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Senate Presidency: Thursday D-Day For Saraki, Lawan

Francis Moses and Teddy Nwanunobi in Abuja write on the ongoing intrigues in the All Progressive Congress leadership as the D-Day dawns for the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly on Thursday.

With a day to the inauguration of the National Assembly on Thursday, the race for the Senate presidency and the Speakership has reached feverish pitch, with APC party leader Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Senator Bukola Saraki throwing in all their arsenal to prosecute their agenda. In fact the battle ground shifted to the National Assembly immediately after the long waited inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC ended on May 29. There are indications that the race for the senate presidency is between Senators Ahmed Lawan and Bukola Saraki, but there are stronger forces behind the scene.

In order to protect his political interest and perhaps investment, Tinubu’s unseen hand is visible everywhere against the emergence of Saraki as senate president for palpable reasons. Base on the fact that one of the frontrunners, George Akume has stepped down for Senator Lawan from the Northeast in returning for a chance to be his deputy, the race has become more enthralling. The battle now is between Senator Saraki and Senator Lawan. However it may look like the battle is between the two, but critically, the battle looks more like it is between Saraki and Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos and leader of the APC.

It was Tinubu that got Akume, his protégé, to step down for Lawan, claiming that the former comes from the same state as the incumbent Senator David Mark, which may make it hard to convince his colleagues to vote for him in a tight contest with Saraki. Waiting on the wings in all these calculations are the 49 members of the PDP, who are said to be in the grip of Senator Mark, who is plotting his party’s strategy on the matter. But how the PDP Senators will vote is still uncertain, even though the Tinubu camp believes would most likely support Lawan against Saraki because of Mark’s closeness to Lawan and the fact that Saraki’s defection from the PDP in under a cloud still rankles with the party. Even so, things are not so rosy for Lawan to make the contest a piece of cake, for his support base is not as strong as his group is making it to be.

Saraki, from investigation has broken the ranks of Southwest Senators Coordinator of the Senate Unity Forum (SUF), Senator Barnabas Gemade, has maintained that the group, which is canvassing the emergence of Senator Ahmad Lawan as the next Senate President, will reveal details of its 40 members before the end of the week. The UNION reports that Gemade, who had pledged to make the list public yesterday (Tuesday), failed to deliver on its promise. But he maintained yesterday that members of the group are intact and that their number, names and signatures would be displayed for journalists to report any time this week.

“Yes, we have the list, and we will display it this week. I’m having a meeting right now where we will perfect necessary arrangements concerning it,” he said. Two groups of senators-elect championing the emergence of Lawan and Senator Bukola Saraki, respectively, had, last week, caused confusion when they claimed that they have outrageous figures of members in their camps. For instance, while Lawan’s group claimed that it had 40 members in its fold, the Saraki’s Like Minds Senators (LMS) paraded a list containing 34 names and signatures, whereas there are just 59 APC senators-elect.

Meanwhile, indications emerged yesterday that some senators-elect from the South-West geopolitical zone have dissociated themselves from the last month’s endorsement of Lawan by their caucus. Investigations revealed that two senators-elect, out of the 13 in the zone, had openly disagreed with the Coordinator of the SUF and the top APC chieftain allegedly sponsoring the candidature of Lawan.

One of the senators, who pleaded anonymity, told journalists in Abuja yesterday that some South-West senators, during a meeting with an APC leader from the zone, openly protested the directive that they should vote for Lawan during the inauguration slated for next week. “In the course of the argument, the Leader told a senator-elect from Ogun State, who was the ring leader of the protesters, to shut up and sit down. This did not go down well with many of the senators-elect present on the occasion and they have vowed to vote for a candidate of their choice. “The Senator was protesting the fact that the candidate they have been instructed to back had not canvassed for their votes but has been boasting that he had their support.

The talk in town is that the APC leaders in the South-West are lobbying for the candidature of Senator Lawan, but some of the senators-elect, were not comfortable with the arrangement, and decided to back the ambition of Senator Bukola Saraki,” the source said. The newly-elected APC senator from Kogi West, Mr. Dino Melaye, told journalists in Abuja yesterday, that the LMS group will continue to push for the endorsement of Saraki as the best material for the office of Senate President. He also called on the APC leadership to keep the position in the North-Central.

“Even if the party is not interested in the zoning formula, it will owe the North Central an explanation for taking such a high office from them despite its overwhelming support at the last polls,” he said. The battle is so intense that even groups outside the Senate are drumming support for the candidates. As the duo of Saraki and Lawan continue to get support even from outside their colleagues, the New Nigerian Initiative Vanguard NNIV, has drummed support for the candidature of Senator Ahmed Lawan (North-East) in the race for the senate president The group in a statement issued and signed by its National Co-ordinator recently, Prince Taiwo Alebiosu, described Senator Lawan as a detribalized Nigerian whose priority has always been the unity and progress of Nigeria over the years.

According to him, “if elected as the Senate President, Senator Lawan would be a rallying point for the third arm government in the country which would further assist in deepening the nation’s growing democracy.” While appealing to ranking senators and the incoming ones irrespective of their political affiliation to look critically and vote for Senator Lawan as the president of the 8th National Assembly in the overall interest of the nation, the group said its members would soon embark on sensitization and massive campaign for the candidature of Senator Lawan from across the six geopolitical zone of the country. However, the Ilorin Emirate Youth Development Association has appealed to the senators elect at the National Assembly to support and elect Senator Saraki as the next Senate President.

According to the group, the appeal is based on the quality and credibility found in former governor of Kwara State to lead the 8th National Assembly. In a statement jointly signed by the national president, Alhaji Abdullahi Babatunde Salau and Public Relations Officer, Mallam Muhammed Jagunmo, it was said that, “as a former governor of Kwara state, who doubled as the chairman Nigeria Governors Forum, Senator Saraki performed excellently and diligently well in leading the state to a greater height and as the former chairman Nigeria Governors Forum coupled with his experience at the Senate so far, he has displayed high level of performance of good governance.

Similarly the race for Senate leadership is getting more interesting as people from different groups and religious affiliations offer prayers to God, to ensure the victory and emergence of Saraki as the next Senate President. While the (APC) championed the cause, Saraki has also said that he is hopeful of becoming the next Senate President. The Kwara South chapter of the APC started the prayer session where representatives from seven local governments converged at Ajjase Ipo, the headquarters of Irepodun Local Government to seek the blessings of God for the emergence of Saraki as the President.

The State Chairman of the party, Ishola Balogun Fulani, noted that the Senator is qualified to hold the position, having served as the Chairman of the Governors Forum meritoriously. He also appealed to the party leadership to zone the post to North Central and other Senators to support Saraki for the coveted post. Pastor Bisi Oyewo, who led the Christians, expressed belief that Saraki has contributed immensely to the growth and success of the party and ought to be rewarded with the post of the Senate President.

While playing host to traditional rulers from Kwara Central which comprises of Magajis and Alanguas, the State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, who spoke in Yoruba, urged the royal fathers to intensify their prayers for Saraki’s emergence as the President of the Senate. Meanwhile Senator Saraki recently visited Kebbi State governor Sen Atiku Bagudu to seek for his support to become the next Senate president in the 8th Assembly. The governor pledged to support Saraki’s ambition.

“The governor described him as the only senator among the contestants that has the charisma of leadership and the quality as well as potential to be the next Senate president”. Saraki in company of Sen Saminu Turaki and others recently in there to Kebbi, however, said that they were in Birnin Kebbi to congratulate the new governor. Saraki who addressed newsmen shortly after their closed door meeting insisted that their visit to Kebbi has nothing to do with his ambition but to felicitate with a friend and colleague on the successful handover ceremony. His words “For my Senate President seat I think I have full chance to be there insha Allahu”. May be, may be not. Tomorrow, after the inauguration, the Senators would then determine who between Saraki and Lawan picks the cap.

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