BY ROTIMI DUROJAIYE
With the election into the 109 seats in the Senate almost over, jostling for the Senate presidency and other principal offices has started among the lawmakers.
Constitutionally, the Ahmad Lawan-led 9th Senate will come to an end on June 10 and the 10th Senate will be inaugurated on June 11, 2023.
At present, 101 Senate slots have been filled with the ruling All Progressives Congress, having 56. The People’s Democratic Party has 27 senators; the Labour Party has five; the New Nigeria Peoples Party has two; Social Democratic Party has two, All Progressives Grand Alliance and the Young Progressives Party, have one senator each.
Now, high-wire intrigues are trailing jostling for the Senate Presidency and other key positions
Before the Senate adjourned plenary penultimate Thursday till March 14 to enable the lawmakers participate in the March 11 Governorship and State Assembly elections, which have now been postponed to march 18, there had been series of meetings, especially among the ranking senators on how to shape the incoming Senate and the National Assembly at large.
According to the Standing Orders of the Senate, during the first sitting of a new Senate, pursuant to the Proclamation of the first sitting of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senators-elect shall assemble at the time and place so appointed and the business of the day would be to elect the two presiding officers, the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President.
“While Oshiomhole and Umahi’s ambitions may not appeal to their colleagues as they are new in the Red Chamber, Lawan, Yari and Barau may be disadvantaged in the race by the religious factor, since the president-elect and the vice-president-elect are both Muslims”
THE RANKING SENATORS
Among the 101 senators-elect, 30 are currently serving in the 9th Senate. Ahead of the inauguration of the 10th Senate, some of the senators-elect and ranking senators from the APC, with their body language, are indicating their interest to vie for the position of Senate President.
There are senators who will convert from the 9th to the 10th Senate. The 30 of the 55 serving senators who sought re – election on February 25 and won included the Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, APC, Abia North; Enyinnaya Abaribe, APGA, Abia South; Elisha Abbo, APC, Adamawa North; and Binos Dauda Yaroe, PDP, Adamawa South.
Others are Senators Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah, YPP, Anambra South; Seriake Dickson, PDP, Bayelsa West; Abba Moro, PDP, Benue South; Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, PDP, Cross River North; Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, APC, Ekiti Central and Francis Fadahunsi, PDP, Osun East.
In the list are Senators Sani Musa, APC, Niger East; Barau Jibrin, APC, Kano North; Danjuma Goje, APC, Gombe Central; Adamu Aliero, PDP Kebbi Central; Jibrin Isah, APC Kogi East; Lola Ashiru, APC, Kwara South and Sadiq Suleiman Umar, APC Kwara North.
There are also Senators Adetokunbo Abiru, APC Lagos East; Godiya Akwashiki, SDP, Nasarawa North; Abdulfatah Buhari, APC Oyo North; Barinada Mpigi, PDP Rivers South-East; Aliyu Wammako, APC Sokoto North; Ahmad Lawan, APC, Yobe North; Sahabi Ya’u, APC Zamfara North; Ali Ndume, APC, Borno South; Olamilekan Adeola, APC, who moved from Lagos West to Ogun West; Ibrahim Gaidam, APC, Yobe East and Shuaibu Isa Lau, PDP, Zamfara North.
The 10th Senate will also have those who were at the Red Chamber at one time or the other and are coming back like Godswill Akpabio, APC, Akwa Ibom North West who was in the 8th Senate; former Deputy Senate leader, Abdul Ningi, PDP, Bauchi Central; and Victor Umeh, APGA, Anambra Central. Ned Nwoko, PDP, Delta North, a former House of Representatives member will now go to the Upper Chamber and former Governor of Zamfara State, Abdul-azeez Yari, APC for Zamfara West.
The 10th Senate will have those who were not in the Senate but coming as former governors like former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, APC, Edo North; Ebonyi State, Governor, David Umahi, APC, Ebonyi South; former Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, PDP, Gombe North; former Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State, APC, Ogun East; and the present Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Sani Bello, APC, Niger North. They will not be ranking senators but as former governors, they will play very active roles to determine who will become the presiding officers. And if the rules are set aside, they may also show interest to contest for the prime positions of Senate president and deputy Senate President.
According to the tradition of the National Assembly, lawmakers serving two or more terms are elected Presiding officers.
Section 50(1a and b) of the 1999 constitution as amended read: “There shall be: (a) a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves; and (b) a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.”
Also in determining who becomes the Presiding officers, the Senate Rule allows only a ranking senator to be selected for this purpose and according to the Standing Orders, “Nomination of Senators to serve as Presiding Officers and appointments of Principal Officers and other Officers of the Senate or on any Parliamentary delegations shall be In accordance with the ranking of Senators. In determining ranking, the following order shall apply- Senators returning based on the number of times re- elected; Senators who had been members of the House of Representatives.”
While the Senate President and his deputy must be elected at the hallowed chamber on the day of the inauguration, other positions to be filled that day or thereafter are the Majority leader; Deputy Majority Leader; Chief Whip; Deputy Whip; Minority leader, Deputy Minority Leader; Minority Whip, and Deputy Minority Whip shall be the prerogative of the political parties, the majority party and the minority parties.
Another determining factor for clinching the position of the Senate President is that out of 109 Senators, the person would require 55 votes and going down memory lane, since the inception of the Fourth Republic for a Senate President to enjoy the office and stay longer, he must be a product of the parliament and not the party or the Executive.
POLITICS OF GEO-POLITICS BALANCE AND POLITICAL NEGLECT
Interestingly, while some ranking lawmakers who were eyeing the seats of Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives lost their return bid, others were lucky to win.
For instance, Kebbi State governor, Abubakar Bagudu Atiku and former governor of Nasarawa State, Tanko Al Makura both of whom were eyeing the Senate President position lost reelection in Kebbi Central and Nasarawa South respectively.
Also, a 70-year-old Senator from Kano State South Senatorial District, Kabiru Gaya who has been in the Senate since 2007 lost to Sumaila Kawu of the NNPP.
Others like Sam Egwu (Ebonyi North), Michael Ama Nnachi (Ebonyi South), Francis Alimikhena (Edo North); Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta North); Gabriel Suswan (Benue North East) and Bala Na Allah (Kebbi South), as well as FCT Senator, Philip Aduda who recently replaced Enyinnaya Abaribe as deputy minority leader of Senate when the later left the PDP for the All Progressives Grand Alliance, could not make it to the 10th Assembly.
In the House of Representatives, some principal officers including the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu; Deputy Majority Leader, Nkiruka Onyejeocha; Minority Whip, Gideon Gwani and the Deputy Minority Whip, Abdulmajid Adekoya, lost at the polls.
Also, the chairman, House Committee on Housing, Mustapha Bala Dawaki who was preparing grounds to run for the speakership position also lost at the polls.
While those who lost reelection bids are licking their wounds, their misfortune is an advantage for re-elected lawmakers who now stand a better chance to get leadership positions.
Top on the list of those eyeing the Senate President position is the Chief Whip of the 9th Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu. The seasoned politician is believed to be more favoured being the most formidable figure from APC in the South East and the zone has over the years complained of marginalisation and political neglect.
The South East was not considered for the presiding officer position in the 9th Assembly, while the South West zone which produced the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, also produced the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Kalu’s supporters are hoping that the anomaly would-be addressed by yielding the position to him.
Minority leader of the Senate in the 8th Assembly, Goodwill Akpabio from the South South is also eyeing the seat. Akpabio, according to sources, is relying on his relationship with the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, to clinch the position.
Other senators-elect including the current president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan; the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Barau Jibrin; former national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, former Zamfara State governor, Abdul-Aziz Yari, Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, have started subtle campaigns among their colleagues.
While Oshiomhole and Umahi’s ambitions may not appeal to their colleagues as they are new in the Red Chamber, Lawan, Yari and Barau may be disadvantaged in the race by religious factor, since the president-elect and the vice-president-elect are both Muslims.
In the House of Representatives, the incumbent speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, despite his return to the House for the 6th consecutive tenure is not expected to seek re-election as speaker. Nevertheless, the race for his successor will be more intense.
It would have been a straight win for influential lawmaker, Aliyu Muktar Betara, should the party decide to zone the position to the North East. Betara who is the chairman, House Committee on Appropriations is from the North East (Biu/Bayo/Shani/Kwaya Kusar Federal Constituency of Borno State) the same zone with the vice- president elect, Kashim Shettima.
Despite this, his supporters argued that Osinbajo and Gbajabiamila are both from the South West by the party’s arrangement; therefore, the speakership position should now be zoned to the North East where the vice-president-elect comes from.
A former lawmaker from the zone said, “We are talking about equity and fairness, APC zoned the position of Vice-president and Speaker to the South West and we respected it. We also believe that the party will maintain the same pattern and zone speaker to the North East where Senator Kashim Shettima, the vice-president-elect comes from, it is not too much for a zone to have both,” the lawmaker said.
Meanwhile, speculations that the APC would zone the speakership position to the North West are gaining traction and Betara’s men are not having any of it. Some members also argued that chances of the North West has been limited since the House Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, who is the major contender from the zone is standing trial for criminal charges.
A lawmaker from the zone (North West) admitted that the two major contenders from Kano State who had commenced mobilisation for the position even before the February 25 election are out of the way.
Doguwa is standing trials in connection with a suspected case of criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide, causing grievous hurt, mischief by fire and inciting disturbance in his Doguwa/Tudunwada federal constituency, while Dawaki lost his reelection bid in his Dawakin Kudu/Warawa constituency.
The source who is familiar with the scheming doubted the possibility of Doguwa joining the race even if he survives the criminal case.
“You know he has always been in the press for the wrong reasons, recently, he reportedly slapped, and assaulted the deputy governorship candidate of his party in Kano, and shortly afterward he was said to have attacked a journalist and now this.
“He already has personal issues, even if he is discharged from the courts today, he is not likely to join the race for speaker, his image is tainted,” he said.
Nevertheless, all hope is not lost for the North West as a very close associate of the president-elect from Zamfara State, Aminu Sani Jaji who was chairman House Committee on Internal Affair and Intelligence in the 8th National Assembly, the current chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli from Katsina State as well as the chairman House Committee on Land Transport, Abbas Tajudeen from Kaduna State are frantically making efforts to clinch the seat.
Meanwhile, as the arguments rage and the party designs a zoning arrangement for the positions, party leaders would be expected to gauge the mood of the elected senators and House of Representatives members to avoid rebellion within its ranks, a repeat of what happened in 2015 when the party first gained power at the national scene.
REBELLION WITHIN PARTIES IN RETROSPECT
Presiding officers of the 8th National Assembly emerged against the dictates of APC leadership as party members from zones different from the suggestions of the party clinched the positions.
The emergence of Bukola Saraki as the president of the Senate and Yakubu Dogara as the speaker of the House of Representatives was not without drama.
The senators-elect supporting Saraki, known as “Senators-Elect of Like Minds” boycotted the mock election organised by the party over an alleged predetermined outcome.
Unity Forum insisted on open ballot voting. Ahmed Lawan won the mock Senate President election conducted by senators-elect elected on the APC platform.
Lawan polled 32 votes, while George Akume who got 31 votes, was elected Deputy Senate President in the mock election.
Saraki however went into alliance with senators elected on the platform of the PDP to emerge at the real election. He was elected unanimously by 57 senators present at the session.
The remaining 51 senators were at the International Conference Centre waiting for a truce meeting reportedly called by the leadership of the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari. The APC had 59 senators-elect in the 109-member Senate against the PDP’s 50.
The same was replicated in the House of Representatives as the current speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila won the mock ballot among members-elect with 153 votes, after Dogara pulled out alleging he was not informed of a mock election.
But like Saraki in the Senate, Dogara also emerged as speaker in the real election.
The situation was different in 2019. Despite protests by some APC lawmakers against the party’s preferred candidates, its choices emerged in both chambers.
Lawan and Gbajabiamila who were the party’s adopted candidates in 2015 emerged Senate president and Speaker respectively in 2019.
Lawan polled 79 votes to defeat a former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume who polled 28 votes. In the House, Gbajabiamila polled 283 votes to beat Mohammed Bago also of the APC who got 76 votes.
Members of the 10th National Assembly would have learnt from the above immediate history and will be more equipped with better strategies to enthrone their choice.
Although, several interests will be at play as the APC prepares to release the zoning arrangement, and the theory of balance could be relative to the interpretation of interest groups. It is incumbent on the party to consider all factors, particularly, the popularity of the interested parties, so as to avoid a repeat of the 2015 situation.
In 1999, the then-ruling PDP had 69 Senators before the election of the Presiding officer and as at that time, 60 senators had already endorsed late Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo from Anambra State for the position of Senate President.
With the large number, it was already clear that he was going to get the position as the anointed candidate, but there were issues overnight as the senators made a U-turn that Okadigbo would be too radical for the then-President Olusegun Obasanjo to manage.
At this point, the Executive pushed late Evan(s) Enwerem from Imo State for the position and the selling point was that he was a gentleman who will not give problems to the Executive, but it was difficult to sell him to the Senators, and at the end of the day, the Executive introduced the famous “Ghana must Go”.
“Although, several interests will be at play as the APC prepares to release the zoning arrangement, and the theory of balance could be relative to the interpretation of interest groups. It is incumbent on the party to consider all factors, particularly, the popularity of the interested parties, so as to avoid a repeat of the 2015 situation”
He did not last long as senate president because senators considered him as being too close to the Executive.
At the end of the day, the Senators pushed Enwerem out after staying for nine months because he was a product of the Villa and they now elected their own Senate President, this time, the late Chuba Okadigbo.
With the emergence of Okadigbo, a product of the parliament, the then President, Obasanjo felt slighted that his man, Enwerem was removed and to remove Okadigbo, the Executive came up with some allegations and harassment against him, varying from invasion of his Apo residence with the Police, searching for the Mace, but he survived it as a cat with nine lives.
To ensure that Okadigbo was removed, there was an allegation of Apo street light contract which was an anticipatory contract that was awarded without money as he was expecting that the money would come later and that was how the Executive got him. There was friction between him and the then President, he was never liked by the Villa, his colleagues keyed into the project of removing him because they were starved of funds.
After Okadigbo, an unlikely figure in the person of Anyim Pius Anyim from Ebonyi State emerged as the Senate President.
The Villa initially wanted Adolphus Wabara from Abia State but because the Executive wanted Wabara, the Senate brought in Anyim. He later fell apart with Villa and was removed in 2003.
In 2003, Wabara came in as the Senate President. He was seen by his colleagues as a Villa man because he did not hide it as he was very loyal to Obasanjo. He did not enjoy the confidence of his colleagues and when he had issues with the Villa over alleged N55 million bribes for budget, he did not have the support of other Senators and that was an ample opportunity for them to allow him to fall.
From the record, Presiding Officers survive more if they are products of the parliament. When Wabara was removed in 2005, the Presidency also wanted Senator Ike Ekweremadu from Enugu State, but the Northern Senators Forum led by late Senator Idris Kuta from Niger State settled for Senator Ken Nnamani from Enugu State and the Presidency concurred.
Nnamani had it smooth with his colleagues and the Executive till the end of the third term saga which was killed by the media.
By 2007, during the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the Senate President position was zoned to the North Central and Deputy Senate President to the South East with Ekweremadu clinching the position.
At that time, the governors’ forum wanted one of their own in the person of Senator George Akume for the position, but the Senators had settled for David Mark and he won, stayed till 2015, then Bukola Saraki from the same North Central took over from him in the 8th Senate.
Now the battle of wits has started again. It is to be seen how the battle will be fought, won and lost.