Tension in Senate over contest for principal officers  

As Senate resumes plenary today, palpable tension envelopes it over selection of principal officers from both the ruling and minority political parties. TAIYE ODEWALE reports 

Principal officers’ positions

As constitutionally configured by relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution and extant legislative  rules, procedures and practices; both the Senate and the House of Representatives, aside two presiding officers have eight principal positions to be held by eligible lawmakers from the ruling and minority political parties for full fledged parliamentary operations.

Four out of the eight principal positions,  are meant for grabs by eligible Senators from the ruling party, which is the All Progressives Congress (APC), while the remaining four are for eligible Senators elected on the platforms of any of the minority political parties, which are the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Young Progressives Party (YPP).

The four principal officers positions meant for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), on the strength of having 59 out of the 109 Senators; are Senate Leader, Deputy Senate Leader, Senate Whip and Deputy Whip of the Senate.

For Senators elected on the platforms of  minority Political parties, positions of Senate Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Minority Whip and Deputy Minority Whip, are up for grabs.

Specifically, since Senators elected on the platform of PDP, are 36 out of the entire 50 Senators, belonging to the various minority political parties, they are expected to produce the Minority Leader and Minority Whip for the 10th Senate while Labour Party (LP) which has eight serving senators in its kitty, is expected to produce Deputy Minority Leader of the Senate just as their counterparts on the platforms NNPP and SDP are expected to nominate somebody for the position of Deputy Minority Whip.

Unlike NNPP and SDP which have two elected Senators each, the two  other remaining minority political parties, i.e, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Young Progressives Party (YPP), have a Senator each.

Procedure for election or selection of principal officers

In line with parliamentary practices globally, after election or emergence of presiding officers who are in the case of the Senate, are the President and Deputy President of the Senate, respectively, the eight principal positions followed,  through nominations to that effect by political parties of the lawmakers or caucuses in the parliament.

However, the laid down procedures had at different times, been violated by leadership of either the Senate or the House of Representatives through outright rejections  of nominations made by leadership of main minority political parties as it happened in the 8th Senate and recently ended 9th House of Representatives.

It could be recalled that at the formative stage of the 8th Senate in June/July 2015, the Bukola Saraki led Senate, rejected nominations of Senators Ahmad Lawan and George Akume as Leader and Deputy Leader of the Senate, respectively by the then Chief Odigi Oyegun led APC.

A similar scenario played out in July 2019 at the formative stage of the now ended 9th House of Representatives with rejection of nomination of Hon Kingsley Chinda as Minority Leader by the PDP national leadership.

In  the two instances cited, in -house minority caucuses of the affected political parties, were said to have done the nominations with attendant disenchantment within the folds of the parties at national level.

Emerging tension soaked scenario 

Three weeks after inauguration and election of the two presiding officers, ie, President and Deputy President of the Senate the red chamber needs to put in place, principal officers for legislative operations.

But feelers from the folds of Senators belonging to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major minority party (PDP), are strongly indicative of unhealthy rivalry for the positions among interested Senators which invariably creating tension as regards who to be supported by national leadership of their political parties and recognised by leadership of the Senate.

Specifically within the APC fold in the Senate, Senators Ali Ndume (Borno South) and Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti Central), are in fierce battle over Senate’s Majority Leadership position being Director General and Deputy Director General of campaign organisation that delivered Senator Godswill Akpabio as President of the 10th Senate on the 13th of last month.

The contest between Ndume and Bamidele for position of majority leader in the 10th Senate, has polarised the entire membership of APC Senators and put the Akpabio led leadership in tight owner as regards who to support at the end of the day.

The tension got heightened at the weekend when The President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, his Deputy, Senator Jibrin Barau, and some other Senators including Ndume and Bamidele, paid Sallah homage to the National Chairman of APC, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, at his country home in  Keffi, Nasarawa state, without the Chairman mentioning anything about letter from the party to the Senate leadership on those nominated for principal officers’ positions.

Though the APC National Chairman in his remarks at the Sallah homage paid on him by the Senate leadership, said it was a relief for the party that its choice of Akpabio and Barau, sailed through at inauguration, but his silence on choices of the party for  available principal positions; shows that concrete decision has not been taken on that.

In dousing the tension, the National leadership of APC from the look of things, needs to address the issue as quickly as possible because Senate cannot operate fully in plenary, without principal officers, particularly, Majority and Minority Leaders who are expected to drive the legislative business on daily basis , as regards motions to be moved and seconded to that effects.

For the PDP Senators among whom a Minority Leader is expected to emerge, though feelers from the national Leadership of the party strongly indicate that the immediate past Governor of Sokoto state, Senator Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, has been penciled down for the position, but strident opposition against his choice by the camp of former Governor of Rivers state, Nysom Wike, may scuttle it and create crisis within the PDP fold and the Senate generally.

Pointers to this effect were contained in a strong worded statement signed by  some notable Senators from the party and other minority parties penultimate weekend.

The Senators in the statement entitled: “Ongoing Attempt to Destabilise Minority Parties in the Senate would be Resisted”, said attempt to foist a one party dictatorship in the Senate, would be resisted and would fail.

The statement reads: ‘It has come to the notice of the minority political parties in the Senate of an attempt by forces inside and outside the Senate, to divide the minority parties and foist a pliant and compromised leadership on them.

“We have pledged to work constructively with the new Senate leadership and the Executive branch to deliver good governance to the Nigerian people. 

“We consequently hereby advise and caution that they should not aid any group inside or outside the Senate to divide and destabilise the minority parties and the Senate institution.

“Senators of the minority parties  would meet when the Senate reconvenes and, in consultation with our respective political parties, would select its leaders without undue interference from anti democratic forces within or outside the Senate.

“Attempt to foist a one party dictatorship would be resisted and would fail.

“We call on all members of the Minority Political Parties to work together in unity to defend the democratic institution of the Senate and Nigeria”.

Signatories to the statement were  Senators Muhammad  Adamu Aliero (PDP Kebbi Central), Henry Seriake Dickson (PDP Bayelsa West), Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (PDP Sokoto South),  Abdul Ningi (PDP Bauchi Central), Patrick Abba Moro (PDP Benue South), Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi (Labour Party Imo East), Sumaila Kawu (NNPP Kano South) and Ifeanyi Patrick Ubah (YPP Anambra South).

Whichever way or method to be used for nomination or selection of the Principal Officers by political parties or caucuses concerned, realities on ground show that  they have to emerge today or tomorrow, for full composition of 10th Senate leadership and full legislative business, but whether their emergence, would create crisis within or outside the Senate, is in the womb of time.