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NASS Crisis: Respite As Factions Bury Hatchet

A make or mar meeting between opposing factions of All Progressives Congress members in the House of Representatives, ended early hour Tuesday with the two sides adopting an earlier directive from the APC leadership on the zoning of key leadership positions.

But while the bickering was still going on, each group began to realize the futility of their positions for the smooth take off and fresh start after a month-long recess called in the crisis generated by the election of the leadership Tuesday Presidential meeting started off with both sides sticking to their guns until sanity prevailed.

The party had zoned the positions in a letter to the speaker, Yakubu Dogara, on June 23. In the letter, the party presented Femi Gbajabiamila (South-West) as the house leader; Ado Doguwa (North-West) as deputy leader; Mohammed Monguno (North-East) as chief whip; and Pally Iriase (South South) as deputy chief whip.

Mr. Dogara rejected the nominations, and suggested other candidates for the offices. But during the Monday’s meeting, at the behest of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Dogara faction and the APC leadership agreed the letter from the party be respected. However, the names nominated by the party will no longer stand, both sides   agreed, lawmakers who attended the meeting said.

Instead, each zonal caucus will conduct elections to decide the winners of the slots based on the zoning formula conveyed in the party’s letter. The agreement made it possible for Mr. Gbajabiamila to emerge as the majority leader, a key demand that has been at the centre of the nearly twomonth old crisis. The adopted formular zoned House Leader position to the South West; Deputy House Leader – North West; Chief Whip – North East; Deputy House Whip – South South.

Meanwhile the zonal caucus elections are expected between Tuesday and Wednesday. The house crisis started after the speaker, Yakubu Dogara, emerged speaker in defiance of the APC leadership’s decision to anoint Mr. Gbajabiamila for the position.

The party later adjusted its demand and nominated Mr. Gbajabiamila as the majority leader, a proposal Mr. Dogara again rejected. The speaker said Mr. Gbajabiamila’s south west region had produced the deputy speaker, Yusuf Lasun. In his response, Mr. Dogara nominated members who supported Mr. Gbajabiamila as majority leader and chief whip, proposals rejected by Mr. Gbajabiamila, a former minority leader.

Meanwhile Mr. Buhari told the lawmakers on Monday that the dispute had emboldened the opposition PDP and warned that it was unacceptable for the PDP to be allowed to dictate who occupies positions in an APC administration he heads, a member who attended the meeting said.

However, a source from Mr. Dogara’s camp disputed the agreement reached at the meeting. The source said the party settled for   the group’s nomination of Alhassan Doguwa as the majority leader, Pally Iriase as chief whip, Umar Jibrin as deputy leader and Chike Okafor as deputy whip.

The Gbajabiamila camp, meanwhile, warned that any contrary decision on the floor of the house, different from what was agreed at the meeting, will be “strange” and considered an “affront against our collective interest including that of the President”. But in the end, the Speaker shifted position and allowed the President and the party to have its way on Gbajabiamila.

Similarly the Katsina State governor and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Masari, has charged the leadership of the (APC) to find an immediate solution to the crisis rocking the National Assembly. Masari, who gave the charge in Government House, Katsina, while receiving two committees from the party’s national headquarters to entertain any appeal arising from last weekend primary for Katsina Central constituency by-election into the House of Representatives, warned that the protracted crisis over the election of principal officers of the federal legislature portended grave threat to APC. The governor frowned at the happenings in the legislature, describing it an abnormal and unfortunate development capable of eroding people’s confidence in the party.

Masari while admonishing APC lawmakers to learn to respect the party’s ideals and principles, while standing firm against the moves of selfish gladiators, noted that the party remains the driving force of its elected members. In the Senate, the lingering difference over alleged forgery of the rules would have clouded yesterday’s resumption but for the maturity of most Senators. Shortly before the day’s resumption of the 8th National Assembly from a fiveweek break, senators had laughed off the claim by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) that the 2015 Senate Standing Order was forged.

This is even as some senators have claimed that the hallowed chamber is immune to external investigations. A case of forgery was leveled by members of the Senate Unity Forum (SUF), the umbrella body of the All Progressives Congress (APC) senators, who threw their weight behind Senator Ahmad Lawan’s bid for the position of Senate President against Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki. But speaking to journalists in Abuja on Monday, some senators, who described the allegation as a ruse, claimed that what some of their colleagues regarded as forgery, are amendments.

According to Senator Abiodun Olujimi, the amendments made in the 2015 Senate Standing Orders being referred to as forgeries by the Lawanists in the Senate, were carried out by the management of the National Assembly for the inauguration of the 8th Senate. She said the senators alleging forgeries as a result of slight amendments effected on the 2011 Senate Standing Orders used by the 7th Senate as reflected in the 2015 Senate Standing Orders, are just playing politics with a strictly internal matter of the Senate. She noted that those playing politics have forgotten that legislative immunity on such matter prevents both the police and the court of law to meddle in it.

“As far as majority of the senators are concerned, the alleged forgeries being bandied about by Ahmad Lawan and his group, is a ruse, because for every new senate, a new standing order must be provided which was what was given to senators at the inauguration of the 8th Senate on the 9th of last month. “Lawan and the other senators crying wolf where there is none, were not the only senators who were in the 7th Senate and besides, the 7th Senate ended with its standing order of 2011 on the 4th of June 2015. The 2015 Senate Standing Order is a fresh document meant for the 8th Senate and not 7th Senate, so where lies the forgery they are talking about?” she noted.

She added that appropriate sanction may later be meted out to those dragging the institution of the Senate in the mud on matters that are strictly internal. “I think there are reprimands for those, who go outside the line, I am sure that the senate will apply appropriate sanction at the appropriate when to those that may be found culpable on this matter at the end of the day,” she stressed.

Senators Hope Uzodinma, Shehu Sani and George Sekibo, in their separate reactions, also said what reflected on the 2015 Senate Standing Order in comparison to similar provisions in the 2011 document used by the 7th Senate, were amendments and not forgery as alleged by some of their colleagues. They said what the aggrieved senators should have done, was to have initiated the process of amending the provisions they found offensive and not shouting forgery and even taken the matter to the police.

The forgery scandal rocking the 8th Senate as alleged by the pro Lawan senators have to do withamendments made to the 2015 Senate Standing Rule, by yet to be identified individuals, upon which a petition was written by Senator Suleiman Hunkunyi, to the police for necessary action last month. The petition reads in part, “We write to bring to your attention, the existence of the fraudulent introduction of a 2015 Senate Standing Rules as amended.

“We wish to attach the original and authentic Standing Order for 2011 that was used by the 7th Senate, Annexure A. “We again attached the annex Herero, a purported amended Standing Orders 2015, which was used by the Clerk to the National Assembly (along with the Clerk of the Senate) in inaugurating the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015.

“The so called new Standing Orders purports to allow for secret instead of the open ballot system that has been prevalent in all Senate elections as permitted by the extant rules. “This infraction, among others, arise from the fraudulent production of the Rules without an approved consideration by the 7th Senate.

“At no time was the Standing Orders of the Senate amended during the entire life of the 7th Senate neither has the 8th Senate sat for long enough to produce the rules now being circulated and in use”.

The police, on the strength of the petition, subsequently quizzed the leadership of the 7th Senate, including Senator David Mark; his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu; former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba; and the former Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang.

The UNION reports that the Senate crossed one huddle that emerged while on recess; the propriety of electing a new Senator, former Governor Goodswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State as Minority leader. That was what happened, he was so appointed.

-Teddy Nwanunobi in Abuja and Francis Moses writes on the gradual return to life in the National Assembly following the resolution of the lingering leadership crisis in the lower and the upper chamber.

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