ABUJA — The deadlock in the National Assembly over the choice of leaders and whips of the All Progressives Congress, APC, yesterday rumbled on with senators elected on the platform of the party coming to near blows at a forum to choose their officers.
In the House, the situation was not different as the presentation of new officers was again deferred upon the resistance of associates of Speaker Yakubu Dogara, who are opposed to the choices presented by the party leadership.
Dogara’s associates, according to high level sources in the House, are opposed to the party’s choice of Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila as House Leader as they alleged that his choice after the emergence of the Deputy Speaker from Osun State would distort the zoning configuration of the leadership.
Nevertheless, bad blood flowing from the leadership election pervaded proceedings in the House chambers. Supporters of Rep. Gbajabiamilia, who was defeated in the contest for speaker, penultimate Tuesday, temporarily stayed proceedings as they questioned the speaker’s ruling in the chamber, yesterday.
The crisis in the Senate climaxed at a caucus of the meeting called to elect the Senate Leader, Deputy Senate Leader, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip.
Yesterday’s caucus meeting was preceded by a late night meeting on Monday in Senate Hearing Room One attended by about 40 APC senators where it was resolved to break down the divisions in the party following the contest for Senate President.
Both supporters of the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki and his rival, Senator Ahmad Lawan were said to have left the meeting which ended shortly before midnight with a resolution to forge a unity in the party and to again meet yesterday afternoon for the selection of the leaders and whips.
At yesterday’s plenary, Senator Saraki had announced the APC caucus meeting for 2 p.m. with an urge on all APC senators to attend.
As the meeting which held behind closed doors in Room 3: 01 with about 40 APC Senators present commenced, Senator Saraki was said to have called for unity, saying it was time to put the past behind.
It’s time to bury the hatchet
“It is time to bury the hatchet and renew that spirit of love, cooperation and trust in one another. The leadership of our party expect us to hit the ground running, and the Nigeria populace are waiting to see us in action to deliver on our promises and commitment. Let us start this journey of unity today and let the world see that yes, in the 8th Senate, we are one family. We should not allow ourselves to be distracted by the people around us or be carried away by the noise our there. Let us remain focused and determined.”
A source told Vanguard that Senator Saraki’s position was that the senators should follow the convention of allowing the zones to produce the leaders apportioned to them.
The meeting agreed that the North-East caucus would produce the Senate Leader while the North-West would produce the deputy with the Senate Chief Whip going to the South-West and the Deputy Chief Whip going the way of the South-South.
The exchange of blows
Barely 30 minutes after Saraki entered, Senator Lawan sauntered into the Hearing Room and immediately pandemonium ensued as his supporters announced that they must follow the dictates of the party which they claimed had already pencilled down names for all the positions.
The supporters of Senator Saraki, christened asLike Minds, however, insisted on elections by the Senate caucuses, thus provoking a heated debate that eventually descended into a shouting and shovelling match between the Like Minds and supporters of Lawan known as the Unity Forum.
Signs of trouble emerged when Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi (Kaduna North) came out shouting that the earlier zoning arrangement was not the correct position of the party.
It was learnt that while the meeting was still ongoing, a list supposedly arrived from the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, stating the position of the party which it was claimed had been sent to the office of the Senate President.
According to the list, Senator Lawan was earmarked for Senate Leader, Senator George Akume, Deputy Leader; Senator Olusola Adeyeye, Senate Chief Whip and Senator Abu Ibrahim, Deputy Chief Whip.
A returning senator from Ondo State was, however, said to have shouted his opposition that the party would not dictate for the senators, saying Adeyeye would not emerge as chief whip if the vote is left to South-West senators. He was said to have suggested Senator Ajayi Boroffice for the post. His assertion was said to have angered Senator Kabiru Marafa, Zamfara Central. It was at this point that two senators in opposing camps went for one another’s jugular before some colleagues rushed to separate the two senators.
Intervention by other senators
Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara) held one of the senators preventing the other senator from making further pummelling him.
Other Senators also joined in saving the ugly situation even as rains of abusive words intensified from all angles in different languages.
Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the meeting, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara South) said although his colleagues were not privy to the conversation between the fighting two senators, he said other senators had to intervene before the situation degenerated.
It also emerged that support was also coming the way of Senator Binta Masi Garba from some senators to emerge as the consensus candidate for Senate Leader.
Speaking to newsmen after the fight, Senator Abu Ibrahim, Katsina South said: “The party has come out with its own position and some people are trying to rush to sabotage the party ‘s position. We will see whether the Senate President will heed the party’s directives.”
Insisting that the party should have the right of appointing senators for the four positions, Senator Hunkuyi (Kaduna North), said: “The issue of leadership of the chamber that belongs to the group of the APC, cannot be decided here. It is common reasoning and common sense. We have a leadership for the party. The leadership of the party, that is, the APC still reigns supreme to decide the four positions of leadership, where it should go and who shall have it. An attempt here to do otherwise is the cause of this rancour.
“Simply put, the cause of the rancour is an attempt by the leadership that has emerged, in otherwise fishy circumstances to again force their will on the majority of the Senators of the APC.”
What was agreed on
The assertions of the two senators were, however, debunked by Senator Ibrahim Danbaba, Sokoto South who alleged that the senators at the meeting on Monday night agreed that the zones should produce the leaders allotted to them, accusing those speaking to the contrary of ignorance of the position as agreed.
“He (Hunkuyi) didn’t get to know what has been said and the arrangements that were made and agreement that was reached. We all agreed that we will go and meet in caucuses, that is to say the Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate has been zoned to North-East, Deputy Majority Leader zoned to North-West and the Chief Whip zoned to South-West and then the Deputy Chief Whip is zoned to South-South.
“That was where we were when these people came in and suddenly when they came in, they said no, it is the party secretariat that is going to decide who takes the position. And of course, they were making it very obvious that the party leadership is on the side of what we believe now is extinct, that is, the Unity Forum.
Dogara’s men stop Gbajabiamila’s emergence as Leader
The tension also overflowed in the House of Representatives as the presentation of the leaders was as exclusively reported by Vanguard yesterday did not hold.
In the plenary, the division between associates of Speaker Dogara and Femi Gbajabiamila who Dogara defeated to become speaker two weeks ago was sharpened when the later rose to challenge Dogara’s judgment on a motion.
Gbajabiamila, who was the immediate past Minority leader in the 7th House and the preferred candidate for the position of Speaker by the All Progressives Congress, APC, said the Speaker was wrong to rule in favour of a motion through the voice vote of members.
Gbajabiamila said Order 49 of the standing rules of the House stipulated that the ruling on the suspension of the rules of the House could only be done by a two-third majority and not through a voice vote as allowed by the speaker.
While Rep. Ossai Ossai, Delta State rose to defend the speaker’s decision, a supporter of Gbajabiamila, Aliyu Sani Madaki, immediately countered, advising the House that a wrongdoing should not be allowed to continue even when committed by the speaker.
The dispute led to a rowdy session as both sides shouted on one another.
The Speaker in his ruling said while he acknowledged the position of the House rule as raised, he said the House could do little to determine two-third majority during voting.
His ruling attracted applause from lawmakers in his support as the floor was nearly divided between the two camps that were visible before the election of the presiding officers.
Meanwhile, the presentation of the House leaders was again deferred yesterday on the failure of the two major camps in the House to reach an agreement.
Sources disclosed that the party leadership is insisting on Gbajabiamila becoming the House Leader, a position that has been seriously countered by those aligned to the speaker.
The party it was gathered is also insisting on Alhassan Dodagawa from Kano State as Deputy Leader, a position that has also been countered by the Dogara group.
Sources close to the associates of the speaker told Vanguard last night that the election of Gbajabiamila as Leader would distort the zoning configuration of the House given that the Southwest already has the position of Deputy Speaker.
“If Femi gets leader it would mean that a geopolitical zone would lose out as it would mean that one geopolitical zone will not be represented in the leadership and this will be against the precedents in the House and it is not fair,” an associate of the speaker told Vanguard last night.
The Dogara group, Vanguard learnt had offered the party two options; to wit that the leader and his deputy should come from either North Central or Northwest or vice-versa.
Under the arrangement, it was also proposed that the Chief Whip should come from the Southeast while his deputy should come from the South-South.
It was learnt that the two contending factions in the House were agreed on the Chief Whip who is the lawmaker representing Governor Rochas Okorocha’s federal constituency and the proposed deputy, Rep. Pally Iriase from Edo State.