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8th NASS On Shaky Ground

Francis Moses reports on the deepening crisis in the APC following weekend endorsements of candidates by the party for the position of President of the Senate and Speaker of the House

With the brewing crisis over consensus candidates for the position of Speakers and Senate President, the 8th National Assembly may take off on shaky fundation. One of the major contestants for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara over the weekend led a motley of his backers to stand against the plan of the (APC) to conduct a mock election for federal legislators, both old and new, wishing to choose their leaders at the floor of the House after inauguration during the week .

In the same vein, Senator Bukola Saraki and his group led by Senator-elect Dino Malaye washed their hands off the consensus arrangement by the party that pick Senator Ahmed Lawan The event, held at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja, was organised by the APC ahead of the convention of the 8th Session of the National Assembly scheduled for June 9 in Abuja.

Dogara’s intransigence came hours after the deliberation and intervention of the National Working Committee (NWC) on the possibility of conducting the mock election over the weekend. Dogara’s camp argued that the election should be postponed because they were not ready and so they trooped out of the venue in protest. Initially, the members were unanimous that the election should proceed as agreed. But in a sudden volte face, Dogara’s camp decided to abandon the process when it was obvious that Gbajabiamila has majority of APC members by him.

Some of the lawmakers at the venue expressed surprise that Dogara, who claims to have more than 200 supporters, is now resisting moves by the party to conduct a primary election between him and Gbajabiamila. An APC lawmaker from Kano said “No matter how Dogara and his camp keep buying time, the APC as a party will ensure that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) does not hijack the House of Representatives election. It’s obvious that the most popular candidate would finally emerge on Tuesday. “The mention of the PDP could be a veiled reference to Dogara’s ties to the party, now in opposition, from which he had joined his colleagues in 2013 to move to the APC. Similarly the National Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Mai Mala Buni, on Saturday announced Femi Gbajabiamila, as the party’s consensus candidate for the office of Speaker.

Gbajabiamila, was the Minority Leader in the past Seventh House, represents Surulere Federal Constituency 1 of Lagos State. Mohammed Monguno, from Borno state, also emerged as the party’s sole candidate for the post of Deputy Speaker. Speaking later, the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, commended the APC lawmakers for being exemplary, rated the election transparent and pledged party support for the winner. Oyegun urged Gbajabimila to run an all-inclusive House by reaching out to his colleagues who were aggrieved with the process.

The media reports that there was rancour among the elected lawmakers, with the supporters of Hon. Yakubu Speaking to journalists on behalf of the Dogara camp after the walk-out, Hon. Jubril Abdulmumin said they were not prepared for a primary election, and it should therefore be cancelled. He termed the election process “illegal”, adding that Dogara’s was still in the race for the position of Speaker as there were 360 lawmakers-elect from all parties. Abdulmumin said 160 lawmakers alone could not choose the Speaker. He also said the entire process was an “ambush”, manipulative and indicative of the fact that the party leadership came with a predetermined position which was skewed to favour Gbajabiamila.

The legislator said the party had acted contrary to the provisions of the party’s constitution. “It did not prescribe that a primary election be conducted for the Speakership, contrary to the provisions of the House Standing Orders.” He said it was at the point where the APC National Vice-Chairman North, Sen. Lawal Shuaibu insisted the process must go on that Dogara’s supporters made their feelings known. “At this point, we had no option than to stage a walk out of the hall and address newsmen,” Abdulmumin said. Reacting to the development, the APC National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the party had to make a move.

His words “We cannot begin the Eighth Assembly with two candidates; hence the party adopted the election process for the lawmakers.” ‘’It is for the National Assembly members-elect to pick their choice candidate, and whoever emerges automatically becomes the party’s candidate.’’ He however warned that disciplinary action awaited any legislator who would go against the party’s decision. Mohammed also disclosed that the APC legislators were made to sign an undertaking to abide by the outcome of the primary election to select the party’s consensus candidate. Interestingly a group under the auspices of National Coalition for Credible Leadership has called for the withdrawal of Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, the (APC), House of Representatives’ Speaker designate, to withdraw from the race for alleged criminal records standing against him.

The group while reacting to publications in some national dailies the about the person of Gbajabiamila, during said his sojourn in the United States of America, calls for questioning. According to a statement by its National Coordinator, Mr. Chudi G. Okafor and secretary, Alhaji Ibrahim Gambo, the group claimed that with the criminal case standing against the lawmaker, it was expedient for him to withdraw honourably from the race. “The stories published by newspapers contained serious allegations about the past conduct of Hon. Gbajabiamila who practiced law in America with bar number 288330 to the effect that he was convicted of defrauding his client when he practiced law in the US State of Georgia”.

“It is worth mentioning here that the punishment for Femi Gbaja`s offense would have been outright debarment, however, he pleaded guilty before a full panel of the Supreme Court of Goergie led by Justice Leah Ward Sears before the court rule on the petition from his client, he filed a petition for voluntarily discipline, filed under bar rule 4-227(b) in which he fully admited allegation from his client, while Goergia`s Supreme Court suspended him from practice of law for 36 months.” “We are also aware that section 66 (1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that: “No person shall be qualified for election to the Senate or the House of Representatives if he was convicted of criminal offense within a period of less than 10 years before the date of an election to a Legislative House.

“This singular act of Femi Gbajabiamila contravenes the provision of the constitution which states that “No person shall be qualified for election to the Senate or the House of Representatives if he has been convicted and sentenced for an offense involving dishonesty or he has been found guilty of a contravention of the Code of Conduct.” the group stated. For the Senate presidency, APC leadership declared Senator Ahmed Lawan and Senator George Akume as the preferred candidates for the position of Senate President and Deputy Senate President of the 8th Senate respectively.

The announcement was made after a primary election conducted by at the International Conference Centre, Abuja over the weekend. It was announced that out of the 33 senators who were accredited to vote, Senator Lawan got 32 votes while one vote was declared invalid. The APC National Secretary Mala Buni, said that Lawan was elected because he fulfilled all the requirements of the party. While delivering his acceptance speech, Lawan expressed his appreciation to the entire party for their support.

He also pleaded with the National Working Committee to assist him in winning over all other senators in the National Assembly because he would require their support also to win at the final election on Tuesday and ultimately to provide effective leadership at the legislative arm of the government.

However Senator Bukola Saraki, senator representing Kwara central constituency has explained why he boycotted the mock primary organised by the APC to elect a Senate President. Saraki in reaction said the party adopted a voting pattern which he described as “undemocratic and against universal electoral norms and practice.” However the APC Senators who are loyal to former Governor of Kwara State, Senator Saraki have accused the leadership of the party of what they called anti-democratic actions. The senators, under the aegis of the Senators- Elect of Like Minds, in a statement said they are poised to ensure that the next President of the senate emerges through a democratic process rather than what they see as attempts by the leadership of the party to foist on them a candidate.

This was after the election of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Senator George Akume, which was boycotted by the pro-Saraki lawmakers. The senators, in their statement signed by Senator- Elect Dino Melaye and Senator-Elect Ahmed Rufai Sani argued that rather than the voting process which was adopted for the House of Representatives elect members that produced Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila over the weekend, the party leaders are opting for open ballot voting. They said, “We discovered this is different from the electoral process used to conduct the earlier election with the House of Representatives members elect. To us, this open ballot voting is primitive; undemocratic and against universal electoral norms and practice.”

Insisting on Open Secret voting process, the Senators of Like Minds said, “we believe it is in consonance with the provisions of the electoral act, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the universal electoral values. “As responsible citizens of Federal Republic of Nigeria, and leaders in our own right, we have resolved and hereby state that we shall not be part of a process that promotes undemocratic electoral process that may resort to rancorous and uncivil situations which inhibits the rights of individuals to vote for the candidate of their choice, as this process will further divide us than unite members of our party.

His words “we the Senators-Elect of Like Minds wish to state categorically that we will participate only in the constitutional election scheduled for Tuesday, the 9th of June 2015 in line with the rules of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” The group therefore proposed a press conference for Monday being today where they hope to unveil those who are in support of their course across the party lines.

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