The Race for Senate President: Who Does the Cap Fit?

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Members the ruling All Progressives Congress, which has the majority seats in the Senate, are already in the race to elect their leaders for the next assembly, but everyone is also mindful of the zoning formula to create balance in governance and integrity of those to be elected

By Olu Ojewale

The race has started in earnest. Although there has been no clear cut statement about which side will produce the Senate president, there are indications that senators-elect, who are interested in occupying the Senate presidency and other positions have started lobbying their colleagues for support.

As expected, those in contention for the leadership positions are members the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, which has a majority of 65 senators in the ninth Senate compared to 37 of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In the House of Representatives poll, the APC won 211 seats, while the PDP got 111 seats.

Ahmad Lawan
Ahmad Lawan

Since the completion of the Presidential and National Assembly of February 23, the Nigerian legislators have been realigning their positions in anticipation of how the election of new leadership would go. And in line with the legislative tradition, only ranking members are expected to vie for leadership position of the National Assembly.

Naturally, Ahmad Lawan, the current APC Senate leader, would want to assume the position of the Senate president. Besides, he was slated for the position in 2015 before Bukola Saraki, a senator from Kwara State, stole the show and outmanoeuvred the party hierarchy to clinch the position in alliance with the opposition, PDP. But this time, Lawan, an APC senator, representing Yobe North, is not leaving anything to chance as he is already talking to his colleagues about his ambition. But reports have indicated that he would have the likes of Ali Ndume, a senator from Borno South, and Danjuma Goje, a senator from Gombe Central, to contest against for the post.

On Thursday, March 21, stakeholders and elders from Borno State publicly threw their weight behind Ndume to emerge as the next president of the Senate

Addressing a news conference in Abuja, the Borno elders under aegis of the Concerned Borno Citizens expressed confidence in the ability of Ndume to provide quality leadership for the Senate and partner the executive to offer Nigerians good governance.

The group, comprising of former governors, former ministers and other leaders of the APC in Borno State argued that Ndume should be considered for the position considering the fact that Borno State gave the party more than 90 percent of the votes from the state in the just concluded election.

Dauda Danladi, a former ambassador and spokesman of the group, said however, that while angling for the position of the Senate president, they are not unaware of the fact that the party will eventually zone the position and the fact that other zones of the country are also agitating for the position.

He said further that if the party eventually zoned the seat to another zone, they will have no option than to support such zone, but insisted that Ndume is the most qualified person to occupy the seat considering his antecedent as a lawmaker and loyal party man.

Besides, Danladi said: “Borno State being the epicentre of the crises deserves serious attention. The office of the president of the Senate will therefore offer the state a good opportunity to fast track reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement of millions of displaced persons. It will also be apt to add that Borno state has the highest percentage of 92% of votes cast for President Buhari in the just concluded 2019 election.”

While some senators claim that they are waiting for the party’s zoning formula, the campaign to have persons from their zones for the post has also manifested. In fact, media reports have been speculating that the ruling party would meet any time soon to determine the zoning formula for the Senate presidency and other posts in the National Assembly. But The Punch quoted a source as saying “the head of the upper chamber of the federal legislature could come from the South-South or the North-East.”

If that is the case, the fight for the seat would be narrowed down to Lawan, Ndume and Goje.

But should the APC leadership decide that the South-South should be given the slot, then the ranking senators such as Francis Alimikhena from Edo North, and Ovie Omo-Agege, his counterpart for the Delta Central, may come into the picture. Actually, the two APC senators have indicated that the decision of the APC leaders on zoning would determine their ambition on the Senate presidency.

Speaking through Benjamin Atu, his personal assistant, Alimikhena said in a newspaper interview: “On the issue of the Senate presidency, he doesn’t know the direction of the party. If it is finally zoned to the South-South, he is ready to grab it, but he himself cannot just go ahead in desperation. Whatever the direction of the party, that is the direction of Senator Alimikhena. He cannot start aspiring for a position that is not available to his zone.

“For now, the leadership of the party has not taken a decision on the issue of the Senate presidency. As it is now, the party has not taken a decision of whether the South-South will have the Senate President or Deputy Senate President. That is the position.”

OLUREMI Tinubu
OLUREMI Tinubu

In the same manner, Omo-Agege said that he is eminently qualified to become the Senate president. He, however, said that he would wait for the decision of the leaders of the APC. He said: “I have not told anybody that I am interested in running for the Senate presidency, but having said that, I am just as qualified as any other ranking senator of the ninth Senate. So, when the time comes, depending on the decision made by the caucus of the party – Mr President and other relevant stakeholders – and depending on where it is zoned to, we will consult with others and comply with the rules.”

In any case, as the lawmakers await the APC leaders to indicate which zone to produce the Senate President, the South-East is also campaigning to have the seat zoned to it.

Austin Meregini, aka Ugolee, a chieftain of the APC in Abia State, who is one of those leading the campaign, said it would be bad if the South-Easterners are denied the position of Senate President in the ninth National Assembly. Meregini, the APC candidate for Umuahia East Constituency seat in the Abia State House of Assembly in the last general elections, made the assertion while speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, on Tuesday, March 19, in Lagos.

He said: “It is natural justice to cede the position to the South-East to douse all complaints about marginalisation by the people of the region.

“For the 9th Senate, it is obvious that there is a common consensus and informal agreement among Nigerians that the South-East is properly positioned to produce the Senate President.”

Meregini said Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor and the Abia North senator-elect for the ninth assembly should be given the chance to lead the Senate. “And from all indications without mincing words, no other person is more positioned or more qualified than Chief Orji Uzor Kalu,” he said.

The APC leader said although Kalu is a first term senator, he possesses the requisite leadership and legislative experience to lead the red chamber.

Indeed, Kalu was a member of the House of Representatives in 1993 and a two-term governor of Abia. “So, in terms of leadership and what it takes to project the interest of the country at the Senate, as well as what it takes to represent the South-Easterners, Kalu is more qualified and properly positioned to assume this position,” Meregini said.

Besides, he said ceding the Senate Presidency to the South-East, would go a long way to pacify the region, and give the people a sense of belonging in the Nigerian equation.

Making a similar submission, Sally William Chinedu, the immediate past South East Zonal woman leader of the APC, while congratulating Kalu on receiving his certificate of return from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Tuesday, March 19, said the former governor is sufficiently qualified to be the Senate president. She recalled that Kalu had been a two-term governor and once a member the House of Representatives in 1993. “Though it was short lived, he made a remarkable contribution in the legislative house, including the sponsoring of dual citizenship bill,” she said, adding: “Kalu as the Senate president at this critical period in our nation’s history will heal the perceived injustices against the people of the South East region and our unity and peace strengthened.”

Indeed, Chris Ngige, the minister of Labour and Employment, believes the South-East has qualified persons to be the Senate president. In an interview with journalists, on Sunday, March 17, Ngige said that both Kalu and Ben Uwajumogu, an APC senator-elect from Imo State, are fully qualified for the position, and should be considered by their party, the APC. Ngige said: “We have those that are ranking now. We have Ben Uwajumogu, he is now a two-term senator; he is coming back from the ruling party.

“We have Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu. Orji Uzor Kalu was a Federal Assembly Legislator during the military regime, it is counted, because it was a National Assembly, so he has got some ranking.

“Therefore, Orji Uzor Kalu is also qualified. (Rochas) Okorocha’s case will be determined before then.

“We now have some senators, unlike the last time when we had zero non-party senators coming from the south-east. There was nobody at all. So, the South-East should definitely be in the equation, I mean the proportion of Senate presidency,” Ngige said.

So, from all indications, there is now clear about those who may contest for the Senate Presidency. But the emergence of any of them still largely depends on the strength of the individual contestant. While the race for the Senate president intensifies, the race for the position of the deputy Senate president is not taking a back seat. A number of senators-elect have shown interest in filling the position.

Reports indicate that should the position be zoned to the North Central, Kabiru Gaya, a senator-elect from Kano State, has indicated his interest in occupying the position. From the South-West, sources said no fewer than seven persons are interested. Prominent among them are Oluremi Tinubu, a senator representing Lagos West, and Ibikunle Amosun, the current Ogun State governor and senator-elect from the state.

Gaya’s interest seemed to surprise everyone as he told journalists on Thursday, March 14, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, after collecting his certificate of return that he was also interested in the deputy senate president seat. He said his aspiration was driven by mass appeal for it from his colleagues and his burning desire to serve in the leadership of the ninth Senate having returned for the fourth time.

He said: “As regards the leadership composition of the ninth Senate, the majority of my colleagues are mounting pressure on me to run for the position. I want to use this opportunity to announce that I’m running for the position being one of the most ranking senators in the ninth Senate.”

Nevertheless, he said that the actualisation of his ambition would be determined by the APC leadership and the president.

Kalu
Kalu

Analysts say the ambition of Gaya may not be unconnected with the pressure being mounted by the South-East and the South-South to produce the next Senate president.

Speaking to journalists on her own ambition on Thursday, March 14, Tinubu said she deserved to be given the leadership position at the 9th National Assembly because of her overwhelming experience at the Senate.

She also called for more women to be considered for leadership positions.

Tinubu, who is the longest serving female lawmaker in the Senate, said that she had garnered enough experience and should, therefore, be considered for a leadership position in the Assembly. “The men have to trust the women to do that, especially the APC-led administration in making sure that women are given their fair share.

“I am the first woman in Nigeria to be re-elected for third term as a Senator, I think they have to consider what they will give to a woman at the ninth assembly.

“I believe I have represented the women agenda for over 20 years and they should trust me and my office will be opened to them; then we can move the agenda of the nation forward and I am looking forward to that,” she said.

In any case, an unconfirmed newspaper report said on Thursday, March 21, that the national leadership of the APC will be deciding on zoning the various offices in the National Assembly next week Tuesday, March 26. The significant positions to be zoned are Senate president, speaker, deputy Senate president, and deputy speaker.

Before the zoning is decided, Omo-Agege said that the APC’s caucus will meet with President Muhammadu Buhari, assess the ranking legislators and then recommend people for the leadership positions in the National Assembly. “Mr President is the head of that caucus. We will no longer allow renegades to govern the National Assembly. When they did the last time, you saw what happened.

“For almost three or four years of Buhari’s first tenure, the Dr Bukola Saraki renegade regime made sure all plans and policies of the government were shot down. We are hell-bent on making sure there is no repeat, and the only way to do that is to make sure no one that is remotely connected to the Saraki renegade agenda is allowed into the leadership of the Senate,” Omo-Agege said.

Indeed, some APC senators-elect have also cautioned the party and the president not to allow the incident of 2015, which produced Saraki as Senate president to repeat itself.

Bamidele Opeyemi, a senator-elect from Ekiti State, said it is important for the national leadership of the party to provide the required direction for the ninth Senate in a way to avoid friction.

Opeyemi said: “The calibre and character of personalities elected for the ninth Senate are very solid and promising for the country but leadership is key, the very reason the leadership of the ruling party must manage it well. Once this is done, the party and in particular, the National Assembly and the Presidency will be on the same page on development-driven bills sponsorship, policy formulations and approvals.”

Sabi Abdullahi, a re-elected senator from Niger State and spokesman of the eighth Senate, on his part, allayed the fears of another possible leadership crisis in the ninth Senate as against the situation in the eighth Senate.

In an interview, Abdullahi said: “I was a key player in the leadership configuration of the 8th Senate and the attendant crises that followed, as one of the 43 returnees now, the lessons learnt will be used to prevent the mistakes of the past from happening.”

That notwithstanding, the Presidency, on Thursday, March 14, said that Buhari will not interfere in the choice of the leaders as he would allow the principle of separation of powers to reign. It, therefore, pleaded with the lawmakers as they get set for the next session of the National Assembly to provide a robust relationship and legislature as it was also prepared to as an arm of government to reciprocate by respecting them as lawmakers.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, March 14, in Abuja, Ita Enang, the senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly Matters, said that the president believes so much in the rule of law, and with this, he would allow each arm of government to perform its constitutional responsibility without interference on who occupies whatever position. Enang said: “President Muhammadu Buhari is a man of high principles. His stand on this matter is that each arm of government should function according to what the constitution says, and that every person in government should do the right thing, and that he will not go beyond what the construction allows him and that every other arm of government should stick to their constitutional responsibilities.”

Enang, in a radio interview, said the party should consider zoning to create balance in the governance. He also said that integrity of those to be elected in leadership position of the NASS should be considered by the lawmakers in the interest of Nigeria.

That notwithstanding, some senators-elect on the platform of the APC had, in various interviews, argued that if things must go in the right direction in the next Senate, the Presidency and leadership of the APC must provide the direction for the National Assembly as regards to the leadership configuration so as to avoid leadership crisis that engulfed the eighth Senate and by extension, the eighth National Assembly. The senators warned that Buhari and the APC leadership should not work at cross-purposes to avoid another leadership tussle that would alter the party’s zoning formula.

In an interview, Yinusa Abubakar, a member of the House of Representative from Gombe State, appealed to Buahri and the APC leadership not shy away from its responsibility by playing a prominent role in the leadership configuration of the National Assembly. Abubakar argued that the party is supreme and using the platform to vie for elections, members must be ready to go along with the party’s directives.

Abubakar similarly appealed to those who are interested in leadership position of the NASS to place the country’s interest above personal interest.

Well said. Perhaps, if the interest of the country is placed above self-interest as suggested Nigeria may, indeed, have a National Assembly that the nation can be proud of. In the time being, Nigerians are still waiting for that legislative body  that will place the interest of the majority above the parochial interest of the selfish few in the National Assembly.

 

 

 

 

 

– Mar. 22, 2019 @ 02:00 GMT |

 

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