Like a military general rallying the troops for a must-win battle, President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole and APC governors met with the party’s National Assembly members on Monday night ahead of the inauguration of the bicameral parliament today.
The meeting and others before it showed a change of tactics. Four years ago, Buhari had chosen what became a regrettable approach, leaving National Assembly leadership contest to political chance.
This time around, President Buhari and his party canvassed openly for the candidates chosen for the leadership posts at the Assembly. Ahmed Lawan from Yobe North, who was the party’s choice in 2015 is being backed once again to take the presidency of the senate, while Femi Gbajabiamila, from Lagos, is the candidate for the Speakership of the lower House of Representatives. And President Buhari has gotten involved more personally, including getting some candidates, such as Senator Danjuma Goje to drop out of the race for Lawan in the senate.
The party has learnt a bitter lesson after it found itself outsmarted by the two leaders that emerged in 2015, Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara. Both contrived an alliance with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party to snatch the posts. Lawan was not even at the Senate Chambers, back in June 2015, before Saraki was declared unopposed for the post. And to exacerbate the injury, Saraki picked a PDP deputy senate president, breaking all known convention in parliamentary democracy, where the majority party usually holds all leadership positions.
The APC never recovered from the backstabbing and rebellion by Dogara and Saraki. And all through the four years they presided over the affairs of the National Assembly, it was as if they belonged to the opposition party. The duo showed their true colour in the run-up to the 2019 election as they left the APC to join their soulmates in the PDP, hoping to dethrone the APC from Aso Rock. They miscalculated. Dogara won re-election but Saraki was heavily thrashed in Kwara Central.
Obviously, in summoning the party’s legislators to another meeting on the eve of the inauguration, President Buhari and the party certainly wanted to avoid the egregious political error of the past, when Buhari even declared that he had no interest on whomever emerged as the presiding officers.
The two proposed leaders have been on the road in the past few weeks, seeking bipartisan support across the geo-political zones.
And they have opposition. Ali Ndume, three-time senator from Borno is running against Lawan for the senate presidency, while John Dyegh, a member of the House of Representatives from Benue is eyeing the speakership, along with Gbajabiamila. There is also Umar Muhammad Bago from Niger who craves the speakership post and has been attacking the party for zoning the post to South West.
File photo: President Buhari receives in audience Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan, Senator Danjuma Goje and Senator Sani Uba in State House on 6th June 2019.
For deputy speaker and deputy senate president, the APC National Working Committee (NWC) has adopted candidates as well. Senator Ovie Omo-Agege has been endorsed for the position of Deputy Senate President and Hon. Muhammed Idris Wase for the office of Deputy Speaker.
“All elected APC members of the Senate and House of Representatives are hereby directed to fully mobilize as a united force behind the party’s choice. Members who have earlier signified interests in these positions are urged to support the party’s decisions as loyal and committed members of APC by working with other members to ensure the emergence of the adopted candidates”, Lanre Issa Onilu, the APC Publicity secretary said after a meeting last week.
Doubtless, Lawan and Gbajabiamila are the frontrunners for the top jobs. Barring any surprises, about 61 senators-elect (out of 109) have pledged to vote for Lawan. About 230 Reps (out of 360) have also pledged their votes for Gbajabiamila. The two candidates have also been endorsed by some members of the opposition PDP.
What is not clear is the mode of election: secret or open ballot?. Or whether the opposition will challenge for the posts. Or whether like in 2015, party discipline will not hold sway during the elections.
The bureaucrats of the National Assembly were reported to have opted to conduct the election by secret ballot, but APC returning senators have warned they would not allow the secret ballot as it flows out of an illegally-amended house rule, rigged by the Saraki-Dogara leadership.
Anyway D-Day is here.
The result of the anointed candidates’ efforts and and how far they have been able to convert President Buhari’s and the party support and goodwill, will unravel on the floors of the two chambers Tuesday morning.