10th NASS: Akpabio walks tightrope as opposition swells

After weeks of intrigues, the National Working Committee, NWC, of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, finally announced that it has zoned the position of the Senate President to the South-South and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to the North-West for the forthcoming 10th National Assembly.

The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka confirmed the arrangement in a press briefing at the end of the party’s NEC meeting held at its national secretariat in Abuja.

The Party also said it zoned the position of Deputy Senate President to the North-West and Deputy Speaker to the South-East.

Adopting a zoning template of candidates by its President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, APC settled for Senators Godswill Akpabio and Barau Jubrin for the Senate leadership and Messrs Abass Tajudeen and Ben Kalu for the House of Representatives leadership.

“The NWC noted with respect the outcome of the meetings held between the President-elect and the leadership of the NWC. The NWC called for further and better consultation with necessary stakeholders to ensure the support of the aspirants to the National Assembly leadership positions and members of the APC nationwide.

“The zoning arrangement reported to the NWC is as follows: Senate President – South-South Senator Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Deputy Senate President – (North West), Senator Barau Jubrin (Kano).

“Speaker, House of Representatives North West-Hon. Abbas Tajudeen (Kaduna); Deputy Speaker (South East), Hon. Ben Kalu (Abia)”, Muoka said.

The development has seemingly put to bed the ambition of Orji Uzo Kalu and Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State to clinch the much-revered position in the NASS.

The duo who had won senatorial elections on the platform of the APC canvassed to be made Senate President, as, according to them, that would ensure equity because they are from South East.

“So, for inclusiveness, unity of the country and for everybody to be carried along, the South-East deserves the position, and so far, nobody has been able to say this is the reason why the South-East should not be given that position, and I am pleading for that,” Umahi had said.

Kalu, on his part, had described himself as the best candidate to emerge as the next Senate President.

He claimed he could unite Nigeria if elected as Senate President.

“I am the best among the candidates. I have the capacity to unite Nigeria, and I am the best to work with our President-elect for the best interest of Nigeria.

“I have the integrity, honesty, and experience to lead the Senate”, Kalu said.

However, as the drama ensued, Umahi jettisoned moves by South-East stakeholders to produce the next president of the Senate.

He claimed that Tinubu urged him to step down for Akpabio in the race for the 10th Senate presidency.

Umahi explained that he discussed his Senate presidency bid with Tinubu and had to accede to his request in the interest of the party.

“Yesterday, I saw the President-elect on his invitation, and he told me that he is already committed that I should hold on. So I have stepped down for my brother Akpabio. He is my consensus candidate,” he said.

But Kalu insisted that Igbos should be compensated with the position of Senate Presidency after giving President Muhammadu Buhari the needed support.

However, mixed reactions have continued to trail the choice of Akpabio by the ruling party.

Despite his nomination by the ruling party, opposition mounts from several quarters on his road to victory.

Akpabio is not in the good books of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, caucus in the National Assembly, including both the outgoing 9th Assembly and the incoming 10th Assembly. As a result, entreaties from the former governor of Akwa Ibom is not gaining the expected impact.

Also, Zamfara West Senator-elect, Abdul’Aziz Yari, is said to have rebuffed persuasion by Tinubu to step down for Akpabio in the Senate presidency race, insisting he will go ahead to contest the position.

Yari said it should be based on constitutional provisions and not instructions by anyone.

He said, “What is going to happen that day, it is going to happen based on the instructions of the constitution and not for anyone.”

Some northern aspirants for leadership positions in the National Assembly have also kicked against the planned zoning arrangement of the APC.

For instance, Senator Ali Ndume and Jibrin Barau, who are eyeing the Senate presidency, have said they would contest with or without the zoning arrangement.

Jibrin noted that the position of the Senate president requires experience and competence, not sentiments.

Also, Kalu, who declared it his turn to become the Senate President in March, has written personal letters to the members of the NWC of the APC and all of the 108 Senators-elect, indicating his interest in being the next Senate President.

Kalu’s media office released an official statement on Monday refuting news making the rounds that the South-East senators-elect endorsed him.

The former Abia State governor said he is offering himself to Nigerian people, the senators-elect and the party with sincerity of heart, humility, and candour, for the position of Senate President.

“I promise to work for you, promote and defend the constitution and the party, and foster a congenial and cordial relationship between the party, the executive and the judiciary.

“One thing is indubitably certain: working together in unity and mutual love and respect, we can take Nigeria to the next level of peace, progress, and development,” part of Kalu’s letter read.

On his part, the Director of the Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts, Sam Amadi claimed that the South-East is okay with the list of endorsed principal officers of the National Assembly by the All Progressives Congress, APC.

Amadi, a public affairs analyst, claimed that people of the Southeast were happy and reacted to their sidelining, saying, “We don’t want a distraction. We are building bridges.”

His comment is believed to be an aftermath of the 2023 presidential election, during which some prominent politicians from the zone, including Kalu and Umahi, had said Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP, was wasting his time and that the South-East was not ripe for the position.

They had insisted that the Igbo were not ripe, mature and ready to produce the president. Their position was that the Igbo should rather take more time to build political bridges.

“People in Southeast seem to like the APC list of endorsed principal officers of NASS. They are saying ‘we don’t want distraction. We are building bridges’.

“I think @OfficialAPCNg shows better deliberateness in their zoning than the others. Be quick and clear anyhow you want to do it,” Amadi wrote on his Twitter handle.

Meanwhile, Onyebuchi Igboke, the Project Manager of Advocacy Partnership for Good Governance and Convener, Office of the Citizens, told DAILY POST that what Orji Kalu and Dave Umahi are experiencing was expected and should be a lesson.

Igboke advised the Igbo political elites, including traditional rulers, to come back to the drawing board and strategize on how to engage other zones politically.

He said that the duo might be paying a price for making statements that did not favour the South-East.

He said, ”Regarding the issue of National Assembly Senate president, Dave Umahi and Orji Kalu, though people are mocking them, for me it shouldn’t be the issue of mocking individuals, in the sense that the whole thing is becoming deliberate that a certain region is being marginalised.

“It is also understandable to know why some people started mocking them because it looked as if they could not read the handwriting on the wall or they were over ambitious or over trusted the political cabals in the APC. If you remembered what Kalu said about Obi before the general election, and even Dave Umahi, they were making all kinds of statements that did not favour the South-East.

”Currently, some people might feel they are getting their own share of their deeds, but the issue here is that it is high time we began to come together as a people, we began to know that we must come as a group. Group interest should override our individual interest politically.

”I don’t know why it is always about the Igbos. With what is happening currently, it is high time the Igbo political elites, traditional rulers, and all the stakeholders in Igbo land should come back to the drawing board and strategize on how to engage in the political process.

“It is obvious even in the PDP that Igbos supported over the years, they could not give a presidential ticket to a South-East person. So it is time they come back to do a kind of review.

”What is happening to Orji Kalu and Dave Umahi, for me I expected such to happen, and it should be a lesson. But the likes of Umahi are already supporting Akpabio. I believe we can come back together and restrategize collectively and stop pursuing all those things as individuals. Most of us are very desperate for power.”

However, the President of the Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), Olu Omotayo, told DAILY POST in an interview, that Umahi and Kalu do not wield much political power within the APC structure.

The legal expert, however, called on the APC to ensure Federal Character in the composition of the leadership structure of the country.

He said, ”I will not be able to say much on the internal politics of APC as a party but be that as it may, the party is advised to ensure Federal Character in the sharing formula of power or in the composition of leadership structure of this country.

”The duo may not be strong enough to wield much political power within the APC structure for the fact that there are very few Senators of South-East extraction in the APC. So I believe that they can do little in the face of the present predicament facing them.

”I don’t think it’s an issue of payback time, but it shows that though they are in the party but they do not have the clout or in the real sense lack the political power or influence to sway critical decisions in favour of their zone, which is the South-East.”

In a sharp disagreement, however, a former media aide to ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri warns that excluding South-East would cause more problems for the country.

He said the South-East ought to have the Senate Presidency for the sake of equity.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Omokri maintained that if Nigeria must be peaceful, stable and prosperous, it
must practice power sharing.

He wrote, “Yes, the Southeast has had 5 Senate Presidents since 1999, but they have never had the Presidency. The Northwest, Southwest and South-South have. The Northwest, Northeast, South-South and Southwest have also occupied the vice Presidency.

“If we want Nigeria to be peaceful, stable and prosperous, we must practice power sharing. For equity, the Southeast ought to have the Senate Presidency. That, and rapid infrastructural investment in the region, will make them feel part of Nigeria and loved by the rest of the country. If we do not give it to them, let us be ready for more separatist agitations.”

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