By KAYODE ODUNARO
THE struggle for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly has dominated the media space for weeks on end following the conclusion of the 2023 plebiscites. With the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, managing slim majority among a variegated political parties’ representation in the two chambers of the National Assembly, it was clear that the competition for the presiding officers promises to be fierce. The usual dominance of a ruling party and a dominant opposition party is now history.
The Senate as well as the House of Representatives are now to be populated by a rainbow membership from APC, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; Labour Party, LP; Social Democratic Party, SDP; All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA; and Young Progressive Party, YPP. It is, therefore, not surprising that the struggle and politics of electing the presiding officers would not only be fierce but intriguing from whatever dynamics and factors that shaped the struggle in times past.
From all indications, the front runners in the Senate race for president of the Senate are Senator Godswill Akpabio, a lawyer, former commissioner, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, former Minority Leader of the Senate and former minister; Senator Jubrin Barau, the incumbent Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation; Senator-elect Abdul Aziz Yari, a former House of Representatives member and former governor of Zamfara State; and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State and incumbent Chief Whip of the Senate. Others are Senator Dave Umahi, a senator-elect and immediate former governor of Ebonyi State; Senator Musa Sani, a second term member of the Senate and Chairman of Senate Services Committee; and Senator Osita Izunaso, a second term senator who was also a one-time APC National Organising Secretary.
From the onset, it was clear that the President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and APC with a majority membership of the Senate, was going to have a big say in what eventually pans out on the election of the presiding officers of the 10th National Assembly. From the experience of the ruling party in 2015 and thereafter, it was a no-brainer that both President and APC National Working Committee would not be ringside observers. Soon enough, the ruling party came out with its preferred position on the presiding officers of the Red and Green Chambers of the 10th National Assembly.
In what was a definitive position that has shaped the race, APC NWC zoned the President of the Senate to South-South, with Senator Akpabio as its preferred candidate and the Deputy Senate President was zoned to North West with Senator Jubrin Barau as its preferred candidate. Similar arrangement came for the Green Chamber of the House of Representatives with Tajudeen Abass from North-West as its Speaker designate and Benjamin Kalu from South-East as Deputy Speaker designate. The APC NWC had announced that its decision was based on consultations with the then President-elect and other party leaders on these critical issues with an unprecedented multi-party national parliament.
As is to be expected in a polity with individuals nursing personal ambitions, not a few elected members of the parties and others protested the zoning arrangements of the APC for the presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly. Some that are against the seeming zoning arrangement voiced opinions that not enough consultation was done to carry all stakeholders along on the thinking of the ruling APC and the President. Others rued that certain regional interests were not accommodated.
But graciously, majority of stakeholders, including those of opposition political parties and governments, are in complete alignment with the position of APC, particularly the uncommon Senator Akpabio-Senator Barau joint ticket. Beyond the uncommon appellation associated with Senator Akpabio, this ticket is also uncommon as it set out from day one as a joint ticket that is yet to be seen in any other aspiration. Since the announcement of the joint ticket for Senate presiding officers and the subsequent formation of the National Stability Group of senators-elect of the 10th Senate, many key stakeholders across party lines have seen the merit of the preference of the President and the NWC of APC, politicisation of the zoning arrangement notwithstanding.
For a start, as at the last count, 45 of APC senators-elect are loyal to the President and APC NWC’s position, leaving out only 14 members who are being vigorously coaxed to join the bandwagon. Furthermore, at least 25 others senators-elect from PDP, LP, SDP, New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP; and APGA have openly identified with the National Stability Group under the leadership of Senators Akpabio and Barau making a tentative list of 70 senators-elect that have signed in support of the President and APC’s NWC position.
To further show the merit and strength of the Stability Group, at least three former president of the Senate aspirants namely Senators Ali Ndume, Senator Dave Umahi and Senator Barau succumbed to the wisdom of the President and APC with Senator Umahi becoming the chairman of the group’s campaign organisation and Senator Ndume as the director general. This group position has been further buoyed by the open endorsement of Senator-elect Adams Oshiomhole, a former APC national chairman and former governor of Edo State. The group, which has engaged in wide consultations and solicitations of support has so far received the blessing of the NWCs of the Labour Party, the SDP, and the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP, whose members are aligned with the Senator Akpabio- Barau ticket.
In their widely accepted consultations across party lines, the Senators Akpabio-Barau ticket has since received the open and reported support of the governors of Ekiti, Lagos, Katsina, Niger, Cross River, Zamfara (PDP), Rivers (PDP), Borno, Nassarawa, Kwara, Ebonyi, Imo and the Vice- President-elect, Senator Kashim Shettima. As it is, many other governors, such as Ogun, Yobe, Gombe and Oyo states, and governors-elect like Kano are awaiting the visit of the Stability Group to openly declare their support for the joint ticket of Akpabio-Barau.
From all indications and feelers from senators-elect, who are the ultimate deciders, the Senator Akpabio-Barau ticket is a winning ticket awaiting inauguration of the 10th Senate on June 13, 2023 based on reasoned factors that must have informed the APC NWC and the newly inaugurated President. Just like what the President used to campaign for his victory, the antecedents of Akpabio and Barau in public offices speak volumes in their favour as a guide to competent performance as presiding officers of the Red Chamber.
Unlike other aspirants for the presidency of the Senate, Senator Akpabio’s uncommon performance as the governor of Akwa Ibom State was a watershed in the history of the development of the then newly created state just the way the Asiwaju Tinubu governorship of Lagos State marked a foundational administration for Lagos State that was used as a major plank of marketing the Renewed Hope agenda. To his credit, as acknowledged by even the hard to please former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who wished he could transfer his sterling performance to his home state of Ogun, Senator Akpabio could be said to have laid the foundation for all good development in Akwa Ibom State of today.
Among the many legacies of Akpabio that endures are the International Stadium in Uyo, the Ibom Specialist Hospital, the first concentric flyover in Akwa Ibom, the Akwa Ibom Airport, New Governor’s Office and Governor and Deputy Governor’s Lodges, free and compulsory education for all residents at primary and secondary levels, 1000 kilometres of dualised roads and free medical treatment for pregnant women, children and the aged.
All these spoke well for him to head for the Senate and transmuted to another uncommon accomplishment of being the first senator to achieve the leadership position of the Minority Leader of the Senate as a first timer. A cursory review of Akpabio’s major opponents who had served as governors of their respective states reveals a major lacuna in their competence based on their antecedents in office and the developmental stages of the states they once presided over.
Not too long ago, one of them was confronted on a TV station to justify his aspiration for president of the Senate with his accomplishments as a governor and all he had to say was some incoherent and embarrassing numbo jumbo. Such a disappointment aiming to lead the highest legislative body in Nigeria at a time all competent hands are needed on the deck.
Chief Odunaro, a media and legislative consultant, wrote from Abuja.