By Adekunle Oketunbi
For every political intercourse, there is an expectation that the goodwill or favour must balance itself over time or amass commensurate returns. Whether pronounced or subdued, reciprocity, a negotiating tool whereby different political interests bargain with each other for equivalent treatment, is a deeply ingrained concept in local and international politics. In most cases, reciprocity is the outgrowth of political expediency and exigencies.
In informal parlance, you may call it ‘You scratch my back and I will scratch yours’. Nothing is cast in stone though. Deliverables and returns are what rule and reign in many political dealings. This stance is also accentuated by the bible (in Luke 12:48) that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’ which is a candid reminder by God that you should give back as much as you receive.
For instance, the big donors in American politics are not necessarily looking for political appointments; they just want access and the ability to influence policies. In Nigeria, the situation is slightly similar, just that expectations of ‘democratic dividends’ are higher, especially, as a new administration prepares for inauguration on May 29.
The topical issue is the demand by the northwest to be given the first right of refusal to the office of the President of the Senate in the 10th National Assembly, convening this June. The northwest is one of the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria comprising seven states – Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa, Sokoto, and Zamfara.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, three states in the region – Kano, Kaduna, and Katsina – rank among the top 10 in the list of states with the highest number of registered voters.
Kano State, number two on the list after Lagos, has 5,921,370 registered voters. Kaduna and Katsina have 4,335,208 and 3,516,719 registered voters respectively. Altogether, the northwest has a total number of 22, 255, 562 voters. The closest to it is the Southwest with 17, 958, 966. The gulf is, indeed, wide and almost unassailable.
A bit of recent historical backgrounding would suffice here. After contesting the presidential election in 2003, 2007, and 2011 and losing on the three occasions, President Muhammadu Buhari’s party, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, entered into an alliance with the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, founded by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to form the All Progressives Congress, APC, in 2014.
Instructively, in all the elections he contested prior, Buhari never got less than 12million votes from his Northwest base except for 2007. The late Umaru Yar’Adua, who won the 2007 presidential election did affirm publicly that it was not free and fair.
So, the Northwest always comes through for its own. And, it did effectively in 2015, when the formidable APC coalition of Buhari’s Northwest and Tinubu’s Southwest defeated the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, after 16 uninterrupted years in power. It was unprecedented that the PDP lost the election despite the bluster of one of its founding fathers that they would remain in power for 60years.
Life has a way of turning full circle. Tinubu, candidate of the APC in the 2023 presidential election, is now the president-elect, courtesy of the magnanimity and loyalty of the Northwest, which gave him the highest votes in the election followed by the southwest. Without the former, therefore, there would not be a Tinubu presidency.
As the countdown for the inauguration of the National Assembly leadership gathers steam, it is instructive that the sweetheart romance between the two regions is lubricated and jealously protected at all cost, considering that the battle for control in the legislature is usually contentious and fraught with implications for the future of the nation.
More than ever in the history of Nigeria’s democratic transition, gladiators in the incoming government, particularly, the senators are already flexing their muscles. Consultations have begun in earnest.
Those who believe that President Buhari is the key to their victory have visited to intimate him of their aspirations. Those who consider the president-elect as the ultimate decider have been circling and romancing his associates, aides, and advisers.
Ranking senators in the party like Senators Godswill Akpabio, Orji Uzor Kalu, Osita Izunaso, and Jibrin Barau, have all thrown their hats in the ring and are reaching out even beyond the APC to convert senators-elect from other parties to support their aspirations. Akpabio has even gone a step further by adopting Barau as his deputy.
Even first-timers like Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, and former Governors Adams Oshiomhole and Abdulaziz Yari are not shying away from having a shot at the senate presidency. So heated is the polity becoming over leadership positions in the incoming 10th Assembly that the APC, through its National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, was recently forced to denounce the zoning permutations being peddled in the media.
According to Morka, “The party has yet to zone positions of leadership of the 10th National Assembly. Any decisions made in that regard will be duly communicated via the party’s official information channels.”
The legislature is perhaps the most important organ of government and it is the one vested with the powers to make new laws or change existing laws. A vibrant, representative, and proactive legislature is essential to a strong and stable democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and economic and social development.
Above all, getting the right leadership for the legislature cannot be overstated. Thus, whether Muslim or Mormon, Christian or Hindu, the leadership of the legislature must be hinged on experience and competence and the ability to enthrone and entrench good governance, not some puerile or primitive considerations.
Alas, the Northwest region has never produced a Senate President. Two senators-elect from the zone – the current chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Jibrin representing Kano-North district; and former governor Yari – are vying for the seat.
While the APC Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket was widely pilloried during electioneering, it is understandable that the party will be reluctant to give the third highest political office in the federation to another Muslim.
The emergent issue of religion should, however, be discarded swiftly because the APC must adopt the law of reciprocity and give the region commensurate positions in the 10th Assembly to continue to maintain a strong foothold in the northwest.
It cannot afford to do otherwise because four years is just around the corner and whoever hopes to win the majority votes cast must be deemed to have favoured or will be seen to be disposed to favouring that influential region.
Like Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, the former governor of Lagos State and Minister of Works and Housing once said in defence of the hounding by his successor, “May our loyalty not be tested.”
Denying the Northwest the senate leadership will be akin to testing the loyalty of the region and its people, and ultimately, it would come with dire political consequences.
-Oketunbiworks and lives in Abuja, the FCT.
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