By JOHN AMEH AND SUNDAY ABORISADE
As the race for the Senate presidency and speakership of the House of Representatives in the eighth National Assembly hots up, lawmakers-elect have started giving candidates interested in their votes fresh conditions, besides zoning.
This paper learnt in Abuja that apart from the issue of zoning, which has been in the front burner, some incoming members of the eighth National Assembly were seeking inclusion in what they regard as “juicy committees.”
It was gathered that top among the committees preferred by the lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly are Appropriation; Petroleum Resources (Upstream); Petroleum Resources (Downstream); Gas Resources; Power; and Works.
Besides presiding over the proceedings of the House, the speaker heads the selection committee, which divides members into committees and appoints chairmen and vice-chairmen of such panels.
In the Senate, the Senate president also heads the selection committee, which determines membership of various committees and their heads.
Findings revealed that the lawmakers making these demands are those with clout and who have the followership of their fellow legislators.
In the Senate, the APC and the PDP members have expressed their willingness to vote for any candidate that would favour them with either chairmanship or membership of juicy committees.
Currently, those that have indicated interest in the Senate presidency include Senators George Akume (Benue State), Bukola Saraki (Kwara State) and Ahmad Lawan (Yobe State).
Investigations by one of our correspondents revealed that while the ranking senators were demanding chairmanship of juicy committees, the newly – elected ones were requesting to be made members.
Speaking with our correspondent on telephone on Saturday, the newly elected PDP member from Delta-North Senatorial District, Ighoyota Amori, said he preferred a candidate that would be acceptable to both the majority and the minority members of the upper chamber.
He said, “I don’t believe in zoning. I believe in the interest of Nigeria. I will vote for any candidate that would guarantee me that he would carry everybody along in the management of the Senate.
“Such candidate must be acceptable to both the APC and the PDP. For me and my party, if such candidate emerges, he would be my choice. The emergence of a candidate who will only serve the interest of the majority party members alone would create problems because he would be met with credible opposition.
“When this happens, definitely, what played out in the Seventh National Assembly which led to the emergence of Aminu Tambuwal, would definitely happen again.”
A ranking APC senator from the North-Central, who preferred anonymity, said, “Definitely, the issue of membership of juicy committees topped the list of demands being dangled before senators aspiring to lead the National Assembly by both returning and lawmakers-elect.”
He explained that ‘anointed candidates,’ who may not be able to determine the composition of committees on their own without consulting their ‘godfathers’, may not enjoy the support of members during the election.
He said, “You know the Senate is responsible for the clearance of top government nominees for political appointments and every senator would want to be relevant in the committees that would determine the fate of the appointees.
“Apart from this, the dwindling revenue accruable to the Federal Government would affect funds that would be made available to the National Assembly, hence senators would need to benefit from the allowances from their participation in committee activities.”
House of Representatives
The key contenders for the speakership, who are all from the All Progressives Congress, are the current Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos State); Chairman, Committee on House Services, Mr. Yakubu Dogara (Bauchi State); Mr. Mohammed Monguno (Borno State); Mr. Pally Iriase (Edo State); and Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin (Kano State).
There is still uncertainty over which of the six geo-political zones of the country the APC, the majority party in the incoming Assembly, will zone the position.
However, investigations by this reporter indicated that beyond zoning, lawmakers were making demands from the aspirants, including how many committee appointments caucuses could get, and how contestants would accommodate ‘pressures’ from members.
“Some returning members, for example, who hold what is generally referred to as ‘juicy committees’, do not want to let go, since they are not sure of getting principal positions.
“There are those in ‘lower committees,’ who are bargaining for better committees.
“Of course, the new comers, who are over 70 per cent of the House, have their own set of demands.
“This group will actually decide the speaker”, a senior APC member confided in this reporter.
Findings showed that certain committees were frequently mentioned as committees of interest by nearly all groupings and caucuses at meetings with the aspirants.
The committees include Committee on Appropriation; Committee on Finance; Committee Petroleum Resources (Upstream); Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream); Committee on Gas Resources; Committee on Power; Committee on Health; Committee on Works; Committee on Defence; Committee on Aviation; Committee on Marine Transport; Committee on Niger Delta; Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission; Committee on Communications; Committees on Army/Navy/Air Force; Committee on Agriculture; and Committee on Education.
It is believed that belonging to any of these committees is an avenue for members to benefit from extra perks hence the slots are highly coveted.
Investigations also indicated that these government agencies are well funded and, as such, committee members would have access to more welfare packages.
Also, most members were said to be assessing the aspirants based on who would be more disposed to attending to issues of welfare.
Although issues that constituted welfare were not properly defined, this paper learnt that since many of the members were businessmen and women before coming to the House, they were likely to be disposed to candidates who would offer “support.”
“Some of them are contractors or have companies. The position of Speaker is very powerful and they are looking at someone who can influence things in their way as the lobbying intensifies”, one National Assembly aide said.
Investigations revealed that at a meeting between members and one of the aspirants from the southern part of the country, members reportedly complained about his “independent and heady approach to issues,” a reason they said did not portray him as a speaker who would listen to the individual problems of lawmakers.
When contacted, House Deputy Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, confirmed that zoning was an ‘inconsequential factor’ in determining the speaker.
According to him, zoning or no zoning, members will vote for a candidate who has “quality, technical knowledge, and of course, there are collective interests.”
Ogor noted that as the election of the speaker drew closer, members would naturally talk freely, expressing their opinions on expectations and fears.
“There are issues that border on committees. Whether it is in the APC or the PDP, these issues normally come up because they will play out in the process of taking decisions,” he added.
APC senators deny pressure from party leaders
Meanwhile, ranking APC members in the Senate and their newly-elected counterparts have denied being under intense pressure from the party to support ‘anointed candidates’ of their elders for the various positions.
Some of the federal parliamentarians, who spoke with one of our correspondents in Abuja, however, noted that few aspirants into the leadership positions in the Senate had been presenting themselves as ‘anointed candidates’ of some party chiefs.
But they denied being approached physically, either by the aspirants or any agent of the party chiefs, with inducement or threats to support any of the perceived ‘anointed candidates.’
A senator-elect from Oyo state, who is the incumbent Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Monsurat Sunmonu, said she was not aware of any pressure on the senators-elect from the party leadership to support any candidate for the position in Senate leadership.
She explained that those who would occupy the leadership positions in the incoming eighth Senate would naturally emerge without rancour, once the party elders had concluded the zoning arrangement.
Sunmonu said, “I am not sure there is the need for any leader to induce senators-elect with anything to support any particular candidate. The party had not concluded the zoning arrangement, once this is done, we will respect the wish of the party by electing qualified candidates.”
Similarly, the member-elect from Kogi West, Dino Melaye, denied any move by the party hierarchy to bribe his colleagues to support any candidate because they had no reason to do such.
He said, “When we get to the bridge, we shall cross it. The party would come up with its zoning arrangement and we will vote for the best candidates from the zones approved by the party.”
Also, Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central), said the business of electing qualified candidates into the various positions in the senate was entirely that of the members based on the party’s zoning arrangement.
He said, “It is wrong for anybody or group of people within the party to impose any candidate on us. We will respect the party’s zoning arrangement but we will elect our own choice. We will not allow any ‘anointed candidate’ to be imposed on us.”
Goje, however, denied knowledge of anyone trying to induce members of the incoming eight senate, with money, to support candidate.
Culled from PUNCH