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Nigeria’s APC says winner should take all in Senate and Speaker tussle

By Eromo Egbejule
Posted on Wednesday, 24 April 2019 12:18

Bukola Saraki is stepping down as Senate president, leaving the APC and PDP to fight it out over the hot seat. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Nigeria's federal parliament is on recess ahead of the 12 June transition from the Eighth to the Ninth National Assembly (NASS), but is still managing to conjure up a busload of sparks.

The 2019 general polls have come and gone, with some of the legislators losing their seats and others retaining them. The new four-year tenure also provides an opportunity for a change of leadership of both legislative chambers, and it is that high-level jostling that has set off a fresh round of drama on the national scene.

  • Save for retired general David Mark (number three citizen from 2007-2015), no Senate president or Speaker of the House has presided over the affairs of NASS for more than one term, and history is about to be preserved.
  • One of the heavyweight casualties of the election was Bukola Saraki, who lost the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primaries and his senatorial seat. His party mate Yakubu Dogara, however, won re-election and is now battling also to be returned as speaker for a second tenure.
  • Having lost his reelection, Saraki is stepping aside and the party leadership is fearing up to tele-guide the process of installing loyalists as leaders.
  • The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) leadership – especially national chair Adams Oshiomhole and national leader Bola Tinubu – have already handpicked their favourites, Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila, to replace Saraki and Dogara as Senate president and Speaker.

But nothing good comes easy.

The PDP is insisting that it can also nominate candidates for the top two positions in NASS, even though the APC is countering with a winner-takes-all argument that it reserves the right to do so by virtue of being the majority. Their stand is supported by a history of presiding officers never ascending to those offices while officially in the opposition.

Ambition runs rife

Within the APC, cracks and signs of an implosion – similar to the one preceding the election – are emerging as a number of other lawmakers are determined to mount individual campaigns for the top jobs. The cohort of APC governors have had to step in to intervene and the storm is yet to calm.

As the clock slowly inches closer to inauguration day, it is certain that the last has not been heard of this debacle. Who blinks first?

Déjà vu

This is the sequel to a very similar script acted out around this time four years ago.

  • Back in 2015, Saraki and Dogara had teamed up with their loyalists within the ruling party and in the opposition to outwit and dribble the APC hierarchy, who had presented Lawan and Gbajabiamila on that occasion, too.
  • They would go on to be a thorn in the flesh of the APC, with Saraki especially leading what has been one of the most independent-minded parliaments ever in Nigeria’s history.
  • Meanwhile, Tinubu has being accused in certain quarters of wanting to manipulate the leadership of the national assembly so things align ahead of 2023, when he plans to actualise his longstanding presidential ambition. It’s an allegation that the ex-Lagos governor – also briefly a senator in 1993 – has categorically denied.
  • Tinubu’s denial has degenerated into a war of words with both Saraki and Dogara, after he accused them of budget padding, among other sins, as well as being “regressive elitists that constitute a brake on progress and good governance”.

They have both fired a salvo of responses, with the Speaker hitting the elder statesman the hardest: “In this case, he spoke as a spokesperson of depravity,” Dogara’s statement read. “Our reaction must therefore be seen as a provoked counter-punch. Anyone can descend into the gutter if he so wishes but no one has a monopoly on gutter language. We won’t run an adult day care centre any more on matters like this.”

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