Akpabio, Kalu, others begin battle for Senate presidency

Ahead of the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly in June, some senators-elect have begun lobbying for the presidency of the upper chamber.

Aspirants for the top Senate and House of Representatives positions are expected to start declaring interest in their choice positions once the National Assembly resumes from election break on March 14.

Apart from the senate presidency, other positions that will be filled include the speaker of the House of Representatives and deputy senate president as well as the principal offices.

The principal officers are leaders of the majority and minority caucuses, which are largely based on membership configuration in a chamber.

They include the majority leader, deputy majority leader, majority or chief whip, the deputy whip, minority leader, deputy minority leader, minority whip and deputy minority whip. These 10 men and women steer the affairs of each of the Senate and the House.

According to the parliamentary tradition, ranking members – lawmakers serving two or more terms form the leadership of the parliament.

The INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, disclosed at a meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners in Abuja on Saturday that the Senators-elect would receive their certificates of return on Tuesday, while their House of Representatives counterparts would get theirs on Wednesday.

So far, according to the INEC chair, the All Progressives Congress won 57 senatorial seats, the Peoples Democratic Party won 29, the Labour Party got six, while the New Nigeria Peoples Party and Social Democratic Party got two each.

On the other hand, the All Progressives Grand Alliance and Young Progressive Party got one seat each.

In the House of Representatives, the APC garnered 162 from the 360 seats, PDP got 102, LP, 34 seats, NNPP 18, APGA four, SDP and ADC got two each, while YPP won one seat.

Findings by The PUNCH indicated that lobbying for the principal offices had begun in earnest with the parties and the senators-elect working to prevent a repeat of the 2015 experience where Senator Bukola Saraki was elected as the Senate president.

A majority of the APC senators, including the party’s preferred candidate, Ahmed Lawan were at a meeting with the APC leadership and the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) when Saraki was elected unanimously by the 57 senators present at the session.

Notable individuals who have shown interest in being president of the 10th Senate include Senators-elect Ali Ndume (Borno South), Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Orji Uzoh Kalu (Abia), Jibrin Barau (Kano) and Mohammed Sani Musa (Niger), among others.

Ndume, who contested for the presidency of the 9th Senate against Danjuma Goje and Lawan, confirmed to The PUNCH on Sunday that he was also in the race for the leadership of the red chamber.

He stated, “Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Orji Uzoh Kalu (Abia), Jibrin Barau (Kano) and Mohammed Sani Musa (first-timer from Niger) have contacted me on the post.

“I am reliably informed that Abdulaziz Yari (first-timer from Zamfara) is also interested, but he has not contacted me. But you should know that I am also in the race; so place preference on me in your report,” the ranking Senator said jokingly.

He said there could be more, but noted that those he mentioned were the ones who had expressed interest in the position.

When contacted, Barau told our correspondent that he was in the race. “Yes, I am in the race. I am contesting the Senate Presidency. Wish me well. “

In his response, Kalu’s media Aide, Emeka Nwala said that his principal was interested in the Senate Presidency but was testing the waters.

He said, “Let’s wait and see how they want to zone it. My principal is interested. Who wouldn’t have an interest, everyone has an interest in it. We are just waiting to see how the zoning would go.”

Also, the media aide to Senator Akpabio, Ani Ekong, said he couldn’t give an emphatic answer as he had not been in touch with his principal since the conclusion of the senatorial election.

However, the media aide to Lawan, Ola Awoniyi said he wasn’t aware of such moves by his superior.

The media aide to the Senator representing Osun East, in Osun State, Mr Sam Progress, said no one had contacted his principal, Senator Francis Fadahunsi.

He however said that based on pre-election arrangements of the ruling party, the next senate president may come from the South-East.

According to him, “Those interested in becoming President of the Senate may want to wait till after all postponed elections are held before they come out fully. But officially, no one has contacted him (Fadahunsi).”

But a source close to a Senator-elect from Osun State, who preferred anonymity, said “a former governor from the South-East eyeing the seat of the senate president had contacted our newly elected lawmaker.”

Although another source mentioned a former Edo State governor and senator-elect, Adam Oshiomhole as one of those interested in the plum position, his media aide, Victor Oshioke said there were no such moves.

He said, “You can’t even begin to talk about lobbying for the position as the senate has not been inaugurated. Also, the certificate of return will be given to them on Tuesday so we have to wait and see.’’

Speaking with our correspondent on the race for the principal positions, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Ibrahim Abdullahi said elected members of the National Assembly drawn from other parties were already holding talks on possible defection to the PDP to erase the APC’s majority seats in the parliament.

According to Abdullahi, no fewer than 15 members-elect have been holding talks with the party, adding that the picture would become clearer in about two weeks.

He said, “Who gets what at the National Assembly would depend on the majority seats. For now, the APC is in the majority but we are in a meeting with members-elect of other parties and there is likely to be cross-carpeting.

“Many of them are coming to us to enable us to counter APC numbers that have just been elected. Fifteen of them are speaking with the PDP but until the end of next week, it won’t be very clear. The governorship election next week will further determine how these talks play out.”

The deputy publicity secretary did not however reveal the identity of the parties whose elected members were interested in teaming up with the PDP.

The Director of Publicity for the APC, Bala Ibrahim, disclosed that it was too early to start talking about the battle for the Senate presidency.

He noted, “I don’t understand how anyone can name a child without first giving birth. I think we should think of constituting the 10th Assembly before we talk about the composition of the leadership. Let us get to the bridge before we cross it.”

When reminded about the intrigue that led to the emergence of Saraki as Senate president in 2015, Ibrahim stated that there was no cause for alarm.

“Certainly, there are plans. But the leadership tussle can only come after the inauguration of the new assembly. The assembly inauguration itself cannot happen until the swearing-in of the president. When you don’t have a president for the new assembly, you only have the president-elect and assembly members-elect.

‘’So, you don’t talk about the strategy that you are going to put on the leadership. It is just like asking who is going to be the Secretary of the Government and you want names when the government has not been formed,” he said.

He lampooned the opposition parties for vying for the principal positions in the National Assembly while at the same time claiming that the election was fraught with rigging.

Ibrahim asked, “How do we reconcile the race for Senate presidency when you claimed the elections were rigged? When you say one side of your chest is itching and the other side is not. Now you want an X-ray on only one part which you don’t feel comfortable with. That cannot be.’’

Also speaking, Rufus Aiyenigba, the National Publicity Secretary of the Social Democratic Party said the newly elected lawmakers had paid a familiarisation visit to the party’s headquarters.

He confirmed that the SDP lawmakers would vie for the leadership positions of the 10th Assembly when the time comes.

Speaking further, he stated, “Surely, the SDP will be vying for the positions of principal officers, particularly in the Senate, because of the advantage of ranking status and experience of our two Senators-elect.

‘’Senator Goddiya Akwashiki is a returning Senator (Second-termer), while Hon. Aliyu Ahmed Wadada is bringing his wealth of experience to the Senate, having previously served as a ranking member of the House of Representatives.”

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