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Senate Presidency: Politics of Endorsement and Numbers

Posted: May 13, 2015 at 1:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)
• Saraki  . Lawan

• Saraki . Lawan

As  the race for the President of the 8th Senate of Nigeria’s National Assembly intensifies, Ralph Ugbelu a political analyst based in Abuja weighs the chances of both Ahmed Lawan  and Bukola Saraki from Yobe and Kwara states respectively for the position…

President-elect Muhammadu Buhari does not want to have a hand in the selection of leaders of the 8th Senate or House of Representatives. And the APC has not “zoned” the office of Senate president to any region of the country. In the quest for fairness in the Nigerian federation, however, the party ought to select the next Senate president from the south-east: The majority ethnic groups in the country — Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba – almost always occupy the topmost three positions.

But the southeast and its kith and kin in the South -south have no APC senator in the Senate, thus throwing the door open to senators from other zones to vie for the seat of Senate president. Fairness demands that the North-west and South-west be excluded from the race, because they have the president and vice-president already.

The change that APC preaches will not be limited to activities at the Nigerian presidency. It will be tested in President-elect Buhari’s ministerial list, in the selection of leaders of the National Assembly and in governance itself.

The North-central wants to cling to the position, which it has occupied for eight years now through David Mark. Contenders from the zone have included senators George Akume and Barnabas Gemade of Benue State as well as Bukola Saraki of Kwara.

The North-east wants it too. Senators Aliyu Ndume of Borno, Ahmed Lawan of Yobe, and Danjuma Goje of Yobe have indicated interest.

Fortune in the race will favour one without excess baggage: Buhari would prefer one that has no case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Other party leaders are not comfortable with a habitual drunk or a terror suspect. Most people, however, prefer someone that has been in the opposition from 1999.

Only two contestants, both from the north-east, are free from such suspicions: Ahmed Lawan and Danjuma Goje. Between the two, Lawan stands taller because Goje was once a state governor. Also, Lawan is not Hausa or Fulani but from a minority tribe.

Saraki’s claim

The race for Senate president seems to have now crystallised between two aspirants: Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State and Bukola Saraki from Kwara. Saraki reportedly “hinted” that as many as 80 senators had queued behind him in the race. But politicians will always be politicians! If 80 out of 109 senators could support Saraki, then, the game would be over.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, however. Lawan seems far ahead of Saraki because he has better credentials. For now, he has received the support of 20 north-west senators, 13 south-west senators and all three from his state Yobe, making a total of 36 votes in his kitty.

Though President-elect Buhari doesn’t want to interfere in the affairs of the Senate, he obviously won’t back anyone with cases pending at the EFCC. Saraki still has questions pertaining to the collapse of Societe General Bank and how he governed Kwara State between 2003 and 2011 to answer.

Where would support for Saraki come from then? [I asked President Jonathan the same question before the presidential election.] Is it from PDP senators who are livid over Saraki’s role in the formation of G7 and “new PDP” (nPDP)? Is it from APC senators most of whom prefer someone that has always been in the opposition? And where is the fairness in letting another Yoruba head the Senate when a Yoruba will be vice-president and another Yoruba may be House speaker?

Needless to say, the matter will soon be settled on the floor of the Senate. Quoting fictitious numbers and claiming endorsements on the pages of newspapers won’t decide the winner. There would have been no friction in selecting the Senate president if the south-east had produced even one APC senator.

North-west, south-west for Lawan
Following in the footsteps of the south-west caucus, the north-west caucus of the Senate endorsed the candidacy of Lawan for president of the 8th Nigerian Senate.
At a meeting of the north-west caucus co-chaired by Abu Ibrahim (Katsina), Kabiru Gaya (Kano) and Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), which was attended by 18 of the 21 senators from the zone, in Abuja, the senators unanimously resolved to support Lawan from Yobe North in the north-east.
A source at the north-west meeting said that the senators adopted Lawan because of his integrity: he has no case with the EFCC, he has been consistent in opposition from 1999, and therefore experienced. “We feel he is the right person that can drive the change agenda of the incoming Buhari administration,” the source said. “Moreover, he has never held any executive position.”
Senator Lawan is currently chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts and credited with standing his ground in holding the executive arm accountable. He was in the House of Reps from 1999 to 2007 and has been in the Senate since 2007. Before 1999, he was a lecturer.
His home zone (north-east) has not endorsed anybody yet. Nor have PDP senators spoken with one voice. But, with his endorsement by the south-west and north-West, Lawan is almost certain to emerge Senate president in June.

The struggle for Senate president will eventually end at the Senate chambers where the senators will elect their leaders themselves through voting. Before then, however, Lawan would have got the backing of a majority. The PDP, already broken in pieces, is not likely to gang up against a popular APC candidate like Lawan and support one of its own (a former member of the PDP). Senators from the south-east may also back a candidate from the north-east because both regions have cried out against marginalisation.