President Bola Tinubu’s meetings with lawmakers-elect failed to resolve the crisis brewing in the All Progressives Congress zoning arrangement, barely five days to the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly.
The APC National Working Committee had micro-zoned the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President seats to Senator Godswill Akpabio from South-South and Senator Jibrin Barau from North-West, respectively.
But other aspirants like Senators Abdulaziz Yari, (Zamfara West); Osita Izunaso (Imo West) and Orji Kalu (Abia North) have insisted that they would not step down for the party’s consensus candidate.
In the House, the APC leadership had also endorsed the member-elect representing Kaduna (North-West), Tajudeen Abbas, as speakership candidate, while the member-elect from Abia State (South-East), Benjamin Kalu, clinched the Deputy Speaker slot.
The aspirants, who were among the lawmakers who held a meeting with the President at the Aso Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday night, were still lobbying their colleagues and strategizing to upturn the APC’s zoning arrangement for the NASSS principal positions as of Thursday.
This is happening as the Peoples Democratic Party and the Labour Party have concluded plans to frustrate the APC’s plan for the NASS leadership offices.
The PDP confirmed on Thursday it had entered an agreement with other opposition parties to leverage on their numbers in influencing the election of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Findings by The PUNCH indicated that at least two members of the G-7, a group of anti-zoning aspirants for the speaker position, might contest against Abbas.
The group has, however, not officially declared its consensus candidate to run against Abbas.
While Abbas is from Kaduna State in the North-West, members of the G-7 who are from the same geopolitical zone with the APC candidate are Sani Jaji from Zamfara State and Sada Soli from Katsina State.
The PUNCH learnt on Thursday that despite his interventions, aspirants were capitalizing on the fact that the President during his meetings with the aspirants and the members-elect did not directly ask for support for Abbas and Kalu.
Member-elect for the Ningi/Warji Federal Constituency in Bauchi State, Adamu Ranga, told one of our correspondents that the President did not voice support for any of the candidates vying for the senate or House leadership, but he simply called for a united front.
Ranga said: “Mr President spoke to the general assembly, both Senate and the House of Representatives, in order to ensure that we have a solid government. Secondly, he emphasised that he will perform an open-door policy for everybody.
“Whoever wants to see him can see him without any hindrance. And whatever you want to discuss with him, he will give you that privilege to discuss. Thirdly, he said we should put our constituency first since we are here to represent them. He mentioned that he wants the Senate and the House to cooperate to elect good leaders.”
A member-elect for Enugu East/Isiuzo Federal Constituency, Prof Paul Nnamchi, told The PUNCH that Tinubu appealed to lawmakers to uphold national interest.
“He appealed that we should forget about party politics and face national interest. That was the major part of his speech. He didn’t mention anybody’s name to be voted for. Maybe he is appealing, but I didn’t hear anybody’s name,” Nnamchi said.
Sources in the G-7 also confirmed that Tinubu asked members-elect to work with the zoning plan of the APC, clearing the way for aspirants for a position allocated to a particular zone to contest against themselves.
A source close to Jaji and Wase said: “Prior to yesterday (Wednesday meeting), there was a meeting of the aspirants with Tinubu at the State House. He was not categorical. What he told them there and then was that the zoning stands.
‘’But he did not say ‘support Abbas’ but he said ‘zoning of the party stands.’ So, invariably, what he was trying to tell them, based on our interpretation, is that those aspirants from that zone can go ahead and contest.”
When asked about Wase who has said he would be the next Speaker of the House despite being from Plateau State in the North-Central, where no leadership position was zoned to, the source admitted that “it does not favour him.”
However, the source stated: “That is what Tinubu told members-elect on that day. I can confirm that one,” adding that, “It leaves Jaji, Soli and Abbas – the three of them – to slug it out.”
When asked to be categorical if Jaji was going ahead to contest against Abbas, the source said, ‘Yes, he is.” The source, however, could not say the same about Wase.
The source further disclosed that Jaji held a meeting with some members-elect at his Abuja office on Thursday afternoon, as part of his continued lobbying for votes.
While the source faulted the reports that Wase and Jaji shunned the Wednesday night meeting with Tinubu, he could not confirm if they were at the general meeting which was held on Thursday.
The source also confirmed the meeting between the G-7 and members-elect scheduled for Saturday.
The PUNCH had reported on Thursday that the group of aggrieved aspirants might declare its consensus candidate at the meeting, ahead of the inauguration of the 10th Assembly.
A member-elect also confirmed that the President urged the incoming lawmakers across party lines to work with the APC.
The opposition PDP member said: “He (Tinubu) spoke very well, frankly. He stressed on the importance of nation-building and working together. He said politics is over, it is time now to focus on governance, in building confidence and ensuring that we focus on delivering service to the people.’’
When asked if the issue of zoning Tinubu mentioned was in the context of the 10th Assembly leadership, the lawmaker said: “Yes, he enjoined everybody to support the choice they have made and work together.”
The member-elect added: “Before then, the Vice-President (Kashim Shettima) had stressed the need not to push too far the issue of Muslim-Muslim ticket by allowing a third person – the Senate President – to also have an Islamic background. You know that Yari is contesting for President of the Senate.”
According to him, the senators-elect will decide Akpabio’s fate.
“Let me tell you: many people don’t understand how the parliament works. There is a role for the party. Immediately a party has won the election and it is the majority in the parliament, the party has a decision to make and who to support. And if they zone their way to the leadership position, that is their prerogative. It is not really about zoning, it is about nomination and a party has the duty to nominate and support someone. And they have done that,” the lawmaker declared.
Vice President Kashim Shettima, outgoing Senate President Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, were present at the meeting.
Others were former Governor of Akwa Ibom and Senate Presidency aspirant, Godswill Akpabio, former governors of Ebonyi, Dave Umahi and Edo, Adams Oshiomhole.
Osita Izunaso, Sani Bello, Aliyu Wammako and speakership contender Abbas also attended the parley.
However, former Zamfara State Governor, Abdul’Aziz Yari and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase, were not spotted at the meeting.