Imposition or free choice: New leadership for the 9th Senate, By Jibrin Ibrahim

#TrackNigeria: On Monday, we learnt from the Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, that they are not ready to share legislative power with others. He assured Nigerians that: “we will ensure that leadership positions and key committee chairmanships of the 9th National Assembly are retained for its elected members. He gave the assurance while meeting with new members-elect of the House of Representatives. He said that: “We have the number to produce speaker and will produce the speaker who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we will use the number to produce the Deputy Speaker who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we will use the number to elect the House Leader who must be a member of the APC. We have the number and we will use the number to elect the Chief Whip and deputy who must be a member of the APC. The only position that we are not interested in is the minority leader.” He concluded no the note that: “We will not do the kind of thing that happened the last time in which some APC members, as members of the ruling party, became distant spectators in the management of committees.”

Yes, the APC has the numbers but maybe precisely because of the way Adams Oshiomhole is behaving, they might give themselves another self-inflected mortal wound in the National Assembly that could transform their high numbers into nothingness as they did in 2015. Four years ago, the party’s experience at the commencement of the 8th National Assembly was that key principal positions fell into the hands of individuals different from those endorsed by the party. Indeed, at the Senate, the Deputy President position was taken by the PDP. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as party chairman has been rash, brash, haughty and self-aggrandising in the management of party affairs. There are also numerous unverified stories about financial dealings being the currency of post allocation in the running of party affairs. This type of behaviour can easily turn the advantage of numbers into a nightmare as stakeholders’ rebel against widespread allegations of highhandedness.

For two decades, there has been two sets of battles for the control of the National Assembly. The first battle was persistent efforts by the Presidency to impose the leadership of and directly control the affairs of the National Assembly. President Olusegun Obasanjo started the battle in 1999 and almost got impeached by the National Assembly for his troubles. My assessment is that the National Assembly has won the autonomy battle and the Presidency cannot impose a leadership on it that it does not want.  The second battle never even took-off, it’s the battle of political parties to impose their will on their members who get legislative or executive positions. Since General Obasanjo took over the control of the PDP at gun point when he threw out Audu Ogbe as Chairman and established the principle that the president at the national level and governors at the state level are the real party leaders with effective power. The principle of party supremacy was killed. Adams Oshiomhole certainly has the ambition of reviving party supremacy from death but he is not Jesus Christ and has not approached the matter with the skills, finesse and diplomacy that is required to bring back the departed.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Chairman Adams Oshiomhole were therefore wrong to take the pathway of seeking to impose specific and named leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as the heads of the 9th Assembly. Although they have made excellent choices in the persons Dr. Ahmad Lawan, a former lecturer with a PhD in remote sensing and twenty years ranking-experience in the House and the Senate as the next Senate president. While choosing ranking House Majority Leader and respected lawyer, Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker. Both men are competent and well suited for the jobs, which they had both sought for in 2015. Unfortunately, both men who were probably on course to win the positions on their own steam, now have to contend with the impression that they were in the race as surrogates imposed by the not dearly loved Adams Oshiomhole. I respect both men and wish them luck for the contest of 10th June, but their party should have been smarter and taken a less direct approach in showing its hand.

The numbers game is intricate. In the Senate, I believe there are 43 PDP senators-elect out of 109. This means if they could mobilise 13-15 disgruntled APC Senators, depending on the seats that are still undecided, they could once again frustrate the ambitions of the APC leadership to get the leadership they want. That was what happened in 2015 when Ike Ekweremadu, a PDP member, emerged as Deputy Senate President following an alliance between some APC senators and their PDP counterparts. The APC so far has 65 seats in the 9th Senate, with the PDP and Young Progressives Party (YPP) having 43 and one respectively. The plot to repeat the feat is apparently already unfolding.

It is worthy of note that former senate leader Ali Ndume  has rejected the imposition of Lawan and has launched his campaign with a nine-point agenda focused on the preservation of the autonomy of the National Assembly. I suspect it is too late for the APC to retrace its steps at this point. What is important for them is to realise is that the National Assembly members are very jealous of their hard-earned autonomy and will fight to preserve it. The leadership of the APC must therefore change its approach from threats and arm-twisting to cajoling their members. Apparently, a majority of APC senators have declared their readiness to go with the party’s position by adopting Lawan. Given his experience and the fact that he is the current Senate Leader, he is the natural choice for the position. Adams Oshiomhole has not helped Lawan’s case by the imposition approach and the two months period to the election is a very long time in politics. The case in the House of Representatives is even more complex as ethno-regional mobilisation has emerged with the clear intention of blocking Femi Gbajabiamila.