*Lawan, Kalu, Jibrin, Akpabio, Oshiomhole, Yari, Umahi eye top job
*APC moves to avoid Muslim-Muslim/Muslim-Muslim leadership
Sunday Aborisade in Abuja
Barely one week after the National Assembly elections, and with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yet to issue certificates of return to winners, the race for principal offices, particularly, the position of Senate President in the upper chamber, has begun.
A THISDAY Investigation, weekend, revealed that the incumbent President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and some of the senators-elect, like Orji Uzor Kalu, Barau Bibrin, Godswill Akpabio, Adams Oshiomhole, Abdul-Aziz Yari and Dave Umahi, had started subtle campaigns among their colleagues.
Interestingly, the choice of the next senate president would largely depend on the zoning of the office, among other principal offices, by the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Although expectations are high that the party leadership may zone the office of the number three citizen to the South-east, as part of moves to pacify the Igbo, having missed out from the presidential contest in all the parties at a time the clamour for a president of South-east extraction was high, it is a thinking that is not cast in stone yet.
But if those considerations sail through, the current Senate Chief Whip, Kalu, a former governor of Abia State, has the brightest chance, as a ranking senator with cognate experience from that part of the country in APC.
There is another school, which presupposes the need to pacify the North West by way of acknowledging their contribution to the emergence of the president-elect, which may well see the likes of Jibrin and Yari in the race for the senate president.
However, there are feelers that the APC leadership, given what are generally being considered the preferences of the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, may decide to throw the race for senate president open. Such decision would not only make the post anyone’s call but also engender an intense race to the senate presidency.
It is, therefore, certain that after that Saturday, March 11 governorship election across the country, the electoral battle would shift to the race for Senate President. Though it is a contest still some three months away, permutations and intrigues are already afoot.
But more importantly, according to Party sources, the party leadership is well inclined to avoid another Muslim-muslim Muslim-muslim leadership for the top job in Senate. With that in mind, some of the high flyers currently nursing interest may be edged out of contention. The President-elect and the Vice President-elect are Muslims, the Party chairman is a Muslim. The is keen to avoid being labelled a Muslim party.
For now, below are some of the factors standing for and against each of the potential frontrunners as the battle for Senate President takes off in earnest.
It was learnt that Lawan was banking on his popularity among his colleagues and the fact that he would be needed to stabilise the polity for the incoming administration of Bola Tinubu with his same page policy, which President Muhammadu Buhari had benefited from in the last four years.
Observers are, however, of the view that the support Lawan enjoyed from a faction of the presidency, which made a failed move to present him as the APC consensus presidential candidate, might work against him. Those that subscribe to this view believe Tinubu’s snide comments after winning the ticket of the party, that Lawan should “go and lick his wounds”, was enough warning for the incumbent senate president to dump his ambition to lead the red chamber for a second term.
But the argument had been waved off by Lawan’s close associates, who claim that the Yobe senator had since fallen in line and that he even, vigorously campaigned for Tinubu in the North-east geopolitical zone.
Kalu’s camp is confident that Tinubu would run an inclusive government by bringing on board political gladiators, who are members of the All Progressives Congress (AAPC), from the South-east geopolitical zone. Close associates of the Senate Chief Whip, who was a two-term governor of Abia State, say since Tinubu knows no Igbo person has been president since 1999, he would gladly welcome the idea of a south-easterner becoming the number three citizen.
Investigation revealed that apart from making moves among his colleagues, Kalu has started reaching out to sitting APC governors, whose states produced APC senators in the just concluded National Assembly elections.
For instance, Kalu placed full page advertisements in some national dailies to canvass votes for some APC governors seeking re-election, apparently, as a way to seek their support with regard to his ambition.
Another argument by Kalu campaigners is that apart from being an Igbo, Kalu, being a ranking principal officer, should be favoured because he is a Christian.
One of his supporters, who preferred anonymity, said, “APC lost the presidential election in Christian dominated areas because of its Muslim-Muslim ticket. The best way to win the confidence of the Christians and the south-easterners is to make Kalu the senate president so as to calm their nerves.”
Those who know Akpabio are aware that the former minority leader of the senate always aims for the top wherever he finds himself.
As a first timer in the eighth Senate, Akpabio displaced a ranking senator, James Manager, to become a principal officer, the position he held until he defected to APC during Bukola Saraki’s tenure as Senate President.
The current Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Barau Jibrin, whose committee is usually considered a very juicy placement in the parliament, is also believed to be in the race for Senate Presidency. The soft spoken and easy-going politician displayed his influence and strength in Kano politics, when he won his election on the platform of the APC in the Kano Central Senatorial District.
He is the only APC candidate, who was able to weather the political tsunami of Musa Kwankwaso’s New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), which won both the Kano South and Kano North Senatorial Districts.
Jibrin had initially wanted to be Kano State governor but lost the ticket to Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s preferred candidate. He, however, showed that he was strong enough politically to weather the Kwankwasiya storm by emerging the only APC senator-elect in Kano State.
The entrance of Oshiomhole, a former APC national chairman, former two-term governor of Edo State, and erstwhile National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), into the race was surprising to keen watchers of the political game playing out in the National Assembly.
Observers of the development wonder how easy it would be for the first timer to emerge Senate President. However, those canvassing for his emergence insist anything is possible. They maintain that since the rule of the red chamber does not specifically state that only ranking senators can be Senate President, Oshiomhole is eminently qualified for the position.
Some Oshiomhole campaigners believe Asiwaju Tinubu would be more comfortable working with him than anyone else among the current frontrunners because of their age-long relationship and partnership. They think Oshiomhole would not rock Tinubu’s presidential boat.
Tinubu is very good at using his clout to get his way. Since the issue of preference for ranking senators in relation to principal offices is a matter of tradition, rather than law, the president-elect may double down on having Oshiomhole as Senate President. He may insist on the former Edo State governor, if only to vent his oft-iterated feeling that he won despite unimaginable obstacles put on his way, even by some of his own party men.
Another aspiring candidate for the office of the Senate President in the 10th National Assembly is a former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari.
Yari lost the opportunity of becoming Senator in the 9th National Assembly, because of a landmark Supreme Court verdict, which sacked all elected politicians on the platform of the APC following a face-off between his faction and that of Senator Kabiru Marafa.
Yari and Marafa, who are now, both senators-elect, were recently singled out for commendation by the president-elect, Tinubu, during his acceptance speech after he was handed his Certificate of Return by INEC, for their contributions to the success of the APC in the presidential election in the country.
Yet, as a first time senator, albeit not in the Senate rules, it may not be as easy for Yari to get the ticket, when other ranking senators with cognate experience abound.
The outgoing governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, is one of the first term senator-elect jostling to be Senate President from the Southeast geopolitical zone, banking on the possibility the office would be taken to the East.
Umahi, against all odds, defected to the APC in his bid to contest the presidential ticket of the party. He later stood down for Tinubu and decided to try his luck in the National Assembly for the sole purpose of contesting the Senate President seat.
He stands a good chance of becoming the Senate President but would have to convince his colleagues and the ranking senators that he has the capacity and requisite legislative skills to lead the red chamber.
However, none of the aspirants has formally signified intention to vie for the number one position in the senate, but the weeks ahead will be interesting in the federal legislature.
No fewer than 13 former governors have been cleared by INEC as members of the forthcoming Senate whenever the 10th National Assembly is inaugurated.
About 93 senatorial seats out of the 109 contested for by various candidates across the political parties have so far been announced by INEC.
Before the February 25 National Assembly elections, at least 55 of the current 109 senators in the ninth Senate either failed to secure return tickets from their various political parties or aspired to contest governorship elections in their respective states.
Five senators contested the APC presidential primary. They included President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, (APC, Yobe North); Rochas Okorocha, (APC, Imo West); Ibikunle Amosun (APC, Ogun Central); Ajayi Robert Borrofice (APC, Ondo North), and Akpabio.
Three others who resigned included Senators Abdullahi Adamu, (APC, Nasarawa West), who is now National Chairman of APC; Abubakar Kyari (APC, Borno North), who is the current Deputy National Chairman of the party; and Hassan Mohammed (APC, Zamfara Central), who became Deputy Governor of Zamfara State.
From the list of winners, APC has won 54 seats so far, while the Peoples Democratic Party has 27 seats.
Others are Labour Party with six seats, New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) two seats, Social Democratic Party (SDP) two seats, while the Young Progressives Party (YPP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) have one seat each.
Based on the results declared so far by INEC, about 30 sitting senators would retain their seats.
Senators who are re-elected include Senate President Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North), Chief Whip of the Senate Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia North); Enyinnaya Abaribe (APGA, Abia South); Elisha Abbo (APC, Adamawa North); and Binos Dauda Yaroe (PDP, Adamawa South).
They also include Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP, Anambra South); Seriake Dickson (PDP, Bayelsa West); Abba Moro (PDP, Benue South); Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South), Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe (PDP, Cross River North); Michael Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central); and Francis Fadahunsi (PDP, Osun East).
The list of the returnees also include Senators Sani Musa (APC, Niger East); Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano North); Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central); Adamu Aliero (PDP, Kebbi Central); Jibrin Isah (APC, Kogi East); Lola Ashiru (APC, Kwara South); and Sadiq Suleiman Umar (APC, Kwara North).
Others are Senators Adetokunbo Abiru (APC, Lagos East); Godiya Akwashiki (SDP, Nasarawa North); Francis Fadahunsi (PDP, Osun East); Abdulfatah Buhari (APC, Oyo North); Barinada Mpigi (PDP, Rivers South East); Aliyu Wammako (APC, Sokoto North); Sahabi Ya’u (APC, Zamfara North); Ibrahim Shekarau (NNPP, Kano); Solomon Olamilekan Adeola (APC, Ogun West) Ibrahim Gaidam (APC, Yobe East); and Shuaibu Isa Lau (PDP, Zamfara North).
The new comers are Ned Nwoko (PDP, Delta North); Ede Dafinone (APC, Delta Central); Thomas Onowakpo (APC, Delta South); Chief Benson Agadaga (PDP, Bayelsa East); Shehu Buba (APC, Bauchi South); Kaila Dahuwa Sumaila (PDP, Bauchi North); Pastor Jide Ipinsagba (APC, Ondo North); Jimoh Ibrahim (APC, Ondo South); Adeniyi Adegbonmire (APC, Ondo Central); Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Sani Bello (APC, Niger North); Aliyu Wadada (SDP, Nasarawa West); and Mohammed Ogoshi Onawo (PDP, Nasarawa South).
Senators, who had served in the red chamber in the past and were re-elected are Godswill Akpabio (APC, Akwa Ibom North West, eighth Senate); former Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central, seventh Senate); and Victor Umeh (APGA, Anambra Central)
Former and serving governors elected for the first time are Adams Oshiomhole (APC, Edo North); Abdul-azeez Yari (APC, Zamfara West); David Umahi (APC, Ebonyi South); Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo (PDP, Gombe North); Gbenga Daniel (APC, Ogun East) Ibrahim Shekarau (NNPP, Kano Central); and Governor Sani Bello (Niger North).
Former governors in the ninth Senate, who were re-elected are Senators Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), Danjuma Goje (Gombe), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), Ibrahim Gaidam (Yobe), and Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom).
Four serving governors, namely Simon Lalong (Plateau State), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia State), and Ben Ayade (Cross River) contested the National Assembly elections but lost to their opponents.
None of the current six female senators would make it to the 10th Senate because they either lost their elections or did not contest at all. Those who lost their re-election bids are Senator Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti South); Senator Stella Oduah (Anambra North); and Senator Lilian Ekwunife (Anambra Central).
Senators Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central), Senator Nora Ladi Dadu’ut (Plateau South), and Senator Akon Etim Eyakenyi (Akwa Ibom South) did not seek re-election.