Less than a week after the successful performance of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the March 28 presidential and National Assembly elections, the jostling for the office of the next Senate president has begun in earnest. For now, it is a two-horse race, Omololu Ogunmade writes
The outcome of March 28 presidential election has completely altered the composition of Nigeria’s political structures since 1999. Accordingly, the next tenure that will take-off on May 29 will witness a total repositioning of the entire political landscape.
Hence, the unfolding development will witness the exit of the hitherto ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which had boasted of its uncommon capacity to rule Nigeria for 60 consecutive years, from power. Thus, the party which has occupied the political scene for 16 unbroken years from May 29 take its place as an opposition political party. This underscores the maxim that change remains the only constant factor in life. Against this background, while the commencement of a new tenure will see the hitherto opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) forming the ruling party at the centre, the PDP will descend from its majority status to the minority caucus in the Senate.
Mark, Ekweremadu as Victims
This PDP’s defeat in last week’s poll has already truncated the third time ambition of incumbent Senate President David Mark to return to the exalted seat as Senate’s helmsman in June. Although Mark won his re-election in a resounding form, polling over 90,000 votes to defeat his opponent who scored over 50,000 votes, his party has lost the majority strength to produce the next Senate President.
Hence, Mark, one of the only two survivors of the 109 senators who were elected into the Senate in 1999 can only remain in the Senate from June as a floor member if he chooses to stay. His only contemporary from the fourth Senate between 1999 and 2003, Senator Bello Gwarzo, the incumbent chief whip, was mercilessly crushed at the Kano South senatorial election on March 28, scoring just over 850 votes against his opponent’s massive votes at the election.
But Mark’s situation will not be different from that of his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu West), who will also lose his eight years’ status as deputy Senate President in June. Ekweremadu and his counterpart in Delta South, James Manager, will be the only two survivors of the group of senators who were elected into the fifth National Assembly in 2003 that will also be part of the Eight Senate in June.
The Emerging New Order
With the APC winning the majority seats in the parliament at the March 28 National Assembly election, the seeming invincibility of PDP’s majority status in the Senate since 1999 has finally been broken.
Therefore, the PDP having lost its majority status has equally lost the unwritten conventional right to produce the next Senate president which has been its lot since the take-off of this democratic experiment 16 years ago.
Hence, the results of last Saturday’s senatorial election showed that PDP won only 48 Senate seats while the opposition APC won 61. Of the 48 seats won by the PDP, five were from the South-west, viz: Ogun East, Ondo South, Ekiti Central, Ekiti North and Ekiti South.
However, the PDP won 17 out of the 18 senatorial seats in the South-south, losing only a seat in Edo North to APC. The PDP, nevertheless, cleared the entire 15 senatorial seats in the South-east while it performed abysmally in North-west and North-east. Whereas it won only one seat in North-west (Kaduna South), it cleared the three senatorial seats in Taraba States and won only one seat each in Gombe and Yobe States.
In North-central, PDP won only five seats. These include the entire three senatorial seats in Plateau State and a seat each in Benue and Nasarawa States.
Therefore with the APC having the majority status in the eight Senate, the jostling to produce the next Senate president begun last week among the APC senators. There were unconfirmed rumours before the election that the APC leadership had conceded the office of the Senate president to Senator Bukola Saraki (Kwara Central).
It has been noted that it will not be enough for APC to merely produce the next Senate President but it will only be worthwhile if the party can produce a brilliant Senate President in the semblance of the outgoing presiding officer, Mark. Besides, the party is expected to equally produce someone who is an epitome of integrity to occupy the office of the Senate President.
Thus, it has been possible for Mark to make history as the first Senate president to occupy the office for eight consecutive years without being met with a single attempt of impeachment because he combined uncommon features of huge administrative and legislative experience with brilliance, courage, wisdom and integrity.
In bringing integrity to bear, Mark quickly discovered upon ascending the office in 2007 that five Senate presidents had emerged between 1999 and 2007 partly because of their inability to avoid ‘banana peels’ which characterised legislative activities during the period. For instance, some of his predecessors fell after stepping on the proverbial banana peels such as Christmas and Sallah rams while others were brought into disrepute by bribe-for-budget scam. But Mark, upon his ascension to the office immediately cleansed the Augean stable and shut the Senate against such peels. This accounts for why he has not been caught in any scandal that could have brought him down from his lofty heights.
Whereas he had a serious opponent in 2007, he was returned unopposed in 2011 because he had warmed his way into the hearts of his colleagues as the best man for the job. It was this level of popularity which prompted him to resolve to take yet another shot at the March 28 election believing that his pedigree has remained intact. All those permutations have now been altered.
Besides, Mark’s huge legislative experience has been unrivalled among his colleagues. Thus, he has more often than not proved beyond reasonable doubt that he is knowledgeable enough to occupy the office in the face of several forms of ignorance being displayed by his colleagues. He has against this backdrop, had to guide them more often than not about the procedure to follow in handling issues at stake.
Mark has also always demonstrated the spirit of patience while presiding over the Senate affairs. He would ensure that he gave his colleagues enormous time to air their grievances even though his ruling would eventually neutralise their presentations in the end. Hence, Nigerians await a Senate President who will be a round peg in a round hole and not the one that will be guided on the platform from the floor while presiding.
Independent observers therefore believe that the emergence of a Senate president will do the party and the nation more harm than good if they fail to produce a brilliant, wise, charismatic, patriotic and non-controversial individuals as the next Senate president.
While the South-south succeeded in producing only one senator-elect from Edo North at the last election, the party will not be represented at all in the South-east in the next Senate following the loss of Senator Chris Ngige (Anambra Central) to Uche Ekwunife of the PDP at penultimate Saturday’s election.
Therefore, the party’s poor performance in the South-east and South-south may have already foreclosed the chance of either of the two regions producing the next Senate President. Hence, the race is now being contested by the South-west, North-central and North-east. There is not yet a contender from the North-west possibly because the president-elect, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.), hails from this region.
Therefore, from the results of the last National Assembly election, the race cannot be a game of number among the contending zones because each of the three zones has equal numerical strength having produced 13 senators-elect each. There are also fears that if the APC chooses to adopt PDP’s zoning idea in producing the next Senate president as against employing the principle of merit, the best candidate may be shut out in the end. It is therefore yet to be seen if the party’s leadership will adopt the same approach it used to produce its presidential candidate in producing the next Senate President.
Before the presidential primary, the party had said it did not believe in zoning and hence opened its door for every aspirant from any part of the country to participate in the contest. Therefore, the race turned out to be the survival of the fittest and elimination of the unfit. Will the party repeat this approach in producing the next Senate President? Only time will tell.
Contenders for the Office
At the last count, seven senators from the three zones have thrown their hats into the ring. They are Senators George Akume, Senate Minority Leader (Benue North-west); Bukola Saraki, a former Kwara State governor (Kwara Central); Olusola Adeyeye, a vocal senator and professor of Molecular Biology (Osun Central); and Danjuma Goje, a former Gombe State governor (Gombe Central). Others are Senators Ahmad Lawan, a former university don (Yobe North), Ali Ndume, a former House of Representatives Minority Leader (Borno South) and a former House of Representatives Deputy Speaker, Usman Nafada (Gombe North).
Party sources however told THISDAY that Saraki and Akume, both former governors, are the front-runners. Saraki, 52, son of Second Republic Senate Leader, Late Dr. Olusola Saraki, served as Kwara State governor for eight years. He was elected into the Senate at the end of his two-term tenure in 2011 on the platform of PDP. A medical doctor by training, Saraki, who is also the Turaki of Ilorin Emirate, was the rallying figure for the members of the ‘New PDP’ – a faction that broke out of the ruling party following its mini convention of 2013 – in the Senate that later joined APC. Akume, 61, served as governor of Benue State for eight years and was elected into the Senate on the platform of the PDP in 2007. He later returned to the Senate in 2011 on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He is currently the minority leader of the Senate.
Already, the North Central zone has demanded for the slot. Interestingly, the zone is believed to have played the role of a ‘game-changer’ in penultimate week’s presidential election as it delivered the North-central zone, which had since 1999 been the stronghold of PDP, to APC. Apart from Plateau and Nasarawa which voted for PDP in the Presidential election, Kwara, Kogi, Niger and Benue delivered huge votes for the APC, a development that rendered useless the pre-election calculations of the ruling party to use the votes of North Central to check that of the South-west.
The North-east geo-political zone which produced 13 senators-elect at the last election has also demanded for the zoning of the office of the Senate President to the region. The party cleared the three senatorial seats in Borno, Adamawa and Bauchi States while Gombe and Yobe produced two senators each. The zone claimed that it had hitherto been marginalised and therefore should be compensated with the office.
But analysts are of the view that Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whose South-west zone also clinched 13 senatorial seats in penultimate week election would play a deciding role in who eventually emerges as Mark’s successor because of his influence within the party and among lawmakers. THISDAY gathered that the key gladiators are already seeking his support and endorsement in order to realise their aspiration of presiding over the upper chamber.
The next few weeks will witness how the intrigues on the emergence of the next Senate president will play out.