APC 57 Senators -Elect
PDP 33 Senators -Elect
LP 8 Senators -Elect
NNPP 3 Senators -Elect
SDP 2 Senators -Elect
YPP 1 Senator -Elect
APGA 1 Senator -Elect
Senators-Elect From Contending Zones
North-Central 12 senators -elect
North-West 9 senators -elect
South-South 7 senators -elect
South-East 6 senators -elect
- Zone, Religion, Others to Determine New Senate Leadership
- With 2,653,235 Block Votes for Tinubu, North-West Demands Slot
- North-Central, South-East, South-South Aspirants Intensify Lobby
- APC Leaders Thread Carefully to Avoid Repeat of 2015
As the political parties tie up the loose ends in the 2023 General Election either in the law courts or continued public protests, elected members of the National Assembly have seized the limelight as the fight for the office of President of the Senate is witnessing intensified lobbying within and across party lines.
Certain critical factors that will determine the outcomes are playing out among contenders, sponsors and supporters. Apart from the usual power play, issues of religion, ranking, electoral strength and geo-political positioning are playing out in full steam.
Generally, four of the six-geo political zones are in contention for the number three position in the country’s presidential line of succession, namely the South-East, South-South, North-Central and the North-East. By virtue of its membership strength in the Senate, where it has 57 senators-elect out of the 104 members whose results have been declared so far, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) would take the President of the Senate and Deputy seats. The Peoples Democratic Party has 33, Labour Party, 8, New Nigeria Peoples Party 3, Social Democratic Party 2, All Progressives Grand Alliance 1 and Young Progressives Party 1.
Even though the APC with a thin majority has the members to clinch the post, there is no telling what will happen in the eventuality of two candidates emerging from the same party to contest the position, leaving other parties to form a coalition that would favour the emergence of a consensus candidate.
It happened with the 8th Senate in 2015. That year, two candidates from the ruling APC bid for the position. They were Dr Bukola Saraki, who was supported by a faction of the party and colleagues in the PDP, and current Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, supported by party elders and President Muhammadu Buhari.
Almost marred by a web of intrigues, Saraki’s group was able to outsmart the Lawan group and emerged victorious much to the anguish of the party’s big wigs and the President who had wanted a yes-man for the job, which Saraki failed to become throughout his four- year tenure.
Aware of the anxious moments caused by the Saraki senate presidency, the party hierarchy is pulling all the stops to avoid a recurrence. But with primordial sentiments running high, there is no telling how things will swing.
FACTORS OF RELIGION, VOTER STRENGTH AND GEO-POLITICAL POSITIONING
Aware of the role that religion is playing in the ongoing permutations for the Senate position, APC National Vice Chairman, North West, Dr. Salihu Lukman wrote the party leaders a fortnight ago demanding, among other things, that the party should immediately reshuffle its top leadership to reflect a religious balance.
Believing that the party’s Muslim-Muslim presidency ticket still rankles deep after the polls, he called on National Chairman of the party, Abdullahi Adamu, to consider stepping aside to allow for the conduct of “an Emergency National Convention because if the hierarchy of the current leadership is to be followed, the successor to Sen. Adamu will be Sen. Abubakar Kyari who is a Muslim from the North-East.”
This will allow for the emergence of somebody of the Christian faith from the North-Central zone to take over in order to achieve some balancing and stop the party being viewed as sympathetic to the Islamic faith.
Arguing in a revealing paper titled, ‘Re: APC Internal Dynamics and Future of Democracy,’ Lukman stated that the party needed to earn the respect of senators and members of the House of Representatives elected on the platform of the party and called on Adamu to resign.
Asked by journalists about the role these primordial factors are playing in the race for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, APC, Ekiti Central, warned on Thursday, that “issues of tribal, religion or religious rights of individuals or communities in the country should not be considered important in the choice of Senate President.”
Opeyemi, who is also Chairman of Southern Senators’ Forum, urged his colleagues who are contestants to look beyond their tribe communities in aspiration for the leadership of the Senate.
He said, “As lawmakers begin to tell the world of their individual ambitions and aspirations to be part of the leadership of the Senate in the 10th Assembly, we have a role to play to ensure the real issues are not lost in pursuit of primordial interests.”
Two factors are at play here: Winning votes for the presidency and the composition of Senate members.
Of the total 8,714,746 million votes polled by Tinubu to win the presidency, the North-West geo-political gave the highest among the three contending zones. It gave an overwhelming 2,653,235 votes, followed by the North-Central with 1,185,458 votes, then the South-South with 799,957 votes and the South-East with 127,605 votes.
Senatorial representations, according to these competing zones, are also revealing. Senators-elect from the North-Central zone lead the pack with 12 senators-elect; the North-West zone follows with 9 with one outstanding election in Kebbi North; next is South-South with 7 and South-East with 6.
So far, four contenders have emerged for the position. They are Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, a third-term senator representing Abia North. He hails from the South-East zone. Also from the zone is Governor Dave Umahi, a freshman senator-elect representing Ebonyi South. Godswill Akpabio, a two-term senator representing Akwa Ibom North West District is also in the race. He is from the South-South.
Also on the ballot is Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger state, another greenhorn senator-elect representing Niger South whose North Central zone.
Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, current senator representing Sokoto North, is believed to be another contender if he wins re-election in a poll which remains inconclusive as at the time of writing this report.
Among them, Kalu is all over the place canvassing his candidacy. He is flaunting his status as a ranking senator, arguing that the position of senate president is not for greenhorns.
Mimicking Tinubu’s pre-election slogan, Emilokan, (it is my turn), Senator Kalu is saying that it is his turn to become President of the Senate. THEWILL learnt that he is banking on the support of a group loyal to Lawan, who has been ruled out of the race because he comes from the same zone as Vice President-elect Kashim Shettima.
It is payback time for Kalu, a source said, meaning that Kalu was getting support in return for standing by Lawan during the party’s presidential primary in July 2022. Yet, hard politicking appears to be looking the other way for Kalu. Apart from the challenge posed by Senator-elect Umahi from the same zone, Kalu’s political value for the zone has been called into question by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Southeast social and political organisation and 20 other affiliate groups. The groups who have openly joined the lobby for the senate leadership would rather settle for Umahi, despite being a first timer at the Senate.
As earlier published in our March 14, 2023 special edition, the Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Okechukwu Isuguzoro, had confided in THEWILL that after a meeting in Enugu recently, “Ohanaeze sat with its Elders Council last Sunday in Enugu and agreed that, “Those who are ranking senators, we do not have confidence in them. They will not represent the interest of our people; they will always project us in a bad light.
“Many of them have EFCC cases. They are not worthy to become senators or political leaders. They always do hatchet jobs.
“Let me tell you, the Ohanaeze Elders Council composed of leaders from seven states met in Enugu with its 22 affiliate bodies of Ndigbo. This is a popular opinion of our people.”
Apart from the low winning votes also given by the zone, the determined efforts of the LP presidential candidate, Peter Obi, to contest Tinubu’s victory is also receiving hostile reception by many APC big guns. This newspaper could not independently read how this would play out in the race for the senate ticket, but a source simply said, “ All things are considered in politics. Can the aspirants for the position persuade Obi to rethink his suit and embrace the call for support by the president-elect?”
The political currency from Lawan that Orji expects to exploit for his quest is also said to be playing out for Senator Akpabio, former Minority Leader on the platform of the PDP. In addition to winning votes from the South-South geo-political zone, the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs is banking on the president-elect’s support. Akpabio was among the aspirants at the presidential primary that stepped down for Tinubu amid glowing tribute to the former Lagos governor.
More so, unlike the South-East where Tinubu got between 10 per cent and 15 percent of the votes, the South-South states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers shared their results among the three major parties, the PDP, APC and LP. Obi won in Cross River, Delta and Edo states while Atiku picked Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa states and Tinubu got Rivers, in addition to securing 26 per cent in Edo and Bayelsa and 29 per cent in Akwa Ibom.
For the North Central zone, senator-elect Bello, who is current governor of Niger State, is said to be a favourite should the zone make a bid for the position. Bello, a Tinubu man who held forth for the party when head of the party’s Interim Exco led by Governor Mai Mala Buni suddenly had to travel out of the country amid crisis, has never hidden his loyalty to the president-elect, especially during electioneering when he joined forces with other governors in support of Tinubu against perceived opponents in the presidency.
The North-West has the ace in this contest once the supplementary poll there is concluded with raking senators like Senator Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, senator since 2007, who was leading in the February 25, 2023 senatorial election until INEC suspended voting due to violence and fraud allegations.
While the lobbying continues, Senators Akpabio and Kalu have qualities that put them in the centre -stage. Their status as ranking senators, which brings with it a very rich background of experience of the inner workings of the Senate, is counting in their favour.
After a meeting with senators-elect on the party’s platform in Aso Rock, President-elect Tinubu said he had no interest in who becomes the President of the Senate. Many believed he was making a political statement. For a man who has been interested in who got the leadership of the National Assembly since the party assumed power in 2015, that would be a strategy to throw off lobbyists, he is very interested in who becomes both the Speaker and the President of the Senate. He is only keeping the names to his chest while allowing contenders to make their cases. What is clear for now is that he has more than enough yes-men to choose from between now and June when the 10th National Assembly would be inaugurated, which is plenty of time to shift the pretenders from the contestants. For now, the race is hot.
Whatever happens, whoever fails to get what when the contest gets underway has other compensatory positions for grabs: The Deputy Senate President, the Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader and Chief Whip.