Fresh Look At Contenders For Senate President | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Fresh Look At Contenders For Senate President

Posted: May 10, 2015 at 2:45 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Ignatius Okorocha –  Abuja


As the nation awaits the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, it does appear that zoning and selection of a possible chairman of the National Assembly and, by extension, the President of the Senate, has continued to challenge the All Progressives Congress (APC), given some obvious factors. The APC is yet to officially announce the zoning arrangement. However, there are indications that the party may zone the office of the Senate President to the North-East in view of some factors being canvassed.

Party discountenances speculations

Contenders For Senate

Contenders For Senate

In response to earlier speculation that the APC has zoned the office of the Senate President to the North-Central Geo-Political Zone, the party, in a statement issued in Abuja recently, said there is no truth to anything that has been dished out anywhere, concerning the issue of appointment, especially the zoning of the National Assembly’s principal positions and other offices.

APC National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, in the statement, said that in the true tradition of the APC, all issues of public interest will be handled transparently and conveyed to Nigerians through the usual communication channels.

He said: “No appointments have been made and no offices have been zoned. The main concern of our party at the moment is to ensure a smooth transition and to hit the ground running, in the overall interest of the long-suffering people of Nigeria. At the appropriate time, Nigerians will be informed of the appointments made and the offices zoned.”


Factors Favouring North-East

Though the North Central Geo-Political Zone is pushing for the Senate Presidency on the ground of their contribution towards the success of the party in the last general election, there are many factors that favour North-East Zone in the race for Senate Presidency. The top contenders in the North-Central are Senate Minority Leader, Senator George Akume (Benue State), and Senate Committee Chairman on Environment and Ecology, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki.

While Akume served as governor of Benue State between 1999-2007, his counterpart in Kwara State, Saraki, also served as governor between 2003-2011. Both of them won election to the Senate after completing their second term as governors.

In the North-East, Senator Aliyu Ndume, Chairman, Senate Committee on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); Senator Ahmed Lawan, Chairman Senate Committee on Public Account and former Governor of Gombe State (2003-2011); Senator Danjuma Goje, who is the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Downstream, are leading the race.

Some analysts and political commentators have noted that APC would do itself enough favour by zoning the office of the Senate Presidency to the North-East in view of the following factors.

One of these is the adverse effect of insurgency. One of the factors that APC leadership may consider in favour of the North East is that the zone is the most devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency and one of the poorest regions 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.

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.

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 are 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, Muhammadu Buhari, hails from. North-East also produced 13 senators in the March 28 parliamentary election and took over Bauchi and Adamawa from PDP.


Looking Beyond Saraki, Akume

Apart from the pending corruption cases against the former governors in the race, pundits argue that the level of struggle for the office of the Senate President by Senator George Akume, representing Benue North-West, and Bukola  Sarki, Kwara Central Senatorial District, may bring uneasiness to the Senate and subsequently lead to big crisis in the party if any of them emerges as the Senate President. The argument was that there is no indication that any of the contenders is willing to step down for each other and if the party forces any of them to step down, it will bring about disharmony between the duo which may be difficult to settled.

Contrary to what is on-going in the North-Central, there are indications that North-East National Assembly (Senators) Caucus had already agreed to produce one person if the party officially zones the office of the Senate President to the North-East Zone. This was made clear recently where the forum chaired by Senator Danjuma Goje said the zone is appealing to the party to zone the office of the Senate President to the North-East because of their peculiar circumstances.

The forum also distanced itself from the purported endorsement of Senator Ahmed Lawan by other caucus, stressing that no other caucus can select who will emerge as Senate President if APC eventually zones it to the North-East.

“We resolved to call the leadership of our party to formally zone the highest office of the National Assembly to our zone in view of our special circumstance. This caucus should be allowed, in consultation with the party leadership; other caucuses, zonal leaders, other stakeholders to nominate the senator suitable to occupy such an office which is zoned to our zone.

“For this reason, the caucus urges the public and distinguished colleagues nationwide and, indeed, everybody, Nigerians and non-Nigerians to completely disregard any purported endorsement of any Senator from the North East by any zone because zoning of posts by APC has not been formally done yet.

“We are waiting for our formal zoning of the various posts of the national assembly before we commence nomination and we believe that any post zoned to us must have our input as the caucus and then, we consult with other caucuses, party leadership and indeed, other stakeholders before arriving at a decision.

“We should completely disregard any endorsement of any of our member here or absent. We do not know anything about it, we do not support it, we disassociate ourselves completely from it.” Goje said.

Senator Goje reiterated that the caucus was not in support of any other caucus adopting or endorsing any senator from the North east for the Senate Presidency.


Why Ndume is leading the race

In the race for the Senate Presidency, Senator Ali Ndume seems to be the only one without a sponsor, god-father and one of the least in terms of riches. However, based on these I observations, if APC eventually zones the position to the North East, Ndume will likely emerge as the Senate President of the 8th National Assembly because of some of the factors which favour him.

One of the factors that will favour Ndume if APC eventually zones the Senate Presidency to the North East is that the battle for the race in the region has almost been pruned down to Yobe and Borno State. During the APC convention where the party national leaders emerged, Yobe is given the position of National Secretary of the party. The position was then zoned to the North East, particularly, Yobe and Borno States.  Borno had to give up in order to allow a Yobe indigene occupy the position. Now that the battle is almost between Yobe and Borno again, it is the turn of Yobe to give up in order to allow Borno produce the next Senate President. There is a political calculation that North East will produce Senate President, APC National Secretary and BoT Chairman

Both Senator Lawan and Senator Goje had severed at various capacities as leaders and deserve to become Senate President. They are also eligible to become Senate President, but one of the common traits of the duo which pundits argued will put Ndume ahead, is the allegation that they are very aggressive. The pundit argued that the office of the Senate President is too sensitive and should be left in the hand of person that is always composed and calmed even in the troublous time. This was evident during Ndume’s trial and when he was the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives.

The pundits maintained that Senator David Mark made history as the longest serving Senate President in Nigeria because of his humility, patriotism and pragmatism. They also argued that he succeeded because he is a negotiator, strategist and diplomat and not necessarily being aggressive on national issues. They also see Senator Ndume as pro-masses senator. This also becomes very obvious as several returning senators across the six geo-political zones have started trooping to his office to declare their support for him since his recent interview where he affirmed that he is vying for the office of the Senate president. His humility, acceptability, patriotism, diplomacy and pragmatism also came to play when he was the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives.  In the press interview recently, Ndume said if he emerges victorious in the race, he will not be a “Senators’ President” but “Senate President.”

Apart from personal characteristics which put Senator Ndume in vantage position, it was observed that Ndume has a good relationship with the strong man of South-West politics, Senator Ahmed Tinubu. Senator Ndume is admired by President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, because of his acceptability in both the National Assembly and his zone, North-East.

Though insurgency left irreparable damages in the three states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamwa,  Borno State seems to be the worst hit by Boko Haram’s deadly activities. Most of the local government areas captured by the insurgents are from Borno State. Senator Ndume was among the victims of insurgents who voted at the IDPs camp during the last election. He hails from Gwoza LG which was recently recaptured from the insurgents by Nigerian Military.


Senator Ndume’s travails 

Senator Ndume, though born of a Christian mother and Muslim father, had some common things with Joseph in the Holy Book in respect of dreams, travails, vindication and elevation.

Joseph’s brethren in the Holy Book decided to terminate his life because of his dream which showed that he was going to be a great man in the future. However, because of God’s intervention, the plan of his brethren was thwarted, though he suffered so many things, including false accusation and imprisonment. He was later elevated to the position of Prime Minister in Egypt.

The plan to stop Ndume from going further in politics matured in 2010 when Ali Modu Sheriff, an alleged sponsor of Boko Haram who had never been tried, tried to stop Ndume from contesting the 2011 parliamentary election under the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the then ruling party in the state. This plan failed as Ndume crossed over to PDP and eventually defeated the ANPP senatorial candidate in the 2011 election. With the emergence of Ndume as Senator representing Borno South Senatorial District, another plan was allegedly hatched by his enemies, leading to his linkage with the dreaded Boko Haram sect.

The Boko Haram operations has left thousands of people dead and rendered millions of people homeless. During the last general election on March 28 and April 11, 2015, Ndume was among those who voted at an IDPs camp in Maiduguri because his local government, Gwoza, was one of the LGs taken over by Boko Haram insurgents.

Following Ndume’s defection, the PDP re-opened the sale of nomination forms. Alhaji Sanda Garba, who had been the only aspirant for the Borno South Senate seat, stepped down to make way for Ndume as the PDP candidate. In the election, Ndume won 146,403 votes, ahead of Dr. Asaba Vilita Bashir of the ANPP with 133,734 votes and Alhaji Umaru Ibrahim of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) with 20,414 votes.

Ndume was appointed to a committee established by the out-going President Goodluck Jonathan to consider opening talks with Boko Haram. It was in the course of this service he was arrested on charges of having links to Boko Haram, in November, 2011.

It was believed that Ndume’s  political enemies thought linking him with the dreaded Boko Haram would lead him to political oblivion but as the truth unfolded in respect of those allegedly behind the emergence  and sponsorship of Boko Haram, Ndume was not only vindicated but was also elevated. Apart from Ndume’s vindication at an Appeal Court in Abuja, his people, mainly Christians in Southern Borno, also vindicated him by massively casting their votes for him during the March 28 parliamentary election.

Pundits argued that Ndume has been absolved of all allegations bothering on linkage with Boko Haram based on the way they voted for him. If he emerges victorious in the race for Senate President, he will then join the list of African leaders who passed through travails before their elevation.