Three Senators elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are leading the race for the Minority Leader position in the forthcoming 9th session of the Senate, according to feelers from the party.
Topping the list is the outgoing Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu.
Also in contention are Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) and Senator Ayo Akinyelure (Ondo Central).
Rooting for each of them are diverse groups in the PDP.
Sources told The Nation that while the party leadership appears to be heavily in favour of Ekweremadu emerging as minority leader in view of his vast experience, some other groups in the party have different ideas on who should occupy the position.
The party leadership’s decision, it was gathered, may not be unconnected with the desire for a strong personality to lead the PDP in the next dispensation, as part of a larger plan to hijack the leadership of the National Assembly at an appropriate time.
A party chieftain from the Southeast said the PDP believes Ekweremadu has the ability to keep the APC on its toes.
“The PDP plans to give the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) serious opposition in the next dispensation,” the party chieftain said.
“We want to prove that we have what it takes to be taken seriously as a real alternative to the APC by Nigerians. We can only do these when we live up to the people’s expectation from an opposition party, especially in the national assembly.
“To this end, we have considered that the current leadership of our party in the Senate, as represented by the highest ranking senator there, Senator Ekweremadu, be retained in the 9th assembly. We are sure that if he remains the leader of the PDP senators, the APC will be kept on its toes until we take over the assembly.”
Another party leader said Ekweremadu “solidly fits the bill. We need a man like him to stand up to the APC senators.”
But PDP stakeholders in the Southwest and the Northcentral are projecting other senators for the plum opposition job.
One source said: “it is incorrect to say there is any crisis in the PDP over this issue.
“Yes, people are suggesting various opinions as regards who should be the Minority Leader even when the party’s national leadership is advocating a particular direction for obvious reasons.
“But other opinions are welcome and that should not be interpreted to mean there is a crisis.”
Some interest groups in the Southwest recently cautioned the PDP leadership against taking the position of Minority Leader away from the zone.
The Southwest PDP Frontiers (SWPF), led by Asipa Iyanda Adeoye Ogunfojuri, in a statement by him and Ameen Adekanye warned the party against repeating the alleged ill-treatment meted out to the zone during the struggle for the position of national chairman.
“We are speaking out early enough to avoid being told that we kept mute when it mattered, for that was what we were told after the Southwest was disgraced out of the PDP national chairmanship race,” they said.
“The position of Minority Leader in the Senate is currently being held by the Southwest, and since nothing has changed as regards the zoning at the national level, it shouldn’t be taken away from us.
“It is worrisome to see that the body language of many of our leaders suggests the possibility of the position being used to compensate another zone for whatever reason.
“The Southwest will no longer agree to be sacrificed within the opposition party, more so when we have eminently qualified persons that can serve in the said capacity.”
The Nation also gathered that some PDP stakeholders from the Northcentral recently met leaders of the party in the zone and expressed their desire to have Senator Dino Melaye supported to lead the PDP caucus in the Senate.
According to sources, the stakeholders pleaded with the leaders against supporting any arrangement that denies the zone a chance to produce the next Minority Leader of the Red Chamber.
“The Northcentral too is pushing for Dino Melaye. In their opinion, the Kogi West senator is eminently qualified and equipped to lead other PDP senators. They also argued that since the zone will be losing the Senate presidency currently held by Senator Bukola Saraki, it is just proper that it be compensated with the Minority Leadership in the interest of equity,” our source added.
When the 9th assembly is convened, the Southeast PDP will have at least 11 Senators having lost one seat each in Anambra, Abia and Imo states. One other seat in Imo is still in contention.
The South-south PDP will have about 15 senators following the loss of one seat each too in Bayelsa, Edo and Delta states. Party sources said the majority of the senators from the two zones may support the party’s choice.
The Southwest boasts of only three PDP senators-elect.
The party got a Senate seat each in Ondo, Oyo and Osun states during the last national assembly elections. Dr Kola Balogun was elected to represent Oyo South while Chief Francis Fadahunsi will be representing Osun East. Both are first timers.
Senator Ayo Akinyelure (Ondo central) is returning for a second term.
He was first elected in 2011 but lost his re-election bid in 2015. He is a ranking senator and sources say he is the candidate of many Southwest PDP leaders and chieftains for the position of Senate Minority Leader in the next dispensation.
“He is the man they want as a replacement for current Senate Minority Leader, Biodun Olujimi, who will not be returning to the Senate,” said a party source.
The Northcentral will have about five senators in the next dispensation as it could only manage to add a seat each from Kogi and Plateau states to the clean sweep it got in Benue State. The surprise loss of all the three senatorial seats in Kwara, including that of Senate President Bukola Saraki, depleted its numerical strength in the Senate.
Melaye will be the only ranking senator from the zone in the 9th assembly. Senators-elect Gabriel Suswam (Benue northeast), Yisa Orker-Jev (Benue northwest) and Abba Moro (Benue south) are all going to the Senate for the first time.
Another fresher is Istifanus Dung from Plateau north.
This perhaps informed the choice of Melaye as the candidate of some major stakeholders in the zone.