Barely 24 hours after the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, arrived in the country from France, the National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress led by the APC National Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu on Tuesday joined him and other stakeholders in a meeting with some contestants for the Senate President seat.
The meeting, which was held at Tinubu’s Asokoro, Abuja home, marked the beginning of consultations by the former Lagos State governor on the party’s choice for the President of the Senate, Deputy Senate President, Speaker, Deputy Speaker and other key seats.
Further to this, The PUNCH learnt that the APC might release its zoning plan for leadership positions in the 10th National Assembly this week.
There had been jostling by no fewer than 10 aspirants for the Senate presidency while the several members-elect have also indicated interest in the speakership of the House of Representatives.
But the zoning of the positions was delayed by the absence of the president-elect who was away in Paris on vacation for 34 days while the ruling party waited for his arrival before concluding the zoning of the NASS leadership offices.
Sources at the meeting told our correspondents the party was looking at South-East and South-South for the Senate President seat while the Deputy Senate Presidency might be zoned to the North-West.
The meeting is expected to be followed by a series of engagements with the NWC, APC lawmakers-elect and aspirants for the NASS principal officers.
Also in attendance at the Tuesday meeting were Governor of Ekiti State, Biodun Oyebanji; the Senator representing Ekiti Central Senatorial District, Opeyemi Bamidele; Senator-elect, Godswill Akpabio; the senator representing Kano North Senatorial District, Barau Jubrin; Deputy National Chairman for North, Senator Abubakar Kyari and the Secretary of the dissolved APC Presidential Campaign Council, James Faleke.
Others include the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajamiabila, former Nasarawa state governor, Tanko Almakura and former Senator for Benue North-East senator, Barnabas Gemade, Senator Adeola Solomon, (Ogun West in the 10th Assembly) and Senator Tokunbo Abiru (Lagos East).
Both Barau and Akpabio are contesting the Senate Presidency.
The PUNCH reports that Adamu left the APC national secretariat at about 1.35 pm and arrived at the residence of the president-elect in Asokoro by 2.15 pm.
Dressed in a white flowing robe, he was received by Tinubu along with some of the politicians and lawmakers around.
Another source confirmed that the president-elect met individually with Barau, Akpabio and Kyari before the arrival of Adamu.
He stated, “Asiwaju and the party know they have a short time before the inauguration hence the need to commence an early negotiation. As you must have observed, the president-elect is meeting only relevant politicians and lawmakers that he is obviously going to work with after his inauguration on May 29.
“I believe all these moves are to ensure the APC leadership does not witness a repeat of the coup that brought in Saraki-Dogara leadership. We trust in him to be different from the outgoing administration of President Muhammadu Buhari because of his proven track record.”
Though Tinubu had previously said he had no anointed candidate, multiple sources at the meeting stated that Senator Akpabio had been anointed as the candidate for the Senate President while Barau was pencilled for the Deputy Senate President.
According to sources, Akpabio was said to have done a lot for the party including shelving his presidential ambition for Tinubu when he stepped down for him at the APC primary elections.
One of the sources said, “Akpabio was favoured because of his contributions to the party including stepping down for the president-elect during the primary elections.
“He was also said to have delivered parts of South-South to the president-elect during the February 25 elections. The pairing was deliberate; Barau would likely get the position of the Deputy Senate President.”
Another source who was at the meeting noted that two South-West lawmakers, Bamidele and Adeola were also lobbying for the positions of Senate leaders.
The source said, “ Senators Adeola and Bamidele are lobbying for the position of the Senate leader which is usually given to the geo-political zone of the president. Also, Gbajabiamila and Faleke are pushing hard for the Chief of Staff position.”
Speaking after his meeting with the president-elect, Akpabio noted that his chances of being the Senate president were very high.
He said, “The issue of the Senate Presidency is a function of senators. I have had the privilege of serving the Senate before as a minority leader and any senator should be ready to avail himself if his colleagues so wish for him to serve as a Senate President.
“The chances for me to be Senate President are very high because my colleagues already know my track record in terms of governance, legislative business and the wide range of experience that I have in politics.”
Almakura noted that all the aspirants were eminently qualified and had paid their dues, but Akpabio, he said, had several times stuck out his neck for the party.
He said, “Amongst them is someone (Akpabio) who has been there when it matters. He worked for APC, he did everything to ensure the stability of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and that person also decided to leave a very important position within the Senate to support the APC. That person is now going for the position of the Senate President; I think he has paid his dues.”
Supporting the decision to zone the NASS positions, Gemade said, “Everybody expects that there should be zoning whenever a new government is about to be formed.
“I believe that the National Assembly expects that zoning would be done so that they can have a spread of the leadership positions. So, it is important that there is zoning and there will be zoning.”
The political rendezvous is coming on the eve of an important meeting of the National Working Committee members where the debate on zoning is expected to take priority.
Recall that the APC National Vice Chairman for North West, Mallam Salihu Lukman had on Wednesday given Adamu a one-week ultimatum to convene an emergency meeting of the National Executive Council.
Lukman, who made the call in an open letter to Adamu warned that failure to summon the NEC meeting would compel him to seek a court injunction to enforce compliance in line with the provisions of the APC Constitution.
The PUNCH further gathered that barring any last-minute change of plan, the national leadership of the APC would release its zoning plan for leadership positions in the 10th National Assembly this week.
According to sources privy to the APC stakeholders’ meeting, the ruling party is considering Christians for critical positions in the next National Assembly, which is billed for inauguration in June.
Sources privy to the discussions at the meeting disclosed that the APC NWC, Tinubu and the Vice President-elect, Kashim Shettima, stressed the need to assuage hurt feelings over the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket fielded by the ruling party in the 2023 general elections.
A source said, “Everybody thinks we now have a Muslim-Muslim ticket and anybody who loves the party and Nigeria should expect some balancing. The fate of the North-Central was also discussed.
‘’It is a good case that the number three citizen (President of the Senate) should be a Christian. The number four (Speaker of the House) may likely be a Muslim. The zoning formula will be this week, by the grace of God.”
Another source in the APC also disclosed that the North-Central, which is alleging marginalisation as far as speakership is concerned, may get a good bargain this time. “The North-Central argument seems favourable but all options are still on the table,” the source said.
Meanwhile, newly elected members of the House have embarked on a nationwide mobilisation campaign for one of the aspirants for the Office of the Speaker, Aliyu Betara.
Betara, who is representing Biu/Bayo/Shani/Kwaya Kusar Federal Constituency in Borno State, is the Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations.
The freshers, who are from across the six geopolitical zones – North-West, North-East, North-Central, South-West, South-East and South-South – began the tour with the South-East on Monday.
According to a statement from Betara Campaign Office, the delegation, which departed Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport Abuja on Monday morning, arrived at Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu State at 12noon.
According to the statement members-elect on the campaign train were drawn from across party lines, including members of the APC, New Nigeria Peoples Party, Peoples Democratic Party, and Labour Party, among others.
Leader of the delegation, Ismail Dabo (APC/Bauchi), said in part, “We are new members-elect from different political parties and irrespective of our party affiliations, we have resolved to suport Mukhtar Betara Aliyu.
“In furtherance of his campaign, Betara, who doubles as Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, has proved to the world that he is capable of leading the over 300 lawmakers.
“As you know, we do not want a bully as a leader in the 10th House of Representatives. That is why he is our anointed candidate and we chose to begin awareness from Enugu.”