By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

Who will take over from David
Mark as Senate president? Is the All Progressives Congress (APC) ready for the challenge and will it have a smooth sail in its bid to install the new Senate president? Will the unity in the party be intact after a new Senate has emerged or will it come out with a battered image? Can the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), that is going into the minority in the next Senate put up a surprise to clinch the Senate presidency? Will the APC observe federal character as enshrined in the Constitution in its choice for the Senate leadership. Will the ruling party allow democracy to prevail by allowing senators to produce their leaders without influence. These and more questions must be answered by the APC in the next two to three days.

Tension is high. There is alignment and realignment of forces as senators get set to elect their principal officers to pilot the affairs of the 8th Senate.

The gladiators and their lieutenants know no night as all energy and resources are channelled towards ensuring the project is a fait accompli.
With the results of the general elections, APC, that was in the minority in the 7th Senate, will now form the leadership of the Senate. The APC, in the elections won 60 of the 109 members to constitute the majority.

There is the argument that the position of the Senate President may likely go to the North-East where the former governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje; Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Ahmad Lawan; and a former Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Senator Ali Ndume, come from, or the North Central, which holds the position presently and where Senators Bukola Saraki, George Akume and Barnabas Gemade hail from. However, the APC leadership, saddled with the responsibility of producing which zone gets what, seems to be confused on how to handle it in the face of the pressure by some heavy weight in the party to influence who gets the Senate presidency.

Saraki has been described as a foremost contender for the Senate top job as he is said to have been interested in the position even in the 7th Senate. He has the charisma to lead the parliament, but it appears certain factors may work against him, which include his relationship with the present occupant of the seat. It is insinuated that if incumbent Senator David Mark is not going to contest, he will not be comfortable with Saraki as the Senate President going by the intrigues that played out in the Senate.

Besides, some have alleged that the core North will not also surrender the post to Saraki because of his parental background as he is seen by some as of Yoruba stock than the North.

Akume is said to be intellectually sound and articulate while Lawan is one of the senators passionate on issues concerning the North and this may likely affect him as some look at him as a tribal irredentist. However, Lawan, has the intellectual acumen and capability to pilot the affairs of the Senate if handed the leadership of the red chamber.

Ndume also may be considered for the position of Senate President. Though he may not be among the topmost contenders, a senator from the North-Central, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ndume has the qualities to be the Senate President.

He also has good relationship with Mark, and if the PDP senators decide to surrender the position for the APC, they will be comfortable with somebody who is cool headed and who will also give respect to the present presiding officers heading to become ordinary senators in the 8th Senate unless there is a dramatic turn of events.

Although four senators initially showed interest in contesting for the seat, two to three days to elect the new Senate President, the contest has been reduced to a two-man-affair. It is now between Saraki, from Kwara State in the North-Central, and Lawan, from Yobe State, North-East.
Ndume, from the North-East, has not withdrawn his interest. He, however, has collapsed his structure with Saraki, on the premise that if the leadership of the APC decides to zone the position to the North Central, he will support the candidature of Saraki and possibly become the deputy Senate president to Saraki. It was further gathered that if the APC changes its mind from the initial zoning of the position to North-Central to

North East, Saraki will reciprocate by supporting Ndume.
The Senate presidency race has inevitably divided the APC into two camps. The first is The Like Minds coordinated by a former member of House of Representatives and senator-elect representing Kogi West, Dino Melaye and majority of former governors now in the Senate, while the second group, the Unity Forum, is headed by Gemade, a former National Chairman of the PDP who dumped the party for the APC. The Unity Forum is backing the candidature of Lawan and Akume who, after addressing journalists that he was the most qualified candidate to occupy the Senate presidency, withdrew from the race to settle as deputy to Lawan.

It is alleged that the somersault Akume made only hours, after declaring himself as the most fit for the job, was as a result of the influence of godfathers in the party who pressed him to step down for their preferred candidate, Lawan.

The election of the Senate President and the zoning of political positions by the leadership of the APC has become an acid test that is threatening the mega party.

There are about five blocs in the APC: former Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, the All Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP, and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, led by the Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha as well the ‘Rebels’ from the PDP who joined the APC under the name, New PDP, and parading Saraki and Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the immediate past governor of Rivers State. All the blocs are scheming for positions in the party.

The intrigues
Even though President Muhammadu Buhari, in his inaugural speech, said he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody, there are some persons described as heavy weights in the APC.

There is no way APC will be mentioned without the likes of Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, coming up. There are insinuations that Tinubu is behind the candidature of Lawan even though he was said to have assured Akume before now that he will succeed Mark.

There is the claim that he wants Lawan to become Senate President as there is the belief in some quarters that if Saraki emerges, he will not take orders from anybody.

The APC leader is also said to be in control of senators from the South-West and there is commitment that the senators should queue behind Lawan.

Apart from the influence of Tinubu, who also played prominent role in the emergence of Buhari, right from the APC presidential primary, there is, according to analysts, some form of agreement by the Hausa/Fulani to ensure that Lawan becomes the Senate President as compensation for his role in championing the cause of his people.

Why I want to be the Senate President——Lawan

Meanwhile, speaking on his bid for the Senate President, Lawan said, “The Senate everywhere in the world is known to be the stabilising chamber in every democracy. Thank God I have been in the Senate in the last eight years after my eight-year sojourn in the House of Representatives.
“I believe that this time, the 8th Senate should be a Senate where independence of legislature will be a key thing and cooperative governance and partnership with the executive arm of government would be enhanced. We have had about eight years of stability in the Senate and that is a thing that I would build on.

“On the independence of legislature, until we are able to be independent of the executive, we cannot properly position ourselves to undertake our responsibilities and discharge our mandate.

“There is need for us to always build consensus in the 8th Senate and you will agree with me that the 8th Senate is unlike any other Senate in the history of Nigeria. That is because you have 59 APC Senators and 49 PDP Senators in opposition. The gap is narrow and that calls for consensus building and cooperation in and among Senators for anything meaningful to be achieved by the Senate.

“So, I intend to always build consensus between the two sides. I always believe that the we must cooperate with the executive arm of government. Until there is cooperation between us based on mutual respect and understanding, we may not achieve much.

“I recall in my first time in the House of Representatives, there was too much power tussle in the legislature particularly the House then and the executive arm of government and nothing was achieved. We do not want to see the repeat. Yet, the National Assembly must not be a rubber stamp.

“I also believe the cost of government is high and the level of corruption, intolerable. We will join the President-elect to fight corruption and all corrupt tendencies through legislation to ensure that whatever resources we are able to get is judiciously utilized rather than ending in private pockets.”

Gemade said Lawan was the only one that two zones went out, publicly held meetings and endorsed. He was endorsed by the South-West and North-est caucuses of the party.

According to him, the South West has 13 senators and the North West has 20 members under APC and no person from the zones had come out to deny that he did not endorse Lawan.

However, it appears that the Unity Forum excluded senators from the South-East and South-South who are all PDP members apart from one person from Edo, but Gemade said that the Unity Forum did not exclude anyone, rather it was only for APC senators-elect working for Lawan.

As the scramble for the Senate top seat continues, there is another group silent but watching with keen interest the APC. This is the PDP. The party has 49 senators and if there is serious division in the APC, the PDP, if organised with its numerical strength, may snatch power from the APC..

The future of the APC will be made clearer the way it handles the zoning of the Senate presidency and the more there is delay, the more it creates more crisis and the more individual interest is made paramount over the collective interest of the party, the more there will be trouble.

Whatever is the case, June 9 (Tuesday) is the date the Senate President is likely to emerge and the date will determine the future and stability of the Senate.

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