you are aware, anybody with god-father will only be loyal to his god-father when it comes to crucial issue irrespective of the position of majority of Senators. We are talking of CHANGE, it is better we start it now. You cannot continue to be doing the same thing and expect a change.”
When asked if this scenario will not allow the out-going Senate President, David Mark to emerge as the next Senate President, the Senator said considering the qualities he has seen in Mark, he does not think he will rock the boat.
“It may be possible for Mark to contest but I don’t think he will do so. However, we are not leaving any stone unturned in respect of the race for Senate Presidency”
“As you can see out of 35 APC Senators that have formally identified with Saraki/Ndume group, some of them did not appear before the press men during the press conference. There is no Senator that is in interested in having an outsider, god-father or external force control the Senate. If this happens, then the issue of independence of the Legislature is gone and this is dangerous for our democracy. I am assuring you that in the couple of days several others of my colleagues that have not formally identified with us will do so and we will definitely have a united house,” the source affirmed.
When further asked what will then happen if the party officially zones the office of the Senate President to the North East, the Senator said “The like Minds group is fully in support of Saraki/Ndume candidature.
“If the party zone the office of the Senate President to the North East, Senator Ali Ndume is our candidate but if it is North Central, as it is now, Senator Saraki is our candidate for Senate President and Ndume is the candidate for Deputy Senate President.