Home OPINION COLUMNISTS A New Vista On The Senate Presidency, By Sufuyan Ojeifo

A New Vista On The Senate Presidency, By Sufuyan Ojeifo

Sufuyan Ojeifo
Sufuyan Ojeifo

Before the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, many Nigerians made a number of well-informed interventions in the media on how the leadership should be constructed.  Some had prudently argued that the Federal Legislatures should not have any problem electing their leaders if they followed the convention, in the US presidential system after which Nigeria has patterned her system of government, of allowing leadership by progression, otherwise known as ranking.

The argument was simple: let the highest ranked legislators in the 7th session of both chambers be senate president and speaker.  Had that been the sole determinant, the party caucuses in the National Assembly would not have engaged in unnecessarily scrambles for the plum positions. The party caucuses, especially the majority APC, would have known that the men who served as Minority Leaders in the Senate and House in the 7th session -Senator George Akume and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila-should conventionally move up as Senate President and Speaker respectively.

Had that been accepted prima-facie, it would have guided the APC to zone the presiding officers’ positions in the Federal Legislature, instead of throwing the race open to the vagaries of political forces.  And because that path was not taken, desperate elements and vested interests did not allow that trouble shooting convention to flourish.   The process, which would have been seamless, became convoluted when undue politicking was deployed into the mix.

Leaders of the APC were not particularly enamored of the ranking rule; they were rather concerned about how to accommodate the legacy parties that came together to form the APC in the power sharing configuration.  It was also exigent in the calculations for 2019 presidency to assume a strategic position to be able to compete favourably in the race for the soul of Nigeria.  This explicates the interest of Bukola Saraki, who is not by any stretch of the imagination the highest ranked in the senate and thus not qualified to throw his hat in the ring for the prized seat.

Saraki belongs to one of the legacy parties-the New PDP-comprising the five PDP governors who defected to the APC.  In the construction of the APC power sharing arrangement, after the CPC had produced President Buhari and the ACN had produced Vice President Osinbajo, it would only be fair for the ANPP or the New PDP to produce the senate president and the speaker.  The matter was thoroughly considered at the topmost echelon of the party.

Buhari was said to have favoured the ANPP camp for the senate presidency, and by extension, Senator Ahmad Lawan being the highest ranked in the camp.  With Buhari’s perceived proclivity towards ANPP camp and Lawan, Akume who was the most qualified candidate for the position decided to step down and queue behind Lawan in the interest of party supremacy: after all, Buhari is the leader of the party and he typifies the position of the party.

Unfortunately, the APC could not push through its position.  Saraki was not interested in the party position.  He had his eyes fixed on the senate presidency, which is a precursor to his interest in the 2019 presidency.  He showed an uncommon courage by defying his party position.  Leveraging on his acquaintances in his old party-the PDP- which has 49 members in the senate, he was able to clinch the senate presidency.

It is needless to ponder the ramifications of that defiance.  The consequences are self-evident: there are possible and plausible sanctions.  But the question is whether or not the party has the guts to impose them.  As it is, it does appear that the APC wants to go about dealing with the issue in a manner that will not upset the system, which accounts for the peace of the graveyard in the senate.  While the party has come to terms with the reality of Dogara speakership, with the strategic accommodation of the party nominee(s) in the principal officers’ positions (notably Gbajabiamila as House Leader), Saraki’s recalcitrance has continued to miff the party and its leaders.

Even when he (Saraki) had the opportunity, like Dogara had, to accommodate the party nominees into the principal officers’ positions, he still defied the party by turning down Lawan as Senate Leader and Akume as Deputy Senate Leader.  Saraki cuts the picture of one who is prepared to fight to the finish.  He is not ready to take prisoners.  But how far can he go in the quiet, cold war of attrition with the APC leadership?  The battle for the senate presidency is a long distance battle, especially where egos of the party leadership and the presidency are involved.

Surviving the battle is a big burden that Saraki now bears.  He must necessarily be alert defending his position without losing focus on the pursuit of his legislative agenda.  If he slips, and just anything could make him slip, he will be made to sing his Nunc Dimittis; those who helped him to climb to the top will help him to descend into the abyss.  If that happens, although Saraki lovers would readily say “God forbid”, the APC would not have any problem picking a successor from the North Central.  In that circumstance, Akume should understandably and explicably become the most favoured to succeed him.

The North Central zone will be surefooted to retain the position, Lawan’s Northeast zone having been eliminated by virtue of Dogara (from the zone) holding the speakership in his kitty.  Even if some other senators in North Central throw their hats in the ring, Akume’s persona as the highest ranked APC senator from the zone, gentleman politician, believer in party supremacy, among other qualities, should coalesce with confetti of goodwill from across party divides to effectively throw him up for the position.

This, no doubt, is a new vista on the crystallizing scenarios around the position of the senate president.  Simply blame the APC for my playing the devil’s advocate as the pro-Saraki camp is most likely to dismiss my notion.

* Ojeifo, journalist and publisher, sent this piece from Abuja via ojwonderngr@yahoo.com. [myad]


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