Niyi Odebode,John Alechenu, John Ameh, Leke Baiyewu and Success Nwogu
The All Progressives Congress has offered its aggrieved National Assembly members automatic tickets in their constituencies in a last-ditch effort to stop the impending defection of the lawmakers from the party.
This offer, among others, has become necessary to scuttle the planned mass defection of the legislators, which has been slated for the floor of the National Assembly on Thursday, Sunday Punch has learnt.
Investigations by our correspondents on Saturday showed that aggrieved APC senators and members of the House of Representatives were determined to formally announce their defection before the National Assembly goes on its eight-week recess on Thursday.
It was gathered that the lawmakers would like to take a final decision on their continued membership of the APC this week to be sure of the platform on which they would contest the 2019 elections.
Primaries of most of the political parties will hold between August and September, a period the National Assembly may still be on vacation.
It was learnt that the only thing that could prevent the defection of the lawmakers was the ongoing negotiation between the APC and the leadership of the Reformed APC.
It was also gathered that the aggrieved lawmakers in the R-APC would hold a make-or-break meeting with their leaders on Tuesday where a final decision on the planned defection would be taken.
A senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of identification, said the proposed mass defection from the APC at the National Assembly was scheduled for the last day of the session to manage the tension that would likely follow the announcement.
He said what could stop the mass defection on Thursday was the automatic ticket the APC was offering the lawmakers. The lawmakers, it was gathered, had insisted that the APC must put the offer in writing.
Asked to confirm the Thursday declaration of the defection, the senator said, “It is true. It is most likely on Thursday, but I can assure you that if the APC gives Saraki and the rest of us letters (on automatic tickets), that is all (about the planned defection).”
R-APC lawmakers meet faction’s leaders on Tuesday
Also, in the House of Representatives, investigations showed that members were waiting for the outcome of the ongoing negotiations between the leadership of the R-APC and the APC National Working Committee before taking a final decision on whether to defect on Thursday or not.
It was gathered that one of the issues on offer was the automatic tickets for the lawmakers in the 2019 elections.
One of the members said, “Nothing has been concretised, but I will say there have been talks, including the offer of automatic tickets.”
Another member confided in Sunday Punch that the R-APC lawmakers were expecting to be briefed on Tuesday by their leaders to decide on the way forward.
“Our plan to defect has not changed. But our leaders are in talks with them (APC) and we are patiently waiting.”
We have not shelved defection plan – Atunwa
But a key member of the factional group and Chairman, House Committee on Justice, Mr. Razak Atunwa, told Sunday Punch on Saturday that members were ready to accept any offer that would ensure “justice for all at the end of the day.”
Atunwa, like others, confirmed that the group had not shelved the defection plan, but admitted that members were also ready to accept offers that would treat all parties as equals.
The lawmaker from Kwara and an ally of Senate President Bukola Saraki, added, “In politics, you never say never. I am aware that a lot of negotiations have been going on.
“Right now, there is no justice. If it (offer) doesn’t lead to justice, we will go ahead and do what is okay for us in the week.”
Automatic tickets: Legislators demand written agreement
In the meantime, it was learnt that the aggrieved lawmakers were ready to accept the automatic ticket offer from the APC to remain in the party.
Sunday Punch gathered that the lawmakers, led by President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, had given a condition to the leadership of the APC.
The condition, according to the aggrieved lawmakers, who spoke to one of our correspondents, is that the offer must be put in writing.
One of the lawmakers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, disclosed that Saraki and Dogara had insisted on a written agreement to retain their leadership of the National Assembly as there were forces in the APC, who worked against their emergence as Senate President and Speaker, respectively.
The source said, “They want to give us automatic tickets. The return ticket is for everybody and there are those who are giving it a thought. They are making an offer to all of us but it all depends on what we finally agree with them.
“If the offer being made will be written, we are going to take it. It has to be written. If it is not going to be written, nobody is going to take that risk (of believing the party). It must come through a letter. If they could write that they are giving us automatic tickets, I believe that many will not defect, but if they refuse, certainly, they would be on their own.”
The lawmaker further disclosed that his colleagues, particularly senators, were considering either the Peoples Democratic Party or the African Democratic Congress, a coalition led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He stated, “If it is not PDP, it is ADC. Right now, about three senators have moved to the ADC – two from Oyo State and Senator Abdul-Azeez Murtala-Nyako from Adamawa State. If they give us a written agreement, personally, I will not defect, but it must be in writing.”
The lawmaker stated that the condition became necessary as most of the APC governors were not happy with the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, for making the offer.
The lawmaker noted that some outgoing APC governors had planned to contest the seats currently occupied by some senators from their respective states.
He also said some of the governors were bent on imposing their successors on the APC and blocking senators who wanted to get the governorship tickets ahead of the 2019 elections.
Negotiation ongoing, says APC
When contacted on Saturday the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said he was not aware of the automatic ticket offer.
He said, “I do know there are ongoing meetings but I am not aware if anyone is offering anything and what offers are being made. I honestly don’t know.”
No offer can appease Saraki’s embarrassment – Baraje
Meanwhile, the leader of the defunct new PDP, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, said there was no offer from President Muhammadu Buhari to Saraki that could atone for what he called the embarrassment Saraki allegedly suffered in the last three years.
In an interview with one of our correspondents in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, on Saturday, Baraje stated that though Saraki was an experienced politician, his loyalists and supporters in Kwara State had taken a decision that with or without Saraki, they no longer wanted to continue being members of the APC.
Baraje said, “I am not concerned with the offer reportedly made by the Presidency to the Senate President. I do not see how that concerns me. As far as I am concerned and as far as our supporters and followers are concerned, they have taken a decision.
“If the Senate President is going to waiver, all well and good. The followers have indicated that with or without him, they are going out of APC. So, it is left for him to take a decision.
“As far as I know, there is no recent decision that can replace the kind of embarrassment, debasement and horrifying experiences that the Senate President has gone through in the past. It is unfortunate.”
Also, the R-APC expressed confidence that attempts by the Buhari-led administration to use the “carrot and stick” approach to break its ranks would fail.
The National Publicity Secretary of the R-APC, Kassim Afegbua, in a telephone interview with Sunday Punch, in Abuja, on Saturday, said the R-APC was committed to the Memorandum of Understanding it signed with other opposition parties.
He added that “no amount of carrots” dangled by the Buhari-led administration would derail the process.
Speaking about offers allegedly made by the President to Saraki, Afegbua urged the Senate President not to fall for what he described as a booby trap.
Afegbua said, “Why does the President now feel it is important to play politics? Since when did he begin to consider Saraki as important? Where was he when Saraki was being humiliated?
“Does he now think that by taking such a man into the inner sanctuary of Aso Rock, he has done a great thing?
“There is no sincerity of purpose; he is just running around because he is desperate to return to power so that when he wins the election, he will now come out in full force to deal with his perceived enemies. Such a man cannot be trusted.”