I listened to Senator Jarigbe Agom of Cross River North a couple of days ago on the Morning Show of ARISE TV Morning Show, where he opined that competence and capacity should dictate who becomes the Senate President, and not the region. He added that the Senate should go for the best candidate without much consideration for their religion. A day earlier, Senator Ndoma-Egba had opined that the Senate President should be zoned to the South-east in order to appease the zone and perhaps balance the power equation. Both of these persons who spoke are from the South-south zone and ordinarily are expected to understand the geopolitical ingredients that are desired, to balance the algorithms of power; unfortunately, they fall short.
The two issues they raised border on geopolitics and religion; two dominant issues that have become recurring decimals in the politics of our country. For a plural country like Nigeria, having multiple and multi-dimensional interests competing for attention within the subnational, it is of political benefit to ensure participation, inclusiveness and balance of power and sentiments to promote a culture of belongingness and trust, so as to minimise the frictions and tempers in the polity. Balancing those factors should not be anchored on the plank of a sense of entitlement, but on the preponderance and quality of the arguments of the various competing zones, with a view to deepening our democracy and national growth.
The 10th Assembly Senate Presidency has expectedly become another thorny issue following interests from the respective geopolitical zones, and an understanding of the prevailing sentiments and emotions within the polity would help power players know how to bequeath and accord power across the board. When the then APC presidential candidate, now President-elect emerged in 2022, he chose a fellow Muslim as his running mate. He altered the Muslim/Christian doctrine. He stated unequivocally that the rationale for his choice was based on his understanding of the prevailing issues and how he will garner votes at the elections and not an Islamisation agenda as suspected. The protestations that attended his choice were from within and outside of the ruling party. Close associates of his, deserted him as his voice got drowned in the cacophony of voices, especially from the Christian community, who saw the move as a deliberate affront to them. This reality also boosted the chances of a Southern Peter Obi, a Christian, who indubitably flourished his campaign on the theme of Christianity, even saying at some point that, “Christians and the church should take back their country”. This faith and or same faith issue is very sensitive and we must be careful in handling it.
The complexities associated with balancing power in plural countries or societies are multifarious. In any plural society, both national and subnational entities must feel a sense of inclusion and regard for their concerns in the process, in any power distribution activity. In the case of Nigeria, there is always the tendency to view Nigeria from only a tripod configuration, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa, thus subsuming other interests as though their interests are secondary. It is a wrong-headed reading of the entire gamut of minority rights. In the context of the 10th Assembly Senate Presidency, the issue of geopolitical balancing is both auspicious and compelling. The issue of religion is also important. Having a president and vice of the country, of the same faith, being first and second citizens, it is expected that a Christian Senate President and perhaps the Speaker of the House of Representatives will be of other faiths; except if we deliberately want to stir the hornet’s nest to provoke avoidable sentiments and emotions. I don’t think the President-elect and his deputy would want to travel that route, knowing full well that they both need a stable polity to stimulate good governance to deliver on their electoral promises. The geopolitical zone to be most considered and her merits is also important. I am advocating for the South-South zone to be accorded the position.
The South-south zone contributed so much to the success of the ruling APC in the last election. This zone has always been the stronghold of the opposition PDP, but in this 2023 election, the ruling APC was able to make a foothold in the zone, topping Rivers State votes, and coming second in the other five states with over 45% of the votes. That was audacious! The South-east zone had a different ball game. The presidential election outcome was abysmal for the ruling APC in all five states of the Southeast. In the fullness of such a ridiculous outcome, Senators from the ruling party emerged, scoring as much as 42,000 votes in some cases, and others even more; but at the presidential election, they abandoned their candidate, Asiwaju Tinubu, in what I considered a conspiracy to humiliate him. The votes from all the five states of the South-east hover around 80,000. When one considers that both Senate and presidential elections are held on the same day, hour, and minute and in a seamless process, the theme of the conspiracy becomes obvious.
Furthermore, the Southeast zone senators have had the opportunity of being Senate President on five different occasions in the last 24 years; Enwerem, Okadigbo, Wabara, Anyim, and Nnamani are all from the Southeast. Some other senators from the South-east have served as Deputy Senate President for 12 years also. It means they have dominated the Senate for circa, 20 years. Bidding for the position at this time would amount to taking the handshake beyond the elbow; and ask yourselves, if the APC had lost the presidency, as the Southeast rooted for, would they be asking to become Senate President?
I do understand that there is no morality in politics because of some bizarre realities which have become the second nature of politics. But, there has to be a balance of power to minimise the seen and unseen mitigating factors that stand against building a cohesive and stable system. Our power play needs to stimulate constructive engagement, collective bargaining, and conversational politics, thus, good governance and wholesome progress. The South-south zone is undoubtedly the resource base of this nation. It is of utmost importance to deliberately and consciously factor in the interest of this zone now to avoid protestations and vibrations that may hurt the zone and the nation at large.
Also, the character, content, and antecedents of the individual for this position must be scrutinised for performance and sound leadership. Merely asking for the Senate Presidency with a sense of entitlement, is to me, a depraved assessment of the issues that have so far dictated our collective engagement and led us to where we are. The South-south geopolitical zone has persons of capacity and sound leadership orientation who can fit the bill.
An individual who would be perspicacious in the leadership of lawmaking, not allowing the assembly to be dubbed a rubber-stamp one. They must be someone who understands the political dynamics in the country and can connect to them. The individual must be generational in thoughts to fit into the expectations of the contemporary digital age in the country. The South-south, unlike Senator Jarigbe Agom opined, parades eminently qualified persons who can up the ante in the Senate and constructively partner the executive arm of government to deepen democracy through lawmaking and other relevant responsibilities.
I have deliberately left out the North-west zone for obvious reasons: It is a predominantly Muslim-dominated zone, and except the APC would want to sustain the narrative of Islamisation, nobody from the North-west zone should contemplate joining the race. Nigeria is very fragile at this time and the need to take selfless and patriotic decisions so as to stabilise the country is germane. The North-west zone has also enjoyed the privilege of producing our outgoing president for eight years; she should settle for the Deputy Senate President, while the South-east should settle for the Deputy Speaker. The North-central should have a Speakership of the lower house while every other principal position should be shared altruistically to accommodate competing interests.
Within the South-south geopolitical zone, we have a ranking Senator, Distinguished Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, of quintessential and cerebral orientation, noted for quality service delivery and superlative performance; his antecedents are verifiable and he can deliver on the expectations of the 10th Assembly. It is not for nothing they call him an “uncommon transformer”. Senator Akpabio, is not only a team player, he is also very astute, a reformer, and a transformational leader. He is reputed for several achievements both as the Governor of Akwa-Ibom state and Minister of the Niger Delta Ministry.
In the eight years he served as Governor of Akwa Ibom State, the state became a huge construction site, turning a typical agrarian community to an urban centre with several infrastructural projects ranging from Airport, Hospitals, schools, hospitality business, human capital development, empowerment programmes, and to several interventionist projects that were started and fully completed under him, that have stimulated and anchored the economic growth of the state.
As a Minister of the Niger-Delta Affairs, within three years, he completed the NDDC Headquarters that had been abandoned since 1994, relocated the NDDC to its new office, built roads, built barracks and several other projects of economic value to the people of the oil-rich region as well as starting and completing a forensic audit of the commission. Akpabio has the temperament and comportment to serve in the capacity of the senate president with equanimity and doggedness. Akpabio is a man of grit and courage, he has charisma and applies intelligence. He will deploy his huge political goodwill to balance all the factors across the country.
Also from the South-south, is the former Governor of Edo state, former labour leader, and former National Chairman of the ruling APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. Though a first-timer to the Senate, he’s going to be one of the huge assets of the Senate either even in the Senate President capacity, if the rules permit; and or in other capacities thrust upon him. Oshiomhole is a resource material any day, any time. He’s deep in knowledge of contemporary issues and understands the place of leadership in any human endeavour.
Comrade Oshiomhole is a leader to reckon with having moved the ante in Edo State from 2008 to 2016 which till date represents the only evidence of the growth of that state. His sense of service delivery has remained nonpareil. As a governor, his performance in Edo state was exceptional causing his people’s love for him to be perennial. As a product of struggle, Oshiomhole is a good asset in any institution he belongs. As we look forward to an interesting 10th Assembly, it is expected that there will be a healthy interplay of forces that would help to deepen democracy and consolidate on our laws for national growth and prosperity.
The 10th Assembly is expected to be forward-looking and utility-driven. It should robustly dissect and interrogate issues with a sense of patriotism and not parochialism. It must earn the support and respect of the populace to avoid the stigmatisation of a rubber-stamp assembly. Its relationship with other arms of government must be constructive and objective, and the overall interest of the country must be uppermost in its politics of lawmaking. There is currently, national apathy and broken tongues and tribes. There is also lack of national cohesion and conversation.
The 10th Assembly must create platforms to engage Nigerians, stimulate national discourse and promote a sense of ownership across board. They must come up with laws that are therapeutic to our national healing process. The buy-in of everyone to create a sense of collective engagement that will accommodate all is highly needed; be they minority and or majority groups. The 10th Assembly and the APC must get it right; and allowing the South-south to preside over the 10th National Assembly will be the first step in this right direction.
*Afegbua, a former Commissioner for Information in Edo State and political analyst
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