In a dramatic upset that confounded some analysts who believed that party supremacy would prevail, Senator Bukola Saraki (APC, Kwara) yesterday emerged the president of the 8th Senate with 57 votes, with block votes from the 49 senators of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and senators of the All Progressives Congress (APC) belonging to his support group, the Like Minds Senators.
At exactly 10:40 am yesterday morning, Saraki, dressed in a light blue flowing gown and blue cap to match, was sworn in as the 13th Senate president of Nigeria, succeeding David Mark.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu West) was re-elected deputy president of the 8th Senate for a record third time.
Similarly, Hon. Yakubu Dogara (APC, Bauchi) yesterday emerged the speaker of the House of Representatives, defeating the preferred candidate of the APC, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos).
Hon. Lasun Yussuf (APC, Osun) emerged deputy speaker after defeating another of the party’s preferred candidate, Hon. Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno) by 203 to 153 votes.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the APC had, at the weekend through a mock election, chosen Senators Ahmad Lawan and George Akume as the party’s choice for Senate president and deputy respectively.
However, Saraki went against the wishes of the party and vied for the Senate top job. He was nominated by Senator Ahmed Sani (APC, Zamfara) and his nomination was seconded by Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi).
Saraki’s victory was plain sailing and without any contest from any other senator, following the absence of the 33 APC supporters of Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe
North) under the auspices of Senate Unity Forum. They had gone to the International Conference Centre (ICC) where President Muhammadu Buhari was supposed to meet with them. As a result, they were not at the Senate chamber when nominations were made from among the senators for the position of Senate president.
They later rushed back to the chamber when all the senators were to be sworn in.
But in their absence, the clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, observed that with no other nomination for the position, Saraki, according to the rules of the Senate, was elected as the Senate president for the 8th Senate with 57 votes.
Maikasuwa explained that in such an election, what was required was for those present to form a quorum, which is 38 of the 109 senators-elect, a number he said was even less than the 57 senators present at the time election for the Senate presidency was to be conducted.
However, Ekweremadu’s emergence as deputy Senate president was not without a contest as Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) was nominated to contest against him by Senator Muhammad Ubali Shitu (APC, Jigawa North-East) and seconded by Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (APC, Kwara South).
Senators George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East) and Olaka Johnson Nwogu (PDP, Rivers South East) had earlier nominated Ekweremadu.
A total of 75 senators participated in the election, out of which 54 voted for Ekweremadu and 20 for Ndume, who gave credence to the fact that his nomination was done to prevent him and other 25 APC senators in the Like Minds group from being accused of expressly giving the position to the PDP, the opposition party in the 8th National Assembly.
Saraki, Dogara And PDP Alliance
Signs that Saraki’s pact with PDP’s 49 senators would eventually overthrow the APC leadership’s choice of Ahmad Lawan for Senate presidency and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila for House of Reps speaker last Saturday emerged in the early hours of yesterday with a statement issued by the national publicity secretary of PDP, Olisa Metuh, that the party had resolved to vote for Senator Saraki and Hon Dogara.
The statement was followed up with the early arrival of both PDP senators and APC’s Like Minds senators for the inauguration and election, while APC’s other 33 senators from the Senate Unity Forum group were conspicuously absent till the time the proceedings began by 10am time, the time given in the proclamation made by President Buhari for the inauguration.
But even when others returned, others like Senators Ahmad Lawan, George Akume (APC, Benue North West), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West) and Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central) did not show up at all till the end of the session.
In his acceptance speech, the new Senate president said he felt honoured to be elected the president of the 8th Senate and promised to carry all senators along in his decision making.
He also urged the senators to key into the change mantra of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to give Nigerians the greatest good.
He stated, “I am most honoured and privileged to be elected to serve as president of the Senate. I accept with humility and respect the honour you have conferred upon me today.
“We have today demonstrated that even though we may belong to different parties, we are ultimately united by our common desire to entrench democracy and allow its principle guide our conducts.
“The change that our people voted for is a change from a life of poverty and misery to a life of prosperity, happiness, security and comfort, accountability and respect for democracy. This is a change that all of us in the National Assembly must strive to justify. Nigerians want to see a proactive National Assembly. My dear distinguished colleagues, we are entering at a time when a lot is expected of us.
“Nigerians expect that the new Senate must make laws that will reform the oil sector, the security systems, diversify our economy, create jobs and make doing business in Nigeria more competitive.”
He stated that in the coming days, the new Senate leaders would meet “to hammer out an agenda that will help us focus and deliver on the minimum expectations.”
“May the future generation of citizens look upon the 8th National Assembly as a true assembly of our people’s representatives who did their best in the service of our nation.”
“I congratulate ourselves for this great day and the beginning of a new chapter in the history of our great nation,” he concluded.
The contest between the Dogara and Gbajabiamila for the speaker’s position was however keen.
Dogara was declared winner by the clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Miakasuwa, after beating Gbajabiamila by eight votes – 182 votes to 174. Two votes were voided.
The new speaker represents Bogoro/Das/Tafawa Balewa Federal Constituency of Bauchi State.
The party had on Saturday declared Gbajabiamila its sole candidate for the position of the speaker, but Dogara and his supporters had kicked against the development, saying they were ambushed by the leadership of the party.
The opposition PDP gave Dogara block votes for the victory.
Of the 360 members elected into the House of Representatives, only 358 members participated in the election. One member was absent and another, Shiek Umar Mohammad from Katsina, is deceased.
The election process for the office of the speaker lasted about two hours, from 1:20pm to 3:30pm after President Buhari’s proclamation speech was read by the clerk of the National Assembly at 12:30pm.
Dogara Calls For Reconciliation
However, Dogara in his acceptance speech thanked the APC and President Buhari for providing the leadership through which change came to Nigeria and for also providing the enabling environment for yesterday’s election.
He also hailed the ‘doggedness’ and ‘service’ of his rival Hon Gbajabiamila, who, according to him, “fought a good fight”.
“Together we will heal the wounds and divisions of this contest. Together we shall work to deliver good legislation and good government to our people,” Dogara told Gbajabiamila.
Dogara said his emergence as speaker demonstrated the resolve of members of the House to assert the independence of the legislature as a co-equal arm of government.
“By electing me as speaker, you have demonstrated to the world that our legislature is living up to the dreams and aspirations of our founding fathers. You are leaving a legacy of an accountable, autonomous, focused, progressive and united House capable of playing its role as the stabilizing force in our polity. We have shown once again that this is a House of the Nigerian people”, Dogara said.
Dogara said the House will continue its tradition where “debates are robustly undertaken, where radicalism flows as an institutional prerogative. We continue to be the bulwark for the defence of the rights and privileges of the common man. We shall continue to champion the rights of the weak and poor. We shall continue to be the anchor for the wellbeing of our people.”
Dogara reminded House members that the newly inaugurated 8th Assembly was taking office when Nigeria’s economy was in a shambles and living conditions of Nigerians are in poor shape, infrastructure largely nonexistent or decayed.
According to him, “Our people are no longer safe in their homes. We face a debt crisis once again. We are in a period of great social and political malaise. Provision of basic necessities of life for our people is becoming increasingly difficult. Long fuel lines, high cost of living, and epileptic electricity supply or, in most instances, complete darkness has become the order of the day.
“The health needs of the majority of our people are not being met. Extreme poverty still envelopes a large percentage of our population. For too long, Nigerians have suffered degradation and neglect. The list is endless.”
Dogara said the 8th House will wage a “mortal combat with the cancer of corruption, incompetence, insecurity, bad governance and infrastructural decay. We shall wage an unrelenting legislative war on insecurity, unemployment, poverty, lack of power supply, educational inadequacies, health problems and social decay.”
He asserted that while the lawmakers could fail to achieve all these at the end of the day, “we will not be accused of not doing our best to reposition this nation, Nigeria, as a beacon of hope for Africa. We hope that our best will be good enough.”
Dogara promised to work in harmony with Buhari’s administration and the Senate to bring about the change voted for by Nigerians in the last general elections.
Security Operatives Block NASS Gates, Stop Staff, Press, Others From Entrance
Before lawmakers and journalists were eventually allowed into the National Assembly yesterday, they along with Assembly workers were earlier barred and asked to return to their houses by security operatives manning the gates.
Many people got to the National Assembly as early as 6am but even lawmakers and top management staff of the National Assembly were also turned back.
The police operatives at the gate, popularly referred to as SGF Gate, which many people turned to after they were blocked from the main gate, told people gathered that the inauguration had been called off.
According to them, the order to shut down the Assembly came from the FCT police commissioner.
Buhari To Work With New NASS Leaders
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday said that even though he would have preferred the outcome of yesterday’s election of leaders of the National Assembly to have gone the way his party, APC, fashioned it, he was ready to work with the newly elected leaders.
According to a statement issued by his special adviser on media and publicity, Mr Femi Adesina the president wanted all the elected representatives of the people “to focus on the enormous task of bringing enduring positive change to the lives of Nigerians.”
“The president would rather that the process of electing the leaders as initiated and concluded by the APC had been followed; nonetheless, the president took the view that a constitutional process has somewhat occurred.”
In the statement made available to LEADERSHIP yesterday evening, the presidential spokesman stressed that “the stability of our constitutional order and overall interest of the common man were uppermost on the president’s mind as far as the National Assembly elections were concerned.
“President Buhari had said in an earlier statement that he did not have any preferred candidate for the Senate and the House of Representatives and that he was willing to work with whoever the lawmakers elected. That sentiment still stands, though he would have preferred the new leaders to have emerged through the process established by the party.”
Tinubu Speechless Over Saraki’s Victory
APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who was also at the International Conference Centre (ICC) for the purported meeting with Buhari while Saraki was being sworn in as Senate president at the National Assembly, was dumbfounded at the development.
“I have no comment, I have no reaction,” he said when the question was posed at him at the ICC premises.
APC Lawmakers Demand Oyegun’s sack
Apparently angry with the emergence of Saraki as the Senate president of the 8th National Assembly, aggrieved APC supporters of Senator Ahmed Lawan yesterday asked the party’s national chairman, Chief John Oyegun, to resign.
Saraki was elected unopposed in the absence of his rival, Senator Lawan, while the latter and his supporters were waiting for President Buhari at the International Conference Centre, Abuja
The APC senators, who expressed sadness at the inability of the Oyegun-led national working committee to give direction on the leadership of the National Assembly, insisted on his resignation.
The senators who wore long faces at the ICC accused the APC leadership of not showing leadership and competence in the crisis that befell the party in the election of principal officers of the National Assembly.
The angry APC lawmakers who were already seated at the ICC, venue of the meeting to resolve the impasse before the inauguration of the 8th Assembly, were caught unawares when the news filtered in that Saraki had been elected Senate president.
There was confusion when the APC lawmakers learnt of the development at the Red Chambers and they stormed out of the venue, breaking into clusters and discussing the events in the Senate chamber in hushed tones.
Among the APC senators who were discussing in groups were Adamu Abdullahi, former governor of Nasarawa State; Usman Nafada (Gombe), former deputy speaker of House of Representatives; Barnabas Gemade (Benue), former PDP chairman and Shehu Sani (Kaduna).
But speaking to journalists at the ICC, Oyegun said: “We just watched it on television too but we will address you (pressmen) when the total situation has been re-examined by the party.”
On the issue of the meeting scheduled to take place between the president and the lawmakers elected on the platform of APC, Oyegun said it could no longer hold as the events at the National Assembly had overtaken it.
Apparently shocked by the emergence of Saraki and Dogara as Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives against the party’s consensus candidates, the APC has described the outcome as totally unacceptable and the highest level of indiscipline and treachery.
In a statement issued yesterday in Abuja by its national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party disassociated itself from the election, insisting that Saraki and Dogara were not the party’s candidates for the two positions.
‘’Senator Bukola and Hon. Dogara are not the candidates of the APC and a majority of its National Assembly members-elect for the positions of Senate president and House speaker,” he said. “The party duly met and conducted a straw poll and clear candidates emerged for the posts of Senate president, deputy Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives, supported by a majority of all senators-elect and members-elect of the House of Representatives.
“All National Assembly members-elect who emerged on the platform of the party are bound by that decision. The party is supreme and its interest is superior to that of its individual members.’
Mohammed added that, as a consequence, the APC leadership would meet to reestablish discipline in the party and to mete out the necessary sanctions to all those involved in the “monumental act of indiscipline and betrayal meant to subject the party to ridicule and create obstacles for the new administration.”
APC decried a situation in which “some people, based on nothing but inordinate ambition and lack of discipline and loyalty, will enter into an unholy alliance with the very same people whom the party and, indeed, the entire country worked hard to replace, and sell out the hard won victory of the party.
‘’There can be no higher level of treachery, disloyalty and insincerity within any party,’’ the party said.
It vowed to resolve the matter through all constitutional and legal means available to it.
Atiku, Tambuwal Counsel Saraki, Dogara To Put Nation First
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has congratulated the newly elected leaders of the National Assembly, admonishing them to see their elections beyond the narrow interests of respective political parties.
The former vice president, in a press statement issued by his media office yesterday, noted that with the elections of its presiding officers, the 8th National Assembly should swing to work and put the overall national interest beyond the personal political interests of its members.
In his congratulatory message, immediate past peaker of the House of Representatives and Sokoto State Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, commended members of the two chambers of the National Assembly for exhibiting a high sense of maturity and defence of legislative ethos in the choice of their leaders.
In a statement issued in Abuja yesterday by his spokesman, Malam Imam Imam, Tambuwal reiterated that the outcome of the National Assembly elections showed that democracy had come of age in Nigeria and that the independence of the legislature was gradually taking root.
In a same vein, former presidential adviser on National Assembly Matters, Senator Florence Ita Giwa, said that the new leadership would bring its collective wealth of experience to bear on their leadership of the 8th National Assembly.
She remarked that even though the development of having both the ruling party and the opposition as Assembly leaders had occurred in Cross River State in 1991, it had never happened at the national level.