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10th Assembly: Tinubu returns, set to tackle leadership tussle

Bola Tinubu
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The President-elect, Bola Tinubu, returned to the country from a holiday in France on Saturday and is scheduled to meet with members of the National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress and aspirants jostling for leadership positions in the 10th National Assembly.

Tinubu’s private jet touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, around 12.15pm and he and his wife, Oluremi, were received by the Vice-President-elect, Kashim Shetimma; President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan; Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje; Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Idris Wase; and the anointed candidate for the position of Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, and other top members of the APC and supporters.

Tinubu is expected to join the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and other dignitaries for the official opening of the Dangote Refinery Complex in the Lekki area of Lagos State on Monday.

Sunday PUNCH gathered that the President-elect was prevailed upon by the APC Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, to return to the country as he was already losing grip of the 10th National Assembly leadership jostle due to his absence.

“Abdullahi Adamu was said to have sent words to him (Tinubu) on Thursday night that he was losing grip of the protests against the zoning issue, especially when Gbajabiamila reported the outcome of his encounter with the Reps-elect at Transcorp, a meeting that was attended by less than 80 Reps out of 113 that have appended their signatures. Some fraudulent Reps even appended fake signatures,” a source informed one of our correspondents.

A member of the House of Representatives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Wase just confirmed to me that he held a brief meeting with Tinubu upon his arrival on Saturday. He said he was informed by the VP-elect, Shettima of the return of Jagaban (Tinubu), who also insisted that they must go to the airport together, which he did.

“He said he gave a detailed explanation that their protest was not against the President-elect, but against Gbajabiamila, who painted a picture of arrogance and treated all others as his subjects. He said it was no longer about the aspirants, but about how the North feels treated by another man who purports to act on behalf of the Jagaban. He said the meeting was fruitful and that something was being done about the impasse.”

Sunday PUNCH reliably gathered from an aide to the President-elect, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, that Tinubu would later on Saturday or today (Sunday) meet with the APC NWC members and all the aspirants for the leadership positions in the National Assembly with a view to dousing the tension generated by the party’s endorsement of some of the aspirants.

It was learnt that Tinubu might either endorse or demand a review of the sharing formula for the leadership positions in the Assembly.

The National Chairman of the party, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, had said when aspirants in the Senate and the House separately protested to the NWC that a review of the 10th National Assembly leadership zoning plan would be delayed till the return of Tinubu to the country.

The G-7, a group of aggrieved aspirants in the House of Representatives, is waiting to officially hear the position of the President-elect on the zoning plan that has generated uproar from within and outside the parliament.

Several members of the G-7 had during the week dissociated the President-elect from the announcement made by the NWC of the APC, arguing that Tinubu had yet to openly endorse the zoning plan.

The NWC had on May 8, 2023, released the zoning formula for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly, picking Godswill Akpabio (Akwa-Ibom/South-South) for the President of the Senate; Jibrin Barau (Kano/North-West) for the Deputy President of the Senate; Tajudeen Abbas (Kaduna/North-West) for the Speaker, House of Representatives; and Benjamin Kalu (Abia/South-East) for the Deputy Speaker.

At the centre of the crisis is the outgoing Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, who is widely believed to have influenced the decisions taken by the APC NWC.

Tinubu and Gbajabiamila had at different occasions met with or reached out to the aggrieved aspirants before the zoning announcement by the party.

Shettima, after the protests that followed the zoning plan release, disclosed that he had met with some of the aggrieved aspirants and planned to reach out to the others.

‘Zoning review dangerous’

Speaking with one of our correspondents on Saturday, a leader of the Joint Task-10th Assembly, a coalition of members-elect on the platforms of the APC and opposition parties, which had endorsed the ruling party’s decision, warned against reviewing the zoning plan.

The leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because being identified might frustrate the peace moves being made by the group, said it was too late for the APC to tinker with the adoption list.

The ranking member of the House said, “A good decision has been made. It is not true – it can’t be totally true – that there was no consultation. There were consultations and every of the other aspirants was lobbying the President-elect and members of the NWC to be the anointed candidate. Their reaction, it is expected; Nigerian politicians are never good losers. Every one of them wished to have been anointed. They (the NWC members) should continue their engagements and try to talk to everybody.

“There is not much left to be done. I think we have gone far. Dropping anybody and altering the list now in a manner that will affect those that are already out will rather complicate the situation than solving the assumed problem. Trying to alter it now to address a perceived problem will compound the problem rather than solving it.”

The joint task leader noted that should the position of Deputy Speaker be used to pacify the North-Central, there would be protests from the South-East. He also noted that the North-Central had the chairmanship of the APC, with plans to allow the zone to produce the Secretary to the Government of the Federation under Tinubu.

Shettima meets Gagdi

A member of the G-7, Yusuf Gagdi, in a separate interview, confirmed that the Vice President-elect contacted him but did not ask him to step down.

Gagdi said, “I reached out to him before he made this comment (when the Joint Task led Abbas and Kalu to Shettima). There was an appointment that I was going to meet with him and he did not tell me to step down. I think my meeting with him had a relationship with me contesting to be Speaker, but no discussion whatsoever is related to the visit of the so-called anointed candidate and reaching out to members of the G-7.

“I met him as a political leader of the North and to tell him about my intention to run for Speaker, because up till that moment, I had not officially declared that to him. I told him and he prayed and wished me well. If there was any engagement regarding the issue of who becomes Speaker; whether reaching out to us to support Tajudeen Abbas or not, I have not discussed that with the VP-elect yet.”

When asked about Tinubu reaching out to the G-7, the speakership aspirant stated that the group had resolved that “we must produce one person among us and that is our stand.”

“And if Asiwaju (Tinubu) calls me, not them, my own struggle, no matter how expensive it looks, I am not struggling for myself; I am struggling for the common Nigerians. Being a Speaker is not a do-or-die affair. I will only listen if justice is done to my zone,” he added.

Gagdi also noted that if the APC had consulted widely with leaders of the party as well as members-elect of the National Assembly as it did in 2019 when it adopted Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila for President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, respectively, “you wouldn’t have this problem.But when you think everybody is nobody, people begin to show that within their little powers, they are powerful.”

For the first time, Gbajabiamila publicly opened up on the controversies surrounding the zoning plan and the roles he played in anointing the candidates for the House.

“A lot of people think and give me more credit and more power than it is due me. A lot of people think I zoned the speakership; that I handpicked and zoned. I wish I had those powers,” the Speaker said.

Gbajabiamila, however, said he wanted a Speaker who could “stand toe-to-toe with any Speaker on the African continent or in the world, adding that Tajudeen Abbas had been making an impact quietly, having sponsored 78 bills, 21 of which had been signed into law.

“So, I found in Tajudeen somebody I felt we could be proud of as members of the House of Representatives. That is not to say that others don’t have capacity, but there is capacity and there is capacity,” he added.

On the choice of Deputy Speaker, Gbajabiamila had also said, “What I have done is to spread joy. They did North-West. I advised them and they did the South-East. Spread the joy! Cut across! And in the South-East, I found Ben Kalu.”

On the lopsided sharing of the positions, Gbajabiamila claimed that he was told that “from the day Nigeria was born, the North-West, being the largest of voting blocs with seven states, has never ever been outside the top four of the hierarchy in Nigeria.”

Members of the G-7, however, attacked Gbajabiamila over the comments when a member of the group, Sani Jaji, declared his speakership bid on Thursday.

There are protests also over the positions of President and Deputy President of the Senate. The aggrieved aspirants include the current Majority Whip, Senator Orji Kalu; former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari; Senator Sani Musa and Osita Izunaso. Some of them are reportedly backing down on their agitation.

Meanwhile, more speakership aspirants are expected to step down for Abbas in the coming weeks.

Last week, the Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, and two other aspirants, Makki Yalleman and Olatunji Olawuyi, withdrew from the speakership race and declared their support for the APC candidate.

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Efforts by the minority parties to form a coalition against the APC, especially with their higher number, have failed. The Minority Parties’ Forum had broken away from the 10th Assembly – Greater Majority to adopt the APC candidates. Members of the group had also met with Gbajabiamila last week on how to reach a consensus.

Groups to present candidates

Meanwhile, as the President-elect arrived in Abuja, the aggrieved speakership aspirants under the aegis of the G-6 met with the minority caucus of the House of Representatives.

All members of the G-7, except Wase, who was at the airport to receive Tinubu, were present at the meeting, which was held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.

Sada Soli, who spoke on behalf of the group, informed the opposition parties that the members had agreed on an individual as the consensus candidate for the speakership.

He, however, stated that the identity of the individual would be kept under wraps until the day of the inauguration of the National Assembly to avoid establishment focus and monitoring.

Gagdi, a prominent member of the G-7, also hinted that the group was ready to present a consensus candidate against Abbas and Kalu.

The speakership aspirant made this known in a terse message sent to journalists after a meeting with leaders of the 10th Assembly – Greater Majority.

“G-7 and the Greater-Minority caucus set to present consensus candidates for speakership and deputy speakership,” Gagdi said.

However, the lawmaker did not state the name of the candidate as well as when the announcement would be made.

Photos from the meeting showed prominent leaders of the coalition of minority parties, including the convener, Fred Agbedi (PDP/Bayelsa); Oluwole Oke (PDP/Osun), and Dachung Bagos (PDP/Plateau), among others.

The 10th Assembly – Greater Majority had earlier on Saturday denied endorsing the APC candidates, Abbas and Kalu, after a meeting with Gbajabiamila.

The coalition of members-elect of the 10th House of Representatives in minority parties denied endorsing the anointed candidate of the APC for the position of Speaker, Tajudeen Abbas.

Secretary of the group, Ali Isa, made the denial in a notice to members issued on Saturday and titled, ‘Important Notice to All Members of the Minority Caucuses of the 10th National Assembly, House of Representatives’.

Isa stated that the 10th Assembly – Greater Majority had yet to adopt the APC candidates for Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

However, the Yusuf Adamu Gagdi for Speaker Campaign Office said the G-7 and the Greater Minority group had reached a deal on presenting candidates against the APC choices.

The office, in a statement issued on Saturday and titled, ‘10th Assembly Leadership: G7, Greater Minority Groups reach agreement on consensus candidate for Speaker, Deputy’, said the meeting was to “take a common position on the leadership of the House of Representatives in the incoming Assembly.”

The statement noted that the Greater Minority was made up of 182 members-elect across minority parties, including the Peoples Democratic Party, Labour Party, New Nigeria People’s Party, Africa Democratic Congress, Young Peoples Party, All Progressives Grand Alliance and the Social Democratic Party.

It said on the other hand, the G-7 included the incumbent Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase; Chairman of the House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi; Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Aliyu Betara; Chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli; Miriam Onuoha and Sani Jaji.

The statement read in part, “At the end of the meeting, which was held at Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja on Saturday, May 20, 2023, the incoming lawmakers agreed on consensus candidates for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker positions. They, however, decided to wait for a later date to unveil the candidates.”

The statement quoted Gagdi to have said the members-elect settled for “candidates who will be acceptable to the majority of them.”

It added, “The G-7 met with the Greater Minority and agreed on consensus candidates for Speaker and Deputy Speaker, but we will not mention the names yet. We reached the agreement based on the best choice of people that will be acceptable to the majority of all parties involved.

“We have formed this alliance to resist all attempts by external forces to impose leadership on the 10th House of Representatives. Rest assured that the next leadership of the House will emerge from us.”

Gagdi, a prominent member of the G-7, also hinted that the group was ready to present a consensus candidate against Abbas and Kalu.

The speakership aspirant made this known in a terse message sent to journalists after a meeting with leaders of the 10th Assembly – Greater Majority.

“G-7 and the Greater-Minority caucus set to present consensus candidates for speakership and deputy speakership,” Gagdi said.

However, the lawmaker did not state the name of the candidate as well as when the announcement would be made.

Photos from the meeting showed prominent leaders of the coalition of minority parties, including the convener, Fred Agbedi (PDP/Bayelsa); Oluwole Oke (PDP/Osun), and Dachung Bagos (PDP/Plateau), among others.

The 10th Assembly – Greater Majority had earlier on Saturday denied endorsing the APC candidates, Abbas and Kalu, after a meeting with Gbajabiamila.

The coalition of members-elect of the 10th House of Representatives in minority parties denied endorsing the anointed candidate of the APC for the position of Speaker, Tajudeen Abbas.

Secretary of the group, Ali Isa, made the denial in a notice to members issued on Saturday and titled, ‘Important Notice to All Members of the Minority Caucuses of the 10th National Assembly, House of Representatives’.

Isa stated that the 10th Assembly – Greater Majority had yet to adopt the APC candidates for Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

However, the Yusuf Adamu Gagdi for Speaker Campaign Office said the G-7 and the Greater Minority group had reached a deal on presenting candidates against the APC choices.

The office, in a statement issued on Saturday and titled, ‘10th Assembly Leadership: G7, Greater Minority Groups reach agreement on consensus candidate for Speaker, Deputy’, said the meeting was to “take a common position on the leadership of the House of Representatives in the incoming Assembly.”

The statement noted that the Greater Minority was made up of 182 members-elect across minority parties, including the Peoples Democratic Party, Labour Party, New Nigeria People’s Party, Africa Democratic Congress, Young Peoples Party, All Progressives Grand Alliance and the Social Democratic Party.

It said on the other hand, the G-7 included the incumbent Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase; Chairman of the House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi; Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Aliyu Betara; Chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli; Miriam Onuoha and Sani Jaji.

The statement read in part, “At the end of the meeting, which was held at Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja on Saturday, May 20, 2023, the incoming lawmakers agreed on consensus candidates for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker positions. They, however, decided to wait for a later date to unveil the candidates.”

The statement quoted Gagdi to have said the members-elect settled for “candidates who will be acceptable to the majority of them.”

It added, “The G-7 met with the Greater Minority and agreed on consensus candidates for Speaker and Deputy Speaker, but we will not mention the names yet. We reached the agreement based on the best choice of people that will be acceptable to the majority of all parties involved.

“We have formed this alliance to resist all attempts by external forces to impose leadership on the 10th House of Representatives. Rest assured that the next leadership of the House will emerge from us.”

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