There were clear indications on Saturday that the election of the presiding officers of the 9th National Assembly will be conducted by secret ballot method on Tuesday.
SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that the management of the red chamber took the decision to avoid rancour on the day of inauguration.
A senior member of the management team of the federal parliament told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity on Saturday that the elected lawmakers had already been given House Rules stipulating the voting method.
He said, “There were attempts to amend the rules of both chambers to give room for a secret ballot but the idea was frustrated by the outgoing leadership.
“I’m aware that advocates of the secret ballot method mounted pressure on the outgoing Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, and stressed the need to amend the rules in line with the global practices.
“There is no way management will come up with a voting method different from what is contained in the rule book distributed to elected members since April.”
Investigation by SUNDAY PUNCH revealed that the members of the Ahmad Lawan Campaign Organisation had soft-pedalled on their agitation for an open poll.
A member of the group, who spoke on condition of anonymity, on Saturday, said, “We are winning almost unopposed; so, there is no basis for argument over voting method again.”
Attempts to speak with the Director of Information, Rawlings Agada, on the issue, failed on Saturday as calls made to his mobile did not connect.
He had also not responded to the text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report on Saturday.
But speaking with SUNDAY PUNCH on the telephone last month, the Director of Public Affairs, National Assembly, Mr Yahaya Dan-Zaria, said the Standing Rules of the chambers prescribed an open-secret system, which would be adopted for the next poll.
“Of course, an open-secret ballot; that is what their rule says. It is not from us; it is their rule,” Dan-Zaria had stated.
However, one of the aspirants to the position of the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, told journalists on Saturday that he would resist attempts to adopt secret ballot method.
Omo Agege stated, “In 2015, to the extent that the 2011 rules were not amended that ought to be the operative rule for use in the 8th Senate because it is the valid and subsisting rule. I can tell you there was never a time when this 8th Senate amended the 2011 rules.
“So what that means is that the 2015 amended rule is a Saraki rule. It is Saraki Standing Order; it is not the 8th Senate Standing Order and I can assure you it would not be used on Tuesday because it is not valid.”
When journalists reminded him that the same Standing Order was used throughout the life of the 8th Senate, he said, “Well, anybody can distribute anything. Its use will be determined on Tuesday.
“I have support from the APC caucus; I have the support of the leadership and the caucus of the party. I also have the support of the executive arm. As we go into this contest, I am very confident that come Tuesday, I will emerge as the next Deputy Senate President.”
Meanwhile, the preferred candidate of the APC for the position of Senate President in the 9th National Assembly, Senator Ahmad Lawan, said he had the endorsement of 99 senators-elect who would vote for him on Tuesday.
Lawan stated this on Saturday in Abuja where the names of the APC senators, who had endorsed him, were read out.
The implication of Lawan’s claims is that only seven senators-elect across the parties that have representatives in the 9th National Assembly might not vote for him.
The endorsement list contained the names of 60 APC senators-elect and one member of the Young Progressives Party, Ifeanyi Ubah.
Lawan explained, after the list was read by the secretary of his campaign organisation, Senator Barau Jibrin that only two out of the 62 APC senators-elect had yet to endorse him.
He also said about 38 out of the PDP senators-elect had promised to vote for him on June 11.
Lawan said he would not make public the list of PDP Senators-elect who had signed up the endorsement list with him for obvious reasons.
He said, “For my colleagues in the APC, this is the first time that members of the National Assembly, whether in the House of Representatives or in the Senate of a particular party, would come together in this unanimous way to endorse a candidate for the office of a Presiding Officer.
“The APC, as of today, stands at 62 senators-elect and the PDP 44 members.
“We have two cases undetermined in Imo State. But one was almost determined yesterday (Friday); that of senator-elect, Rochas Okorocha, when the court said INEC should give him his return certificate.
“That will take the number of APC senators-elect to 63; and of course, YPP, one.
“Out of the 62 with returned certificates in APC, 60 have signed here. But you know, we will love to have the 62 signed.
“We are not prepared to fight each other. We will do everything possible to bring everybody on board because we don’t want distraction.”
He maintained that he was not imposed on the parliament.
Lawan said, “The trouble we have gone through tells a story. We are not an imposition because everybody here wrote their name and signed.”
But an aspirant to the position of the Senate President, Senator Ali Ndume, has said he does not believe in endorsement.
Ndume, who was reacting to the claims by his co-contestant, Lawan, that 99 senators-elect had endorsed him, told journalists on Saturday that his colleagues would vote according to their conscience on Tuesday.
He said, “Well, I have said before that I am not looking for endorsement but looking for votes on election day.
“You know clearly that there is a difference between endorsement and election.
“Recall too that in 2015 that the story of endorsement was canvassed.
“He (Lawan) had the endorsement but what happened on the floor of the Senate was different.
“I believe that my colleagues shall vote according to their conscience and they shall vote for a candidate that is more suitable for the position of the Senate President.
“I am not bothered about endorsement; rather am more worried about the election.”
Meanwhile, as part of his strategy to clinch the Speaker’s seat, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, has offered 60 PDP’s members-elect positions of chairmen and deputy chairmen of committees to vote for on Tuesday.
The Director-General of the Femi Gbajabiamila/Ahmed Wase Campaign Organisation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, disclosed this in an interview with journalists in Abuja on Saturday.
Jibrin said the 60 PDP members had accepted the offer and had started working with their colleagues in the ruling All Progressives Congress to ensure that Gbajabiamila, who is the preferred candidate of the APC, emerges victorious.
He said, “Before Femi’s endorsement by the party, the President, the governors, the majority of us the lawmakers had agreed that he is the Speaker that we want. It was after that decision that other endorsements came.
“As it is today, he has a massive support across party lines. In 2015, the APC was just only guarding its votes because we believed then that we had the number to win the election.
“But this time round, the APC is more comfortable because we have more numbers with our 223. In spite of that, our campaign is more aggressive towards poaching the PDP members than the aggression of the PDP members trying to poach our members.
“But as a safety net, we already have over 60 members of the PDP working with us. There is nothing you can do to change the minds of these PDP members because their support is based on their conviction that Gbajabiamila and Wase are the best to occupy those position at this time.
“On the aspect of responsibility in the parliament, we are always reluctant mentioning this but it is the reality, sharing of committees and the rest. We have offered 60 positions.
“If not that the party has been broken into two factions, it is what we would have offered to all of them, but since we have concluded with one faction, we have given them that offer and they have accepted it.”
Jibrin also boasted that the camp was not bothered about the voting method to be adopted for the election, whether open or secret ballot.
Also, the leadership of the PDP will on Monday decide on who to endorse among those aspiring to be Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, the PDP Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Diran Odeyemi, has said.
In an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH in Abuja on Saturday, Odeyemi stated that the party leadership wanted to make the endorsement a last-minute affair.
He said, “They want to take the decision on Monday. They want (to make) it a last-minute affair but the horse trading and underground work are ongoing.”
Odeyemi, however, added that the possibility of the PDP presenting candidates for offices of the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives should not be ruled out.
He said, “On whether we are likely to present a candidate, it depends on the situation of things generally. Anything can happen, anything can crop up. You do not rule out anything.
“In politics, 24 hours is still a long time. When Bukola Saraki became the Senate President, was Nigeria expecting it that he would win the election or that he would become the Senate President? No! Anything can happen, it depends on the strategy. We are keeping our strategy close to our chest. So we cannot say yes or no that the PDP will be presenting candidates.”
He also denied any division among the PDP senators, adding that the party had not decided who to endorse.
In the meantime, the South-South zone of the APC, on Saturday, said it had resolved to support the aspiration of Omo-Agege as the Deputy Senate President in the 9th Assembly.
The party’s Zonal Working Committee in a statement by its National Vice-Chairman (South-South), Chief Hilliard Eta, and Zonal Secretary, Mr David Okumagba, said they took the decision after deliberating on the senators-elect from the zone that had shown an interest in vying for the position.
The statement noted that after the deliberating on the candidacy of Senator Francis Alimikhena from Edo State and Omo-Agege from Delta State, it settled for the latter because the National Chairman of the party, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, was from Edo State.
It read in part, “However, considering the current zoning of political offices in our zone, whereby Edo State produced the current National Chairman of our party, Adams Oshiomhole, and other considerations, it became imperative that our zone supports the candidature of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege for the office of the deputy senate president.” [PUNCH]