The All Progressives Congress on Tuesday kicked against the emergence of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively.
Saraki, a former Kwara State governor and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, emerged unopposed shortly after the Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, proclaimed the eighth Senate into existence.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu of the Peoples Democratic Party trounced Ali Ndume of the ruling party to become Saraki’s deputy.
Dogara defeated the former Minority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, in a keenly contested poll.
The APC had last Saturday conducted mock elections in which Ahmed Lawan emerged as its sole candidate for the Senate Presidency. George Akume was to run as his deputy.
While Gbajabiamila emerged victorious in the mock poll for the House, Mohammed Mungono was to run as the deputy speaker.
After the Saturday exercise, the APC leadership directed all its lawmakers interested in the positions to toe the party’s line.
But Saraki, Dogara and Ali Ndume , with the backing of their supporters, defied the directive by vying for the posts on Tuesday.
But the victory of two men was described as unacceptable by the APC. It said in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, that the actions of the new National Assembly leaders and their supporters amounted to treachery and disloyalty.
According to the APC, the inauguration and the process which led to the emergence of Saraki and Dogara represented the highest level of indiscipline.
The party therefore threatened to sanction the two men and their supporters in order to clearly show its determination “to enforce party discipline and supremacy.”
The statement read in part, “Senator Saraki and Dogara are not the candidates of the APC and a majority of its National Assembly members-elect for the positions of Senate President and House Speaker.
“The party duly met and conducted a straw poll and clear candidates emerged for the posts of Senate President, the Deputy Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, supported by a majority of all Senators-elect and members-elect of the House of Representatives.
“All National Assembly members-elect who emerged on the platform of the party are bound by that decision.
“The party is supreme and its interest is superior to that of its individual members.”
The APC said its leadership was meeting to reestablish discipline and to mete out the necessary sanctions to all those involved in the “monumental act of indiscipline and betrayal to subject the party to ridicule and create obstacles for the new administration.”
The party also decried what it described as a situation in which some people, based on nothing but “inordinate ambition and lack of discipline and loyalty, will enter into an unholy alliance with the very same people whom the party and indeed the entire country worked hard to replace and sell out the hard won victory of the party.”
Urging all its “loyal senators-elect” to report to the Senate to be sworn in, it vowed to use all constitutional and legal means to resolve the issue.
But President Muhammadu Buhari later issued a statement in which he said he stood by his earlier position that he would work with whoever the lawmakers elected as their leaders.
He added in the statement by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Femi Adesina, that even though he would have loved that “the process of electing the leaders as initiated and concluded by the APC had been followed,” he “took the view that a constitutional process has somewhat occurred.”
“President Buhari had said in an earlier statement that he did not have any preferred candidate for the Senate and the House of Representatives, and that he was willing to work with whoever the lawmakers elected,” Adesina said.
“That sentiment still stands. Though he would have preferred the new leaders to have emerged through the process established by the party,” he added.
Adesina stressed that “the stability of our constitutional order and overall interest of the common man were uppermost on the President’s mind, as far as the National Assembly elections were concerned.”
The President therefore called on all the elected representatives of the people to focus on the enormous task of bringing enduring positive change to the lives of Nigerians.
How Saraki emerged
The APC lawmakers had on Tuesday morning converged on the International Conference Centre in Abuja for a meeting in which they were to be addressed by Buhari.
The meeting which was called by the APC leadership was to take place at about 9am while the inauguration was scheduled to hold at 10 am.
However, as of 10.56am, the lawmakers were still waiting for the President when news filtered in that the Senate had been inaugurated and that Saraki had emerged unopposed as the Senate President.
As if the victory of Saraki, a former Kwara State Governor, was not enough, Ekweremadu ended up beating Ndume to become the deputy Senate President.
The notice of the meeting which was circulated partly read,“The President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, will address all Senators and House of Representatives-elect of the APC at 9am this morning, Tuesday, the June 9 at the ICC Abuja. All concerned must endeavour to attend this meeting.”
The presidential spokesman, Adesina, said the APC leadership, not Buhari, convened the botched meeting at the ICC, Abuja.
Mohammed also confirmed that it was the party that invited its lawmakers to the meeting.
The APC leaders had hoped that a pep talk from the President, who did not show up at the Tuesday morning meeting, could save the day.
Before the statement by Mohammed, the APC leaders had shown that they were not comfortable with the emergence of Saraki as they all rushed into their waiting vehicles and headed for the National Assembly complex.
On his way out of the ICC, the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, told journalists that he had “no comment or reaction.”
The party’s National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, said, “We just watched it (on television) but we will address you when the whole situation has been re-examined.”
Senator Ahmed Sani had nominated Saraki for the office of the Senate President while Dino Melaye, seconded the nomination.
The Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, declared Saraki, duly elected following the dead silence from the members when he called for another nomination for the post and consequently administered the oath of office on him.
There were 57 Senators in the chamber when the election was conducted but the number increased to 76 when the Clerk of the National Assembly was about to superintendent the conduct of the election of the deputy President of the Senate.
Senator George Sekibo nominated Ekweremadu. His nomination was seconded by Senator Olaka Nwogu.
Ekweremadu polled 54 votes to defeat Ndume, who scored 20 votes.
He (Ekweremadu) was also sworn in by Maikasuwa.
The National Assembly Clerk also honoured former Senate President, David Mark, by personally swearing him in as a senator of the Eighth Senate.
Saraki later swore in the remaining senators present.
Maikasuwa, in company with his deputy, Ben Effeturi, and the Deputy Clerk of the Senate, Adedotun Durojaiye, had entered the Senate chamber at 9.52am and announced, at exactly 10am that he had the order of Buhari, through a letter, to inaugurate the Eighth Senate.
Durojaiye, after Maikasuwa’s proclamation, commenced the process of voting by reading out the names of senators-elect and at the end of the roll call, he announced that there were 57 of the senators in attendance.
Majority of the members of Senate Unity Forum, who were canvassing support for the emergence of Lawan as the Senate President, were at the ICC where the meeting with Buhari was to hold.
In his inaugural speech, Saraki commended his colleagues for their maturity and patriotism in electing the leadership of the Eighth Senate.
He noted that by their action, they had demonstrated that even though they belonged to different parties, they were ultimately united by a common desire to entrench democracy and allow its principle guide their conduct.
He said, “The change that our people voted for is a change from a life of poverty, misery to a life of prosperity, happiness, security and comfort, accountability and respect for democracy.
“This is a change that all of us in the National Assembly must strive to justify, Nigerian want to see a proactive National Assembly.”
Saraki pledged that he would be guided by the enormity of the responsibilities that the current national challenge had imposed on everybody, while at the same time, strive to be just, equitable and fair to all.
He commended Buhari for remaining steadfast in his defence of the right of the National Assembly to choose its own leaders which, according to him, had laid a solid foundation for the stability of the National Assembly.
The Senate thereafter adjourned to Wednesday (today).
How Gbajabiamila lost
The odds were in favour of Gbajabiamila to win the poll until the tables turned on him.
Dogara polled 182 votes out of the 358 total cast ballots to beat the former Minority Leader in the keenly-contested poll. Gbajabiamila scored 174 votes .
Two ballots were voided in the election which was also conducted under the watch of the National Assembly Clerk.
Gbajabiamila congratulated the new speaker moments after the results were announced by embracing him and shaking hands with him.
The chamber of the House erupted in jubilation immediately the results were declared.
The APC has 213 out of the 360 members of the House and the calculation of the Gbajabiamila camp was that their candidate needed a few votes from the PDP caucus and other smaller parties to coast to a straight victory.
Investigations showed that the North-West with the highest number of 87 APC members was Gbajabiamila’s main support base.
The zone was backed by the South-West with 48 members and the North-East, which has 36 members.
However, it was gathered that two major factors turned the tables on Gbajabiamila.
Findings indicated that many of the PDP members, who initially assured Gbajabiamila of their support, suddenly changed their minds and filed behind Dogara.
On his part, Dogara already had the backing of the majority of the 139 PDP members in the House. The last-minute directive of the minority party further strengthened his PDP support base.
“The second factor flowed from the first one; when Saraki, who is from the North-Central, won in the Senate, some of the APC members from the North-East and North-West made a U-turn to support Dogara.
“They suddenly realised that the North-East would be left with nothing substantial if they went ahead to elect Gbajabiamila.
When the reality of Gbajabiamila’s loss dawned on his supporters, a series of horse trading started for the position of Deputy Speaker.
Gbajabiamila’s running mate was Monguno, who is from the same zone as Dogara.
His supporters and many PDP members had attempted to drag Gbajabiamila into accepting to run as Dogara’s deputy, but he bluntly rejected the proposal.
On their part, the PDP members also attempted to advise Dogara’s original running mate, Yusuf Lasun, to step down for the former Deputy House Leader, Leo Ogor.
Ogor, a PDP member also fought off the pressure mounted on him by turning down the offer.
With the horse trading failing to yield the desired results, voting for Monguno and Lasun as contestants for the post of deputy speaker started around 5.50pm on Tuesday.
Lasun,who hails from Osun State, scored 203 votes to beat Monguna, who got 153 votes.
In his acceptance speech, Dogara promised to fight corruption in government and instil discipline in the management of public affairs.
He described his victory as a demonstration of the members’ determination to sustain the independence of the legislature as an arm of government.
The new speaker said, “What has been demonstrated here today, is the resolve of members of the House to assert the independence of the legislature as a co-equal arm of government.
“We have shown once again that this is a House of the Nigerian people.”
He praised Gbajabiamaila for putting up a dogged fight, assuring him that they would both work together to heal any divisions caused in the House by the contest.
Dogara said, “I salute the doggedness and service of Gbajabiamila, who fought a good fight and who has served this House and the nation with distinction.
“Together, we will heal the wounds and divisions of this contest. Together we shall work to deliver good legislation and good government to our people.”
Meanwhile, the immediate-past Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal, has congratulated Saraki, Ekweremadu, Dogara and Lasun for emerging victorious.
Tambuwal, who is now the Governor of Sokoto State, commended members of the National Assembly for the “maturity” they displayed during the elections.
Stop whining, PDP tells APC leadership
But the PDP whose members made the emergence of Saraki and Dogara possible, congratulated the new leaders of the National Assembly, saying their elections underscored the fact that no section of the country should be neglected in national issues.
The PDP added in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, that the development in both chambers of the National Assembly was “victory for democracy.”
It therefore urged the APC leadership to stop “whining and accept the will of the people, respect the independence of the legislature because it was not responsible for their (APC leaders) naivety and crass inexperience.”
The statement read, “What is paramount to the PDP is the sustenance of our democracy and the wellbeing of our people, irrespective of creed, class or ethnicity.
“The PDP is therefore willing and ready to partner like-minded individuals in other political parties and groups to sustain our democracy, ensure good governance and promote the unity and stability of our dear nation. Nigeria as a nation belongs to all of us. Its interest therefore must be put over and above personal, partisan or group interests at all times.
“In this regard, the PDP notes with gratitude, the immense contributions of the immediate past Senate President ‘the Baba of the National Assembly’, Senator David Mark, for the decency and mature manner with which he ensured the smooth take- off of the 8th National Assembly.”
The PDP had in a statement on Tuesday morning said it had adopted Saraki and Dogara for the position of Senate President and Speaker respectively. It therefore urged its National Assembly members to act accordingly by voting the two men.
Four out of the 22 APC governors had met on Monday night at the Imo State Governor’s Lodge in Abuja to find a means of dousing the tension generated by the contest for the Assembly’s top posts.
The four governor were Rochas Okorocha(Imo), Nasir el-Rufai(Kaduna), Samuel Ortom(Benue) and Abubakar Bello(Niger).
After about 30 minutes, the four governors headed for the Transcorp Hilton Hotel where they met with the lawmakers from their respective states .
Also Gbajiamila held an enlarged meeting with the various state caucuses of the party in the House at the Lagos Hall of the hotel.
Gbajabiamila was spotted wearing a red Kwanwasiya traditional cap apparently to sell himself to the North-West caucus.
A former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, congratulated the newly elected leaders of the National Assembly, admonishing them to see their elections beyond the narrow interests of political parties.
Abubakar noted in a press statement by his media office on Tuesday, that with the elections, the 8th National Assembly should begin work and put overall national interest beyond the personal interests of its members.