10th Assembly: Geo-political zones in battle for Senate Presidency
Ahead of the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly in June, some senators-elect and their promoters have commenced the scramble for the presidency of the upper chamber. One or two aspirants for the position have publicly declared interests but more are expected to announce their bids once the National Assembly resumes from election break.
Already, the struggle for the senate presidency among various geo-political zones is widely being discussed with many of the zones insisting that the position should be zoned to them for the sake of equity and inclusiveness. In this piece, Assistant Editor, ‘Dare Odufowokan, with additional reports from Kolade Adeyemi in Jos and Chris Njoku in Owerri examines the subtle jostling by the various geo-political zones for the coveted seat.
Already, President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has said he has no preferred candidates for the leadership of the National Assembly. Tinubu made this known at the Old Banquet Hall of the State House, while addressing new members-elect to the National Assembly at a meeting organised by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The meeting which was chaired by the party’s chairman, Senator Abdulahi Adamu, however left no one I doubt that the APC intends to zone the leadership positions soon.
According to Senator Ali Ndume, a former Senate Leader, “The party appealed to National Assembly members-elect to play down the leadership issues and focus more on ensuring that we take the election battle to the end and that is to ensure that we win our states. So the party has charged us and agreed that interactions like these should be frequent to allow us go in the same direction to avoid bad experiences of 2015 and 2019.
“What we agreed is the members of the National Assembly should produce their leadership, based on who they think is the best and also considering the issues at stake and putting in place justice, fairness and equity. The president-elect will at the appropriate time take his decision.nAfter the governorship election, we are going to gather again and by then we’ll take stock of what we have achieved and then the zoning system that the party wants to adopt will be given us. The party agrees that all members will agree with what the party decides.”
Further indicating that the party intends to zone the positions, Abdullahi Adamu, national chairman of APC, while speaking after the meeting, said the party should avoid what happened in 2015. “People have the right to struggle for positions of leadership for which they believe they are eminently qualified. But we, in the national working committee of the party, are not comfortable with the tone adopted by those who seek those offices. Those offices are not tribal or sectional rights and must not be so portrayed. We would like to offer a word of caution to all of you in this regard.
“It may be good to start early but sometimes when you start too early you jump the gun and court unintended consequences that may cause nasty divisions in the party and thus affect its health. Leadership positions, at the national level is a delicate matter, and must not be approached with levity or lack of seriousness. It may be good to start early but it is wiser to be patient. Some of you may recall what happened to the party and the National Assembly in 2015 when some members of the national legislature chose not to wait for the decision of the president and the party in sharing those offices.
“It created bad blood within the party and between the executive and the legislature. I urge us not to regress,” he said. But in spite of the admonitions by Adamu and others, Senators-elect and party leaders in the various zones have already commenced the jostling for the seat. Pundits say the various zones interested in the senate presidency may have resolved to start laying their claims early so as to be considered when the zoning arrangement is to be done by the party. “It may be a case of each of them trying to make the loudest noise so as to attract attention ahead of the zoning,” an analyst said.
Southeast, Southsouth lay claims
Senators elect from the Southeast and South- South geo political zone are already indicating interest in the position. Several groups have called for a Senate President from the zones “to foster inclusiveness and national cohesion.” Senate Chief Whip and former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, and former National Organizing Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Osita Izunaso, are the top contenders from the South East in the race for the top job. Both are ranking Senators.
Raising from it’s crucial meeting in Umuahia, Abia State on Thursday, not less than 15 political and civil Society Organisations met to take stance on looking at the current political conundrum in the country particularly as it affects the Southeast zone agreed that the position of Senate President should be zoned to the Southeast in order to “ensure ethnic balancing, inclusiveness and to address the manifest marginalization of the zone.”
The groups, comprising the Orlu Political Consultative Assembly (OPOCA), South East liberation Front (SELF), South East Political Agenda (SEPA), Organization of Equity for South East (OESE), South East Professionals in Politics (SEPP) resolved that Senator Osita Izunaso, the Senator-elect for Imo West “is the best suited for the position of Senate President having being most ranking among all the other Senators from the zone.
“In addition to his legislative experience, Sen Izunaso is the only one who has served the rulling party as a pioneer National Organizing Secretary of APC. Thus, he understands the policy thrust of the Party and as Senate President, he knows the policy direction of the Party. Sen Izunaso has no baggage. He has no case with EFCC or with any of the anti graft agencies. The Party does not need any politically exposed person with image crisis as Senate President which the opposition will use against the party.
“Sen Izunaso is very humble, reachable, sociable and politically savvy. These attributes will help to stabilize the polity and the National Assembly particularly the Senate. This is the kind of personality that APC as a party and our country needs in order to avert the 8th Assembly scenario. All through Sen Izunaso’s public service stint, he was above board in his responsibilities and never been identified with any untoward conduct or corrupt dealings.”
They called on the President-Elect and the National leadership of APC to heed to “this our patriotic and sincere call to zone the Senate President to Southeast and to also consider Sen Osita Izunaso for the position of Senate President.”
Speaking on behalf of the groups in a statement, Chief Martins Adindu, the National Coordinator of SELF said: “particular interest was taken about the constitution of the leadership of the 10th National Assembly especially the position of the Senate President and it was unanimously agreed that the position of Senate President should be zoned to the Southeast in order to ensure ethnic balancing, inclusiveness and to address the manifest marginalization of the zone.”
Also, the National President of the Orlu Political Consultative Assembly,(OPOCA), Chief Barrister Rex Anunobi harped on the need for both the APC as a party and the Senate as a body, to seek out a person with competence, character and unblemished national outlook and record to pilot the affairs of the Red Chamber in the 10th Assembly, adding that such qualities can be found in distinguished Senator Izunaso.
However, the Southsouth zone is also in contention for the plum job as Senator elect for Akwa Ibom North West, Godswill Akpabio, is alleged to be interested in the seat and may have the backing of top chieftains of the APC for the plum job. Those pushing for a South- South Senate President say it is the turn of the region. Former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomole, though a first time Senator to the Senate, may also be in contention on the basis that “he enjoys a robust relationship with Asiwaju.”
After 1999, Senate Presidents have been two or three times senators. Within this period, the Southeast produced three Senate Presidents- Evan Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo (both late) and Adolphus Wabara. The South- South zone is yet to produce a Senate President. The closest it came, is the position of Deputy Senate President, currently held by Obarisi Ovie Omo-Agege from Edo State. One of the proponents of a Senate President from the region said “the South-south delivered close to a million votes to the APC compared to the a hundred thousand votes that the party secured in the Southeast in the presidential election.
“The region also delivered the required 25% across all the states in the region and produced seven senators compared to the Southeast which did not deliver 25% in some of the Southeast states and produced six senators.”
Kano’s Senator Jubrin too
One of the contenders for the senate presidency, Senator Jibrin Barau recently hosted over 70 senators-elect allegedly to solicit their support for his ambition. Barau, a third-timer at the red chamber, is currently representing Kano North Senatorial District. Checks by The Nation revealed that his foot soldiers are currently meeting key stakeholders, including ranking federal lawmakers, to push through his bid for the coveted seat. His interest in the race shows that the Northwest geo-political zone is not lagging behind in the jostle for the senate presidency.
Barau, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on Appropriations, is being touted by some pundits as the candidate of senators-elect seeking equity and justice, in the distribution of positions within the ruling party. Chika Onwuka, a political analyst who spoke to our correspondent, said “it will be entirely against the spirit of equity, justice and fair play if the ruling APC failed to settle the North-West with the number three position – that is the Senate Presidency.
“More so as a look at the number of Senators who have so far indicated interest one will clearly show that Senator Barau Jibrin is the one that has the highest ranking and most qualified. He is going to be the only fourth termer in the National Assembly among those jostling for the seat. The next to him is Orji Kalu who will be a third termer; one term in the House of Representatives and two terms in Senate. Then Senator Godswill Akpabio, who is going to be a second term Senator.
“You will also agree with me that the APC is a party built on the pillars of equity and justice. Now, we have the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu from the South. The Vice President-elect, Shettima is from the North-East, Borno to be precise. We all know the strategic position of the North-West, nay, Kano, in Nigeria’s political landscape. So, it is only fair and wise that the APC leadership support a Senate Presidency candidate from that region for the sake of equity and justice. Again, the performance, vibrancy, intelligence and political sagacity of Senator Barau Jubrin cannot be over-emphasized.
“He is a detribalized Nigerian, inbuilt with the needed experinece and leadership qualities to take the Senate to greater heights, and, Indeed, give Nigerians the kind of leadership we deserve.”
“It was in an effort to allow Senators-elect bond amongst themselves ahead of the inauguration of the 10th parliament that will usher the new leadership of the upper chamber that Senator Jibrin hosted about 70 senators-elect recently. The over 70 senators-elect who attended the luncheon held at the NICON Hotel, Abuja, last week cut across different political parties. In his home state of Kano, the spirit is already high, as people from different walks of life and political affiliations have started drumming support for him.”
To Malam Adamu Abubakar, a veteran journalist cum public analyst, “Senator Barau Ibrahim Jubrin is qualified to be the incoming Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I thank All Mighty Allah for keeping me alive to see how an intelligent and courageous Kano state indigene becomes the Senate President. Nigerians will believe me that Senator Barau jubrin is capable of handling the number three seat of the country’s leadership, based on his experience in the National Assembly.”
Before he was elected as a Senator representing Kano North Senatorial District, he served as a member of the House of Representatives representing Tarauni Federal Constituency. He was the Chairman House of Representatives committee on Appropriations. He is also currently the chairman senate committee on Appropriations, making him the first Legislator in Nigeria history to have served at different times as Chaiman House of representatives committee on appropriations and the Senate committee on Appropriations. “The Kanawa (Kano people) and the northwest Geopolitical zone irrespective of political affiliations will be very happy if Senator Barau Jubrin emerges the next Senate President. We love him and we are praying for him,” Abubakar added.
Northcentral not deterred
However, former Minister of mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bwari, has said that if the Senate Presidency is zoned to North-Central, insecurity, poor infrastructure and other forms of economic sabotage in the region would be suppressed. Bwari, who urged the APC to zone the position of the Senate President to North-Central geopolitical zone, gave the advice when he spoke with journalists in Abuja, recently. His call confirmed indications that the northcentral geo-political zone, which currently holds the position of the party’s National Chairman, may be interested in producing the Senate President.
Making a strong case for the zone’s agitation for the senate presidency, the former Minister and APC chieftain said that the zone is endowed with rich mineral resources that could serve as alternatives to oil and gas resources, if effectively explored. The erstwhile mines and steel minister, however, lamented that bandits had stopped farmers from their farms, fishing ponds and took over mining sites, preventing access to investors. He, therefore, expressed the hope that there would be a positive change in the region if the APC leadership and the president-elect support the aspiration of the North Central to produce the next Senate President.
According to him, the ruling party should consider ceding the position to the northcentral as a compensation for the zone’s impressive performance during the February 25th presidential election. “Following the conclusion of the presidential and National Assembly elections, two very important positions have gone to the South-West and North-East geopolitical zones. Other zones are now clamouring for the third most important position in the country – that is the Senate Presidency. If we look at performance, the North-Central did very well for the APC in the last election.
“If you consider our strategic location and performance, we should be given number three position. I think our aspiration is fair and just for us to be considered. Our strategic position in balancing a lot of things in the country put the North Central in the best position to produce the presiding officer of the Senate,” he said.
He added with the Senate President coming from the zone, security will be beefed up in the area so that the people can live better lives. According to him, the committees on Defence, National Security and Police Affairs in the Senate would be put on their toes to carry out necessary oversight functions to make sure that the military and the security agencies are alive to their responsibilities. “The Senate President from the North Central would use his experiences and that of his constituents in the hands of bandits and terrorists to proffer practicable solutions to the menace. This is because legislative intervention will go a long way to support the military and other security agencies on pragmatic and practicable solution to insecurity crisis from the point of view of the direct victims,” he said.