Politics News

Tinubu meets opposition lawmakers-elect Monday over N’Assembly leadership

As the National Assembly leadership tussle intensifies, the President, Bola Tinubu, will on Monday meet lawmakers-elect of the National Assembly from opposition parties.
Opposition Senators-elect and House of Representatives members-elect from the Peoples Democratic Party, Labour Party and the New Nigeria Peoples Party, among other opposition parties are expected to meet with President Tinubu at the State House in Abuja between 3pm and 5pm.
The President’s notice of invitation to the lawmakers-elect, which was obtained by Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, was signed by the Permanent Secretary, State House, Tijani Umar, on behalf of the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila.
While the opposition senators-elect will meet with Tinubu by 3pm, opposition House of Representatives members-elect will gather at the same venue to discuss with the President by 5pm.
Though the notice of invitation did not state the agenda of the meeting, it was gathered that the leadership of the 10th National Assembly would be discussed.
The invitation, which was dated June 2, 2023, and addressed to the Clerk of the National Assembly, read, “I write to inform you that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu will hold a meeting with members of the opposition Senators-elect and opposition House of Representatives members-elect in the State House Conference Centre, Presidential Villa, Abuja on Monday, 5th June, 2023 at 1500 hours and 1700 hours respectively.
“In this regard, you are kindly requested to inform all concerned members to attend and forward their list early enough for security clearance. Please, accept the assurances of the President’s highest consideration.”
Recall that the decision of the APC to zone the 10th Assembly leadership had sparked serious controversy.
The National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress had on May 8, 2023, released the zoning formula for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly, picking Godswill Akpabio (Akwa-Ibom/South-South) President of the Senate; Jibrin Barau (Kano/North-West) for Deputy President of the Senate; Tajudeen Abbas (Kaduna/North-West) for Speaker; and Benjamin Kalu (Abia/South-East) for Deputy Speaker.
Several aspirants for leadership positions in the Senate and the House have, however, kicked against the APC leadership zoning plan, vowing to go ahead and contest against the party’s choice candidates.
The APC candidates and the G-7, a group of aspirants aggrieved with the leadership zoning plan of the ruling party, are banking on the votes of the newly elected members who are far more than the returning members and members-elect in the opposition parties who collectively have more numbers than the ruling party.
Opposition reacts to Tinubu’s invitation
However, the PDP, LP and the NNPP have cautioned lawmakers elected on their platforms against yielding to the whims and caprices of the executive over the 10th National Assembly leadership tussle.
The opposition maintained that though there was nothing wrong in attending the meeting called by President Tinubu, its members must ward off undue interference by the executive in matters concerning the legislature.
Speaking on Tinubu’s invitation, the NNPP spokesman, Agbo Major, said the opposition lawmakers-elect should operate without the interference of the executive.
Major maintained that the lawmakers must always ensure that the principle of separation of power should be embraced by the three arms of government in every situation in the interest of the country.
He, however, said the NNPP would not stand in the way of its members-elect if the President called them to a meeting.
He added that the NNPP might not be so nice to President Tinubu if the purpose of the meeting was linked with the tussle for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly.
“In any case, if the meeting is connected to the choice of National Assembly leadership, then the party will take a different position as we believe in the independence of the legislative arm of government which ideally should operate without interference from the executive arm in conformity with the principles of separation of power.
“As party loyalists, our elected members will return to brief the party after which appropriate decisions would be taken in the interest of the suffering masses,” he added.
Also reacting to the invitation, spokesman for the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, said the party would prioritise national interest over partisanship, adding that a request of such a meeting with its member-elect had yet to reach the party.
He said, “The PDP does not take dictates from another party. As far as the leadership of the 10th Assembly is concerned, the party will take a position that is in the interest of Nigeria, not the interest of another political party.
“Our members-elect in the National Assembly know this very well and from the retreat we had today (Saturday), they know where the PDP stands on the matter. We are too big as a party to take side with another party against the Nigerian people. No, we are too big for that,” Ologunagba said.
On his part, the LP National Chairman, Julius Abure, said, “Obviously, the executive cannot impose any candidate on the leadership of the National Assembly. It is for the legislators to decide who will be their leader. So, whoever is calling them, there is nothing wrong in attending.
“Their capacity to return and do what is right is what is key. They are adults and people representing their constituents who know their career is also at stake. Whoever is willing to destroy his career; that’s his business. Those who ride on the back of the people need to be very careful because four years is not forever.
“The step they take from the day they are sworn-in will determine whether they will go back or not. Therefore, it is in their collective interest to do the right thing and enthrone somebody that will work for the country, not necessarily an anointed candidate.
“It is not the meeting that matters but what they do on June 13 when they will be electing the leadership of the House.”
Open voting debate
Meanwhile, there is anxiety especially among newly elected members of the House of Representatives over restriction to open voting by the current edition of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, Sunday PUNCH reports.
Several members-elect, especially freshers, expressed their reservations about open voting in separate chats with one of our correspondents.
There are fears that those who wish to vote aspirants outside the choice of their party and political godfathers may run into trouble.
The Standing Orders are the rules guiding the conduct of legislative business in the chamber.
Several members-elect had during the recently concluded two-week induction ceremony queried the unavailability of options in the mode of voting for presiding officers.
To debunk a report of alleged back-door amendment of the rules book, the current Chairman of the House Committee on Basic Education and Services, Prof Julius Ihonvbere, who chaired the panel that reviewed the Standing Orders in 2019, had presented facts that showed that the lawmakers passed the amendments as far back as July 2019.
Ihonvbere, a member of the APC from Edo State, was Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the Standing Orders of the House of Reps; ex-Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee on the Legislative Agenda of the House of Reps; and ex-Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee on the Revision of the Legislative Agenda of the House of Reps.
Ihonvbere, had in a statement released on May 9, 2023, by the Secretariat of the ‘Joint Task – 10th Assembly’, a coalition of members-elect of the APC and opposition parties, recalled how the House, on July 25, 2019, unanimously considered and adopted the report by his panel on a series of amendments to the Standing Orders of the House.
Page 32 of the Gazetted Votes and Proceedings July 25, 2019, in the House’s Gazette of Votes and Proceedings Official Records shows how the rules were amended to make each member “openly declare” who they are voting vote among speakership and deputy speakership contestants.
Speaking on the issue, a senior official in the National Assembly stated that should there be leadership elections in the chambers, they would be based on sequence of the polls in the Senate and the House as well as the restriction of members of the House to open voting.
Traditionally, the Clerk of the National Assembly, who conducts the inauguration ceremony and leadership election, usually starts with the Senate before the House.
The official said, “Another reason why they are in trouble is that there was never a time when the party that wins at the Senate loses in the House. The way it is now, it is looking like a done deal for Akpabio, the candidate of the party in the Senate.
“Once the Clerk declares Akpabio President of the Senate, there is no way it will be the turn of the House and the candidate of the party will lose.”
The official added that it could also be decided that the inauguration and elections would be conducted simultaneously in both chambers.
“Now, go and check the House Rules; it now says that the Deputy CNA can conduct the election and the elections can happen simultaneously. This was effected in 2019 in the same amendment exercise. It is not like before that the CNA will start with the Senate while the House will wait for him,” the official noted.
A member of the Peoples Democratic Party, Bamidele Salam, who is a member of groups supporting Abbas and Kalu, noted that opposition members who have the backing of their party leadership have nothing to be afraid of.
Salam, a ranking member, is one of the leaders of the pro-Abbas Minority Parties Forum, a coalition of members-elect in minority parties, which broke out from the 10th Assembly – Greater Majority.
He said, “We are leaders of the country and there is nothing to hide in one’s choice. If you are makinga choice, even in our consideration of motions and bills, either electronically or otherwise, you indicate where you stand. So, when you want to elect the leaders of the National Assembly, what is wrong with coming out openly to declare where you stand? There is nothing wrong with that.”
Speaking on the fears of the freshers, Salam said, “When they get into the House, they can change it. This is a democracy. When they are eventually inaugurated, they can bring a motion to change the House Rules. But for now, that is the rule. If anybody is not happy with it, then, they can wait till after the inauguration and it can be changed.”
Private negotiations
In a related development, members-elect of the 10th House of Representatives have begun to personally reach out to aspirants for the position of the Speaker for juicy positions and appointments, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.
It was gathered that several members-elect, especially those in the minority parties, are losing interest in group negotiation with speakership aspirants and have begun to engage the contenders in private negotiations.
Ahead of the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly on June 13, when presiding officers of the Senate and the House will be adopted or elected, several pressure groups made up of intra and inter-party alliances have emerged in the House.
With the APC zoning formula for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly, and its consensus candidates, a group of aggrieved speakership aspirants, which includes 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; Chinedu Ogah, Miriam Onuoha and Sani Jaji have since emerged.
The 10th Assembly – Greater Majority, a coalition of members-elect in the minority parties has been meeting with speakership aspirants, while a splinter opposition-member group, Minority Parties Forum, aligned with the Joint Task – 10th Assembly and adopted the APC candidates earlier in the week.
The Joint Task – 10th Assembly is a coalition of members-elect of the APC and opposition parties rooting for Abbas and Kalu.
Speaking to Sunday PUNCH, those leading the campaigns for the various aspirants said members-elect now preferred meeting the aspirants “one on one” for better bargain and commitment.
A leader of one of the groups said, “The Greater Majority has been decimated. What most of their leaders are just doing now is that everybody is now meeting the aspirants individually to ask for what they want – individually. The idea of lobbying as a group, to ask the aspirants whatever they may have for them, in terms of the number of committees has failed.
“The 11-man committee that Greater Majority set up, most of the members are ranking members. So, the freshers are afraid that should their candidate win and allocate committees to them, it is those ranking members that will shortchange them, whereas the first-timers have more numbers that the returning members.”
The 10th Assembly: Greater Majority had set up an 11-man committee charged with the task of shortlisting, screening and eventual recommendation of aspirants for the speakership and deputy speaker positions within one week.
The committee was made up of Nicholas Mutu (PDP) as Chairman, Victor Ogene (LP) as Secretary, and Abdulmumini Jibrin (NNPP) as Deputy Chairman. Others are Oluwole Oke, Jonathan Gbefwi, Beni Lar, Ali Isa, Alhassan Rurum, Mathew Kuzalio, Salisu Majigiri, Nnabuife Chinwe, Gwacham Maureen, and Idris Salman.
However, Convener of the Greater Majority, Fred Agbedi, at the fourth meeting of the coalition in Abuja last Monday, dismissed reports that leaders of the coalition had endorsed any of the speakership aspirants or reached a deal with any of them.

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