In the build up to the contest for the leadership of National Assembly in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari declared his readiness to work with anyone. Though his party endorsed Senator Ahmad Lawan, the President was not seen to have lifted a finger to obstruct party men as they canvassed for votes and eventually held the historic elections inside the two chambers. At the end of that exercise, the candidates of the party lost to the new-Peoples Democratic Party (N-PDP) elements.
Though the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has repeatedly stated that it would not make the same ‘mistake’ this time, no one has really seen a different posture from President Buhari. Ahead of the February 23 presidential election, the president’s brand of politics came fully into the fore. He would canvass his candidacy in the troubled APC states and ask the supporters to vote their conscience in the governorship polls; he said so in Ogun, Zamfara and Delta. In one breathe, some saw the president as saying something like ‘once I am there, you guys can sort out yourself.’ But in another breathe, his disposition can be seen as a way of playing the father figure. A section of the party believes that Buhari’s attitude to intra-party political contention is less combative and that he believes that party men can always sort their differences.
That attitude is possibly playing out once again this time. When he hosted members-elect of the ninth House of Representatives, the president did not openly endorse the candidate of the party for the speakership position as presented by national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole. He only urged the members to work in unity. His publicists had to further break down what Buhari meant to newsmen and party loyalists in follow-up interviews.
Since the March 25 dinner with APC senators-elect at the Presidential Villa where the incumbent Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, was announced as the party’s choice to lead the incoming Senate, the party has repeatedly canvassed that adoption as sacrosanct.
National Leader of the party, Senator Bola Tinubu, has also spoken in similar mould, insisting that any senator who disagrees should be ready to leave the party. The party further restated the adopting lines last week when it formally presented the House Majority Leader, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, as its candidate for the ninth House of Representatives.
Though the adopted Lawan did not deflate his campaign on account of the advertised adoption, having flagged off consultations immediately after the February 23 elections, the camp of his main challenger and his predecessor in office, Ndume, has described the adoption as lacking the imprimatur of the president’s office.
The very first day Ndume challenged the decision to adopt Lawan, on March 26, a day after the Villa meeting, he told newsmen that he believed that the adoption was a decision of the APC national chairman, as according to him, he (Ndume) had consulted with Buhari and Tinubu and none of them hinted him of the adoption.
He said at the interview: “First of all, let me say that the decision by the party to settle for an individual, instead of zoning the position to a particular geopolitical zone and also consulting or allowing the senators from that zone to decide who among them they prefer as the Senate President, is a surprise.
We were surprised on Monday night when the national chairman of our party told us a decision had been taken to adopt Ahmad Lawan as candidate from the North-East for the position of the President of the Senate. The reason I am shocked, and I am sure that is the feeling of my colleagues, is that the constitutional provision for the emergence of the leadership of the Senate is clearly spelt out.
“At the meeting, Oshiomhole just threw it to us that Lawan will be the Senate President. I don’t believe that it is the position of Mr President. Before I joined this race, I consulted with Mr President. He gave me the go ahead. I consulted with Tinubu and he gave me the go ahead. That was immediately after the primaries, before the elections. I did that to avoid what happened in the past when Tinubu told me that I came late. I have respect for the president and Tinubu, but I am 60 years old. I stand for truth and I do what is right.”
The lines of argument from Ndume’s camp have been consistent on this line since he challenged Lawan’s adoption. It is clear that the Borno senator would want to directly hear from the president before he believes the anointing has landed on one of his colleagues. Whether he will succeed in drawing Buhari out this time is the issue.
Apart from statements credited to Ndume, his support groups have also been saying the same thing. The Concerned Borno Citizens said, last week, that they had premised their support for the Borno South Senator on the ‘go ahead’ he told them he got from President Buhari, ahead of his public declaration.
The elders, in a statement by their spokesman, Alhaji Yakubu Umar, which was made available in Abuja, said the choice of Ndume would guarantee a reliable Senate which would ensure development. They also asked the president “to remain committed to his endorsement of Ndume, irrespective of the political pressure from some quarters,” adding that the president is adjudged as the most trusted and truthful leader Nigeria ever had and that is why he is often touted ‘’Mai Gaskiya.’’
They said the president had, last December, “unreservedly” made an undertaking to handsomely reward the party member who work very hard for him to win his re-election bid, as they trumpeted Borno as being the state that contributed most handsomely to Buhari’s victory in February, by giving 90 per cent of its votes to the APC.
To further buffer their support base, Ndume’s loyalists had chronicled some events they claimed gave credence to the fact that Buhari would not be party to endorsement ahead of the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly.
A literature made available by the camp, last week, indicated that President Buhari had given confidence to his supporters ahead of the presidential election that he would reward those who work hard to support him this time.
Reference was made to the scenario which has been loudly criticised by the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, in the media when she indicated that her husband’s appointments in the first term were peopled by individuals she didn’t know.
The document referred to a meeting at the old Banquet Hall, Presidential Villa, Abuja, on December 13, 2018, where Buhari was quoted as promising to handsomely reward loyal APC members, who would work for his victory in 2019.
The Ndume team stated, “It was as if for the first time, President Buhari has had to assure his wife, Aisha and several other APC party faithful that if he wins his re-election bid, it would no longer be the same ball game, which is ‘monkey de work, baboon de chop.’’
The document then quoted Buhari as saying at the event, “At this point, I would like to acknowledge the overwhelming support I enjoyed from individuals and organisations across the country over the years. I say thank you to all those who contributed to our success in one way or the other. Some of you, individuals and organisations, may be feeling disappointed because we have not been able to please everyone. I would like to assure you that this time, hard work and loyalty will be rewarded adequately.”
To the Ndume campaigners, Buhari would not turn his back on Borno, which gave him 90 per cent of its votes by rejecting their own. What would settle the contention is direct words from the president himself. But will the words ever come? We await the trends as they unfold ahead of the inauguration of the incoming National Assembly.