By: Ismail Omipidan
“Brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated.”
The above quote from Robert McNamara, former American Secretary of Defense, may be apt in situating the current quest by the South-East zone to produce the next Senate president ahead of the inauguration of the ninth Senate.
In 2015, political actors from within and outside the zone were of the view that the zone had been penciled down by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to produce the Senate president, if it eventually won the presidency and the majority in the Senate.
However, by the time the election was won and lost, apart from the fact that the APC did not get more than five per cent of the total votes cast in the area, there was no senator-elect from the zone, a development that made it impossible for the party to consider it for the plump legislative job.
But following its performance in this year’s presidential and National Assembly elections, where President Muhammadu Buhari scored above 25 per cent in Abia, Imo and Ebonyi states, coupled with the election of three great sons from the area as senators-elect, members of the party and other political observers are of the view that to show appreciation and encourage the zone, APC should consider ceding the Senate presidency position to the South East.
One of those who believed that the zone improved on its 2015 performance is the national auditor of the party, George Moghalu.
In a recent interview, he said: “I had wished that my party, APC, wins 100 per cent in the South East. That is why other leaders and I are there, but in this recent election, we did not actualise our vision for our people. My people did not respond the way we wanted them. However, if you place it side by side with what happened in the 2015 election, there is a remarkable improvement. For me, since democracy is a process, we will keep working to improve our fortunes in the next election. We will be spreading our message that this government has come to serve the Nigerian people, the South East inclusive.”
Regardless, zoning and balancing of political positions, pundits say, have always been part of the country’s democratic experience. The essence, pundits further argue, is to give a sense of belonging to the major tripods (Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba), that dominate the country’s political scene.
For instance, in 2015, following the inability of the party to come out forcefully with its zoning formula before the emergence of the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives, which eventually tore the party apart, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who is now the Minister of Agriculture said: “This whole business of no zoning is a political fallacy that can’t work in Nigeria.”
He went ahead to say “the democratic system of Nigeria as it is today cannot function without certain sensitivity to the interests of sections of the society. We are Africans; we are very sentimental people and highly emotional. That’s what we are. “
Drawing from what obtains in advanced democracies of the world, Ogbeh further said: “Even in more advanced democracies, when John Kennedy was President of the US, he came from Massachusetts, his Vice President, Lyndon Johnson came from Texas, Richard Nixon came from California, his Vice President came from North Carolina, Barack Obama comes from Chicago, Illinois or is it the Island of Hawaii, where did he pick Joe Biden from? The East Coast. One can go on and on. They have this sensitivity, they may not say so but there is the need to move this thing around a bit. It’s always happening.”
Insisting that zoning cannot be jettisoned in Nigeria, the agriculture minister said: “When it suits us, we say zoning is nonsense, let’s get the best. Is it true? You have to zone. Are you going to have a President in Nigeria some day from the South-West, Vice President South-West, Senate President South West and Nigerians will accept it? Or the North brings President, Vice President, Speaker, Majority Leader and people will accept it? You can’t do that. Or the East produces President, Vice President…? It’s not feasible. The point is that something got a little weak within the party structure that allowed this situation to come about and we should learn from it. “
Also, National Chairman of the United Peoples Party (UPP), Chief Chikwas Okorie, is also of the strong view that the APC should zone the position of Senate President to the South East.
Speaking on where Buhari’s victory leaves the South East, Okorie said: “We have stake in this government; nobody can say that we gave five per cent. In fact, the PDP lost ground in the South East and the number of Igbo people outside the South East is about three times the number at home; so when you see this enormous number of people in the country, contributing in several ways; for the unity and development of this country, then you must be able to find adequate accommodation for that type of race. The Igbo people constitute one of the legs of the tripods from the time of creation; the time of Nigeria’s independence. Therefore, now that we are also lucky that we have at least a senator-elect of the APC stock; I expect that Senate President must of necessity, in terms of equity, balance, fair play, go to the South East. I am saying this, not out of selfishness but out of the reality and patriotism; out of the need for the unity of this country and I am comforted that the president himself, in his acceptance speech, said his government would be inclusive.”
The Ninth Senate
The eighth Senate is expected to terminate on Sunday, June 9, 2019, having been inaugurated on June 9, 2015. However, the Senate, by tradition does not sit on Sunday; therefore it would shut down, on or before Thursday, June 6, 2019.
Once that happens, the ninth Senate is expected to come into existence on Tuesday, June 11, 2019. Unlike in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and even 2015, when long before the Senate was inaugurated, Nigerians, and indeed journalists covering the Senate, knew where the pendulum would swing, at present no one can say with certainty, which zone will get what.
Although a few names have been bandied around, the APC is yet to say with certainty which zone will get what as far as the Senate and House leadership positions are concerned. For now, APC controls the two chambers, though not with an overwhelming majority, especially in the Senate, where the PDP has so far produced 37 out of the 109 senators.
Historically speaking, apart from 2003, and perhaps 2011, the PDP, which was the ruling party from 1999 to 2015, had never on its own produced the Senate president. And even in 2015 when APC became the ruling party, could not, on its own produced the Senate president.
And in 2019, APC, pundits say, will only, on its own produce the Senate president, if there is no contest for the position among the various interests and tendencies that make up the party. But once there is contest, any of the tendencies will require the support of the PDP to get elected.
In 1999, for instance, then President Olusegun Obasanjo preferred Senator Evan (s) Enwerem of blessed memory, while his deputy, then Vice President Atiku Abubakar, preferred Senator Chuba Wilberforce Okadigbo, also of blessed memory. In the end, Obasanjo mobilised all Alliance for Democracy (AD) senators, led by Senator Mojisoluwa Akinfewa, for Enwerem, and with the support of some PDP senators, Okadigbo, who was highly rated to beat Enwerem, was shockingly defeated.
Also in 2007, after the PDP met and endorsed Senator David Mark as its preferred candidate, the North-Central zone, with the support of Chief Tony Anenih, met and decided to challenge the position. In all, the group lined up three candidates to slug it out with Mark on the floor of the Senate.
In a well played out script, as allegedly dictated by Chief Tony Anenih (Daboh later confirmed the allegation in his petition to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua), once nomination for the election was opened, Senators George Akume, Nuhu Aliyu and Gbemisola Saraki were nominated one after the other, in that order, after Mark’s nomination.
As soon as the nominations were brought to a close, Senator Aliyu urged the then Clerk of the National Assembly, Nasir Ibrahim Arab who presided over the session to interpret the rule of the Senate regarding issue of ranking, vis-à-vis Senate leadership position, which ordinarily should have disqualified Akume from contesting for the position. But the Clerk simply said: “We will not go into that’ we have passed that stage and since there is no room for debate, we will not talk about that. The vote will be by simple majority.”
As soon as the Clerk concluded his remark, Senator Aliyu again got up to say “in that case, I am withdrawing my nomination, I will support Akume.”
His action was greeted with applause from virtually all those who belonged to the same camp with him and Akume. Again, the Clerk said “if you’re withdrawing from the race, say so and do so without saying I support so, so and so.” He had hardly concluded his remarks, when Senator Gbemisola also stood up to say that she was equally withdrawing from the race.
In the end, all the Senators from Niger, Edo, Kwara and the remaining two from Benue, including all the former governors of Jigawa, Kebbi, Zamfara, Yobe and Kaduna, were among the Senators that voted against Mark, in support of Akume.
In spite of the gang up, Mark with support of some opposition senators, went ahead to floor Akume by 68 to 39 votes.
The only difference between what happened in the past and what happened in 2015, is the fact that the President Buhari refused to openly show sympathy and preference for the front runners for the position. Will he play similar role this time too?
There are 109 senators in the Senate. APC so far has 62, while PDP has 37. Of the lot, the South-South and South-East alone, account for more than half of the number.
Ordinarily, nothing stops any PDP senator from presenting his/herself for election as President of the Senate, since neither the Nigeria’s constitution nor the Senate’s standing rules, prevents them from doing so, in spite of the fact that PDP, is the minority in the Senate.
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