By Sufuyan Ojeifo
I am hugely motivated by the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Abeokuta outburst of “Egbe kin ni yi wa; emi lokan”, meaning “You people, bring this thing (referring to the presidency); it is my turn”, to deploy his exemplar in making this intervention for the South-South zone in the quest for the position of senate president. The advocacy for a south-south senate president finds anchorage in Tinubu’s exempli gratia. He was surefooted about his approbated sense of entitlement, having planned for and related with it as a life-long ambition, and having put his nose to the grindstone over the years, as a kingmaker of sorts, sponsoring people into elective and appointive offices. Through a review of strategy, the 2023 presidency was going to be his. There was no room to negotiate the contrary. Like the honey badger, Tinubu confronted all forces that reared their heads in determined bids to upend his dream from becoming a reality. Today, the Jagaban of Borgu is at the cusp of history with May 29, the day of inauguration, beckoning.
Once Tinubu is sworn in as president, one of the first sets of administrative actions that are constitutionally circumscribed that he would take will be to send an official communication to the Clerk to the National Assembly to convene the 10th National Assembly, get down to the business of electing the presiding officers and inaugurating the the Senate and the House of Representatives. Tinubu understands the workings of the National Assembly just as he understands the relationships that exist between and among the trinity of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. But unlike the judiciary, which is shorn of writ-large politics, the legislature presents a field of play that is laden with politicking and political landmines. The emergence of wrong persons as presiding officers will impair the victory of the APC in the presidential poll and the party-led administration. Consider the Bukola Saraki saga in 2015! In 2019, the emergence of Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila as Senate President and Speaker respectively, which should have happened in 2015, had the imprimaturs of the then national chair of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole with the solid behind-the-scene support of Tinubu.
This time, the politician in Tinubu as president and APC national leader will not prevaricate in the matter of the presiding officers as it happened in 2015. Therefore, he is urged, ahead of the inauguration, to look in the direction of the South-South for the party’s pick for the position of Senate President. Other positions can then be distributed to the other zones. This is because it is the turn of the South-South zone to produce the Senate President. The claim of “it is our turn” to produce the senate president, like Tinubu’s claim to the presidency, is not a mere slogan. It is an affirmation that enjoys some post-hoc rationalizations, which would be done on three linchpins.
The first is why the senate presidency should be ceded to the Southern part of Nigeria. The second is why it should be micro-zoned to the south-south and not southeast zone. The third is the official candidate of the party for the position and the obligatory justifications. In the history of the Fourth Republic, since 1999, beginning with President Olusegun Obasanjo, the president and the senate president have always come from the same region, except when there was an act of God with the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2010, in which case President Goodluck Jonathan who took over as President was from the south-south zone while David Mark who was from the north-central zone was senate president. Whereas, from 1999 to 2007, the southeast produced five senate presidents (namely the late Evan Enwerem, the late Chuba Okadigbo, Anyim Pius Anyim, Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani) with Obasanjo as president from the southwest, the position was retained in Benue State (from 2007 to 2015) because of Obasanjo’s endorsement of David Mark in 2007 for the position and in 2011 because of Mark’s historic role in leading the Senate in 2010 to adopt the doctrine of necessity with which it resolved the Yar’Adua “failure” to transmit power to Jonathan when he travelled out for his long medical treatment abroad. It was through that doctrine that the National Assembly conferred full constitutional powers on Jonathan to perform the functions of the office of president while Yar’Adua was bedridden before he died on May 5, 2010.
Now consider the Buhari era. The North Central produced the senate president in 2015, while the northeast produced the senate president in 2019. So, it is apropos for the APC to cede the Senate President to the southern region where the President, effective May 29, 2023, comes from. Just as Tinubu made a case for southern presidency and went ahead to submit that it should come to him, I am consensus ad idem with a former Edo State Commissioner of Information, Prince Kassim Afegbua, that the southern region should produce the senate president; that it is the turn of the South-South zone, this time round, to do so; and that it should go to a competent hand on the platform of the ruling APC. Afegbua had given reasons for his position in a recent press statement on the subject matter, and I am on all fours with him. His arguments were, without a doubt, unassailable; although some Southeast sympathizers might have dismissed his prognoses as puerile. It is significant to note that the leadership of the party is free to decide what criteria to deploy in endorsing a candidate in the south-south zone for the position.
For instance, if ranking is one criterion, the zone does not lack one. There is notably and eminently qualified Senator Godswill Akpabio, who should naturally be tapped for the job. The former governor of Akwa-Ibom state, won election to the Senate in 2015 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and, in an unprecedented fashion, as a first-time member of the Senate where he occupied the Akwa-Ibom North-West seat, emerged as the Minority Leader from June 9, 2015 to August 7, 2018 when he defected to the APC. So, he is not new to the politics and workings of the leadership of the Senate, having been a principal officer. He is going back to the Upper Legislative chamber with a robust legislative experience. Besides, he has the intellectual wherewithal as a lawyer to understand and relate with the nitty-gritty of law making and, therefore, properly direct the Senate in accordance.
Prelude to his voyage to the Senate, he had taken care of the political atmospherics by withdrawing from the presidential race in aid of Tinubu’s victory at the party’s presidential primary election. He did not vacillate when he mounted the podium to deliver his address. He simply delivered Tinubu, setting the pace for some others to follow. He followed up with his victory at the poll by ensuring that Tinubu won a total vote of 160,620 votes in Akwa-Ibom state behind Atiku Abubakar of the PDP who won the state with 214,012 votes, thus confirming a huge support for the Tinubu presidency. The scenarios supra should highly recommend Akpabio for consideration by the party leadership apparatchik, now effectively on the watch of Tinubu for the senate presidency.
Even if ranking is de-emphasized, but I do not think the APC leadership would want to cause a disruption of the ranking rule, to accommodate any new member of the APC in the South-South zone for the position, then there is understandably a former governor of Edo State and one-time national chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who should naturally be tapped for the position. Like Akpabio, Oshiomhole’s investment in the success of the party, the realization of Tinubu’s presidency (for which he was targeted and removed from office as national chairman by anti-Tinubu forces as far back as 2020) and all other positives considered, the zone would still be, in apple pie order as the stronger contender staked against the southeast in the southern region.
In essence, the fact that the South-South zone has yet to produce the senate president since 1999 should work in its favour. The other fact that there are qualified and dependable candidates who are not as “disruptive” as a particular former senate president, to work with in the zone also reinforces the chances of the zone. In the circumstance, as Obasanjo said in 1999 in response to a reporter’s question at a press confab at Transcorp Hotel attended by this writer, as to his preparedness for the poll after picking the presidential ticket of the PDP, “ga fili, ga doki”-meaning “see the open field, see the horse”. For him, he was ready for the race. In the race for the senate presidency, the South-South zone is ready to consummate the occupation of the seat at this most opportune time because it is arguably its turn to “buga” and “cough”, a la Kizz Daniel.
▪︎ Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via email@example.com