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Issues in north central’s quest for top position in 9th green chamber

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Ahmad Lawan


• APC’s Tactless Zoning Gambit
The first time the North-central geopolitical zone was robbed by a ruling party in the consideration of a prominent position in the leadership structure of the country was in 1999, when the late Sunday Awoniyi from Mopa in present day Kogi State was denied the chairmanship of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which he was well qualified for.
  
The diverse ethnic composition of constituent member states of North-central has since then put the zone in very awkward position when the issue of zoning crops up. While the old Benue Plateau easily subscribe to being north, the Kwara cum Niger axes verges between Yoruba and core north.
  
Perhaps, that default scheme that denied Awoniyi the chairmanship of PDP and recent socio-economic troubles in the zone caused by the murderous herdsmen helped to throw up the attempt to define North-central more as Middle Belt than north central, an appendage of the north. These six states of Middle Belt have been waging relentless political battles to assert their rights as a geopolitical zone and not merely as appendages of the once monolithic northern Nigeria.
 
It is not known whether the national chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) understands the disparity between Nigeria’s brand of presidential democracy and that of United States of America (USA) from where the country copied its system of government.Without waiting for the nicety of holding an expanded leadership caucus meeting of his party or reflecting on the fact that the election of principal officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly would be done by the members-elect, Oshiomhole rushed into handing out what he called the party’s stand on zoning.
  
The chairman also warned legislators on the opposition flank not to dare contest any of the positions when the next NASS comes into effect. Oshiomhole was also heard on national television comparing Nigeria’s presidential system with that of US, recalling that Nancy Pelosi did not put herself for re-election after the Democrats lost the majority membership of the US House of Representatives to the Republicans.  
  
What the APC national chairman glossed over in his attempt to contrast Nigeria’s presidential democracy with that of USA was that in the case of USA, not only is the vice president the president of senate; there is no ethnicity concerns to necessitate calls for balancing to preserve national unity and cohesion.
 
Based on the foregoing, it would be proper to examine the potency of the ongoing campaigns by the north central to produce the Speaker of House of Representatives in the 9th National Assembly in view. In weighing the strong points raised by stakeholders from that geopolitical zone, it would also make for clarity to put the implications of their agitations on the emerging national politics, especially given the scheming by some prominent members of the ruling party for assertive 2023 position.

North Central’s Arguments
OF the many aspirants that have so far emerged on the scene for the position of speaker, Honourables Idris Wase (APC, Plateau) and Umar Bago (APC, Niger) stand out, not because of their persons, but also on account of the good politics being deployed by their zone.
  
That the North central is making a very strong case for the Speakership flows by the collective way stakeholders from there are pursuing the matter, showing with good statistics how it should be them. They have succeeded in registering the fact that nobody from the zone has ever occupied that position since 1999.
  
Ever since the jostling for the green chamber’s prime seat started, two groups from the zone have tried to put their quest in perspective. The groups included the North central caucus in the House and North-central APC Young Patriots, which is a coalition of young groups in the zone.Convener of the coalition, Mr. Dominic Alancha, addressed journalists in Abuja, warning their party to avoid the mistake of zoning the position of speakership to the Southwest as has been reported in some national and social media platforms.
  
While recalling how similar misadventure threw up strong opposition to the party’s candidate like in 2015, Alancha contended that if “the Senate presidency was zoned to the Northeast being the zone that contributed the highest number of votes after the Northwest, the Speakership position will naturally go to the next in line, the North Central zone, which produced the second largest votes (2,465,599)” to the party after the Northeast.If the APC Young Patriots focused on the party for its moral suasion, members of the North-central caucus in the House of Representatives led by Hon. John Dyegh, looked at the fairness and inclusion.
 
The lawmaker churned out data to show that while other contending zones have produced Speaker and deputy Speaker at various time in the 20 years of Nigeria’s current democratic dispensation, north central was yet to enjoy such privilege.Insisting that equity, unity, balance of power and federal character should moderate the search for Yakubu Dogara’s successor, Dyegh marshaled his argument, stressing that “zoning the position of Speaker to the North-central will satisfy and advance the cause of equity since the North-west and South-west already have the presidency and vice presidency, respectively.”

 
He stated: “The need to ensure balance and spread between and among the six geo-political zones has made it imperative to give prime consideration to the North-central zone to produce the position of Speaker. Being the zone with delicate and peculiar location and challenges within the federation, it is of utmost importance to carry us along in the hierarchy of power distribution in the country as this will in no small measure, help in stabilising the polity.”
  
While reiterating the call on the ruling party to act on the basis of justice, fairness and equity in zoning the leadership positions in the National Assembly the lawmaker noted that approach would not only help the party “avoid past pitfalls,” but also engender harmony, peace and stability in the Green Chamber.He added: “It is not by coincidence that the Nigerian constitution enshrines federal character in the distribution of offices and leadership positions in the country. Section 14 (4) of the grund-norm speaks eloquently to this fact. The North-central geopolitical zone would feel a sense of belonging if it is allowed to produce the Speaker in the next Assembly.”
  
The North-central’s quest is indeed a reference to the moral wound of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration as records show that despite the region’s decision to line behind the president and his party, they have not been rewarded according to their support expressed in the quantum of votes to APC.But going forward, the zone would step up its game further by narrowing their options between the chairman, House Committee on federal character, Wase and his counterpart on Maritime Safety and Education, Bago, so as not to divide their votes when the House is convened for the 9th session next June.

APC’s Return To Internal Dissension
IT is not known whether the APC national chairman, Oshiomhole, consulted the relevant caucuses of the party before making his pronouncement on March 18 when the party hosted its Senators-elect to a dinner at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.Most party faithful, including the newly elected lawmakers believe that the rush to announce a sharing formula for the National Assembly showed lack of tact, especially given that such approach provided the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and APC dissidents the opportunity to turn the table against the ruling party in 2015.
    
With the recent development the ruling party seems to be on edge while waiting for an authentic sharing formula for the House of Representatives since the attempt to decree the post of Speaker to the Southwest has elicited much antagonism. It could also be said that the emotive pronouncement on the zoning of the principal offices of the National Assembly has stoked another possible return to internal dissension in the ruling party.
    
As even the activist national chairman would have come to realise, there is need to explain the crucial considerations that would underpin the zoning of the floor functionaries of the federal legislature. Is it to be based on balance and spread, vote tally at the recent poll or strategic positioning for national accommodation?
  
It is the thinking that vote haul could have made the party to settle for Northeast as the geopolitical zone of choice for the Senate President that the North Central Young Patriots asked:  “Why is the party suddenly shifting the goal post when it comes to zoning the Speakership position by considering the Southwest that performed less than the North Central and even already (occupies) the number two position of a vice president?”
  
The precipitate approach adopted by Oshiomhole leaves the impression that either he was in a hurry to pander to the whims of an entrenched godfather in the party or oblivious of the limitations of partisan supremacy on the affairs of the legislature, particularly as they relate to election of prefects.What makes the party chairman’s early dabbling into the zoning conundrum intriguing is that it seemed to be dependent on persons and not geopolitical zones, thus creating the internal combustion that could spill over in the next two months.

Warts In The Senate
WAS the decision to propose Senator Ahmad Lawan for the post of Senate president an attempt to force-feed the candidate on the Senators to derive a moral triumph over those who altered the initial preferences of the ruling party in 2015? Could it be that the current Senate Majority Leader was chosen because of his pliable disposition and predilection to echo the heart and mind of the presidency on most issues?
  
What if the main originators of ‘Lawan for Senate President’ since 2015 have their minds set on cancelling out the possibility of Northeast contesting the presidential ticket in 2023? It could be recalled that in 1992, during similar jostling for the presidency of the Senate, some Southwest stakeholders moved for the election of Senator Iyorcha Ayu as the president of Senate.At the end of the day, after Ayu’s election that opportunity was ostensibly thrown up to argue for the emergence of late Chief M. K. O. Abiola as the presidential candidate of Social Democratic Party (SDP) during the Ibrahim Babangida transition to civil rule programme.
 
Alternatively the move could be a strategic forward thinking to pave the way for the emergence of Northeast presidential candidate in 2023 or even before, then depending on what transpires at the Presidency.Although the Senate leader refused to be drawn into suggestions that considerations for the 2023 APC presidential ticket would ultimately determine which zone, between north central and northeast, that gets the 2019 Senate presidency, he disclosed that the ambition to become President of Senate “is not a personal decision to take leadership. This is 2019 and we want to deliver on the agenda of building a Senate and National Assembly that works for all citizens.”
  
However, chairman of Lawan for Senate President Campaign Organisation, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North), explained that the group was back on its pursuit for the full implementation of the progressive agenda, which was botched somehow in the recent past, saying “we did not fail.”He stated that when the group’s aspiration was cut short in June 2015, “we accepted it in our strides. Now, we want a Senate that works for the benefit of Nigerians; we have looked among ourselves and considered Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan as the proper person to steer the ship of the incoming Senate.”
  
It looks like other stakeholders with eyes on the 2023 APC presidential ticket have resolved to stonewall Lawan’s emergence in the belief that it is a project hatched by former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, especially as speculations are rife of a plan to have Lawan pair up with Senator Remi Tinubu on the senate presidency.
   
There have been subdued talks about plans by contending forces in APC to have the 2023 presidential ticket allotted to zones that have not as yet taken a shot at the Presidency, that is Northeast and Southeast. While the Tinubu group insists that the ticket should be zoned to the South, another group led by Kaduna State governor, Nasir El Rufa’I insists that the north reserves the right to have the final say on the issue of Buhari’s successor in the APC.
  
It is expected that these issues could pave the way for a surprise emergence of a candidate from North Central to emerge as president of Senate, thereby stalling the zone’s clamour for the Speakership of House of Representatives.Recently the Kaduna State governor was seen alongside former Gombe governor, Senator Danjuma Goje, visiting President Buhari, a move analysts interpret as possible plot to scuttle Lawan’s emergence by throwing up multiple candidates from Northeast. Knowing that Senator Ali Ndume does not seem to be flagging in his ambition to contest the position, which he narrowly lost on June 9, 2015 the entire scheme might end up in favour of a candidate from North Central.
 
It could be safely argued that despite Oshiomhole’s pronouncement on Senator Ahmad Lawan, nothing seems cut on stone regarding who or which zone eventually fills the position of Senate president, because the business would be conducted by Senators-elect whose minds might be set on diverse interests.      

Presidential Higgledy-piggledy
WHERE does President Buhari stand on these gesticulations about the emergent 9th National Assembly politics? That is the worrisome aspect of the ongoing conversations on the leadership structure of the 9th National Assembly.Being present when the APC national chairman pronounced on the zoning of principal offices in the forthcoming federal legislature, does it mean that President Buhari gave his blessing? Or, has the President decided to adopt the ostrich stance that paved the way for the magic of June 9, 2015?
  
If the President insists that the business of NASS election remains the exclusive preserve of lawmakers, why are some party stakeholders in a hurry to coral the lawmakers towards a patently undemocratic method? Does it mean that the APC leadership did not learn any useful lessons from its four years of fiasco at the hands of the current Senate?The fact that leaders of the ruling party are not basing their decisions on empirical data sourced from ability and understanding of the aspirants to convey the philosophy of function of the APC government shows the lack of preparedness for good governance. If elections are over and politics still preoccupies the thinking of party leaders that could be a recipe for another cycle of executive versus legislature scuffle.
 
What happens on the floors of the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly would reveal how far the ruling party has come, as well as the nature of governance in the next four years. Will partisan considerations trump competence, fairness and national interest? That is the ultimate test before the 9th NASS as it elects the floor functionaries.


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