Okechukwu Jombo writes that the zoning of the Senate President is becoming a big problem for All progressives Congress, APC, leaving out interest groups to fight each other for the position.
The 8th National Assembly, particularly the Senate, otherwise known as red chamber, promises to be interesting, but far more interesting would be the composition of its presiding officers, namely, the office of President of the Senate whose occupant doubles as Chairman of the National Assembly and the office of the Deputy Senate President, who by convention, chairs the ad-hoc committee on constitutional amendment in the Senate.
Suffice to say that the office of the President of the Senate plays a very strategic role in democracies all over the world, for apart from leading the entire legislature as a separate arm of the government; the occupant must maintain a cordial and understanding relationship with the head of the executive for good of country.
In the case of the United States of America whose democracy Nigeria copied, the Vice President doubles as Senate President, and this underscores the importance of the office as far as Executive/Legislature relations are concerned. In Nigeria, there is no such provision. However, our experiences of the calibre and backgrounds of successive Senate Presidents clearly brought commensurate impacts not only on the legislature but also on governance in general. The turnover of senate presidents, frequent unnecessary executive and legislature rift, tendency of the then executive to undermine the legislature and hoodwink parliamentarians into making certain selfish decisions as it was witnessed between 1999 and 2007 when the office was zoned to the South-East Nigeria, and the stability and maturity witnessed between 2007 and 2015 when the office was zoned to the North Central also explains the fact that executive experience and parliamentary cognate experience must be considered for the office.
The office of the President of the Senate of the 8th Assembly, so far, as reported in some sections of the media, would be a careful decision of the National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress, APC. This, if achieved, would also instil party discipline and further ensure that the programmes and manifesto of the APC would be religiously pursued and achieved, because the policies of the General Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government can only be achieved through legislations that must be passed by the legislature, particularly the appropriation acts as well as efforts on the fight against corruption.
It is important to note that the constitutional role of the legislature to investigate and expose corruption through oversight functions can only make meaning if the disposition of the head of the executive and his body language frowns at corruption. The occupant of the office of the President of the Senate of the 8th Assembly must also be one, if possible, that is upright and not carrying any moral burden of corruption as this would run contrary to the anti corruption stance of the APC and the President-elect. Therefore, the decision of the APC to retain the Senate presidency in the North-Central as reported in the media is a welcome decision, but the occupant must pass the required test.
North Central states are Benue, Plateau, Niger, Kwara, Kogi and Nasarawa. Plateau, Kogi and Niger States are technically out of the race on the basis that all senators from the three states are either new and therefore barred by senate rules to vie for the two positions of Senate President and Deputy or are members of the PDP. Although constitutionally, every Senator is a potential Senate President and Deputy by law, it would be a tall task for anyone from the three states to clinch the seat for the above reasons.
This automatically reduces the race for the senate presidency to three senators, namely: Senate Minority Leader, George Akume, (Benue), Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nassarawa), and Senator Bukola Saraki (Kwara), all former governors and ranking senators with sound academic backgrounds. But beyond that, the topical issue of corruption, whether it is a mere allegation or proven, cannot be dismissed by a wave of the hand. Given the anti corruption posturing of the APC, and taking into account the pronouncements of the EFCC and other anti corruption agencies, including the police so far, only Senator Akume can raise his head high. To wave that factor would be too early a moral burden for the incoming administration to carry.
In the 8th Senate, a former Senate President and his Deputy will take minority positions, but to think they would not fight back is day dream. The first scenario would be to attempt to break the ranks of the APC by sponsoring a candidate against any preferred candidate of the APC for senate presidency, using some aggrieved or those APC senators who may not be favoured by the party for the exalted office. This would be aimed at forcing the APC to lose grip of her members, but place an undue advantage on the PDP which would see to the emergence of a candidate from the APC who would be only loyal to the opposition. That would significantly affect the agenda, programme and manifesto of the APC and the Buhari-led government. To surmount this requires dialogue between the contenders and the leadership of the APC. Major stakeholders like former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, APC Leader, Bola Tinubu, state governors under the APC platform, both outgoing and incoming, to ensure party discipline and loyalty before arriving at consensus candidates for the offices of Senate President, Speaker, Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker.
Another factor is the aspiration of Senator Saraki, a Yoruba Muslim from Kwara State to lead the legislature would place the APC in a tight corner, given that another Yoruba senator from any of the South-West states would emerge deputy Senate President, and another Yoruba man from South West as Vice President.
His giant strides of flooring the Senate President, David Mark and Governor Gabriel Suswam at the just concluded elections in Benue, his role during the merger arrangements, robust relationship with the leadership of the APC as well as accessibility and down to earth attitude are some of the additional qualities needed to lead the 8th National Assembly. The 8th National Assembly would be inaugurated in the first week of June 2015.
Senators elected on the platform of the APC who make up the North Central Caucus are also divided over the choice of Minority Leader, Senator George Akume, and Senator Bukola Saraki to succeed incumbent President of the Senate, David Mark. While some serving senators who have won their return bid to the Red Chamber are rooting for Akume to succeed Mark, others, especially some newly elected ones are supporting Saraki for the position.
Regardless, some ranking senators from the North Central, it was learnt, are mulling the option of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Ahmad Lawan from Yobe State, “as our consensus candidate because some former governors, even from the North West, are also eyeing the Senate president’s seat”.
A source added: “They are telling the party to discard the ranking rule in the Senate.” A ranking senator from a state close to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, who confided in Nigerian Pilot explained that Akume was preferred over Saraki because “Akume is accessible and pragmatic. He is even ‘senior’ to Saraki because he has been in the chamber since 2007.” Another colleague added that Akume, having been a principal officer for four years, should also be considered. The source said after all, “he has been a principal officer now for four years and he has the requisite experience”.
Some Senators from the North Central say Saraki may not be accessible when he becomes the Senate President and secondly, he is rumoured to have his eyes on the Presidency in 2019. “We can’t trust him with that office,” a third senator noted. Another factor in favour of Lawan is “the corruption cases hanging on the neck of some of those jostling for the senate presidency.
A source said: “Lawan has no corruption case hanging on his neck and he is even the most ranking senator from the North in the APC right now.” If the APC considers the ranking rule strictly, Lawan has an edge as he has been a lawmaker since 1999.
He served two terms in the House of Representatives and he will start his third term as a senator in June. On Tuesday, a former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Barnabas Gemade had canvassed support for the ambition of Akume to become the next Senate President.
Gemade, an All Progressives Congress member from Benue North-East Senatorial District, in a statement in Abuja described Akume as the highest ranking senator from the North Central geopolitical zone and the most qualified for the position.
Meanwhile, facts emerged that talks of an alliance between senators of All Progressives Congress, North East Caucus with some senators of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senate Caucus, is in the offing. Although the National Executive Committee of the APC is yet to formally zone the Senate presidency, it was gathered that a meeting of the party’s national leadership on Wednesday night over zoning of National Assembly positions was reportedly deadlocked. A source in the meeting said the national leadership of APC resolved that the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari, and the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, meet to decide on the zoning formula. But sources in the National Assembly said, already ,the PDP caucus led by President of the Senate, David Mark, has approached the North East APC senators with a deal that may see to the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President, while an APC senator from the North East will clinch the number three position. A senator from the North East, who does not want his name in print, said: “I can confirm to you that the PDP has approached us with a power sharing deal that will cede the Senate presidency to the North East while the South East will produce the deputy Senate president. “If the APC fails to zone either the Senate president or the speaker to the North East, then we will have no option than to form this alliance with the PDP.” Nigerian Pilot gathered that the proposed power sharing deal is premised on the fact that the PDP has 49 senators, while the APC has 60 senators. The PDP only needs votes from six APC senators to produce the Senate president in the Eighth Senate.