The Presidency on Sunday explained its decision to back a Christian as a Senate President.
It explained that Nigeria could not afford to have a Muslim as a Senate President at this time having produced Muslims as President and the Vice-President.
Vice-President Kashim Shettima, who said these at a dinner with lawmakers across party lines in Abuja on Saturday night, noted that the party came up with the consensus ticket of Senator GodsWill Akpabio as Senate President and Jibrin Barau as Deputy in the interest of the stability of the country.
Shettima said this as two aspirants for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aliyu Betara and Yusuf Gagdi, were reported to have stepped down.
Explaining the position of President Bola Tinubu, the Vice-President said Nigeria could not afford to have a Muslim as a Senate President since both the President and VP are Muslims, stressing that the President of the Senate should be a Christian.
The PUNCH had reported the uproar over the same faith presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress which featured Tinubu and Shettima in the run-up to the February 25 presidential poll.
Having won the election, parliamentarians and other stakeholders had been clamouring for the balance of power and inclusivity, insisting that a Christian must be included in the nation’s top power hierarchy.
In response to this, the APC’s National Working Committee zoned the Senate President to the South-South and nominated Akpabio, a Christian, as the preferred candidate and Senator Jibrin Barau from North-West for Deputy Senate President.
Similarly, the party nominated Tajudeen Abbas (Kaduna/North-West) for Speaker; and Benjamin Kalu (Abia/South-East) for Deputy Speaker.
However, some aspirants for the Senate Presidency and the Speaker have continued to insist on contesting for the positions in open defiance of the zoning arrangement announced by the ruling party in early May.
The recalcitrant contestants including Senators Abdulaziz Yari (Zamfara West), Orji Kalu ( Abia North) and Osita Izunaso ( Imo West), and Sani Musa from Niger State, said they would not step down for the party’s consensus aspirants for the two senate leadership positions.
But validating the zoning arrangement at the dinner, the Vice President attributed the APC’s decision to President Tinubu’s administration’s desire to foster inclusivity in the interest of the nation.
Senator Shettima said, “Here we are with a Muslim president and a Muslim vice president in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious polity like ours. I was a child of circumstance.
“Equity, justice, and fairness demand that the number three citizen of this country should be of the Christian faith. What binds us together supersedes whatever divides us. But most importantly, we should make deliberate efforts to take inclusivity in governance.”
Shettima further appealed to the lawmakers to consider the interest of the country above that of their pockets.
He said, “This is a young nation where every community will like to have fair representation on the dinner table of their kinsmen.
“Politics is about perception, politics is about optics. I want to appeal to you, I want to appeal to your conscience. There is stability and inclusivity and togetherness in this nation that supersedes the depth of our pockets, stability of our pockets.
“Under the current dispensation, the worst, the most incompetent southern Christian is better than the most puritanical northern Muslim for the presidency of the Senate. We are talking about the sustainability of the nation; the nation is at a crossroads.”
The Vice President submitted that some parts of the country felt excluded from the previous administration as the president, senate president, speaker and others were of the Muslim faith, adding it would be wrong to have a repeat of such a situation in the current government.
He said, “Number one, two, three, four, and five all from the same faith for God’s sake, we can’t do that. I am ready to kneel and beg my colleagues in the Senate for the sake of the nation. This is for the survival of this nation. I am even going to talk to a senator tonight just for the sake of this nation.”
The consensus candidate of the party, Senator Akpabio noted that the lawmakers were willing to work for the stability of the country.
Akpabio said, “Vice President, sir, we have committed ourselves to your administration alongside President Bola Tinubu to ensure the stability of Nigeria.”
In his comment, Senator Barau reiterated the president’s commitment to the progress, unity, and stability of the country.
He assured that the 10th Assembly would commit itself to the values of unity and peaceful co-existence of the nation.
The Director-General of the Stability group, Senator Ali Ndume, noted that the group was assured of votes from 80 lawmakers but currently has assurance from 73 senators.
Meanwhile, Emeka Nwala, the Chief Press Secretary to Senator Kalu, noted that Yari and Kalu were still in the race and not backing down.
In the same vein, the media consultant to Senator Izunaso, Kehinde Olaosebikan, noted that his boss couldn’t back down in the last days, especially knowing that he is the best man for the job.
He said, “We have not stepped down and we are not stepping down. Sen Izunaso is the best among them, he will win. Nigeria deserves the best. It’s about service to Nigeria.
We are not talking about being a running mate to someone. We are talking about him being the Senate President. I’m not aware if a decision has been made on a running mate with Yari.”
Speaking on the number of lawmakers on his side, he said they have several people on their side but reeling out figures wasn’t an assurance of getting people’s votes.
Efforts to get comments from Senator Yari’s camp proved abortive as phone calls made to the Assistant Director General of his campaign team, Senator Abdul Nengi failed.
In a new development, the Joint Task – 10th Assembly, a coalition of members-elect of the 10th House of Representatives across party lines, has said two leading contenders, Aliyu Betara and Yusuf Gagdi, have stepped down for the APC consensus speakership candidate.
The Tajudeen Abbas/ Benjamin Kalu Joint Task Campaign Office made the claim in a statement issued in Abuja on Sunday.
The development is coming ahead of plans by the G-7 to announce its final resolution on the speakership race on Monday (today).
The group includes the incumbent Deputy Speaker Ahmed Wase; the Chairman of the House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi; Chairman, the House Committee on Appropriations, Aliyu Betara; Chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli; Chinedu Ogah, Miriam Onuoha, and Sani Jaji.
The Joint Task’s statement was titled ‘Disregard claims that Tinubu wasn’t aware of Rt. Hon. Tajudeen Abbas’ adoption by APC…Rt. Hon. Abbas expresses readiness to win on the floor on Tuesday…as Betara, Gagdi step down for Abbas.’
The group was refuting reports that Tinubu did not expressly direct the lawmakers to vote for Abbas and Kalu during his meeting with the members-elect last week.
It partly read, “It has come to the attention of the Joint Task – 10th Assembly that some aspirants for the Speakership of the 10th House of Representatives claimed that the President/Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Bola Ahmed Tinubu, never mentioned the name of Rt. Hon. Tajudeen Abbas was his preferred candidate for Speaker, but the President only said he aligned with the position of the All Progressives Congress National Working Committee on the zoning arrangement.
“It is pertinent to mention that the so-called G-7 no longer exists as key members of the forum such as Rt. Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa, Rt. Hon. Muktar Aliyu Betara, Rt. Hon. Yusuf Adamu Gagdi, Rt. Hon. Makki Yalleman and Rt. Hon. Raheem Tunji Olawuyi, among others, have since dropped their speakership ambitions and declared support for the Abbas/Kalu ticket.
“It is worthy to note that Betara and Gagdi announced that they stepped down for Rt. Hon. Tajudeen Abbas today, Sunday June 11, 2023 after a meeting with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima.
“As of Sunday, June 11, Rt. Hon. Tajudeen Abbas (Ph.D.) has secured the endorsement of the overwhelming majority of members-elect across the eight political parties in the six geopolitical zones, and he is ready to compete on the floor of the House and take the mantle of leadership of the 10th House come Tuesday, June 13, 2023.”
The campaign organisation stated that the APC NWC, on May 8 “consulted with the President before reaching that resolution.”
The Abbas/Kalu group added, “Therefore, it is preposterous to claim that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was not aware of the adoption of Rt. Hon. Tajudeen Abbas as the Speaker. We urge the public, especially the media, to disregard such claims.”
Neither Betara nor Gagdi could be reached as of press time on Sunday night to confirm if they had stepped down from the speakership race, and for whom.
In the meantime, the Coalition of Northern Groups has raised concerns about plans to allegedly arrest and intimidate northern aspirants for the National Assembly principal offices.
In a statement on Sunday by CNG spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, the group said the elements who were hatching the evil plans were “bent on smearing the good relationship of the President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the North”.
Suleiman, in the statement, disclosed that the widely speculated plot involved the introduction of a suspicious voting system to track the NASS voting patterns as well as a plan to block members-elect opposed to the candidacy of Akpabio, from gaining access to the NASS complex on the day of the inauguration.
Meanwhile, Betara an Gagdi, on Sunday night withdrew their candidacy to support the zoning arrangement of the APC.
Vice President Kashim Shettima disclosed this at the end of closed-door negotiations between President Bola Tinubu and both lawmakers which held at Tinubu’s Asokoro residence on Sunday evening.
He told journalists that President Tinubu was pleased with the gesture of Aliyu Betara and Yusuf Gadgi to place the interest of the party above their personal ambitions.
Flanked by the Betara and Gagdi, Shettima said “Rt. Hon Betara and Gadgi have graciously accepted to step down and endorse the candidature of Tajudeen Abbas for the speakership of the Federal House of Representatives.
“The President was quite touched by their gesture because what binds us together is superior to whatever that divides us.
We are one big APC family and together, we shall cross the Rubicon on Tuesday. We cannot thank them enough for their sacrifice and we want to commend the roles played by the Chief of Staff to Mr. President, His Excellency the Governor of Niger State, by the leadership of the party here represented by the Deputy National Chairman (North). I think our party members will breathe a sigh of relief.”
Therefore, the Vice President urged other contenders such as the current Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, Sada Soli and Aminu Jaji to emulate the gesture.
“We call on the other candidates such as Rt. Hon. Wase, Hon. Sada Soli and Rt. Hon. Aminu Jaji, to also see reasons to channel their candidacy to Abbas so that as a family, we can create a better future for our dear nation,” he said.