By Obute James
The Senators elected under the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the March 28 parliamentary election will conduct primary election for the major contenders for the Senate Presidency before the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly.
The decision to conduct primary election for Senator Ali Ndume (APC Borno), Senator Bukola Sarki (APC Kwara), Senator George Akume (APC Benue) and Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC Yobe) came as a result of the broken down of zoning formula for the presiding officers of the National Assembly.
The 5-man committee setup by the leadership of the All Progressive Congress (APC) to come out with the zoning formula of National Assembly principal offices and other major positions in President Muhammad Buhari Administration recently submitted its recommendations to the party leadership but there was no deliberation and ratification of the report as the committee was expanded and asked to make further consultations with relevant stakeholders. Governors elect and President elect are among the people to be consulted.
Though the details report of the 5-man committee led by Segun Oni, APC Deputy National Chairman, South was not made public it was discovered that the committee recommended zoning the office of the Senate President to the North Central Geo-Political Zone and Deputy Senate President to the North East Geo-Political Zone. But there was fear that the committee was being influenced by some powerful people in the party leading to the broken down of the zoning formula.
The details of how the primary election will be conducted for the main contenders is still very sketchy but a source said the 60 APC Senators will elect the President of the Senate and Deputy Senate President from the four contenders including Senator Ali Ndume, Senate Committee Chairman on MDGs, Senator Bukola Sarki, Senate Committee Chairman on Ecology and Environment, Senator George Akume, Senate Minority Leader and Senator Ahmed Lawan, Senate Committee Chairman on Public Account.
The details of how the primaries will be conducted is not also very clear but a source who does not want his name on print said that the winner and runner-up will be endorsed as Senate President and Deputy Senate President if they are from different geo-political zone. But in situation where the runner-up and the winner are from the same geo-political zone, a fresh primary will be conducted for the contenders who are from the same zone in order to get a senator who will be endorsed as APC candidate for Deputy Senate President.
On whether the process will not generate further controversy, the source maintained that it will not create any crisis as all the contenders will sign an agreement to abide by the outcome of the primaries before the election will take place. Two of the four contenders who emerge victorious from the primaries will contest for the Senate President and Deputy Senate President when the 8th National Assembly will be inaugurated in first week of June.
Meanwhile, the struggle for the Senate Presidency by the main contenders from both the North Central and North East Geo-Political Zones still continues as many of them intensified efforts to lobby the Senators-elect.
The pro-Sarki/Ndume group led by Senator-elect Dino Malaye (APC Kogi) has so far mobilized about 70 senators for the duo before the recent development..
Pundits had argued that if election into the office of the Senate President is to take place today, without external interference, Senator Bukola Sarki (APC Kwara) and Senator Ali Ndume (APC Borno) will take the day. Sarki and Ndume had agreed to support each other should APC zone the office of the Senate Presidency to the North Central or to the North East.
Those in support of Sarki/Ndume group are of the view that if APC zones the office of the Senate Presidency to the North Central, it should be Senator Bukola Sarki and if it is zoned to the North East, it should be Senator Ali Ndume. The argument in favour of the duo is that they are the only ones in the race for the Senate Presidency who are capable and without god-fathers.
Earlier on, Akume and Lawan had also reportedly agreed to work together in the race for Senate Presidency. What is working against Akume and Lawan is the issue of god-fatherism. The lawmakers are afraid that the National Assembly will be controlled by the outsiders instead of the legislators.
In a situation where those with god-father emerge as presiding officers, they will need to consult their god-fathers before major decision including appointment of standing committee chairmen. This is an issue most of the legislators consider unacceptable. Senator George Akume and Ahmed Lawan are allegedly being backed by Senator Ahmed Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos State and National Leader of APC as well as Senate President David Mark. But now that the zoning of presiding officers of the Senate has broken down they will face their colleagues during the primaries.
Why speaking on the possibilities of a credible persons emerging as Senate President and Deputy Senate President, a Senator who does not want his name on print said that though external forces will try to manipulate the primaries so that their anointed candidates will emerge but the senators will reject such moves.
The senator said that though some of the contenders with strong financial muscle have opened offices in Transcorp Hilton and Nicon Luxury Hotel in Abuja with the aim of lobbying senators-elect, it will be difficult to play on the intelligence of the lawmakers.
“Let me tell you that senators are not like Biblical Esau who sold his birthright for red pottage. It is true that lawmakers spent a lot of money during the last general election and some of them may even be tempted to collect money if offered to them by the desperate contenders for the exalted seats but this can do little or nothing in the primaries as they cannot vote against their conscience.
“What of a situation where you collect a token and vote for somebody who will emerge as Senate President and at the end of the day the views of lawmakers on critical issues are always ignored. Have you not sold your birth right?
“It is unfortunate several ignorant people during elections exchange good road, hospital and even their future with just a bag of rice or little amount of money.
“I am telling you that many people who taught they have money and can buy the senators in the race for the Senate Presidency will be disappointed. I am glad that APC has got it right again by organizing primaries for the main contenders,” the source said.”
All the contenders have their chances and challenges.
Senator Akume: Being a former governor of Benue State (1999-2007), Akume has what it takes to pilot the affairs of the Senate. However, apart from the pending corruption case against him, some observers also argued that it will be difficult to allow Benue State produce next Senate President. The out-going Senate President David Mark who is completing his eight years as Senate President on June 2, 2015 is from Benue State in North Central Geo-Political Zone. Many people see Tinubu as a god-father to Akume. This will also play against him because anybody with god-father will need to seek the view of his god-father on crucial matters instead of consultation with senators. But there also allegation that Tinubu is withdrawing his support for Akume based on several emerging issues.
Senator Bukola Sarki: Senator Bukola Sarki also served as the Governor of Kwara State (2003-2011). Before the zoning of Senate Presidency broke down, about 70 senators across the country had declared support for Sarki and Ndume should APC zone it to either North Central or North East. The senators were then ready to support either Sarki or Ndume to become the next Senate President.
The reason for the support Sarki and Ndume get from their colleagues may not be unconnected to the fact they are the only ones in the race without god-fathers. However, the major challenge of Sarki is that though he is from North Central, many people see him as a Yoruba man. They also argued on how a Yoruba man will be Vice President, Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. One of the traits of Sarki that may also work against him is the allegation that he is arrogant and proud. This may not be unconnected with his background. He hails from a royal family.
Senator Ali Ndume: He was the House Minority Leader (2007-2011). Ndume seems to be the least among the contenders in terms of financial strength. Ndume is not financially buoyant like his other counterparts in the race for Senate Presidency. Among all the contenders, Ndume seems to be the only one without god-father. But this will work in his favour because senators will prefer to have somebody like Ndume.
Some quarters alleged that many senators and National Assembly Staff were happy when the news of primary election emerged. This is because they believe that in a transparent process Ndume will emerge as the Senate President just like a Biblical David who was anointed king despite his age.
Pundit also argued that in order to have Senate that will be stable, there is need to have somebody like Ndume who can work with all category of people irrespective of ranks, political affiliation and religious inclination. If any of the contenders with strong financial muscle emerges as Senate President, crisis may consume the 8th National Assembly.
Apart from his personal traits of humility, eloquence, accessibility, patience, patriotism that will work in his favour, Ndume is also being considered for the exalted seat because of the adverse effect of Boko Haram insurgency in North East particularly Borno State.
Unlike the North Central which has produced the Senate President including Senator David Mark who is completing his eight years as Senate President, the North East has never produced President of Nigeria and Senate President.
Other factors being considered in favor of North East include adverse effect of insurgency. The zone is the most devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency and one of the poorest region on earth according to the United Nations Report. The UN assessment is based on access to water, education, electricity, healthcare service, infrastructure etc. Boko Haram activities in the three North East States of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa had led to the death of thousands of people while millions were displaced. About 15 local government areas from the three states mostly from Borno were captured by the Boko Haram sect.
Except Lagos State, Yobe and Borno are the only states in Nigeria that have been in opposition party since 1979. In 1979, NPN was the ruling government at the centre while Lagos was controlled by UPN; Yobe and Borno were being controlled by GNPP.
Those from the North East are also of the view that if justice and fairness is to prevail, now that opposition party takes over the national government, North East particularly Yobe and Borno should be compensated. This also agrees with the saying that “a patient dog eats the fattest bone”
In the presidential election, North East produced the largest results next to North West where President-elect, Gen. Muhammad Buhari hails from. North East also produced 13 senators in the March 28 parliamentary election and took over Bauchi and Adamawa from PDP. With the death of Senator Ahmed Zanna (APC Borno Central) on May 16, 2015 they are now 12.
Senator Ahmed Lawan: He is one of the ranking senators in the race. Lawan alleged god-fathers are seriously working in his favour. This will however, work against him because senators will not like to see their presiding officer taking directive from outsiders instead of consultation with lawmakers before taking decision. Lawan personal trait of arrogance and unfriendliness is also seriously working against him. Apart from the issue of god-fatherism and personal traits, North East caucus had also distanced themselves from his purported endorsement by other caucuses in a press statement issued sometimes ago.
On the argument that Senator David Mark will contest for the Senate Presidency if APC fails to put its house in order, a source said that though Mark has not made any categorical statement in respect of his position on the race for Senate Presidency, his body language does not indicate that he will rock the boat.
The source who does not want his name in print said considering the role Senate President David Mark played in Nigerian National Assembly since 2007, going into contest with APC Senators for the seek of presiding over the 8th National Assembly will look like a situation where a dog turns to it vomit.
The source said Senator Mark will prefer to wait and hand over power to whoever that emerges as the next Senate President instead of instigating another political and constitutional crisis which he stood against and fought in the last eight years of his tenure.