After months of mudslinging and ethno-religious campaigns by the major contenders for the positions of the presiding officers of the 10th Senate, the D-Day has finally come.
The 109 Senators-elect are expected to decide who becomes the next President of the Senate and the Deputy President of the Senate.
With the major contenders boasting of the needed numbers to clinch the coveted positions, it is too risky to predict where the pendulum will swing to. However, whoever will eventually emerge, will preside over a divided Senate.
Except for a miracle, the division that will permeate the four walls of the Senate may hamper its ability to engage in critical assignments, like lawmaking, oversight and representation. The twin issues of ethnicity and religion have eaten deep into the fabrics of the Senate, long ahead of its inauguration.
The two leading contenders as of today for the position of the President of the Senate are both former governors – Abdulaziz Yari from Zamfara State and ‘anointed’ Godswill Akpabio from Akwa Ibom State. While Yari relies heavily on the size of his ‘pocket,’ religion and geopolitics, Akpabio on the other hand, though a minority from the South-South, relies on the backing of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the establishment of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Soon after the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections, following the emergence of Tinubu and Kashim Shettima as President and Vice President, respectively, political pundits called for religious balancing. They had argued that a Christian from Southern Nigeria should be endorsed to emerge as President of the 10th Senate.
Another argument had ensued on the place of the South East, predominantly populated by the Igbo. Their argument hinged on the fact that since Nigeria sits on a tripod – Igbo, Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba, the South East needed to be brought on board and the position of the President of the Senate zoned to it.
Against common-sense and popular demand, Tinubu settled for the South-South and zeroed his choice on Akpabio. Since the announcement of the former governor of Akwa Ibom, the stiff opposition has refused to abate.
The first opposition came from the northern senators-elect, led by the President of the rested 9th Senate, Ahmad Lawan. Lawan, like many others, had insisted on Akpabio’s replacement, citing many reasons why he was a hard sell. A defiant President Tinubu refused to cave in.
Many pundits hold the view that Tinubu’s refusal to renege on his support for Akpabio; birthed the rise of Yari, who based on common-sense, should ordinarily not have considered running.
But like wildfire, Yari has become very popular, securing the support of key leaders, especially from the opposition. Many observers, including Mohammed Ali Ndume, the Director-General of Akpabio Campaign Council are accusing Yari of inducing senators-elect with dollars. Though Yari has not denied the claims, his foot lieutenants have, however, refuted it.
In a last-minute attempt to save Akpabio’s bid, President Tinubu, on Thursday, held a meeting with lawmakers-elect across political parties. Contrary to expectations that he will plead with them to support his choice, he instead urged them to consider the unity of Nigeria.
Lawmakers who spoke after the meeting disclosed that the real reason Mr. President invited all of them, including aspirants, is to work for the unity of the country. They stressed that the President “did not voice his support for a particular candidate or ask any lawmaker to step down for the other.”
The lawmakers-elect noted that Tinubu spoke with a joint session of the National Assembly, comprising senators and members of the House of Representatives across all parties, at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja.
One of the members representing Ningi/Warji Federal Constituency in Bauchi State, Adamu Ranga, said the President did not voice support for any of the candidates vying for the Senate or House leadership, but only called for a united front.
According to him, “The lawmakers were told to work together to choose good leaders in the 10th National Assembly.
“Mr. President spoke to the general assembly of both the Senate and the House of Representatives in order to ensure that we have a solid government. Second, he emphasized that he would perform an open-door policy for everybody.
“Whoever wants to see him can see him without any hindrance, and whatever you want to discuss with him, he will give you that privilege to discuss.
“Thirdly, he said we should put our constituency first since we are here to represent them. He mentioned that he wanted the Senate and the House to cooperate to elect good leaders,” he added.
On his part, member-elect for Enugu East/Isiuzo Federal Constituency, Prof Paul Nnamchi, told reporters that Tinubu appealed to lawmakers to uphold national interest.
“He appealed that we should forget about party politics and face national interest. That was the major part of his speech.
“He didn’t mention anybody’s name to be voted for. Maybe, he is appealing, but I didn’t hear anybody’s name,” Nnamchi said.
Shettima in his speech at the Ninth Senate valedictory session again begged. He said: “To my fellow colleagues, who will depart from this chamber, I address you not as colleagues left behind but as experienced lawmakers who have become an integral part of my history.
“We have shared many things in common and standing shoulder to shoulder in times of adversity. We have fought relentlessly for the betterment of our dear country.
“To my incoming colleagues, I will leave you with a paradox. The stability of this nation is superior to the stability of our pockets. On Tuesday, let us vote wisely. Let us vote for the Nigerian nation. The stability of our country is better than the stability of our pockets. Let us vote wisely on Tuesday.”
Sumaila Kawu, Yari’s strong ally and senator-elect from Kano State, believes that only lawmakers would determine who emerges on Tuesday when the National Assembly is inaugurated.
He said: “The constitution is explicit about how the President and Deputy President of the Senate shall be elected. For instance, Chapter 2 of the 9th Standing Orders of the Senate 2022 (as amended) stipulates the procedures for selection of Presiding Officers of the Senate.
“Similarly, Section 50(1)a of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) states that, “there shall be a President and Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.
“Also, section 50(1)b stipulates that, “A Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.
“It is, therefore, clear that the election of these Presiding Officers is purely an internal affair that concerns only members of the National Assembly. Therefore, they should be allowed to decide who among them would occupy the positions in order to avoid repetition of the past mistakes – we may all recall the incidences of the 7th and 8th National Assembly.
“In my view, external interference in the election of the next Presiding Officers of the National Assembly would not only violate the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and Standing Orders of both the Senate and House of Representatives, but would also cause a serious misunderstanding between the legislative and executive arms of government.”
One of the coordinators of Yari’s campaign, Ahmed Ningi, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Bauchi State, claims that there are at least 67 of his colleagues who have keyed into the aspiration of Yari.
He said the majority of the contenders for the Senate Presidency are working together and that discussions were ongoing among them.
“Our latest count was 67 as of yesterday (Tuesday) night and more are still coming,” Ningi said while addressing newsmen in Abuja.
He said: “Those who are talking about money politics should remember how they won their party primaries about six months ago from top to bottom, using money.
“When Senator Ndume made that statement, I actually was taken aback because he is experienced to know that there is no politics that money is not involved, but it is not the most critical. In this campaign, it is not about money, especially for our candidate.”
“Senator Sani Musa, Senator Izunaso, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and Yari are together and discussions are still ongoing. We know our strategy but we are not going to disclose that,” he said.
He added: “I don’t belong to the APC but I thought the APC would have learned a lot from the mistakes of the PDP with regards to imposing leaders on the National Assembly. They should allow for the independence of the legislature.”
Despite the foregoing, Akpabio may still carry the day, if advocates of religious balancing respect the position of the ruling APC and vote for a Christian as the next President of the 10th Senate. The long knives will be drawn on Tuesday and the unhealthy campaigns will finally end.