There are indications that the Peoples Democratic Party is scheming to assume control of the National Assembly following the failure of the All Progressives Congress leaders to agree on zoning of offices.
Saturday PUNCH gathered on Friday that the PDP caucuses in the two chambers of the National Assembly were plotting to benefit from the squabbles in the APC by teaming up with aggrieved elements in the latter.
The aim of such an alliance, investigations showed, would be the emergence of a speaker and a senate president different from candidates approved by the APC.
It was learnt that the PDP hoped that by ensuring its choices emerged as the speaker and the senate president, it would “snatch” the control of the eighth National Assembly from the APC.
A member of the PDP caucus in the House, who pleaded anonymity, said, “Although we are not disputing the fact that the APC should produce leaders of the National Assembly, we will ensure that those who will emerge are people we prefer, not the choices of the APC leaders.
“By doing that, we will snatch the control of the National Assembly from them, just as the APC controlled the House through Aminu Tambuwal.”
The APC leaders had on Thursday failed to reach a decision on zoning of political offices at their meeting in Abuja.
There were reports that the APC’s National Working Committee had recommended some zoning arrangements to its National Executive Committee.
According to the reports, the position of the senate president seat was zoned to the North-Central and the Deputy Senate President to the North-East.
There were two accounts on the zoning of speakership. While one stated that the post of speakership was zoned to the South-West, the other indicated that it was meant for the North-East.
The deputy speakership was said to have been zoned to the South-South
But the APC, in a statement early in the week, denied the reports. Its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, urged Nigerians to disregard the reports and described them as products of hyperactive rumour mills.
In spite of the APC’s statement, it was gathered that zoning topped the agenda of the APC leaders’ meeting on Thursday.
The PUNCH had reported that no decision was reached at the meeting because the leaders felt that more consultations were needed on the issue.
It was learnt that some of the PDP members in the incoming eighth Senate, who would occupy 48 of the 109 seats, had already begun talks with their APC counterparts from the North-East.
The talks, it was gathered, followed the failure of the APC leaders to take a decision on zoning.
The APC senators that have been mentioned as having interest in the senate presidency include Bukola Saraki (Kwara Central); George Akume (Benue North) and Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North).
Based on the recent general elections, the APC will have 60 members in the eighth Senate while the PDP will have 48. Election into the Delta Central Senatorial District is still outstanding.
Senate presidency candidates reach out to senators-elect
Investigations revealed that the camps of Saraki, Akume and Lawan had commenced aggressive lobbying and strategic calculations to outsmart one another in order to occupy the seat.
For instance, while the Saraki camp is currently seeking the support of the new PDP, which he led alongside Governor Rotimi Amaechi and others, to defect to the APC, Akume is relying on the goodwill he is enjoying from the leadership of the APC, particularly, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
The Lawan camp, on the other hand, believed that the North-East had been short-changed in the political office sharing since 1999.
The camp has the backing of the APC senate caucus in the zone.
It was learnt that the North-East sees the current development as an opportunity to demand for its own share of political offices.
North-East APC Senate caucus may form alliance with PDP senators
Sources said Lawan’s group had already reached out to the PDP caucus in the senate comprising the incumbent Senate President, David Mark, and 47 other members, with a view to forming a formidable alliance that would make their dream become a reality.
Senators from the North-East were said to have promised the PDP caucus that they would work towards the emergence of one of them as the deputy Senate President if their dream of producing the Senate President materialised.
Attempts to speak with Senator Ahmad Lawan and the APC North-East Senate Caucus on the alleged discussion with the PDP caucus in the senate over his ambition were unsuccessful as of the time of filing this report.
But reacting to the development, a member of the APC North-East Caucus, Ali Ndume ( Borno South ), acknowledged that his zone deserved its fair share of the leadership positions in both chambers of the National Assembly, but stressed that it would also seek the APC senators’ support.
“The leadership of the party is doing everything possible to ensure that the zoning is done in such a way that it will be acceptable to all concerned,” he said.
However, a senator from the North-East, who did not want his name mentioned, told one of our correspondents that his people might seek support outside the party, if the leadership of the APC failed to zone either the speaker of the House of Representatives or the Senate President to their area.
He said, “We have 18 senators from the North-East, if we get the support of 48 PDP senators, we will get more than simple majority of 51 votes to produce the senate president. Already, there are 48 senators in the PDP camp. One is outstanding in Delta State.
“We are having at least 66 votes if we perfect our alliance with the PDP.”
When contacted, Senator Ayogu Eze, (PDP, Enugu North) said the PDP caucus in the senate would allow the APC senators to carry out their affairs without any form of interference from the minority party. He said, “I am in the PDP. I think it is the responsibility of the new majority party to determine how they will share their offices in the National Assembly.
“I don’t want to get involved in their affairs because they were not involved when we were in the majority. We will allow them to do their show.
“I am not sure that the South-East will lose out completely in the power sharing at the eighth National Assembly because the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had denied the rumour of zoning. He said all we are hearing about zoning are rumours”
In the House of Representatives, the PDP caucus is also poised to play a major role in the emergence of the speaker, Saturday PUNCH investigations have revealed.
It was gathered that the caucus was closely monitoring meetings of the APC leaders with the aim of working against their choice as speaker.
A member of the caucus, who confided in Saturday PUNCH, said, “If the APC decides to impose a speaker on the House, which is what is likely to happen, it will naturally work with aggrieved elements.”
The North-East, South-West, South-South and North-West are all eying the speakership.
But Saturday PUNCH gathered that views expressed by party decision makers at a meeting of the National Working Committee of the APC a week earlier, narrowed the search to the North-East and South-West.
However, two APC towering political figures, one from the North and the other from the South-West, are said to have consistently disagreed in the course of negotiations, as each of them insists that the seat must go to his zone.
“What is going on now is a battle between the North and the South-West; each wants to be in full control of the next government.
“The North already has the President and they are likely to have the Senate President. The position of the South-West is that, if you add speaker to what they (North) have, it is too much power going to one part of the country.
“That is why the South-West is insisting on having the speaker in addition to the office of Vice-President; indeed, a key APC financier has nominated a particular candidate for the job and has advised all other spirants from the zone to drop their ambition for the candidate,” a senior party official confided in Saturday PUNCH.
It was learnt that the PDP plotted to cue into the “burble that will burst” in the event of the losing zone becoming aggrieved, to “file behind a neutral candidate that is competent and experienced” as the speaker.
The PDP has about 140 lawmakers in the incoming House, as against the APC’s 200 lawmakers.
“If the disagreement in the APC continues unresolved, there won’t be a guarantee that they will give block vote to the candidate of the party. They will be divided.
“It will be easy for the PDP to woo the losing group for a team work to clinch the speakership, even if the candidate has to be an APC member,” one source knowledgeable in the calculations of the PDP told Saturday PUNCH.
We are watching wrangling in APC –PDP caucus
Deputy House Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, confirmed to Saturday PUNCH that his caucus was watching the wrangling in the APC with interest.
He said it had been the tradition of the House to allow lawmakers pick a speaker of their choice, as the choices of political parties usually backfire or end up in crisis.
Ogor said, “We are not going to be idle in the PDP by just sitting and watching. No, we will play a major role in how the speaker will emerge.
“The much I can say is that nobody or party can impose a speaker on us. We agree that the party with the majority is the APC, but members will have to elect their speaker.”
Asked whether this major role could also mean the possibility of a PDP member vying for the seat, Ogor said he would withhold his comments on the question.
“I won’t comment on that question; but I will tell you that we in PDP will not be idle on this matter,” he added.
South-South intensifies campaign for speakership
Also, the South-South intensified its campaign for the speakership position to be zoned to the region on Friday.
The South-South has two ranking APC lawmakers in the House going to the eighth Assembly, namely Mr. Pally Iriase, and Mr. Peter Akpatason.
A group, the Coalition for Justice and Fairness, made a case for the South-South. It expressed surprise that nobody was mentioning the zone in the sharing of political offices in the incoming government.
Coordinator of the group, Mr. Muraina Ahmed, said excluding any zone of the country from the power equation was a breach of Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, which provided for the federal character principle.
Ahmed said, “For the records, the APC, as the majority party, has the conventional privilege to zone the offices of Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“The nutty issue that will test APC’s abhorrence of impunity, which was one of the major reasons Nigerians voted for the party, is the zoning of the listed leadership offices in the National Assembly.
“To be fair, there are extenuating circumstances that may hamper the even spread of legislative offices enumerated above to all the six zones in Nigeria.
“For instance, the South-East has no APC senator at all and has not produced any ranking APC member of the House of Representatives.
“The South-South has one senator who is a fresher and does not meet the ranking criterion. But the South-South has four members – elect for the House of Representatives, two of whom are ranking, with one of them, Pally Iriase, parading impeccable credentials and legislative leadership experience.
“This is a golden opportunity that the APC must not miss. In the spirit of fairness and adherence of federal character, the position of Speaker, House of Representatives should be zoned to the South-South geo-political zone.”
We will take position on Senate President, Speaker’s positions soon – PDP
The national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party is to meet with newly elected senators and members of the House of Representatives soon.
The meeting will determine who among the numerous candidates to support among those aiming at becoming President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Chief Olisa Metuh, disclosed this in a telephone interview with our correspondent in Abuja on Friday.
Metuh said until the meeting is held, the party could not say which candidate it would support or not.
But he said that the party would support its members in the National Assembly to be active and also support the cause of the party.
He said, “Well, we have met with them on the need to support the national leadership of the party as we plan to reposition the party. They have agreed to work with us on this matter.
Attempts to get a reaction from the APC were futile.
Several calls to the mobile telephone number of the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, were neither picked nor returned.
The first call was at 3:21pm, the second was at 3:23 and a text message on the subject was sent to him at 3:31pm.
This was followed by another set of calls made at 4:17pm and 6:32pm, none of these efforts elicited a response as of the time of filing this report (6:35PM).