By NIYI ODEBODE, JOHN ALECHENU, JOHN AMEH
There were strong indications on Saturday that the feuding members of the All Progressives Congress in the National Assembly might disregard the plea of President Muhammadu Buhari on the crisis in the party.
On Saturday, the lawmakers, in spite of Buhari’s plea at the APC’s National Executive Committee meeting in Abuja, stuck to their demands ahead of Sunday’s (today) peace parley with the party’s governors.
The President, had at the NEC meeting on Friday, appealed to warring groups to embrace peace.
He had said, “Let us not throw this success to the wind. Let us as members of the APC no matter our personal difference get together and meet the mandate given to us by this country.
“This is my personal appeal. In the name of God, no matter your personal interests and your ambition, please keep it to your heart and in your pocket. Let the APC work and let the system work and let us have a government that will earn the respect of our constituencies.”
The members, had at the NEC meeting, directed the governors to resolve the crisis over the National Assembly leadership.
But the governors, who met with the groups after the NEC meeting, failed to resolve the crisis. They adjourned their meeting to Saturday.
This paper reliably gathered that the meeting scheduled for Saturday, was shifted to Sunday to allow the Sokoto State Governor, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal and his Edo State counterpart, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole to reach out to the feuding groups.
The Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, had on June 9 defied the party to emerge as leaders of both chambers of the National Assembly.
The APC had endorsed Senator Ahmad Lawan as the Senate President and a former Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker.
Again Saraki, two weeks ago, failed to heed the directive of the party leadership on the appointment of principal officers of the senate.
While Saraki read out nominations by zonal caucuses of the party, Dogara’s failure to obey the party led to commotion in the House.
Ahead of Sunday’s meeting, the Gbajabiamila-led group in the House are insisting that the former Minority Leader should become the Majority Leader of the 8th Assembly.
The group, it was gathered, was also insisting on the position of the party on other principal offices of the House.
Besides Gbajabiamila, the APC, in a letter to Dogara, had nominated Ado Doguwa (North-West) as deputy leader; Mohammed Monguno (North-East) as chief whip; and Pally Iriase as deputy chief whip.
Iriase and Monguno, were later reported to have swapped their positions later.
Findings indicated that Gbajabiamila had reportedly vowed that members of his group would not accept any offers outside the “decision already taken by the leadership of the party.”
A member of the faction told this reporter that there was no going back on their decision.
“We hope this will be a fruitful, peaceful meeting. We hope it will end it all. We are loyal party members and we stick to the decision of our party on the sharing of the principal offices; we don’t see how anybody will accept anything less,” the source added.
But it was gathered that the faction led by Dogara was also sticking to its position that the principal offices should go round the six geo-political zones in the country.
A lawmaker in the speaker’s camp confided in one of our correspondents that the subject matter for the raging dispute remained the same.
The source said, “We welcome the interest shown in this matter by our governors. It is a sign that they want this issue to be resolved quickly so that we can move ahead.
“The position has not changed, the speaker has made the point over and over again that since the South-West has produced the deputy speaker, it will be unfair to other zones to still give them the slot of majority leader.
“You also don’t expect the North-East, where the speaker comes from, to take additional slots.
“What about the other zones? Are they not stakeholders as well? Didn’t they contribute to the success of the APC?”
Only a fool will believe I am planning to leave APC –Dogara
Also on Saturday, Dogara said no one should believe the allegations made against him by the Gbajabiamila group that he was planning to defect to the Peoples Democratic Party with some members of the APC.
He spoke in Abuja when he met with the Forum of State Chairmen of the APC.
The forum was led by the Acting Chairman, Mr. Umar Haruna-Doguwa, a member of the APC from Kano State.
Dogara said, “I want to discountenance this very ludicrous and laughable discussions that some of us in the House are even conniving with some people so that we can defect. Only a fool will believe that.”
The Gbajabiamila group had made the allegation in a paper it presented to Buhari during a meeting with the former in Abuja on Thursday.
Similarly, in the Senate, the principal actors in the impasse also vowed to stick to their guns at the peace parley being arranged by the APC governors.
One of our correspondents, who spoke with two senators, from both camps on the telephone in Abuja, declared on conditions of anonymity that their demands before the governors would remain the same in line with their agitations since the beginning of the crisis on June 9.
A senator from the North -Central, who is supporting the Senate President, said the group believed that the election of the senate presiding officers held on June 9 followed due process and must be upheld.
The senator also said that the convention all over the world remained that the parliamentarians must determine their principal officers within the chamber with the political party merely providing direction and advice.
He said, “The senate does not belong only to the APC, and since the senators who were in the chamber as of the time the election took place had elected their choice in line with the constitution and the senate rules, we have to abide by it. Nothing can change it.
“We have to accept and recognise Senator Ike Ekweremadu, as the deputy senate president notwithstanding the fact that he is not a member of the APC. There is nothing we can do about it.”
But another senator from the South-West caucus of the party, who is a member of the Lawan’s Senate Unity Forum, told one of our correspondents, in Abuja that his group’s demands remained unchanged.
He said the demands of the SUF had been that the election of the deputy senate president was illegal and fraudulent, hence he must resign his position.
The senator said, “There is no amount of peace deals that would make us change our position, if Ekweremadu refuses to resign and Saraki refuses to read and act on the letter from the party which stipulates the leaders’ choice for the principal officers positions.”
Asked what would happen if the governors advised his group to sheathe their swords and accept the current arrangement, the senator said, “That means the governors should leave us alone to sort ourselves out in the chamber.”
The party, had in a letter to Saraki on June 23 nominated Lawan (North-East) as Majority Leader; Prof. Sola Adeyeye (South-West) as Chief Whip; George Akume (North-Central) as Deputy Majority Leader and Abu Ibrahim (North-West) as Deputy Chief Whip.
When contacted on the latest developments, the Chief Press Secretary to Saraki, Mr. Sanni Onogu said, “I don’t have any information at all on it”
All calls made to the mobile phone number of the spokesperson of the Senate Unity Forum, Senator Kabiru Marafa, did not connect while messages sent to the line also failed to deliver as of the time of filing this report.
But when contacted, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr. Lai Mohammed said, “Like I said yesterday, the NEC has provided a platform to resolve this issue and part of the resolution is the meeting that will be held between the governors, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“The president said he believes in party supremacy, we have a problem on our hands and we must find the best means to resolve it. One thing I can assure you is that, this house (the APC) shall not fall.”
When contacted, the Special Adviser to the Speaker on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Turaki Hassan, simply replied that he had no comments to offer on the ongoing developments.
“I don’t know, truly,” he said.
Key players in Gbajabiamila’s camp, including former head of his speakership campaign secretariat, Mr. James Faleke, and Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, could not be reached for comments.
Calls to their telephones were not answered as of 9.20pm on Saturday. They also did not respond to text messages sent to them by one of our correspondents.
Culled from PUNCH