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OPINION: The Man Who Will Be Senate President – Nkechi Odoma

First Bank Nigeria

The nation is awash with stories and permutations as to who emerges the President of the Senate of the Eight National Assembly. In line with the constitution, Nigerians should know who takes this cake sometimes in the first week of June when the National Assembly is proclaimed.

But beyond knowing who becomes the next Senate President, in the spirit of change, citizens should make their voices heard since democracy is all about participating in the processes leading up to the emergence of leaders. The elections that allow popular votes may be over but we can all still use the power of public opinion to weigh in on what happens. We must weigh in because the wind of change that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has brought must not be allowed to mutate into a situation where we are collectively saddled with a parliament that will relish in running on the basis of business as usual.

Should this happen, the Messiah of change in the person of General Muhammadu Buhari could find himself incapacitated by a parliament whose leadership may work at cross purpose with him. As the street parlance goes, this is why we must ‘shine our eyes’. In shining our eyes, we are however constrained by several factors. One of these is that the APC must of necessity zone the Senate presidency to one of the six geopolitical zones. Feelers out there are that the North Central will again produce the Senate President. This brings us to the other factor that the Senate Rule allows only a ranking Senator to be selected for this purpose and being that the APC has the majority, the candidate must also come from within its caucus.

Eligible Senators-elect have thus stepped up subtle and even open campaigns to be Nigeria’s next number three citizen. Top of the list of names being peddled are Senators Abdullahi Adamu, George Akume,Danjuma Goje and Bukola Saraki. Outgoing Senate President, David Mark and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who have been surprisingly mentioned in some of news reports are however out of the game for apparent reasons. The zoning of the position to the North Central thus narrows the choices to Abdullahi Adamu from Nasarawa state, George Akume – Benue State, and Bukola Saraki of Kwara state. With these three men left, several factors should be considered in narrowing down the candidates.

In Nigeria issues of ethnic and religious affiliations still play key roles in determining who gets what and also gives this sense of “carrying everyone along”, akin to the concept of allowing occupation of public offices to reflect the principle of Federal Character. The number one man is a Fulani man and a Muslim, Abdullahi Adamu is also a Fulani man and a Muslim, this may not go down well with other groups as a good balance of power. This factor plus the fact that he just joined the APC recently when a group of politicians from the new-PDP decided to join the APC may make him less suitable for the position. Next is Senator George Akume, a Tiv from Benue State.

His ethnicity places him as coming from about the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, which cuts across at least four states in the north central region of the country. This should make him a massive unifying factor in that region and by extension the entire nation. Akume is a Christian so that provides that religious balance in the structure of government positions. He has been governor for eight years, senator for eight years now, and experience from other spheres and education that imbued him with the requisite knowledge.

He has been the minority leader in the senate; he has been the leader of all APC senators in the Senate in the last four years. In those four years, squabbles in the minority caucus are next to none existent so his ability to lead is not in doubt here. Also, since joining the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which later went into the merger that produced the APC, Akume has shown unquestionable loyalty to the party, a quality that would be useful in the days ahead as the new government pushes through needed reforms. Apparently, it was this loyalty that made Akume, as a Senator, helped the APC to win the presidential elections in Benue state and even almost defeated the incumbent Senate President in his senatorial district.

He won another extra seat for the APC with Barnabas Gemade and is equally still working hard to win the entire state and its neigbours like Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and some parts of Kogi for the party. A politician this kind of clout is thus an asset to the APC as he already has a formidable network in place. This leaves us with one man standing. Senator Bukola Saraki though not Fulani, is also a Muslim from Kwara state is a strong contender for the position of Senate president. He has a lot going for him as his loyalists credit him for “working” while he was Kwara state governor. Senator Saraki’s contribution to the outgoing National Assembly has been robust particularly in the discharge of his duty as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment.

While this record offers him the chances to take a shot at the Senate Presidency, he may however have to play catch up with the Akume, who appears as the leading contender. Assuming Saraki can somehow boost his credentials within the few weeks left before the proclamation of a new National Assembly, there is yet another issue. Like Abdulahi Adamu being of the same ethnic stock as the number one man, some will argue that the former Kwara state governor as the third citizen would be of the same ethnic stock as the incoming number two even though his state is technically listed as north central. So for Senator Bukola Saraki, great credentials as Kwara state governor for eight years and judged by his loyalists as a performer; a vibrant senator, but he faces a not too favourable ethnic configuration. In conclusion, there are several permutations going on as to who emerges the Senate President just as intrigues play out underground.

The leadership of the APC and the incoming government must however realize that now that the elections have been won and lost they are no longer answerable to only their party but to the entire 170 million Nigerians. The product they promised to sell is change that is premised fairness and getting the best hands to do the job. These are factors they must bear in mind when they instruct their members in Senate on what direction to choose as a caucus. And by the way, it is too early to make mistakes.

Lady Nkechi Odoma, Chairperson, AFRICA ARISE FOR CHANGE NETWORK, writing from Asokoro, Abuja.

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