Following some political drama since the completion of the general elections in March, next month’s inauguration and election of principal officers of the 10th National Assembly is another crucial contest Nigerians are anxiously waiting to see how the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will unravel.
While some stakeholders have cautioned the ruling party, especially Tinubu, to be careful not to allow a repeat of the Bukola Saraki 2015 scenario in which the former Kwara State governor emerged as the Senate President against the wish of the party and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu of the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), emerged as Deputy Senate President, others have expressed concerns that senators from the Northern zone of the country may play a smart game to outwit the Southern lawmakers in the contest for the leadership of the upper chamber.
The concerns were expressed considering the ongoing campaigns among lawmakers, who seem to have jettisoned the principles of zoning and the National Assembly’s practice forbidding newly elected legislators from contesting for principal offices.
The usual situation where only the ruling APC and PDP dominate the legislative arm of government has also changed. For the next Assembly, though APC controls the majority with 60 lawmakers and PDP with 35 seats, Labour Party (LP) and New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) are now forces to reckon with as both parties have eight seats each, while the Young Progressives Party (YPP) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) have one seat each.
Ahead of the crucial APC National Working Committee (NWC) meeting scheduled to hold today (Wednesday) in Abuja, the party may be upset again by something similar to the Saraki scenario, if it fails to take a decisive position on the zoning for principal officers.
From the South, especially South-South and Southeast, one of the zones that are ordinarily supposed to produce the leader of the upper legislative arm if the proper zoning is to be followed, contenders are former Senate Minority Leader and ex-Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio; former APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole; Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu; outgoing governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi and Senator Osita Izunaso from Imo State.
Meanwhile, aspirants from the South have a big hurdle to cross from the rank of top contenders for the Senate presidency from the North, which include the current Senate President, Ahmad Lawan (Yobe, North), Ali Ndume (Borno, South), Jibrin Barau (Kano, North), and Mohammed Sani Musa (Niger, East). This is not minding the fact that the Northeast, where Lawan and Ndume hail from, already produced the vice president while Barau hails the Northwest, region of the outgoing president, Muhammadu Buhari.
The Guardian gathered that over 39 of the estimated 58 Senators-elect across various political parties in the North have resolved that their region must produce the Senate President and unless the APC leadership puts its feet on the ground to decide where the pendulum swings, the North may get the seat, against the desire of the South, since election is a game of numbers.
According to an inside source, Northern senators are not comfortable with the leadership of the Senate coming to the South since Southwest had already produced the president. This, according to the source, will cede too many democratic powers to the South at the expense of the North. “That is one reason the North will do everything possible to retain the position.”
The Senators-elect are insisting that the North deserves the number three position in the country because the region delivered the highest number of votes for Tinubu in the February 25 poll. They have also concluded arrangements to engage their counterparts from the South on the need to support their aspiration.
Looking at the permutations ahead of the lawmakers’ inauguration, the South may go into the election at the mercy of the North. For instance, some of the Senator-elects aspiring for the red chamber’s highest seat, like Oshiomhole and Umahi, are new entrants, who may possibly lack the political strength to contend with their fellow Northern counterparts.
Again, the aspirations of Akpabio, Kalu and other Southern ranking senators in the contest may be threatened by court cases. The South may also have issues producing the Senate president due to the ongoing face-off between the South-South and Southeast regions.
While the Southeast is saying that since it was deprived the opportunity to produce the president, it should be accorded the privilege to take the Senate President, and South-South is insisting that the last time it produced an occupant for the number three seat was in 1979, during the Second Republic.
It said the Southeast region has had its chance to produce not one, but over three different Senate Presidents. Also to be considered in the contest is the religious backgrounds of the President-elect and his vice, who are both Muslims. Some analysts believe that the leadership of the National Assembly (Senate President and Speaker) should be reserved for Southern and Northern Christians, to create religious balance at the national level.
A former National Vice Chairman of APC, Pastor Bankole Oluwajana, told The Guardian he least expected any lawmaker from the North to indicate interest for the post of Senate President now.
Apart from Bankole, others said they were waiting to see who Tinubu, who is a former Senator and his wife, Oluremi, a three-term and outgoing Senator, will support to emerge as President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
But interested parties from the North say Tinubu should rather put national interest as priority in supporting the choice of the next leadership of the Senate. They insist that personal and parochial interests of former leaders in the National Assembly have robbed the nation of good policies.
Former Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Colonel John Ubah (rtd) and the Coordinator of the Arewa Professional League (APL), Murtala Abubakar, said unless Tinubu looks beyond ethnic and parochial considerations for his support of the next leadership of the Senate, the nation may not move forward under his government.
Ubah, who was also a former military administrator of Kebbi State, said the reasons why some Senator-elects are positioning themselves for the next Senate President is for self-interests and parochial reasons, and not what they can do to move Nigeria forward. He urged the President-elect not to allow these considerations to sway his support for a good Senate president.
Abubakar, on his part, said Tinubu must go into serious consultation with his party and other parties, in bringing about a good leadership for the Senate. He added: “Tinubu, National Chairman of APC, Abdulahi Adamu, and the Vice President-elect, have requisite knowledge about the workings of the Senate, and they should be able to ensure that quality leadership is produced for the nation in the 10th Senate.”
But South-South leaders posited that for justice, equity and fairness, the post of Senate leadership must be ceded to the South. Those advocating South-South senate leadership include the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and the Ijaw National Congress (INC). The two bodies insisted that ceding the Senate President and other key positions in the National Assembly to the South-South would be the proper step to ensure fairness, equity and justice.
National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, said, “For us in PANDEF, we don’t have any specific person from our region, all we need is someone that will represent the interest of the region and we think that after 24 years of democratic governance since 1999, the South-South deserves to have the Senate Presidency.”
Robinson said the last time someone from the South-South zone occupied the office of Senate President was during the Second Republic (1979/1983), when the late Senator Joseph Wayas, from Cross River State, was elected, first in October 1979, and, again, in October 1983, before the military coup of 1983.
Similarly, INC Publicity Secretary, Ezonebi Oyakemeagbegha, said: “For fairness and justice, the Senate President should come to the core South-South.” President Civil Society Group for Good Governance, Chief Ogakwu Domnic said: “We already have a trajectory of how the National Assembly principal officers would be shared. First the position of Senate Presidency is coming to the South, but whether Southeast or South-South will now depend on the support base.”
He said if there is no senator from Southeast, who has the capacity or sagacity to push his or her way and get the Senate Presidency, then the South-South, who last produced the Senate President in 1979 can take it.
According to him, “the Igbos have always had it on a platter of gold and the last time the opportunity came for the Southeast, they messed up with it in so many ways. To be able to clinch the Senate Presidency this time, the Southeast needs to put their house in order,” he said.
HOWEVER, Umahi, on Tuesday, said the Southeast deserves the position of the third highest political office in the country. Umahi made the remark in a chat with newsmen after he met with President Buhari in the Presidential Villa, Abuja. He said having extended the needed support to Tinubu, which led to his victory at the polls, the people of the Southeast should be compensated with the position of Senate President.
Umahi noted that zoning the position to the Southeast is the right thing to do, a development he said will bring about the highly sought after equity and justice.
“I think that every region clamouring for the presidency of the Senate to be zoned to it is the right of such people. If you look at the true reflection of our society, you will agree with me that the right thing to be done by our leaders without prejudice to their rights and thinking is that the Southeast deserves the number three position.