N’Assembly: Tinubu, APC move to appease anti-zoning members

Ahead of the inauguration of the 10th Assembly on Tuesday, some aspirants for the Senate Presidency and Speaker for the House of Representatives aspirants have continued to insist on contesting for the positions in open defiance of the zoning arrangement announced by the All Progressives Congress in early May.

The recalcitrant contestants said they would not step down for the party’s consensus aspirants for the two leadership positions.

To salvage the situation, President Bola Tinubu and the APC National Working Committee had been meeting with the aspirants and various interest groups but their pacification efforts had so far failed to yield the desired results.

The NWC had micro-zoned the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President seats to Senator Godswill Akpabio and Senator Jibrin Barau respectively.

But other aspirants like Senators Abdulaziz Yari, (Zamfara West); Osita Izunaso (Imo West), and Orji Kalu ( Abia North) have insisted that they would not step down for the party’s consensus candidate.

The lawmakers had insisted that the legislature would choose its leaders.

In the House, the APC leadership had also endorsed the member-elect representing Kaduna, Tajudeen Abbas, as Speaker, while the member-elect from South East, Benjamin Kalu, clinched the Deputy Speaker slot.

But the arrangement had sparked outrage from other aspirants and their supporters, with the party leadership under fire for not making wide consultations before making the announcement.

Consequently, seven of the aggrieved aspirants, now christened G-7, had threatened to revolt against the party position if the zoning formula was not reviewed.

Tinubu meets lawmakers

But worried by the utterances of the adamant contestants, President Bola Tinubu will Thursday (today) meet with the senators and the House members to address the issues threatening the power-sharing deal.

The meeting would be held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where the President and the party leadership are expected to make concessions to those opposed to the party’s choices of leaders for the 10th National Assembly.

Sources said the parley was to ensure synergy between the executive and the legislative arms.

A source said, “It is to tell them to toe the party line in the choice of leadership of the NASS. You already know the choice of a party for both Senate and Reps.”

The Director of Publicity for the APC, Bala Ibrahim, also confirmed the agenda for the meeting, saying the President had been trying to reach out to everyone crucial to the smooth running of his government.

He stated, “If you look at the leadership style Asiwaju is trying to bring in, you will discover he wants a government that will have the take of everyone. He has been meeting with virtually everyone that has a stake in the project Nigeria. He has met with different sectors and strata of the society since he came into power.’’

Speaking to The PUNCH on Wednesday, the Chief Press Secretary to Senator Orji Kalu, Emeka Nwala reiterated his principal’s position on not stepping down for Akpabio.

He said, “Senator Orji Kalu is in the race and is not stepping down for Senator Akpabio. His position has not changed on that.”

Nwala noted that his principal would attend today’s meeting with the President as a loyal party member.

On the issue of a consensus candidate, Kalu’s aide noted that talks were still ongoing, adding that the curtain would be drawn on consultations latest by Sunday.

He said, “We have a group and we are working with Senator Yari. By the weekend, we will agree on the consensus candidate. We are still in talks. Every aspirant aside from those handpicked is all meeting and in talks.”

‘Izunaso  still contesting’

 Similarly, a close source to Senator Izunaso noted that the party had reached out to the lawmaker with an invitation to a meeting.

 The source stated that he wouldn’t know what his decision would be after the meeting but as of now the stance of the lawmaker is that he would be the next Senate President.

 In the same vein, a Special adviser to Isunazo, Kehinde Olaosebikan, noted that his principal was not going back on his ambition to be the Senate President.

 He started, “Senator Izunaso is not stepping down on his decision to be the Senate President, and by the grace of God he will be the next. He is in talks with Senator Yari but he isn’t considering the deputy senate president position. He is consulting as a group and the senators individually. Senator Izunaso is the next Senate President.”

Another strong contender for the Senate president position, Abdulaziz Yari,  insisted that the 10th Assembly lawmakers were adamant about choosing their leaders.

Yari, who was represented by Abdul Ningi, a former deputy majority leader of the senate, and senator-elect representing Bauchi South, at a forum on Wednesday, stated that he was not interested in the APC choice of candidates, but insisted that democracy must take its true course in the next legislative dispensation.

Ningi, who is also the Deputy Director General of Yari’s campaign team, said, “I’m not a member of the APC, I don’t know how the working committee of the APC works, but over 20 years we have seen consistent friction where people are imposed on the National Assembly beginning with (former senate presidents Evans) Enwerem and Chuba (Okadigbo).

“Allow the senators, in my opinion, to choose whoever they want. The PDP had also made similar mistakes and I thought the APC should not have followed suit. Just as the party chose its chairman, allow the senators to also choose their own leader.”

Meanwhile, a member of Akpabio’s team, Kassim Afegbua, has dismissed claims that senators were defecting from their camp.

Afegbua also pleaded with the lawmakers to respect the party’s decision on consensus.

Afegbua said, “The APC has zoned the Senate Presidency to the South-South and picked an eminently qualified Senator, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as the consensus candidate for the position.

“The party, in taking that informed decision, took into consideration several factors: religious balancing, geopolitical reasons, contribution to the success of the party in the presidential election, the character of the individual and their antecedents in building our nation.’’

Afegbua added that the leadership of the 10th National Assembly should be held by an individual of quality.

As the President and the APC leadership were fine-tuning strategies to get the backing of the lawmakers for their choice of candidates, the G-7, a group of aspirants for Speaker of the House of Representatives, have concluded plans to take a major decision on Saturday.

The meeting would come ahead of the inauguration of the 10th Assembly on Tuesday, where the ruling party’s choice of candidates would either be voted for or against by other lawmakers.

It was gathered on Wednesday that following the recent meetings between Tinubu and the aggrieved speakership aspirants, they are to meet to harmonise their plans and get back to the President on their final resolution.

However, sources in the Joint-Task–10th Assembly, a coalition of members-elect campaigning for the APC candidates, claimed that the aggrieved aspirants had withdrawn from the race after Tinubu’s intervention.

Sources close to the G-7 said Abbas and Kalu might be dropped as candidates for the speaker and deputy speaker positions, respectively.

 Tinubu was also said to be projecting Izunaso and Adams Oshiomhole as alternatives to Akpabio.

 Efforts to confirm from the aspirants whether they would contest against the APC candidates or step down for them proved abortive, as they did not respond to phone calls and messages.

 Their aides declined to speak on behalf of their principals, noting that only the aspirants could speak on the issue.

But some prominent PDP members in the House have said they were waiting for the opposition party to issue a directive on the leadership of the coming 10th House of Representatives.

Chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts, Oluwole Oke (PDP/Osun), who is seeking the position of Minority Leader in the next Assembly, noted that the zoning formula of his party would determine the next line of action.

The lawmaker also noted that the PDP would have to work with the New Nigeria Peoples Party and the Labour Party, especially for the leadership of the minority caucus.

Oke said, “The process of leadership selection is governed by convention, practices, and rules of the House. The convention and practices are that members will work with their parties and on that basis, the parties will write and send names of leadership positions agreed upon and allocated among the three parties.

“We want a very cordial and harmonious relationship between the opposition parties so that, effectively, we would put the ruling party on their toes.’’

Another aspirant for Minority Leader, Bamidele Salam (PDP/Osun), noted that the opposition members-elect have been talking “and the leadership of each political party will also have some forms of dialogue and interactions.”

Despite Tinubu’s interventions, the outgoing Deputy Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase, again, declared his speakership bid on the floor of the House on Wednesday during the chamber’s valedictory session.

He claimed a former Governor of the old Plateau State and one of the founding fathers of the PDP, the late Solomon Lar, predicted that he would emerge as the speaker of the House.

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