Hardly in the history of Nigeria’s democratic adventure has there been so much frenzied interest in the convocation of the leadership of the National Assembly. A new administration to be helmed by President-elect Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, APC, will be sworn in on May 29.
A few days after, the new president will order a proclamation, in line with constitutional provisions, for the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly and the constitution of its leadership. Expectedly, wide consultations have begun by different individuals and interest groups laying a stake to, especially, the senate presidency. From the North Central to the Southeast and everywhere in between, the story is the same; every region feels that they deserve a seat at the high table of political prominence.
The senate president is the number three man and second in the line of succession after the vice president. So, he is not just another senator. Several ranking and, surprisingly, new senators including former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, outgoing Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State; and Senators Osita Izunaso, Orji Kalu, Abdul-Aziz Yari, Jibrin Barau, and Godswill Akpabio, among a few others have signified interest in leading the senate.
The volume and velocity of their clamour and consultations and visitations to those they feel can swing things in their favour continue reverberating around the nation. So intense has the agitation for which zone gets what in the National Assembly that the APC, through its National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, was recently forced to denounce the zoning permutations being peddled in the media.
To be clear, Morka said, “The party has yet to zone positions of leadership of the 10th National Assembly. Any decisions made in that regard will be duly communicated via the party’s official information channels.” The denouncement came on the heels of a groundswell of scuttlebutt that the president-elect fancies the position going to the South-south, where Senator Akpabio is the presumptive favourite. A ranking senator and former minority leader in the Eighth Assembly, Akpabio is, indeed, one of the leading candidates.
Apart from having a deep pocket to prosecute his aspiration, an edge many concede to him is that he was one of the aspirants that stepped down for Tinubu at the party’s presidential convention in 2022. For specific stakeholders in the party and within the Tinubu camp, Akpabio should be compensated for that generosity and sportsmanship. Conversely, Akpabio is not taking any chances. He has officially intimated President Muhammadu Buhari of his interest and has deemed Senator Barau (APC Kano) as his deputy. He hinges his aspiration on his success as a two-term governor of Akwa Ibom State.
“I intend to bring a lot of reforms into the Senate, in the ways and manners we do business, to assist the next administration to succeed. It is well known that Akpabio is a results-driven individual. You will remember that when I was a governor, I made significant contributions to infrastructure, education, social issues, and human empowerment,” he said.
But, is that enough? Like Akpabio, Governor Umahi, a new senator-elect, also recently visited President Buhari about the same issue, saying, “justice, equity, and fairness” must guide the APC when zoning the principal offices of the 10th National Assembly. According to him, “If you look at the true reflection of our society, you will agree with me that the right thing to be done by leaders without prejudice to their rights and their thinking is that the South-east deserves the number three position. This is very important. And I’ve always said that you can deliver somebody by the reason of majority votes of a particular region, but you also need the minority cooperation of the minority people to have a holistic nation to govern.”
Before Umahi, Osita Izunaso, the senator-elect for Imo West, who was first elected into the Senate in 2007, had also visited President Buhari. “If in both the South-east and the South-south, I think the question should be obvious. I’m the oldest, there’s no senator today in APC, of South-east or South-south that is older than me in the Senate and that is an institution that believes in ranking. So, I’m the highest ranking senator in both South-east and South-south,” Izunaso said.
On his part, Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, emphatically stated that ‘It is his turn’ and that he would like the party to micro-zone the office to the South-east because “the president-elect needs people of high character to turn around the economy, and work for the masses and make laws that will enable him (to) turn around the economy.”
Ironically, while this may not really be a factor in the interim, it bears recalling that Kalu did not support Tinubu during the primaries. He bought the presidential form but withdrew from the race and backed Senate President Ahmad Lawan, whom he campaigned vigorously for and even went as far as announcing that Lawan was the President’s anointed, a claim that was promptly refuted by the party. At the February general election, Kalu won his Abia North senate seat with 30,805 votes, but Tinubu, his party’s presidential candidate, polled a paltry 8,914 votes across the state. Yet, the former Abia State governor wants to be Senate President. How convenient.
Now, this is where it gets interesting. The argument, for the majority of the aspirants, especially those from the south, is that since the President-elect and his Vice, Kassim Shettima, are both Muslims, it was only expedient that the Senate President should be a Christian. This stance is laughable and reeks of a deep-seated sense of entitlement, mischief, and conceit. Politics is about investments and conciliations, not religious or ethnic sentiments or political correctness. That is why those saying another Muslim cannot emerge as Senate President are being wilfully myopic and insensitive because the Northwest’s 2.7 million votes – the highest by any region – propelled Tinubu to victory.
Even in the South-west, his traditional political base, Tinubu could only poll 2,279,407 votes. From the five Southeast states, he got 127,605 votes and did not score 25 per cent in any of them. The South-south’s 799,957 votes contributed nine per cent to the APC total haul. Like the late New York Senator, William L Marcy, once said about the victory of Andrew Jackson in the 1828 election, “To the victor belongs the spoils.” The northwest is the victor among other regions, hands down.
That is why the arguments of Yari, former governor of Zamfara State, who has also declared interest in the Senate President, hold water. He contended that the Northwest zone deserves the seat since it produced the highest votes for the APC. According to the Zamfara West Senator-elect, “The election has come, gone and the same zone (North-west) demonstrated what they are doing and took the lead in terms of producing votes to our president-elect and party.
“Though some people were thinking about how to subvert it, we have done our best despite the challenges. Now, we have a president (Tinubu) from the Southwest, we have the vice president from the Northeast, and the Northwest is waiting.” Indeed, there should be a reward for the region that gave the party the highest votes, which would also serve as a robust incentive to keep supporting the party going forward. Sustaining influence and popularity in the northwest will be critical to the survival of the APC in the next electoral cycle.
Anything contrary to this, the party would be digging its own grave. It is in the enlightened self-interest of the party, therefore, to ensure that the goose that laid the golden egg is supported to produce the senate president.
Ofou wrote from Warri, Delta State.