Fred Itua, Abuja
Three months to the end of the Eight Senate, the battle for succession has begun. Already, some senators who won their reelection bids and others who were recently elected, have joined the race. Out of the key contenders, one is from the Southeast, while three hail from the Northeast. The other is from the North-central.
The key contenders are former governor of Abia State and senator-elect, Orji Uzor Kalu, Ahmad Lawan, who doubles as the current Leader of the Senate, Danjuma Goje and Mohammed Ali Ndume. While Kalu hails from the Southeast, the other three are from the Northeast. Adamu Abdullahi from Nasarawa State in North-central is another senator said to be interesred in the position.
Prior to the National Assembly elections, George Akume from Benue State (North-central) and Godswill Akpabio from Akwa Ibom State (South-south), were among those believed to be among the top contenders.
The February 23 major upsets, which positioned the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to produce the majority in the Senate, have also reduced the number of the contenders. The party is yet to zone the various positions to the six geopolitical zones of the country.
Already, President Muhammadu Buhari is from Northwest, while his vice, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, hails from Southwest. Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) and the Chief of Staff to the President are from Northeast. The current President of the Senate is from the North-central. Until recently, the South-south had the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). That leaves the Southeast as the only geopolitical zone which has no ranking government official in the hierarchy of power.
Pundits who have commented on the development believe that the ruling APC should adopt the power sharing formula and zoning arrangements of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which favoured equity. According to them, when the PDP held sway for 16 years, no geopolitical zone was deliberately left out.
They further argued that if every geopolitical zone is well represented, unnecessary agitations and misgivings against the Federal Government will fizzle out. A commentor who spoke to Sunday Sun said that zoning the position of Senate President to the Southeast will show that APC has opened up and now ready to implement an inclusive government as promised by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The commentator who doesn’t want to be named, said: “In 2015, APC said it didn’t zone any position to the Southeast because the region didn’t have an elected senator. Even when some Southeast PDP senators later defected to APC, they were not considered because there was no vacancy.
“There was also an argument that President Buhari didn’t get 25 per cent votes in any of the five states in the East. Today, no one can argue along that line. He secured that percentage in the just concluded Presidential and National Assembly elections. The records are there for anyone who is still in doubt to see for himself.
“So, APC has no reason not to accommodate the Southeast. I am aware that some selfish politicians who over rate themselves want the position to be zoned to their region because they feel it’s their birthright. That must not be allowed to happen in this time and season. The right thing should be done.
“I also think that APC leaders from the region need to start speaking up. At this point, silence is no longer golden. Let them demand that the position be zoned to the Southeast. They need to lobby and make a strong case.”
Adding it’s voice to the call, spokesman of Igbo Patriotic Forum (IPF), Anthony Anyim, called on other Nigerian leaders to join hands with President Buhari in advancing the cause of Nigeria.
He urged the leadership of the APC to zone the position of Senate President to the Southeast, adding that Ndigbo had been marginalised by previous administrations.
IPF called on Igbo sons and daughters to support the President Buhari-led government, stressing that the future of Nigeria is bright under the current administration.
He said: “With the results of the February 23, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections, it is glaring that President Buhari is popular and well accepted by the people regardless of party affiliations.
“The votes polled by the President in the 2019 election in the Southeast is more than what he scored in 2015.
The president has executed numerous projects in the Southeast than previous administrations. We appeal to the top echelon of the APC to consider the Southeast for the position of Senate President.
“The President is from the North and the Vice President is from the West. In the spirit of patriotism and equity, Ndigbo should be considered for Senate President. Collectively, all ethnic groups must work together for the sake of national development.”
Also, Izuoma Ibe, convener of Join The Restructuring Campaign (JTRC), who has been an activist and advocate for true federalism in Nigeria added his voice to the agitation.
He said that other parts of the country are already represented in power distribution and equation, saying that the Southeast should be considered by the ruling APC for the Senate Presidency position.
He said: “Well, the APC should constitute a national government. They should ensure that Nigeria is well represented. I will take on the 8th Assembly as an instance. You will agree with me that the National Assembly was led by the North while the presidency was also led by the North.
“The west was in the picture as the Vice President is from the West. Looking at the incoming administration, we have the same posture where the president is from the North and the Vice president is from the West. Therefore, to work out a national government, the National Assembly should be led by the South. I will opine for a South Eastern-led 9th National Assembly.
“The Southeast has sound senators-elect on the platform of the APC. Between the South-south and Southeast, the eastern part is a majority. Going by the results of the National Assembly poll so far released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has maintained its majority in the Senate with over 60 senators. So, as the presidency of the Senate should come from the party. Support should be given to most credible not on the platter of charity, but on the platter of merit.
“Dr Kalu, for instance, is a ranking lawmaker. He was a federal lawmaker in 1992 before becoming a governor in 1999 and now going to the Senate. He is an all-round political leader.
The Senate presidency is one that accommodates all senatorial districts in Nigeria without sentiments. Kalu is detribalised. He sees Nigeria first before self. Even if you make him president of Nigeria today, he won’t resort to tribe, but will focus on the larger picture which is Nigeria.”
In a similar way, the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), has called on the leadership of APC, to zone Senate Presidency of Ninth National Assembly to the Southeast.
The Deputy President of NYCN, Innocent Nduanya, while giving the advice, also appealed to all the senators-elect to concede the zoning of the Senate Presidency to the South eastern region of the country for the sake of equity, justice and fairness.
The youth leader said that the Southeast was now blessed with an elected APC with Kalu, who was capable of handling the position. According to Nduanya, Kalu is highly experienced, patriotic and respected nationwide and, therefore, deserves the position.
Also Bello Osaretin, the convener of Project for National Accommodation, as well as an activist and advocate for peaceful coexistence supports the Southeast for the position.
Although he hails from the South-south, he said in the interest of peace, justice and fairness, the Southeast should be considered first for the position.
He argued: “I don’t see any reason the Southeast particularly would not be accommodated in this government because if you see the outcome of the elections, there is significant improvement from the 2015 in 2019 in terms of voter demography. However, the Southeast deserves a principal position. Like the South-south, they are being accommodated by being given the chairmanship position, the Southwest has the vice president, the Northwest has the president.
“The Northeast has the SGF. These are principal positions and, of course, the Northeast as well has the Speaker. So, there is nothing bad if the Southeast is being compensated with the position of Senate President.
“We have people who are credible from the area. The Southeast was left out in 2015 because they never had a senator elected on the platform of the APC, but now we have senators elected on the platform of the APC.
“We have Rochas Okorocha; we have Orji Uzor Kalu, who is a ranking parliamentarian. Mind you, he was in the House of Representatives before. So, this time around, there are no excuses. The Southeast rightly deserves that position of the Senate President.
“Not giving it to them will lead to a lot of agitations and disharmony. It will look as if a certain party or characters of persons are not needed in a given political space. And I don’t think that is good for our democracy. Democracy is all encompassing. We must have the open hand to accommodate all and sundry. In politics, you work from the position of strength to the position of weakness and we use that as a bait to bring everybody to the centre.
“Mark you, the Southeast holds the economic nerve of this country. They have contributed a lot and in 2015, most of these actors that I have just mentioned were not there. Now that they are on board, what are we talking about? They must be carried along.”