The president-elect, Asíwájú Bola Tinubu, has admonished the All Progressives Congress governors to work with the party to avoid precipitating a leadership crisis in the National Assembly.
Tinubu asked the governors Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna), Hope Uzodimma (Imo) and others to work with the party leadership and lawmakers on the election of principal officers of the National Assembly.
The ex-Lagos State governor spoke on Thursday during a meeting with the Progressives Governors Forum members who visited him at the Defence House in Abuja, according to a statement by his media aide, Tunde Rahman.
The President-elect agreed with the suggestion of the governors that consensus candidates should not be picked. Rather the positions should be zoned.
It was gathered that the meeting was part of Tinubu’s consultations with the APC stakeholders for the planned zoning of the positions.
He had earlier met with the party’s National Working Committee members and some aspirants.
The governors were led to the meeting by the Chairman of the PGF who also doubles as the governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu.
Those in attendance included the vice president-elect, Kashim Shettima; Governors Simon Lalong (Plateau), Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Aminu Bello Masari (Katsina), Hope Uzodinnma (Imo), Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa), Babajide Sanwo-olu (Lagos), Ben Ayade (CrossRivers), Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq (Kwara), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun) and Biodun Oyebanji (Ekiti).
Others were the Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, Kelechi Igwe and the APC governorship candidate in Kano State, Alhaji Nasiru Gawuna.
In recent days, the contest for the president of the senate and the Speaker of the 10 National Assembly has become stiff with no fewer than 10 APC senators angling to emerge as the senate president while about 12 members-elect are contending for the speakership.
The development has put the party in a quandary with different interests demanding that the National Assembly leadership positions should be zoned to their geo-political regions.
Addressing the governors, Tinubu said, “We thank God Almighty for our electoral victory. It was tough and turbulent. The challenge before us is working in unison with the party leadership and the National Assembly over the election of their principal officers. And I charge you to unite in spirit and faith and work in line with the party.”
Continuing, Tinubu gave a glimmer of hope to some notable governors and former governorship candidates who lost in their states at the 2023 polls.
He was referring to the Plateau State governor who was the Director-General of the APC Presidential Campaign Council and his Ebonyi State colleague who both lost their senatorial bids.
Others who lost the elections included the Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle who lost his re-election; Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River, Nasarawa State Governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura and Senator Aishatu Dahiru aka Binani who lost the governorship poll in Adamawa State.
The President-elect told the governors and former governorship candidates of the party that “whether you return or not, this is our government. Once we know what we are doing and communicating as elected leaders and loyal party men, we will conquer the challenge.”
He reiterated his earlier admonitions that, as leaders, they were elected to serve the people and humanity with fairness and justice.
In an emotion-laden voice, Tinubu expressed gratitude to God that he, being “the first Muslim minority from the South-West got the blessing of Allah to be elected president.”
He further dismissed speculations about his health, saying “All speculations have perished and their purveyors brought to shame.”
Earlier, Bagudu said the visit was to congratulate Tinubu on his election victory and welcome him back from his recent trip to France.
He also announced that the governors were ready for any assignment the President-elect may give them.
While referring to the election of presiding officers of the National Assembly, the Kebbi State governor pledged that they would continue to discuss and work with the party and the lawmakers to arrive at the best decision in the interest of the country.
Sources at the meeting told The PUNCH that Tinubu and the governors were unanimous in their decision that the party should not settle for consensus candidates for the NASS leadership positions.
It was learnt that the participants resolved to allow the lawmakers to choose their leaders.
The source stated that the party agreed that just as the president-elect emerged through a democratic process, the leadership of the National Assembly should follow the same route.
The source said, “At the meeting, the party as always was very careful of the religion and ethnic balance to avoid fresh battles.
“The governors advised the president-elect to allow the leadership of the National Assembly to follow normal protocol without anointing any candidate.
“The governors also told him that just like President Muhammadu Buhari didn’t choose a consensus candidate, he should let democracy have its way in the leadership of the party.”
The source noted that the president-elect agreed and assured the party that the zoning and choice of the candidate would be properly deliberated upon between the party and the lawmakers.
The source noted, “The president-elect also assured the governors that the choice of the leadership of the 10th Assembly would involve the party and the lawmakers.”
Responding to the issue of a consensus candidate for the senate president, the senator representing Borno South, Senator Ali Ndume noted that it was fine by him as it would help manage the crisis.
He, however, warned that the party must be fair in the choice of the candidate.
He said, “I am in the race if the ticket is left open, but if it is zoned outside of my zone, I will abide by the party’s decision if it is fair.
“Like I have always said if the party comes out with its zoning and it is fair because everybody should belong.”
Ndume added that in the leadership of the National Assembly equity should not be the priority, the usual priority in most democratic practices is seniority.
He added, “We will wait for the decision of the party if they decide that fairness should be a priority in terms of the representation of zones, which is a fair thing to consider. Outside of that, the best thing is to leave the race open.”
On the issue of a consensus candidate, Ndume noted that it was best for the party if such would be agreed upon based on fairness.
The Borno senator said, “Settling for a consensus candidate should have been the best but the primary consideration should be fairness. You reach a consensus when there is fairness.”
Also, in its reaction, the campaign office of the senator representing Niger East, Sani Musa, noted that it was fair that the party should zone rather than pick a consensus candidate.
It stated that “The party should let the leadership be zoned to a particular place and let the lawmakers decide who they like to be their leaders among the aspirants.”
The APC Deputy National Organising Secretary, Nze Chidi Duru, applauded Tinubu, saying he has demonstrated that he is indeed a party man.
He said, “The president-elect’s response reconfirmed the fact that he is a party man. It is the responsibility of the party to take such steps and deliberate on the criteria based on which the leaders of the National Assembly will emerge. It is the responsibility of the party.”
He also confirmed that the National Working Committee of the party had not met to take a position on the zoning of the principal offices in both chambers, including talks on consensus candidates being reported in a section of the media.
“No decision has been taken on the zoning or who will be the preferred candidates of the party. At least, not to my knowledge. I can confidently tell you that there has been no meeting of the NWC in the last weeks.’’
Also, members-elect who are aspiring to be Speaker of the House of Representatives have expressed their willingness to allow the APC to allocate leadership positions in the coming 10th National Assembly to the geopolitical zones.
The speakership aspirants, in separate interviews with our correspondent, stressed the supremacy of the APC or any other political party in political decisions that concern their members.
Lawmakers demand fairness
The lawmakers, who called for fairness and equity in the distribution of offices and positions, noted their willingness to abide by the decisions of the party on the 10th NASS leadership.
A speakership aspirant from Plateau State, Yusuf Gagdi, dismissed the calls to jettison zoning, recalling how the Peoples Democratic Party used to zone offices when it was in power and was the majority in the Senate and the House.
Gagdi, who is Chairman of the House Committee on Navy, stressed that it is the party that should determine which zones should get what offices, and not its members.
He said, “I am a party man. I want the party to zone (the positions). If the party zones, I will respect the zoning. But it is not within the powers of the aspirants to say whether they like zoning or they don’t want zoning. The party produced the aspirants; it produced the members.
“So, the party is supreme. Confirm from the party whether they want to zone (positions) or not, not from the aspirants.”
He added, “How can aspirants prefer zoning or not? It has always been zoned. During the PDP era, the speakership position was zoned. During APC’s time, it has always been zoned. Why then do you need aspirants to now tell you whether it should be zoned or not?”
The lawmaker, however, noted that an aspirant from another zone could contest against candidates from the zone in which an officer was allocated. “At every point in time, there are aspirants that have refused zoning. Even if a party zones (a position), those that don’t want to respect zoning should go ahead and disrespect it,” he stressed.
Another speakership aspirant from Abia State, Benjamin Kalu, also backed zoning “as long as it is done without diversity insensitivity but with all national inclusion elements well factored in, to inspire and stimulate national loyalty, cohesion and non-coerced patriotism.”
Kalu, who is Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Publicity, said, “The party gave us a platform to become who we are today or will become after the inauguration of the House. They stood by us during the primaries because they wanted to work with us as a team for nation-building.
“I believe in the tripartite arrangement established by the current leadership of the House, the Executive and the party leadership, to always have a triple view to issues of national importance before taking a national policy step towards national objectives. It has worked for the nation because we have achieved more than we would have if each worked on the frolic of hers.’’
According to the House’s spokesman, power should be shared in the spirit of what the federal character principle preaches “in marriage with competence, character, credibility and, overall, knowledge-based capacity, considering that knowledge and experience are key drivers of effective national legislative interventions.’’
When asked whether the APC should pick a candidate among the aspirants from the zone a particular position is allocated or the lawmakers should be allowed to contest against themselves, Kalu urged the party to consider the South-East “especially when we have not been Speaker for more than four decades.”
Group advises Tinubu
In a related development, a pro-democracy group- the Natives, has cautioned the leadership of the APC against internal wranglings ahead of the May 29 inauguration of the president-elect Sen. Bola Tinubu.
The leader of the group, Mr Olalekan Edwards, said this when he led a team on a visit to the APC National Chairman, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, in Abuja on Thursday.
Edwards also urged the leadership to ensure that only capable hands were appointed to key positions by the incoming administration.
He said the visit was also to thank the party’s leadership for giving them a marketable product that speaks for itself in the person of Tinubu.
Speaking in a similar vein, the Coalition of Northern Front, South-West Professionals and Arewa Youth Groups has called on the APC leadership to choose a speaker ‘’with reputation and experience.’’
Mr Tijjani Abdulmumuni, President of Arewa Youth Group, who spoke on behalf of the coalition, said they were in support of a lawmaker from the South-East for the sake of equity.
He, however, said whoever the party would support from the region, should be someone with high moral standards and experience.
Meanwhile, the APC has said it has not zoned the National Assembly positions. In a statement by its spokesman, Felix Morka ,the party said, ‘’The attention of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been drawn to versions of zoning arrangements for the 10th National Assembly leadership positions in circulation in sections of social media. The information did not emanate from the Party and should be disregarded.
“To be clear, the Party has yet to zone positions of leadership of the 10th National Assembly. Any decisions made in that regard will be duly communicated via the Party’s official information channels.’’