NASS Leadership: ‘APC lawmakers are expected to vote for party candidates’

Ayodele Arise

A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Ayo Arise, in this interview with Onyedika Agbedo, he spoke on the ongoing tussle for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly. Arise, who represented Ekiti North Senatorial District between 2007 and 2011, reflected on what obtained during his time in the Senate, noting that elected members of the APC in the NASS were expected to abide by the decision of the party.

The APC is facing internal opposition regarding its zoning arrangement and choices for the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly. Do you foresee a repeat of the 2015 experience where the party lost out in the power game?
I THINK the party has spoken of their choice. But the dynamics of the 8th Assembly started a lot of unconventional practices.

Ordinarily, in the presidential system of government, the party that has the majority in the National Assembly or the American Congress as the case may be actually has control of the House.

So, in the case of Nigeria, the ruling party, which is the APC, has the majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. And they have resolved that based on the practice in other climes, they have to do zoning because of the peculiarity of our country. So, the office of Senate President has been zoned
to a particular part of the country. And the practice is that the most senior person actually takes control of the Assembly.

For instance, the moment the Democratic Party took over the control of the House of Representatives in the U.S., the former speaker, Ryan, knew he had lost the seat of the speakership. So, there was no contest as to who would present the Speaker because it is already a norm that the majority party in the House of Representatives would come up with the Speaker and the chairmanship of the key committees.

In our own case, the party has said that they have queued behind Senator Ahmed Lawan who up till now is the Leader of the Senate. Obviously, he will naturally walk into the position of the Senate President, being the most senior person in the APC that has succeeded in coming back.

Now, the first problem is that Senator Ali Ndume was also the leader of the Senate up to a point and he is also from the North East zone where the senate presidency has been zoned. But because the party has said this is the person they want at this point in time, my own expectation is that he should negotiate with the party. So, the party is expected to sit with him and they would negotiate. I have said before that everything about politics involves a lot of give and take. Now, it is looking like a contest between himself and the party; and party supremacy is always there.

So, I don’t really want him to begin to ruffle feathers at this point in time. Having seen what the party went through under the 8th Assembly in 2015, I think we should be saved the agony of not stabilising democracy and our presidential system. The fact remains that there are norms from those people that we copied this system of government from.

It appears that while the APC is working hard to forestall a repeat of the 2015 experience, the opposition party is also fine-tuning its strategy to upset the

APC again. How far do you think they can go this time?
Well, I believe the APC as a party must have learnt some lessons from the experience in 2015.

Ordinarily, the PDP as a party should not expect much. But they have seen this lacuna and a little crack, which they capitalise upon. They can decide to put their votes in bulk and give it to the person who wants to challenge the party’s position hoping that they will get some rewards. And nothing stops the choice of the party from reaching out to the opposition to break that bulk vote.

There are some people who are looking for juicy committees and they are looking at it that if they go and align with the underdog, it might result into some benefits for them. There will always be that room there. But I believe the party is speaking with the governors; they are speaking with the senators, and I believe it is not likely that the majority of the senators coming in will want to vote against the party.

You have re-echoed the position of the party that its members vying for leadership positions in the National Assembly were free to consult with their PDP colleagues. Isn’t this a sign that the APC is jittery the PDP could spring another unpalatable surprise?
Again, this our democracy is still going through a learning process. Every member will vote on the floor. I think strategically, it is okay for the candidate of the ruling party to reach out and canvass for votes from the opposition as well; afterwards, there is nothing that anybody who is running for the office of the senate president will be offering outside what exists in the Senate and outside committee appointments and all that.

The party has stated its position and it is expected that majority of the party members will vote along the line of the party. But then to be doubly sure, nothing stops the candidate of the party from reaching out to members of the opposition for their votes.

It is a sign of coming up with a winning strategy. There is nothing wrong in having even a hundred percent vote for the choice of the party. To get a hundred per cent vote means you have to talk to everybody that belongs to a different party and convince them to vote for your candidate.

A lot of observers see the present arrangement by the APC as imposition and have predicted that it would definitely fail given what transpired during the PDP era when the party forcefully installed Evans Enwerem as senate president only for him to be removed by his colleagues after a short while. Are you not afraid the APC is treading a dangerous path?

You see, I am not too familiar with the examples you are giving. I am familiar with David Mark. When I was in the 6th Senate, the chairman of the party, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, called all of us to a meeting as senators-elect and told us that the party’s position is that we should go and vote for David Mark. There were other candidates from the PDP then. And because we used the structure of the party to go the Senate not our individual names, we felt we had to respect the position of the party. At the end of the day, David Mark served two terms as president of the Senate; it’s unprecedented.

So, these are examples to look at. He was able to manage the Senate well; he was also able to manage the party well. He was able to manage the relationship between the executive and the legislature almost perfectly.

So, there is no way you can be giving the example of Enwerem. What happened in the case of Enwerem was a tussle for power. That was why the South East produced almost five senate presidents in a period of four years. It ended with Senator Ken Nnamani. That is not the norm. It can only be one person.

The senate president is a presiding officer of the Senate. Maybe some of the powers attached to the office can be whittled down if the members feel they are getting too much, because it is a question of first among equals.

The fact that you have been put there as Senate President does not make you superior to your colleagues. It only gives you a higher position to manage their affairs. So, the moment we start looking at it that way, the push and the struggle for power would become limited.

So, I don’t think that people should imagine that by the APC saying this is our choice for leadership, it is trying to impose. Afterwards, when you go into primaries the party will come up and say this is our choice. It does not mean that heavens will fall because the person who is next or the person who feels he is entitled to it didn’t win. That is why I keep on saying there is always a time for everybody.

Incidentally, if it’s in terms of relationship, I’m not in the Senate but I know the two gladiators. And by some margin, in the Senate, Lawan is senior to Ndume. They were both in the House of Representatives and Lawan came into Senate four years ahead of Ndume and that gives him a clear edge. That is it! But it does not mean that he doesn’t have the right to run but I don’t think he should go into any popularity contest against the party.

Finally, how would you situate President Muhammadu Buhari’s endorsement of Lawan when he had said he would not interfere in the process of the emergence of the leadership of the 9th Assembly? Is that not interference?

I don’t see that as any interference. Non-interference means he is not going to the National Assembly to say I am voting; he can’t vote. He cannot go there to say you must vote for this person. But he has stated his preference. So, it’s now about how the legislators react. If for example they vote and anything goes wrong, what I will consider to be interference is the president now trying to do anything to reverse the choice of the legislators.

So, if he now says he is supporting Senator Lawan to become the senate president, that is within his right because not only is he a member of the APC, he is the president of the country. You have to be a member of a party before you can be voted for in this country. So, he is a member of the APC and anything that concerns APC, he has a stake. That the president is supporting Lawan does not mean he is opposed to any other person. It only means that for things to run smoothly, this is the person that the party wants at this point in time. And I believe the party members should honour the president by doing what is right.

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