Oyetunji Abioye, John Alechenu, Olalekan Adetayo and Sunday Aborisade
There are strong indications that the All Progressives Congress National Working Committee may have zoned the positions of the Deputy Senate President and Senate Majority Leader to the South-South and North-Central respectively.
Investigations by Saturday PUNCH revealed that the party through its 21-member NWC had 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.
With the party’s current zoning arrangement, the ambition of the wife of the National Leader of the party, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, to become the deputy Senate President in the ninth assembly may have been truncated. Senator Tinubu is from the South-West, representing Lagos Central Senatorial District.
However, a top member of the NWC, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity on Friday, said the zoning formula “is not yet cast in iron”.
The source said, “Based on our tentative arrangement, the position of the Deputy Senate President has been zoned to the South-South. The Majority Leader position has been zoned to the North-Central, while the Deputy Majority Leader slot will be zoned to the South-East.
“Also, the position of the Chief Whip has been zoned to the North-West while that of the Deputy Chief Whip has been zoned to the South-West. It is either the South-West gets that or the Deputy Majority Leader position, but like I said, that would most likely go to the South-East.
“But we have no specific candidates for the positions. I have also read that the party is trying to push for a consensus for those positions to avoid issues; we will see as things unfold; don’t forget that we still have till June.”
Asked about those behind the zoning arrangement, the party chief said, “This is politics and everybody would want to be counted and don’t forget that politics is about position, power and influence and that is why every zone is fighting.
“Don’t forget that Nigeria is not for us alone; other regions have to be represented. Each of the geopolitical zones must be represented in the leadership of the National Assembly.”
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the party had only concluded the zoning of the Speaker’s position to the South-West, while sharing of other principal offices of the House of Representatives’ leadership jobs were still being deliberated upon.
Another source said, “Zoning other House of Representatives positions would require another meeting of the NWC.
“We were supposed to meet on Friday but we couldn’t meet. However, we should meet early next week. There is still enough time to conclude things.”
According to the source, the idea is to ensure that each of the zones gets one of the two presiding and four principal offices in the Senate.
Another member of the NWC also told one of our correspondents on Friday that the NWC was yet to take a decision on the zone that will produce the next Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He said this was one of the factors delaying the naming of the leaders of the House of Representatives.
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Mr Lanre Isa-Onilu, on Wednesday said the party had only decided to make Ahmed Lawan the President of the Senate.
He said the zoning formula for the remaining positions in the Senate and the House of Representatives were being worked out.
Saturday PUNCH however learnt on Friday that the party’s national caucus, including President Muhammadu Buhari, was favourably disposed to the retention of the party’s zoning arrangement earlier planned for 2015.
This, it was gathered, influenced the zoning arrangement with Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos State being seen as the most preferred candidate for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“The President has agreed that the party’s zoning formula earlier planned for 2015 should be retained since the zones that produced the President, Vice-President and the party’s national chairman have not changed.
“In fact, he (Buhari) met with Lawan and Gbajabiamila privately on the matter. This, to me, is a sign he has endorsed them,” a source said.
The source, however, said there was confusion in the South-West since Tinubu’s wife was interested in the Deputy Senate President’s position.
He added, “The confusion is not at the national level. It is restricted to the South-West where people are wondering if Tinubu will support his boy (Gbajabiamila) to emerge Speaker when his wife is interested in becoming the Deputy Senate President.
“It is clear that both of them, from South-West and same state, cannot occupy the two positions.
“But the truth is that Asiwaju (Tinubu) is with Gbajabiamila. You also know that the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bigger than that of the Deputy Senate President.”
Another source however said the major challenge before the party was the choice of the zone that would produce the Deputy Speaker among North-West, North-Central and North-East.
He also confirmed that the party might settle for the South-South for the position of the Deputy Senate President .
He said, “There is intense lobbying on which zones should produce the Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“For Deputy Senate President, the party has agreed in principle that it should go to the South-South.
“But for the position of the Deputy Speaker, there is still confusion. The North-West, North-Central and North-East are laying claim to the position.”
When asked on Friday when the remaining zoning formula would be made public, Issa-Onilu told Saturday PUNCH, “We are not putting a timeline to it, but work is ongoing. As we came out to explain after we finished work on the Senate Presidency, we will come out publicly to announce this too.”
When asked if the choice of which zone should produce the Speaker was responsible for the delay, the spokesman added, “Before you heard the announcement about our proposed Senate President, a lot of work had gone into it before we got to that stage.
“That is why even the few dissenting voices you heard quickly faded. That happened because they realised that the decision had taken care of several stakeholders’ interest and there was a broad consultation.
“When they realised those facts, their agitation was reduced. The decision wasn’t taken by one man.
“That was successful because we did the right thing. So we have to ensure that we are not just in a hurry. What is important is to do the right thing.”
Issa-Onilu added that the party was being careful so as not to repeat the mistake of 2015.
Asked if the delay would not lead to similar mistake, he said, “There is no timetable for this kind of thing. Anytime we feel we have a solid formula, we will announce. I think it’s a matter of days. We will deal with it quickly and move on to other things.”
On party members’ alleged dissatisfaction with the endorsement of Lawan as Senate President, Issa-Onilu said, “We are not aware of that, but it’s normal for people to disagree. We are not running a party of dummies. Politics is about understanding and exchanging ideas. People express their feelings in different ways.”
South-West, South-East, South-South senators scramble for DSP position
Meanwhile, ranking senators from the South-East, South-South and South-West are still jostling for the Deputy Senate President’s position.
Notable senators from the zones on Thursday indicated their interest in the position in separate interviews with Saturday PUNCH.
The ranking senators from the South-West are Mrs Tinubu, Teslim Folarin, Ajayi Boroffice, Abdulfatai Buhari, Olubunmi Adetunmbi and Ibikunle Amosun.
The two ranking senators of the party from the South-East are Uzor Kalu and Benjamin Uwajumogu, but the latter has yet to receive his certificate of return.
In the South-South, Senators Francis Alimikhena and Ovie Omo-Agege are the two ranking members of the party that were re-elected to the ninth Senate.
Boroffice from Ondo State told Saturday PUNCH that he was interested in the Deputy Senate President’s position.
He said, “I am very much interested. I am qualified being a ranking, third term senator from the South-West.
“I also believe that any position coming to the South-West should come to Ondo State because we have been marginalised over the years. We have been very loyal to the party. We deserve to be rewarded by the party.”
Adetunmbi from Ekiti State, however, said he would wait for the party’s position before making his intention known.
Ex-Abia State governor Kalu reiterated his determination to contest the position.
He said, “I was interested in the Senate presidency before they said it had been zoned to the North and now they want to also zone the position of the Deputy Senate President to the North.
“I told them that it did not make any sense. I told them to do what is right. They should zone it to the South-East because we don’t have President, Vice-President or Senate President.
“The South-South people should not ask for the position of the DSP because they have the party chairman while we don’t have anything. When the PDP was in power, it zoned every position accordingly.
“I am a ranking senator because I was a member of the House of Representatives and I am qualified to contest the position of Senate President and Deputy Senate President.
“It is not true that being a former member of the House of Representatives does not qualify me to be a ranking senator. A ranking senator, according to the law, is a returning member of the Senate or House of Representatives.
“Even if I am not a ranking member, for the purpose of unity, peace and fairness, should a part of the country take everything? The ranking issue is a rule in the Senate which can be amended in the spirit of peace and fairness and national interest.
“(Godswill) Akpabio was not a ranking senator as of the time he became the Minority Leader. The party should not take the DSP position to any zone apart from the South-East. If it does, I will run for the Senate presidency and that will make the PDP to take over the Senate.
“It is not all the senators-elect that are happy with what they (APC leaders) did (by endorsing Lawan). As it stands now, (Ali) Ndume and (Danjuma) Goje are still insisting that they will contest and if I also contest, that means we have denied our party the right to produce the Senate President.
“That is why they must handle it with care. (Adams) Oshiomhole cannot come from the South-South and the DSP also from the zone. Are they saying that they will be going to high-ranking party meetings without any Igbo man there? All I’m asking for is in the interest of fairness, equity and justice.”
Attempts to speak with Omo-Agege failed on Thursday, but Alimikhena told Saturday PUNCH that the South-South deserved the position.
Alimikhena, who is currently the Deputy Chief Whip and who has indicated interest in the position, told Kalu to bury his ambition, saying he was not a ranking senator.
He said, “Don’t mind Orji Kalu. He is not a ranking senator, so he cannot even aspire to it.
“Kalu is whipping up sentiments that Igbo would be shut out from the APC government if the position of DSP was not zoned to the South-East. Why didn’t the zone vote for the APC in the general elections?”
APC to reach out to zonal leaders over zoning formula
Meanwhile, the leadership of the APC is considering reaching out to zonal leaders of the party in a bid to douse tension ahead of the planned zoning of leadership positions in the two chambers of the National Assembly.
A highly placed member of the party leadership confided in Saturday PUNCH that if not properly managed, Oshiomhole’s approach to the issue might adversely affect Lawan’s chances.
The source said, “There are normal procedures for doing things like this; when the party wants someone for a serious position like Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives, what follows is for the leaders of the APC to call for a meeting of the various zonal caucuses to sell the idea.
“The zonal leaders are then asked to sell such a person. You do all these without dragging the President’s name into it. This way, you don’t give the impression that the executive will usurp the powers of the legislature.
“You don’t go about creating an impression that the party has so decreed and there is nothing anyone can do about it and even going to the extent of saying we don’t need votes from the over 40 opposition senators who are empowered by law to participate in the process.”
He further said, “From the way things are going, I can tell you the National Assembly will choose its leaders, and if our party members are arm-twisted into electing Ahmed Lawan as Senate President they may ensure that he does not stay in the job for long; it has happened several times before.
“You are dealing with people who cherish their independence and are accomplished in their chosen fields before going to the National Assembly.”
On the clamour by the South-East for consideration in the zoning arrangement, the source said, “They rejected us twice, why should we consider them?
He said, “We appointed many of them as ministers, heads of parastatals and ensured that projects were executed in the zone. Those we gave appointments never went back home to work for the party. Should that be rewarded?
“On the issue of zoning, we still have time for proper consultations, we cannot afford to go into the election of leaders of the legislature with a divided house. We still have a few days for this month to end, April and May, the election is in June, why the hurry?”
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