stanley nkwocha

Intense lobbying for the position of the Senate president’s seat has been the focal point of political discussions since the National Assembly elections held on March 28. STANLEY NKOCHA writes on the intrigues, power play and likely candidates shaping the race.Mark

That a new order has been enthroned in the political system of the country, especially as it affects the leadership of the National Assembly, is not in doubt. The recent majority status attained by the All Progress Congress (APC) after gaining majority votes at the just concluded National Assembly elections, ensured this new order.

As it is, no soothsayer is needed to state that realignments of positions and offices will take place to enable the new order take its due course.

The eighth senate session of the National Assembly would take off early June, 2015, after it must have been proclaimed by the clerk of the assembly, who would preside over the elections of the four presiding officers of the two chambers of Nigeria’s highest lawmaking body namely: senate president, speaker, deputy senate president and the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.

Suffice to say that, with the president and vice president from the North-west and South-west respectively, the positions up for grab in the National Assembly would be filled by the North-central and North-east geo political zones. The South-south and South-east are as it stands, out of the contest, following the inability of the two zones to return any ranking member of the two chambers of the National Assembly under the platform of the APC.

It is important to note that the standing rules of the Senate gives preference to seniority of senators for the positions of senate and deputy senate presidents. In fact, it bars new members from aspiring to hold these positions. This is so because, in the wisdom of the Senate, only senators with cognate parliamentary experience can effectively lead the upper legislative chamber and examples are drawn from advance democracies like the United States of America as well as India.Senate

The seniority/ranking factor was first tasted in 2007 when the current senate president, David Mark, first contested the number three position in order of protocol against the current senate minority leader, Senator George Akume and defeated him even though ranking was not yet included in the senate’s standing rules. But within the life of that very assembly, under the leadership of David Mark, it was imperative to insert the clause in the standing rules of the red chamber so as to properly guide lawmakers and possibly limit the contest to only experienced senators for effective leadership.

It was then first applied as a written rule in 2011 when the likes of Senator Danjuma Goje from Gombe State, who was elected into the senate for the first term, was prevailed upon to drop his ambition to vie for the office of the senate president, hence David Mark, from the ruling PDP emerged unopposed.

As the race for the Senate presidency hots up, and with APC winning the majority seats in the senate, the North-west and South-west having produced the president and Commander-In-Chief and, vice president respectively, it is a direct contest between the North-central and the North-east, featuring Senate minority leader, George Akume, who would be returning to the Senate the third time and Senator Bukola Saraki, who would be making a second return to the red chamber from Benue and Kwara States respectively, from the North-central zone.

From the North-east, it would be between Senator Ahmed Lawan (Yobe) and Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe). Both would be coming back the third time as well as Danjuma Goje from Gombe State who would be returning a second time.

Given the standard set by the president of the Senate, David Mark, in the last eight years as chairman of the National Assembly, his dexterity and deep understanding of the legislative procedures as well as the ability to navigate through tough political terrains to bridge the gap between parliament and executive have placed him in a class of his own. The need for a senate president that is humble, a team player, stabiliser as well as one that is respected amongst his colleagues, irrespective of political party differences, is the task before the APC which is expected to zero in on a candidate as consensus and avoid elections.

Therefore, as the build up to the inauguration of the eighth National Assembly gets under way, three names have prominently featured in the calculations and permutations for the senate presidency and deputy senate president. They include the Senate minority leader, Senator George Akume (Benue ); Senator Ahmed Lawan (Yobe) and Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki (Kwara). SenateSenator George Akume Senator Akume is the current Senate minority leader from Benue State. He was first elected into the Senate on the platform of the PDP in 2007 and secured a second term under the platform of the defunct ACN now APC in 2011. He will be returning to the red chamber for the third time.

He was a former governor of Benue State between 1999 and 2007. It would be recalled that Senator Akume laid the structure for the opposition in the state through the enormous goodwill he enjoyed and still enjoys from the people of the state. He is a well-respected member of the Nigerian parliament among his colleagues. He is a team player with robust relationship at all levels. His eight years in the parliament has equipped him for the job of Senate presidency and that huge experience would certainly come to bear. He is also in the good books of the APC leadership at the national level. Senator Akume is favoured by the zoning arrangement and party strength in the senate. Senator Akume is a Christian.

Senator Ahmed Lawan.

A former member of the House of Representatives, Senator Lawan was first elected into the Senate in 2007 and since then, he has been the chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts. He is also a well respected parliamentarian and a team player as well. He is said to be thorough in his dealings. Senator Lawan has not held any leadership position at the level of the executive but he has spent more years in the parliament cumulatively than Akume and Saraki. Some analysts have argued that senator Ahmed, who hails from Yobe State is well favoured by the zoning arrangement bearing in mind that the North-east zone has not produced the Senate president since the advent of democracy in 1999. Some are, however, of the view that the emergence of Ahmed as Senate president would narrow the space in the zoning of the offices of the speaker, deputy senate president and deputy speaker, particularly while considering religious factor. He is a Muslim.

Senator Bukola Saraki

Senator Saraki, a former governor of kwara State between 2003 and 2011, was first elected a senator in 2011 under the platform of the PDP. He would be returning to the Senate for the second term under the APC platform having decamped from the PDP earlier. Well favoured by the zoning arrangement, he is also qualified as a ranking senator who is said to be brilliant and well composed. He is also respected among his colleagues. He is a Yoruba Muslim.

An analyst highly conversant with the workings of the National Assembly, Andrew Oota asserts that except a choice is carefully made, it may be difficult balancing the religious interest in the National Assembly and polity at present as the APC has received several bashings in this respect in the past.

Pundits are of the same opinion that should Senator Bukola Saraki emerge Senate president from the North-central zone as a Yoruba Muslim, it would be difficult to balance the religious factor in the North-east, since all the senators from that region are Muslims unlike the House of Representatives where a ranking member, Representative Yakubu Dogara is a Christian from Bauchi.

It is therefore said in many quarters that the emergence of Senator Akume from the North-central would be the sure way of expanding the options for the APC in both chambers, having put all considerations in place.

As intense lobbying and consultations are ongoing, it would not be long before the clear favorites emerge. It is expected that a consensus arrangement may be adopted in chosing the leaders as the APC may not be open to election, which is always known to provide room for divisions in every hitherto peaceful political party.

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