Francis Moses examines the role of the PDP senators in determining the leadership of the 8th senate.
There are every indications that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Assembly members-elect, who seemed to have remain distanced, yet united, in the wrangling over the leadership of the bicameral legislature, may hold the key to determining the leaders of the two chambers.
Successors to the incumbent Senate President, Mark, and Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, now governor of Sokoto State and their deputies are expected to emerge in Abuja after the inauguration of the National Assembly today. Though the PDP has said repeatedly that it was not plotting to present David Mark as a candidate for the Presidency of the Eighth Senate, nor was it joining forces with any of the APC combatants to decide who among the ruling party candidate emerges, there are strong indications to show that the party is not sleeping.
Arguing that the norm in every assembly is for the party with the majority to present leadership at the NASS, it said the All Progressives Congress (APC), which won majority seats in the Senate, would be allowed to present candidates for the office. National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Olisa Metuh, told journalists in Abuja recently that the party was not part of the alleged plot to usurp the normal norms at the National Assembly where the party with the majority of elected senators or members of the House of Representatives are denied from presenting leadership at the National Assembly, let alone the Senate.
He also said this issue was not part of the issues raised and discussed at the party’s retreat which was held for elected members of the party in Port Harcourt last week. According to Metuh, “That was not part of the PDP retreat for members of the National Assembly in Port Harcourt. PDP has no such plot to upstage the APC in presenting leadership at the National Assembly.
“The truth is that it was not discussed at all at the Port Harcourt retreat. The truth is that we have no candidate for Senate President or Deputy Senate President. “The truth is that we are ready to present a credible opposition to the APC as the ruling party. We wish President Muhammadu Buhari success and hope he would be able to turn around the economy.”
Metuh added that the Port Harcourt retreat only commended Senators David Mark and Ike Ekweremadu for stabilising democracy and National Assembly during their tenure as President and Deputy President of the Senate respectively. But the APC NASS leaders themselves and their outside sponsors are doing everything they can to sway the PDP unwilling horse and thereby give them the hand to swing the outcome.
Against the backdrop of the PDP role and how important the party will play, it could be recall how the former minority senate leader, Senator George Akume, took his campaign to the floor of the Senate during the valedictory session as he pleaded with the outgoing Senate President Mark to support his ambition to become the next deputy senate president.
Akume, while extolling Mark’s leadership qualities, had publicly asked Mark and the PDP to support him, given that they were not just brothers but from the same Benue State, even as he was in the opposition PDP. Akume enjoined him to make the people of Benue proud by supporting and helping to actualize the aspiration of Senator Ahmad Lawan as Senate President and himself as the Deputy Senate President respectively in the 8th Senate.
In response, Senator Mark ruled out the possibility of senators of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in contesting for Senate presidency. Mark said the contest for presiding officers in the 8th Senate was not for the PDP senators-elect but that of the, APC, which he said, would have majority of its members in the Red Chamber. His words “because Senator Akume also thanked me, let me thank him and remind him that we are in PDP and election of any coming member is the matter for APC not for PDP.” Interested parties such as former Head of State Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo are said to be prevailing on Mark to support the Lawan/Akume ticket of the APC and help sway his party members.
In the same vein Senator Bukola Saraki, who has denounced his APC party mock election of the Lawan/Akume team and promised to take the battle to the floor of the Senate has made overtures to the PDP, promising Senator Ike Ekweremadu to be his deputy if he could support him with the 45 PDP senators, at least all the senators from the South east. The Saraki group continues to lay claim to 34 out of the about 57 APC senators-elect, while Lawan also says he has even more senators-elect supporting him.
With the current situation, it seems it is now down to the PDP legislators-elect to determine the speaker of the House and the senate president, as the APC candidates look set to meet head-to-head at the floor of both chambers of the National Assembly today. However the Senate is made up of 109 senators out of whom the APC produced 60 while the PDP has 49 members. However, the death of one of the APC senators-elect from Borno State, Ahmed Zannah has left the party with 59 members for now. This is against the PDP’s 49 Senators and 155 Representatives.
On the basis of this number, the APC does not even enjoy simple majority, not to talk of getting the tickets on a platter, despite the mock election it held during the weekend. It was gathered that the national leadership of the PDP had encouraged its senators-elect to vote for a single candidate for the position of the senate president. The thinking in the party, it was learnt, was that if its 49 senators-elect could vote for a single candidate, it would not be difficult to get 10 members from divided APC senators to also vote for the PDP candidate.
According to a top party source, the PDP would want to test its strength as the opposition with this window of opportunity produced by the NASS leadership Any of the aspirants needs a simple majority vote to become the next President of the Senate, which is 74 members. The APC, aware of this obvious huddle has appealed for calm amid grievances among its members in the incoming eighth National Assembly.
Officials said members might have been aggrieved after the emergence of the party’s official candidates on Saturday last week. APC National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni, said it was “natural” for some members to be disappointed by the outcome of the straw poll that was conducted to select the party’s official candidates, Lawan for Senate President and Gbajabiamila for Speaker of House of Representatives. His words “we must put the interest of our party above personal interests and avoid a situation whereby any other candidates, apart from those picked by the party, will emerge as Senate President and House Speaker on today”.
“Any outstanding issues will be resolved by the party so we won’t go into Tuesday’s election with more than one candidate each for the two posts, Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives”. Buni further noted it would be “a shame” if, despite its majority in both chambers of the National Assembly, the APC was unable to produce a Senate President and a House Speaker of its choice.
APC’s secretary explained that its role in the entire business of ensuring a common front within the party ahead of Tuesday’s election is that of an honest broker, saying its goal of ensuring that the party does not go into the election with more than one candidate for each post has now been achieved.
“The party appeals to all aggrieved members to sheathe their swords and allow peace to reign, in the overall interest of not just the party but the entire nation,” Buni said. Meanwhile, members who are quartered at the Sheraton and Transacorp Hotels from where they would be conveyed to the NASS for the inauguration, are being besieged by candidates seeking their support for the plump job. As the minutes tick by, anxiety mounts until the real voting starts and produce the candidates to fill the vacant Senate Presidency and the House Speakership.