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9th Assembly: Colour and character of next Senate

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Ahmed Yerima

Like the previous assemblies before it, the 8th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, now in its twilight, has its distinct characteristics that manifest in its quality of debate, personal attributes of members, general delivery of mandate and the corporate perception by the generality of Nigerians.

Birthed in a controversy that started in the composition of its leadership right from the day of inauguration when a “palace coup” staged against the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration on June 9, 2015, the Senate had been mired in a lingering crisis that took Executive/Legislative feud to new heights.

The emergence of former Kwara governor, Bukola Saraki as the Senate President in defiance of party directives and the ceding of the Deputy slot to Ike Ekweremadu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was the very first signal that the new ruling party, an amalgam of three political platforms and breakaway factions of two, would find it difficult maintaining a fragile relationship that was only cemented by their desire to have the then government voted out.

With widening fault lines that negatively affected governance and relationship between top major institutions of government, being primarily noticed in the National Assembly, the Senate took on a combative cloak particularly when its President became a subject of attack from the nation’s coercive instruments culminating in a prolonged corruption trial.

While the open confrontations were hallmark of a divided house that could not provide the needed succour for a traumatized country, the “witch-hunting” against the Senate leadership ensured that the required legislative cooperation by the first two arms of government was not achieved thereby pulling the process of governance several steps backwards.

Perhaps, it was because of these crises that the Senate, and by extension the National Assembly became an institution of ridicule in the eyes of Nigerians, especially when stories began to fly around of the humongous salaries of members, an insensitive piece of information in a depressed economy and allegations of budget padding that completed the picture of the lawmakers as an inconsiderate lot.

Despite this negative public perception of the Senate, members tried to justify their positions in their stand against the executive, their support for Saraki whose deft management of the situation as a survivalist sometimes turned the table against his accusers and the final denouement in the defections across party lines, gave the Red Chamber a distinct character.

But more than this is the dramatis personae that inhabit the floor, whose disposition ranges from the mild to the extreme, from the gentle to the hard and from the taciturn to the garrulous, making the chamber a sort of melting pot of all the shades of Nigerians as a representation of the nation’s character that it truly is.

Three months to the election that would signal the commencement of the process of winding up the operations of the 8th Senate, there are questions on what kind of character the incoming assembly would take on and how many of those that made the current Senate tick will make it into the next one.

Although the final lid has not been placed on the subject matter, as the window of substitution is still open till the next couple of weeks, it is clear from the primaries conducted by various political parties to pick candidates for the elections that many of the Senators are actually on their way out of the Red Chamber.

At the last count, about 40 Senators have lost their return bid through unfavourable political configuration, bigger ambitions, personal decisions or as results of fights with their governors, while about 60 would slog it out in the efforts to retain heir positions.

One clear thing from the internal elections of the parties is that many of those who have almost become institutions in the chamber, like Senators David Mark (PDP Benue South) who has been in the Senate since the commencement of the current democratic dispensation in 1999 and Abu Ibrahim (APC Katsina South), a fourth termer, are taking a break from a long legislative career spanning four terms.

Mark, a retired soldier who blended with civilians when the new pages of democracy were opened in Nigeria and a consummate politician who so far has spent the longest time as the Senate President, took a shot at the presidency during the PDP primary election but failed to renew his senatorial ticket due to the internal politics of Benue. He would be remembered for his taciturn disposition and calculating glare even though he had been generally aloof since he came down to the floor at the commencement of the 8th Assembly making many people to describe him as “Chairman of the Senate Committee on Sit-Down-Look.”

Together with 72 year-old Ibrahim, the Senate would miss the fatherly role and deep knowledge of legislative process that the duo had acquired over the years, an advantage that Nigerian legislature has not taken to the full unlike its counterparts in advanced democracies, which have lawmakers spending decades in the chambers to deepen the lawmaking process.

Senator Jonah David Jang

Other “senior” Senators that will not come back to the chamber include, Jeremiah Useni (PDP Plateau South) Ahmed Sanni Yerima (APC Zamfara East), Bukar Abba Ibrahim (APC Yobe East), Jonah Jang (PDP Plateau North) and Joshua Dariye (APC Plateau Central) who was recently incarcerated on allegations of corruption.

Like Mark, Useni was one of the powerful soldiers that blended with civilian regime and he has secured the ticket of the PDP to contest for Plateau governorship while Yerima, one of the silent power brokers and a great influence in the politics of Northwest geo-political zone and a former two-term governor of Zamfara and two-term Senator has been schemed out of reckoning by his state governor, Abdulaziz Yari.

Sharing the same fate with Yerima with whom he also shares the same political trajectory as a two-term governor and two-tern Senator in the current dispensation and with almost the same influence in his Northeast geo-political zone, is Bukar Ibrahim who was also schemed out by his governor. Both Yerima and Ibrahim had to yield their positions in the Senate to their successors who desired to retire into the Red Chamber like them.

But aside being replaced by Bauchi and Zamfara governors, the absence of former governors Dariye, Jang, Yerima and Ibrahim in the Red Chamber may likely be compensated by the entrance of new former governors like Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun, Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo and Rochas Okorocha of Imo who have secured the senatorial tickets of their political party.

Unlike Saraki and former Kano governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso who retreated back to secure their senatorial tickets after losing presidential bids, Jang and Ademola Adeleke (PDP Osun West) failed to secure their return ambition when they lost presidential and governorship bids respectively.

With Adeleke’s exit, the Senate has lost one of the most flamboyant Senators, one who is known more for his exhilarating dance steps than the numbers of presentations he made at plenary. In his short stay at the Red Chamber, which came about by his winning a bye election to fill a vacant seat of his brother, Isiaka Adeleke, the candidate of the PDP in the last Osun governorship election, is more popular than many of the Senators he met in the chamber.

In the same category of dancing Senators with Adeleke is Dino Melaye (PDP Kogi West) who got into the Senate from the House of Representatives and who became so controversial that he gathered friends and foes almost of equal number in the way he is perceived by Nigerians.

While many see the Senator, one of the few Nigerians called by their first names, as infantile and not mature for the high office he is holding, many see in him a symbol of courage as he dared the executives both at Abuja and his home state of Kogi in unending scuffles that almost cost him the seat through a recall and his life through alleged assassination attempts. He escaped of such attempts by climbing a tree on which he hid for nine hours, while his assailants were busy looking for him. What a feat!

While Melaye has secured a ticket to seek reelection in his new platform, the PDP, two other Senators who like hugging the limelight with him especially through the social media, earning them the sobriquet “the twitting trio” but who lost their bids to secure their party nominations are Senators Shehu Sanni and Ben Murray Bruce. While Sanni, after intensive politicking, was denied the APC ticket for Kaduna Central and has since sought an unlikely victory on the platform of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Bruce’s second term ambition was lost to internal political arrangements of his Bayelsa State.

What the nation may miss in the absence of the twitting trio may however be replaced ten-fold by the likely emergence of another limelight-hugging personality, Patrick Obahiagbon who has secured the ticket to contest the Edo South Senatorial seat under the APC; with the very first thing he did after getting the ticket being taking to his twitter handle to thank the people.

If he wins the election, Obahiagbon, who was Chief of Staff to the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole as governor of Edo State, will certainly become a major face of the 9th Senate as he was when he was at the House of Representatives, where he was known for speaking mainly to entertain his listeners. He did so by passing messages couched in high grammar and big vocabulary across.

Nevertheless the Senate is likely to be filled with senior citizens and experienced Senators who have learnt the rope of law making like Saraki and former governors who are not new in the Red Chambers. Amosun and Ajimobi, together with the limelight-hugging ones, will create a new character for the 9th Assembly.


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