President Muhammadu Buhari, on Monday night, endorsed the candidature of Senator Ahmad Lawan for the Senate Presidency ahead of the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly.
The endorsement came at a dinner cum closed-door meeting the President and the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) held with the senators-elect of the ruling party at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The meeting also had in attendance the governors of Kebbi, Zamfara, Plateau, Jigawa, Kaduna, Lagos, Osun, Oyo and Kogi states.
There have been agitations among senators-elect from the North-East, North-Central and South-East geo-political zones over the Senate presidency in the next dispensation.
However, the decision to back Lawan has automatically knocked out other key contenders for the position, namely Senator Ali Ndume (Borno), Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe) and Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa).
It also confirmed the widespread speculation that the Senate Presidency would be zoned to the North-East geo-political zone.
The meeting, New Telegraph learnt, was convened to strategize on how the legislators elected on the platform of the APC could maximally utilise their numerical strength to advance the interests of the ruling party in the National Assembly.
Before now, the Presidency had said it would maintain a neutral position and allow the legislators in the two chambers of the National Assembly to choose their leaders in line with the principle of separation of powers among the three arms of government in a democracy.
It was, however, gathered that the Presidency and the leadership of the APC may have stepped into the arena to guide the leadership recruitment process and avoid a repeat of the 2015 scenario where the process was left to run unguarded and produced leaders who were perpetually at loggerheads with the executive and the party.
Although, President Buhari did not give any reasons for the choice, it was learnt that Lawan might have been picked for his loyalty to the party as well as his cognate experience in the parliament, spanning two decades.
A source at the meeting told New Telegraph that President Buhari used the platform to impress it upon the senators-elect that Lawan, who currently serves as the Senate Leader, would be the party’s choice for the Senate Presidency when the parliament is inaugurated in June this year.
“Buhari made it known that Lawan is his choice and begged the senators-elect to support him (Lawan). He spoke about how the present leadership of the National Assembly slowed down his government, stressing that the last four years have not been good for his government because of the hostilities from the leadership of the National Assembly.
“The President said that he spent 12 years aspiring for the Presidency and that the first four years was almost ruined and frustrated by the leadership of the National Assembly. He told us that since he would not be contesting for anything again after his second tenure, he wants to use the next four years to leave a legacy for the country in terms of programmes and policies.
“He said that though there would be friction between the Executive and Legislature, he wants a situation where if there is a misunderstanding, it will be settled like a family,” the source said.
In a bid to forestall any crisis, the meeting agreed that a reconciliation committee, comprising officials of the party and some ranking senators, be set up to meet with the other contenders to the Senate Presidency, to assuage their feelings of loss in the race.
The meeting also mandated the party to zone the other five principal officer positions reserved for the ruling party in the National Assembly. These include the Deputy Senate President, Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader, Chief Whip, and Deputy Whip.
It was agreed that since the Senate President has been zoned to the North-East, the remaining five positions should be spread across the other five zones.
In that light, the Deputy Senate Presidency has been “technically” zoned to the South-South geo-political zone with Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta) and Senator Francis Alimikhena (Edo) as the likely candidates for the position.
New Telegraph further learnt that whereas Oshiomhole had put forward Alimikhena for the position of Deputy Senate President, the lot may fall on Omo-Agege because other stakeholders do not seem favourably disposed to Edo State picking the position while still holding the chairmanship of the ruling party.
It was learnt that former Minority Leader in the Senate, Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom) who defected to the APC last year, could have easily been nominated for the Deputy Senate President position, but for his failure to win his re-election to the red chamber during the last general election.
In the House of Representatives, the general consensus was that the current Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos) would be the next Speaker of the Green Chamber.
Gbajabiamila, who was tipped to become the Speaker in 2015, could not make it due to the rebellion and political intrigues that played out at that time.
Earlier, there were concerns that Gbajabiamila’s ambition would be scuttled again, given the speculations that Senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was gunning for the position of Deputy Senate President.
New Telegraph gathered that she was persuaded by her husband to halt her ambition to pave way for the South-West to have the Speakership of the House of Representatives.
Oshiomhole, while speaking at the meeting, also endorsed the candidature of Lawan for the Senate Presidency.
According to him, the essence of the meeting was to plan on how to manage the leadership of the National Assembly to ensure that there would be no business with the opposition this time around.
He declared that the leadership of the Ninth National Assembly will comprise only APC members and won’t be adulterated by the opposition.
Oshiomhole, who noted that the ruling party has already about 65 Senators-elect out of 109 and 223 House of Representatives members out of the 360, said it has close to two-thirds of members which would make them take decisions they would want to take at any time without recourse to other political parties.
He mocked the 15 out of the 16 APC Senators that left the party to join the PDP by saying that “Nigerians punished them”, noting that, “the one that God left was for him to entertain the house,” apparently making reference to Senator Dino Melaye.
The APC Chairman described Chief Ifeanyi Uba, who was elected on the platform of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), as a smart guy for joining the APC, adding that other formalities would be done later.
He also said that the party would not allow the opposition to hijack ‘juicy’ committee leadership in the National Assembly.