As the race for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly heats up ahead of the inauguration of the Assembly in June, the aspiration of a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, and ex Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to emerge as the Senate president might have been dashed, IgbereTV has learned.
According to Leadership Newspaper, a stumbling block to Akpabio’s aspiration stems from opposition to his aspiration by a group of senators led by the outgoing president of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan.
Already, according to a report, Lawan has persuaded the president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to withdraw his initial support for the former minority leader of the Senate.
Leadership learnt that Tinubu’s widely reported support for the former minister of Niger Delta Affairs was aborted at the end of his meeting with Ahmad Lawan-led team of lawmakers.
Akpabio’s fate was sealed at a meeting of some senators-elect and ranking senators held with Tinubu in Abuja on Tuesday. Lawan, who spoke on behalf of the group, pointedly told Tinubu that his endorsement would not translate into victory for Akpabio in the Senate.
It was gathered that the senators told Tinubu and members of his inner circle, who were present at the meeting, that Akpabio would be difficult to market for the coveted seat in the Senate.
An impeccable source at the meeting said that in what appeared like a subtle threat, Lawan told the President-elect that another senator, who would be nominated by the aggrieved senators, would trounce Akpabio in the election, should he insist on his choice of the former governor.
Lawan alleged that Akpabio was “bogged down by credibility baggage, which disqualified him from the contest.”
He explained to the president-elect the dangers inherent in projecting Akpabio to the Senate for election.
Findings showed that the senators were angered by the management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) under the watch of Akpabio as supervising minister of the interventionist agency for the oil-rich belt.
It was further gathered that the senators were particularly piqued that Akpabio allegedly frustrated the inauguration of the board and management appointed and duly screened and confirmed by the Senate on November 5, 2019, thus paving the way for the appointment of a corrupt-ridden interim management to oversee the running of the commission for almost three years.
Akpabio is among the strong contenders for Senate Presidency of the 10th Assembly on the banner of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC). Others are former national chairman of APC and Senator-elect for Edo North, Adams Oshiomhole; Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu and the outgoing governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi.
It was learnt that Lawan, who had spearheaded a movement in the Senate to frustrate Akpabio’s aspiration, besieged the president-elect’s residence on Tuesday to demand the withdrawal of his support for the former minister.
“As soon as the president-elect returned from his foreign trip, the outgoing Senate president sought and secured an appointment with him. He (Lawan) was cleared to see Mr. President-elect on Tuesday, April 25th. We came with a number of Senators for the meeting. After the exchange of pleasantries, Senator Lawan explained their mission.
“Senator Lawan didn’t waste further time as he went to tell the president-elect that Senator Akpabio, whom he is supporting for the position of Senate Presidency of the 10th Assembly, cannot fly in the Senate. He told the president-elect that no senator will vote for Akpabio, that even Senators Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti Central), Solomon Olamilekan (Lagos West), Barau Jibrin (Kano North) and Tokunbo Abiru (Lagos East), who are following Akpabio up and down, would not vote for him in a secret ballot because Senator Akpabio has credibility baggage,” one of the sources hinted Leadership.
The source further stated, “The Lawan-led group strongly advised Tinubu to immediately put an end to his support for Akpabio, saying that it would amount to a waste of time. They said Akpabio is not in the good books of the Senate and no senator will vote for him.
“Lawan reminded Tinubu how Senator Bukola Saraki emerged as Senate President of the 8th Assembly against the position of APC and its leadership. He warned that such disgraceful outing may be in the offing for APC and the president-elect in the Senate if their advice is ignored.
“The visiting senators even warned the president-elect that another senator would be sponsored to contest and defeat Akpabio in the event that he refused to take the advice.”
Although our source said Tinubu was non-committal in his response to the request, IgbereTV learnt that the president-elect and members of his inner circle reviewed their support for Akpabio after the meeting.
“A series of meetings were held by Tinubu and his inner circle members thereafter and a decision was reached that a former national chairman of APC and Senator-elect (Edo North), Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, be supported to emerge as Senate President. The Tinubu camp was wary of a likely humiliating outing in the Senate if the President-elect insisted on his choice of Akpabio.
“Oshiomhole was considered as a close ally of the president-elect and that he lost his position as national chairman of APC because of his perceived closeness to Asiwaju, the fear of Oshiomhole then was that he was going to use his privileged position to deliver Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the presidential candidate of APC . So, he was eased out. But despite that, Asiwaju still made it.
“So, Asiwaju’s cronies are of the opinion that Oshiomhole can be trusted and that he should be supported. But an issue was raised about Oshiomhole being a fresh senator. However, a position was taken that he cannot be stopped because he is not a ranking senator; that the Constitution reserves the right of every senator to run for any office in the Senate, that the Constitution supersedes the Senate rules. That, after all, Evan Enwerem, who emerged as Senate president in 1999, was not a ranking senator since there was no Senate in existence before 1999.
“There was also an argument that at the very worst, the Clerk of the Senate can be asked to initiate moves to amend the Senate rule, which provides that only a ranking senator is allowed to hold a principal position in the Senate,” the source added.
Akpabio, in a telephone chat and text messages to our correspondent yesterday, confirmed that Lawan was leading a group of senators in a campaign of calumny to frustrate his bid to lead the Senate of the 10th National Assembly.
Akpabio also confirmed that Lawan actually led a team to Tinubu to discredit him. He said despite the “antics of Lawan and his co-travelers, I remain the main person to beat and I am in the race to win.”
“No one can discredit me before the president-elect, who knows me very well and can vouch for my integrity. Senator Lawan and his cohorts are merely wasting their time.”
The former Senate minority leader disclosed that he visited Lawan in his residence shortly after the Senate president’s meeting with Tinubu for a possible truce. He said he was accompanied to the parley by Bamidele, Olamilekan, Barau and Aburi, but that Lawan rebuffed all entreaties for peace.
He traced his travails with Lawan to his refusal to support Lawan’s presidential bid, ahead of the 2023 elections.
“SP is reacting over the outcome of the APC presidential convention where I publicly withdrew and declared for the president-elect, Sen. Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I am proud to belong to the most prestigious club in the world – the Senate,” he said.
Rendering an account of what transpired in his peace overtures at Lawan’s residence, he said, “Myself, Sen. Opeyemi Bamidele, Sen. Barau Jibrin. Sen. Yayi (Solomon Olamilekan) and Sen. TOS (Tokunbo Abiru), all prostrated and pleaded with him (Lawan) to forgive whatever mistakes or misgivings he felt I had committed and to support the aspiration.
“Well, he bluntly refused and said instead, he would support a first term senator from south/south or sponsor anyone else for the SP job. One of us reminded him of the case of (name withheld), who denigrated the entire institution during proceedings in the 8th Senate.
“On aspiring to lead the 9th Senate, there was strong opposition but HE SP Ahmed Lawan appealed to all that since the incumbent president wanted him, he should be forgiven. He was forgiven and voted. He shouted, ‘I hate Akpabio’.
“At that point, Senator Akpabio asked him, (Senate President Ahmed Lawan) in the presence of four of our colleagues that NDDC issues were since settled and put behind us two years before the APC Convention that produced our presidential candidate and now president-elect.”
“On that day of the convention, why did he (SP) put a call to Akpabio offering him the same Senate presidency position and five ministerial slots, including petroleum ministry, if he would step down for him as a presidential aspirant?
“The call data records of the two phones can evidence the call. There were two important witnesses and reactions. Peace is essential – Nigeria first.”
He added that Lawan also threatened to impeach him within one year of his reign in the event that he eventually emerged as Senate president in June, despite his vehement opposition.
The aforementioned senators were said to have appealed to him that such a bellicose position was not in the interest of the incoming Asiwaju administration.
Lawan’s media aide, Mr. Ola Awoniyi, ignored calls to his phone to enable him to react to the report.
Awoniyi also ignored text messages sent to him on the subject matter.
Again, when our correspondent contacted the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, last night at about 7:29pm he kept his calls on busy mode.
Further calls were rejected as it showed the line busy after ringing.
The media aide, Ola Awoniyi, again, failed to respond to several calls made to his line.