By Fred Itua, Abuja

Next Tuesday, 109 senators-elect will elect their two presiding officers- President of the Senate and the Deputy President of the Senate. With the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) maintaining a slim majority of 59 senators-elect and the opposition 50, a bipartisan move is needed to produce the next presiding officers of the 10th Senate.

Already, Godswill Akpabio from Akwa Ibom, has been adopted as the preferred candidate of the leaders of the ruling party, while Jibrin Barau from Kano State, is the preferred candidate for Deputy Senate President. However, the choice of the duo has been met with stiff opposition from many senators-elect.

Northern senators-elect for instance, led by the President of the 9th Senate, Ahmad Lawan, rejected Akpabio, when he was announced as the consensus candidate of the APC. They’d insisted on the current Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu. The refusal by the leadership of the APC and President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s kitchen cabinet to shift grounds birthed the rise of Abdulaziz Yari, former governor of Zamfara State and former Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum. Since Yari’s entrance, the dynamics have changed.

For Akpabio, despite his nationwide campaign, meetings with governors, religious leaders and other critical stakeholders, the realisation of his ambition, is still a long walk to freedom. For him to emerge the next President of the Senate, Akpabio needs 60 senators-elect. From available records, the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, is yet to secure 40. To challenge Akpabio, the camps of Yari, Kalu and Osita Izunaso have forged an alliance expected to cause an upset on Tuesday. Kalu confirmed his meeting and proposed alliance with Yari in an interview with newsmen recently. The former governor of Abia State explained that Yari and himself were enjoying the support of their colleagues and other sponsors within and outside the Senate Chamber to make their ambition become a reality.

Kalu had said: “I can not step down for anybody. I’m contesting the Senate Presidency but we are talking with Senators-Elect Abdulaziz Yari on the possibility of a joint ticket and talks have reached an advanced stage on the issue.

“Our group and his group are talking and we are in intimate partnership and talks are ongoing. No zone can single-handedly produce a Senate President just as no single zone can single-handedly produce the President of Nigeria.

“We have a united partnership with Senator- Elect Yari that will work for Nigeria.

“In the coming days and week, those partnership will be unveiled. We have not decided on who will be Senate President and who will be deputy.

“I cannot deny it – Yari is a friend of mine and I’m his friend and we have decided to talk. We have been speaking for the past four weeks. The two of us are thinking of the integrity of the senate and support President Bola Tinubu and Vice-President Kashim Shettima who were our colleagues.

“If you are thinking that what happened during (former Senate President, Bukola) Saraki’s time, it will never happen again.

“We won’t disappoint Nigerians. We are capable of representing our people – Yari-Kalu – Kalu-Yari – we won’t disappoint Nigerians. We will give Nigerians what they require and the Nigerian people won’t be disappointed.” The Director General for the Akpabio/Barau Stability Group, Senator Ali Ndume, has however dismissed reports that their camp had been thrown into tension over the alliance between Yari, Kalu and Izunaso.

He said: “All the critical stakeholders within the APC and senators-elect are fully in support of the Akpabio and Barau joint ticket for the position of Senate President and Deputy Senate President.

“We have consulted all the leaders of the party and they have all given us their blessings. Most of the senators-elect, more than 70 of them that we had engaged one-on-one, have also pledged their support and votes for us. “Those who are spreading rumours that there is panic in our camp are instead under intense tension because they know the reality on ground.” Ndume also dismissed claims by some groups who called for the withdrawal of Akpabio from the race because of the roles he played in the Niger Delta Ministry where he served as Minister. The Chairman of the Coalition of Concerned Niger Delta Stakeholders, Odiedini Maachree, told newsmen his group would not support Akpabio because of the alleged roles he played in the NDDC.

He said: “In the wake of subsidy removal and the anticipated hardship it might bring to Nigerians, we need a robust senate leadership to make laws and approvals that will cushion the effect of the interim hardship of the subsidy removal.

“We frown and dissociate ourselves from any anointed candidate by any political party. We therefore support independent legislature without interference. We the coalition of concerned Niger Delta stakeholders hereby state categorically that we did not endorse any senator in South-South region of Nigeria for senate presidency.

“Rather we are of the opinion that the senate should be a level playing ground where leadership election will be conducted fairly and anyone with the majority vote wins.”

Ndume said the group was sponsored to misinform Nigerians about the roles of Akpabio in the ministry when he served as Minister.

He said: “It is not surprising that whenever a politically exposed person is contesting elections, some people would be sponsored to raise issues against him or her. Don’t forget that President Bola Tinubu was also severally accused when he was campaigning to be president. “We are not actually bothered about what the sponsored groups are saying about Akpabio. The anti-graft agencies know what to do. Why are they teaching them what to do?  They are accusing that some corrupt activities took place under his watch at the NDDC but they did not said he misappropriated funds as governor or as Minister.

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“Akpabio was not the accounting officer of the NDDC. He is only heading the supervising ministry. They also accused him of not constituting the board of the NDDC but that also was not his job. The president of the country is saddled with such responsibility.” Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate and senator-elect for Bauchi Central, Abdul Ahmed Ningi, said there are at least 67 of his colleagues who have keyed into the aspiration of Kalu and Abdulaziz Yari to emerge as Presiding Officers of the Senate He said majority of the contenders for the Senate Presidency are working together and that discussions were ongoing among them.

Ningi, who is a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also tackled those who accuse Yari of trying to use money to get to office. He said: “Our latest count was 67 as of Tuesday night and more are still coming,” Ningi while addressing newsmen in Abuja. Those who are talking about money politics should remember how they won their party primaries about six months ago from top to bottom, using money.

“When Senator Ndume made that statement, I actually was taken aback because he is experienced to know that there is no politics that money is not involved in but it is not the most critical. In this campaign, it is not about money especially for our candidate.”

“Sen Sani Musa, Senator Izunaso, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and Yari are together and discussions are still ongoing. We know our strategy but we are not going to disclose that,” he said.

He added: “I don’t belong to the APC but I thought the APC would have learned a lot from the mistakes of the PDP with regards to imposing leaders on the National Assembly. They should allow for the independence of the legislature.” A parliamentary watchdog, the Coalition for Parliamentary Democracy (CPD), warned the ruling APC against its insistence on micro zoning the Senate Presidency to Akpabio, saying the party might inadvertently be playing into the hands of the opposition.

In a statement issued Wednesday and signed by its National Coordinator, Dr. Menike Johnson, the group asserted that zoning and external endorsements “are undemocratic and only promotes mediocrity, incompetence and breeds a corrupt and rubberstamp parliamentary leadership that cannot serve the interests of Nigerians.”

CPD commended senators-elect for their support for Senator Abdul’aziz Yari who it said has “exhibited the required capacity, passion and political will to run a legitimately elected Senate Presidency that will unite the nation, provide constructive partnership with the Executive in the overall interest of Nigerians”. Johnson said the Coalition for Parliamentary Democracy has been watching the contest for the Senate Presidency with keen interest.

“We have also noted the trajectory, demonstrated capacity and acceptability of the two major contestants in the race; Senator Abdul’aziz Yari and Senator Godswill Akpabio.

“CPD, in tandem with other pro-democracy organisations, insists that those interested in the office of the Senate President should rather marshal their agenda to Nigerians and senators-elect and not rely on retrogressive and sectional arguments of zoning and external endorsements which is undemocratic, promotes mediocrity, incompetence and breeds a corrupt and rubberstamp parliamentary leadership,” the group said. He advised the APC against insisting on imposing a Senate President, cautioning that “such could make it lose the position to the opposition parties which have a good number of senators-elect that could be boosted by dissatisfied elements in the APC to clinch the Senate leadership”.

According to him, “such could lead to more division in the APC and create a frosty legislature/executive relationship which is not in the interest of the nation at this critical time of our national history.

“The Senate does not belong to a particular political party but to Nigerians. In the same vein, Senate leadership positions are serious positions that require capacity and willpower and not retail commodities that will be allocated on the platter of zoning. The CPD therefore urges the Senators-elect to assert the independence of the legislature and the Principle of the Separation of Powers in serving the interest of Nigerians by upholding competence and not zoning in the election of a new Senate President. Finally, the CPD counsels Senator Akpabio to step down for Senator Yari if he had nothing to offer except zoning as credentials for the very demanding office of the Senate President”, the group added.

Senator-elect, Nasarawa West Senatorial District in the 10th Senate, Aliyu Wadada, has said his colleagues from the North Central geopolitical zone were still determined to ensure the emergence of Senator Sani Musa as Deputy Senate President during the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly next month.

Wadada was elected on the ticket of the Social Democratic Party, He said the fact that he and some of his colleagues have been following the anointed candidate of the All Progressives Congress for the position of Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, does not mean that the North Central had dumped Musa. He said since the North Central Caucus of the incoming 10th Senate had resolved to support and ensure the emergence of Musa as Deputy Senate President, there was nothing wrong in supporting the choice of the APC for the position of the Senate President.

Wadada said: “The North Central will not, and cannot be left out with a representative like us. We will always strive to get what belongs to us or what we deserve.

“We already had a press briefing where we clearly stated our position. After the press briefing, when the zoning arrangements had been announced, we also took a stand and our governors supported us.

“The governors met with the aspirants from the North Central met and efforts are really on to ensure that North Central gets what it deserves. As senators-elect from the North Central geopolitical zone, our position has not changed. We stand for the Deputy Senate President.

“If the North Central Caucus stands for the Deputy Senate Presidency, by implication that means that the caucus of the North Central, wants the Presidency of the Senate to go to the Southern part of Nigeria.

“My being around Godswill Akpabio and Barau Jibrin does not change my position as a senator from the North Central part of Nigeria. Akpabio is from the South South, Barau is from the North West, while Wadada is from the North Central. So there is no confusion at all. My being around Godswill Akpabio and Barau Jibrin does not mean that the North Central Caucus had conceded to the APC joint ticket.

“The North Central geopolitical zone that has been a stabilising factor in Nigeria’s politics would not want to rock the boat.”