June 7, 2023

Our next Senate President, By Ochereome Nnanna

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Power sharing has become a reality of Nigerian politics and democracy. The even distribution of offices among the different parts of the country to give Nigerians a sense of belonging in their government was called “zoning” during the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, days in the Second Republic, when it was first mooted. The NPN was the party that even popularised the principle of Christian/Muslim (and vice versa) presidential tickets. Balancing was that important to them.

The late former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, articulated the NPN ideology and took it to the National Constitutional Conference, NCC, empanelled by General Sani Abacha between 1994 and 1996. After hot and acrimonious debates, the Conference could not agree on Ekwueme’s rotation and zoning principles because the Northern delegates felt they would be used to break the North’s hold on power.

However, Abacha’s Provisional Ruling Council, PRC, settled the issue. They approved rotation of the presidency between North and South. They also approved Ekwueme’s six geopolitical zones as the basis for even distribution of offices, though they shied away from putting the geopolitical zones into the proposed constitution as governing prefectures. The subsequent General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime enshrined the Federal Character principle in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution. They thus took the doctrine beyond the principal political offices right down to the Federal bureaucracies for the same purpose of engendering a national sense of belonging.

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which inherited political power from the military in 1999 fully implemented the North/South rotation of the Presidency and the sharing of principal political offices among the six geopolitical zones throughout its 16 years in power, and no section of the country was left out.

The situation changed in 2015 when the All Progressives Congress, APC, won the presidency. Muhammadu Buhari who had promised to be for everybody later changed colour, vowing to favour only the areas that voted for him, a vow he implemented through his regime of extreme nepotism. For instance, the South-East that never voted for him in all his presidential runs was not accommodated in the power sharing formula. The South-West, which essentially gave Buhari the presidency, was rewarded with the Vice President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The sense of alienation set in among South-Easterners whose youth embraced separatist movements like the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, more so as Buhari belligerently deployed the armed forces, police and security agencies in their region, thus turning the once peaceful zone into a hotbed of violence and insecurity.

The President Bola Tinubu newbie government must learn from the Buhari blunder and make sure that all sections of the country are equitably accommodated in his government. If he wants a peaceful, harmonious reign, he must resist the winner-takes-all instinct of myopic politicians like Buhari and take everyone on board, irrespective of how they voted. Voting is the right of all Nigerians, but how they vote must never be used to deny them of their rights if we want peace and harmony in the country.

Already, the President and his party have put the wrong step forward. In 2011, the South-East got Deputy Speaker of the House of Reps. In 2015 they got nothing. The APC is slating the South-East for Deputy Speaker again. The zone has been relegated for 12 years already. If Tinubu and APC force through their touted zoning arrangement, the South-East could be out for another eight years, bringing it to a total of 20 years on the fringes. By then it would have become a part of Nigeria’s political culture to ignore the zone.

Taking into account the fact that it was the turn of the South-East to produce the president in 2023 after the South-West and South-South had been favoured, it will be a slap on the face for the zone to be given Deputy Speaker after being denied its right to lead. No polity which permanently shuts out any of its constituent parts for any reason is healthy.

I strongly advise Tinubu and the APC to support the South-East for the Senate Presidency. Admittedly, those who occupy these offices do not really benefit the common people. Between 1999 and 2007, the South-East produced five Senate Presidents. Between 1999 and 2019, the South-East continued to vote for the PDP. What did they get for it? However, this logic is beside the point. Equitable representation gives a sense of belonging which is crucial in nation-building. Perception is everything.

Not only should the Senate Presidency be zoned to the South-East, it should be given to a person who will bring dignity, probity and respect to the office. 

The South-East has suitably qualified candidates for the job. One of them is Senator-elect, Dave Umahi. He performed well as Governor of Ebonyi State, but he has despotic tendencies, and is a presidential bootlicker. He won’t be any better than Buhari’s rubber-stamp, Ahmed Lawan. The other candidate is Senator Osita Izunaso (Imo West). Izunaso is a ranking senator. He performed the feat of dislodging the late Arthur Nzeribe from the Senate, a seat the latter had virtually monopolised for well over 30 years.

Izunaso’s strongest point is that as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Gas between 2007 and 2011, he came out of the assignment without having any case against him by the anti-graft agencies. This is the kind of material we need to lead the 10th National Assembly.

Make Senator Osita Izunaso President of the 10th Senate.