By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has won the majority seats in the Nigerian Senate – at least 62 so far of 109. It is therefore set to produce the Senate president when the 9th National Assembly is inaugurated in June. A proclamation by President Muhammadu Buhari, after he must have been sworn in on May 29, will specify the exact date and time of the inauguration.
But, well ahead of the inauguration, nuanced campaigns for the topmost seat in the National Assembly have begun, thus spawning anxiety in the governing party. The individuals, covertly or overtly, pushing for the position predicate their action on the justification of geopolitical entitlements. Geopolitics will play a fundamental role in the overall consideration of who steps in the saddle.
Judged on performance in the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly election, the northwest zone is then most qualified to nick the position. Validation: the APC has 20 of 21 senators-elect from the seven states that comprise the zone. It was almost a clean sweep but for the loss of Kaduna south senatorial seat to Senator Danjuma Laah of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The impressive National Assembly election results in the northwest were largely influenced by Buhari’s popularity and acceptability by the masses in the zone. His presidential election victory benefitted hugely from the bulk votes he garnered in the zone. But unfortunately, the zone is automatically out of the zoning equation for the Senate president.
Whereas the winners-take-all mindset is a feature of the presidential system of government; distribution of strategic public cum political offices, being an internal affair of the governing political party, is undergirded by a zoning arrangement that is prudently guided on the scale of balance and parity.
Flowing from this scale of balance and parity with fairness and equity, the north-west zone cannot produce the senate president, having produced the executive president. In the corollary, only five zones, to wit: north-east, north-central, south-west, south-east and south-south can aspire for the position of Nigeria’s third citizen. The vice president comes after the president.
In 2015, Buhari had reportedly given tacit support to zoning the Senate presidency to the north-east. However, the idea was fractured by Senator Bukola Saraki from the north-central who ingeniously enlisted the PDP caucus in the Senate to grab the position. Failing re-election this time around, Saraki is out of the equation. But this does not mean the Senate president has bided the north-central zone farewell. This point is very significant, given the mystique around north-central and the historical connections of the zone with the positions of presiding officers of the Senate. Before Saraki’s “disruptive” political gambit, Providence had always thrust Senate’s presiding offices upon the north-central zone.
In 1999, Senator Haruna Abubakar from the zone was elected deputy senate president to Senator Evan(s) Enwerem. Abubakar went on to become Senator Chuba Okadigbo’s deputy. However, after he resigned from the position as part of the grand plot to remove Okadigbo from office on August 8, 2000, he could not plot his way back to the position as Senator Ibrahim Mantu from the zone was supported by the 43-member Okadigbo camp in the 66-member PDP caucus in the Senate to secure the position. Mantu was re-elected in 2003 and served in the same position till 2007.
The north-central mojo produced and sustained Senator David Mark as Senate president from 2007 to 2015. Saraki stepped in the saddle in 2015 and will exit in June this year. It is possible for the zone to providentially produce another senate president in 2019 for reasons that considerably qualify and project it over and above the other zones.
Indeed, what is more, important is how the other zones are likely to be cancelled out in Buhari’s consideration of the zone and the person to be supported as Senate president in his critical second term. The grapevine hinted that the national working committee (NWC) of the APC had requested that Buhari should take the decision and issue to it a directive on which the party would act. This, according to the source, was to ensure the president has someone with whom he could build a robust executive-legislature relationship for good governance and rapid development.
It is certain that Buhari will not look towards the south-west zone because it has produced the vice president. There is a reason for him to look at the south-east zone. The zone now has a ranking senator. Apart from this, there is no other compelling argument that can be canvassed for a south-east senate presidency on the APC platform. Although the south-south zone has two ranking senators, it may not fit into the bill because it has the position of national chairman of the party. Significantly, due to no fault of the state chapters of the party, both zones demonstrated their traditional geopolitical contempt for Buhari and the APC by voting massively for Atiku Abubakar and the PDP.
Therefore, the north-east and north-central zones are likely to engage Buhari’s attention. In terms of performance in the Presidential and National Assembly election, Buhari and the APC won in four states in the north-central namely Niger, Kwara, Kogi and Nasarawa. The north-east also delivered four states to Buhari and the APC to wit: Gombe, Bauchi, Yobe and Borno. But while the north-east zone is likely to generate a number of contending issues that may make zoning the position to it problematic, the north-central zone provides the path to lesser rancour. What do I mean?
If Buhari decides to retain a number of current key government positions in the north-east zone such as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), National Security Adviser (NSA), Chief of Staff (CoS), Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Comptroller-General of Customs, etc., with minimal tinkering, in order to appreciate the zone, then that should highly recommend north-central for presidential consideration to retain the position of Senate president.
Even if the CJN is eventually not retained in the northeast – with the peculiar mess in the Supreme Court, there are feelers that some far-reaching recommendations by the National Judicial Council (NJC) could culminate in the position of CJN going to the south on the basis of hierarchy – that will not significantly discount the fact that north-east is already overloaded with strategic offices. Conversely, that the acting Inspector General of Police is from the north-central zone is not compelling enough to query the zone’s qualification and consideration.
Besides the scenario stated supra, it will be circumspect for Buhari to encourage consensus arrangement that accommodates the critical elements of trust, loyalty and commitment to the philosophy of party supremacy. In the north-east, there are three ranking senators that are desperately jostling for the position. They have the capacity to make the contest fractious and rancorous. Is that what Buhari and the APC want? I have my doubts.
North-central would appear to have one or two mature ranking senators who are not known to be desperate. Even if they are interested in the Senate president’s position, they are not overtly pushing for it in the manner some ranking senators in the north-east zone have been doing in recent times, making it a media affair. My take: retaining the position in the north-central will strengthen the central position of the zone as a linkage between the far north and the southern region. It will consolidate its integration in the northern region.
Indeed, Buhari should also consider the person’s maturity, loyalty, experience, leadership capacity, antecedents and ability to rally support for the executive-legislature interface in expanding the frontiers of productive interdependence in the management of public finance and administration.