President Abraham Lincoln was bidding for another term of office in the final days of the American civil war in 1864. He shocked the war-torn nation by dropping his Vice President and fellow Republican, Hannibal Hamlin, and chose Andrew Johnson, a ‘War Democrat’ from Tennessee, as his running mate. American Historians adduce two major reasons for this. The very bloody American civil war divided the country between the Union (the US national government and the 23 free states and five states at the border that supported it) and the Confederate States of America (11 states in the South that opposed the Union). With victory over the Confederacy/South now almost a fait accompli, Lincoln wanted to demonstrate leniency and that all he was after was America’s unity, not conquest and retribution.
A statesman, Lincoln was also thinking ahead about the post-war reconstruction. A Southern Vice President would serve as a foothold, Tennessee would serve as a gateway to the South, while a Democrat would put both parties on the same page in ending the war, in reconstruction, and reintegration. Lincoln even went on to temporarily rename Republican Party the National Union Party for the purpose of that election.
Although the Nigerian 2015 presidential election was not a war in the true sense of it, it bore quite some semblance of it. The propaganda, the manipulation of ethno-religious and sectional sentiments was just too high. It turned citizens against one another, with a great number fleeing to their regions. The tension was palpable and choking, and Nigerians feared for the worst.
Thank God for that singular patriotic congratulatory phone call from former President Goodluck Jonathan to President Muhammadu Buhari, which pulled Nigeria from the brinks and deflated the ballooning trepidation.
Ordinarily, the greatest task before a post-2015 election Nigerian government (whether APC or PDP) should have been to take immediate steps to reunite Nigerians; to deploy the virtues of equal opportunity, fair treatment, accommodation, and forgiveness (if voting for a different party is indeed a sin) to enthrone a higher order of patriotism, loyalty, and national followership.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo used the National Unity Government to knit a fragmented nation together at the dawn of the new democratic era. A leading member of the opposition, Chief Bola Ige, became the Minister of Power even though Obasanjo performed poorly in the South West. Obasanjo/PDP saw the overriding need to dilute the bad blood brewed by the annulment of June 12 presidential election and the ugly events that followed it. In 2011, PDP also zoned the Speakership of the House of Representatives to the South West despite performing poorly there.
In comtemporary America, President Barrack Obama has appointed at least 18 Republicans, including Robert Gates (Secretary of Defence 2009-2011) and John McHugh (Secretary of the Army), Chuck Hagel (Secretary of Defence 2013-2015), Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve 2010-2014), and Jon Huntsman Jr. (Ambassador to China 2009-2011) into key positions.
The truth is that a country dies when it dies in the hearts of her citizens. She dies slowly and painfully when it evokes only indifference and indignation among any section of the citizenry. As Senator Ekweremadu has often pointed out, even before the 2015 polls, global experiences show that a people who feel unjustly treated and alienated would never be interested in peace or in contributing their quota to national development. The resurgence of Biafra consciousness in the South-East and South-South as well as the rebirth of militancy in the Niger Delta may well lay credence to this.
Now, whether it was by mere coincidence that both the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, and his Deputy, Ekweremadu, were born the same year (1962), one cannot tell. But their emergence as presiding officers of the 8th Senate was more like God going out of his way to do for us that which we could not really sit down to do for ourselves. After all, as it is often said, God is a Nigerian.
Although the South-East and South-South regions voted overwhelmingly for the PDP and rejected the APC, their electoral choices do not make them less Nigerian, and indeed an important part of Nigeria. For one, oil revenue, the lifeblood of the nation flows from their territories. Again,although it is now the minority party, PDP still commands a strong representation that almost equals the numerical strength of the ruling APC in the Senate.
Ekweremadu’s emergence, therefore, partly filled a big hollow that could have occurred in running a vast country like ours without the South-South/South-East in any principal position. It also partly solved the challenge of accommodating a potent force like the PDP.
Unfortunately, for the bi-partisan Senate leadership, which Ekweremadu’s emergence created, the sea has been anything but calm. Yet, the good thing is that Saraki and Ekweremadu have so far jointly and successfully waded through the stormy, muddy, shark-infested political waters, charting a trajectory for a more resourceful Senate in the past 365 days. For Ekweremadu in particular, the past one year has put paid to some outlandish lies, misconceptions, misgivings, and mischiefs peddled by propagandists at his emergence.
First, it is common knowledge now that it is not anathema to be elected a presiding officer from the opposition/minority party as Section 50 of the 1999 Constitutions shows. It has additionally emerged that even before Ekweremadu’s re-election, the APC had earlier in the same June, produced the Speakers of the Benue and Plateau Houses of Assembly even as minority parties in both Assemblies. There was also an antecedent in the 7th National Assembly.
Furthermore, Ekweremadu has shown that a Deputy President of the Senate of the opposition stock does not necessarily have to work against President Buhari or and APC’s programmes- so long as they are in Nigeria’s interest. The Saraki-Ekweremadu-led Senate has so far given all needed corporation without necessarily being a rubber stamp. They have even got the Senate to bend backwards on certain matters, including the 2016 National Budget.
Additionally, the PDP Caucus in the National Assembly has proven itself a most responsible opposition; one that understands that the Federal Government is one and concerns itself with the welfare of Nigerians. Citizens face the same challenges, irrespective of party affiliations. There are currently no separate tomatoes markets or foodstuff markets or exchange rates for those who voted for Change and those who voted against it.
Ekweremadu declared in a recent interview: “As PDP, we are Nigerians and we love Nigeria as well. We are not going to hinge our return on the failure of the APC. No. Certainly, we want APC to succeed. We would like APC to succeed in the interest of Nigeria.”
Only recently, the PDP took the lead, even ahead of the APC, in praying for Buhari’s quick recovery as he embarked on London medical trip. Ekweremadu who led the prayer at Wadata Plaza prayed in part: “Father, you give power to whom you have chosen. This your servant, General Buhari, you have made him our President today. Father, may it please you to give him good health. Whatever is afflicting him, father, we are appealing to you to stretch your healing hands and make him whole again”.
Ekweremadu has also shown a high level of neutrality and patriotism expected of a presiding officer. The high point was during the ministerial screening when all PDP Senators, except Ekweremadu, stormed out of the chamber to protest the decision of the Senate to go ahead to screen former Governor Rotimi Amechi despite indictment by a Rivers State panel over alleged corruption. As another PDP Senator later explained, it did not necessarily mean that Ekweremadu was not on the same page with his party, but he is a presiding officer of the Senate, not that of the PDP.
Again, just as Ekweremadu’s total loyalty to Senator David Mark enthroned unparalleled stability in the 6th and 7th Senate, he has also shown unalloyed loyalty to Senator Saraki. He has continued to weather the storm with him and in the efforts ongoing efforts to reconcile contending interests within the Senate. In the ongoing Code of Conduct Tribunal trial, Ekweremadu, along with other Senators, have displayed courage and solidarity for their President, standing staunchly together in defence of the independence of the legislature.
Saraki, in his goodwill message to Ekweremadu on his 54th birthday in May, described his Deputy as “dependable, solid, and progressive”. This can indeed be rightly deemed as Ekweremadu’s one-year report card. Ekweremadu has truly shown that though tongues and parties may differ, our national needs are virtually the same.therefore, it behooves our political leaders, across party lines, to fold their sleeves up and work concertedly to lift the nation from her humongous challenges. A man whose house is on fire does not go chasing rats about.
By Uche Anichukwu
Anichukwu is Special Adviser on Media to Deputy President of the Senate