Tuesday, 3rd October 2023
<To guardian.ng

Izunaso, Kalu and South East’s quest for Senate presidency

By Lawrence Njoku, South East Bureau Chief
03 June 2023   |   4:11 am
Attention has gradually shifted to the June 13 inauguration of the 10th National Assembly following the successful swearing in of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima on May 29, 2023.

Senator Osita Izunaso

Attention has gradually shifted to the June 13 inauguration of the 10th National Assembly following the successful swearing in of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima on May 29, 2023. At the epicenter of issues gaining currency and which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is battling to resolve since the inauguration of the presidency is the leadership of the two chambers. Candidates from the party are expected to be the principal officers at the two chambers.

Of the two, however, attention is focused more on who occupies the office of the President of the Senate, the third highest position in the country. If the zoning arrangement released by the party is anything to go by, then it is expected that one of the senators from the South-east or South-south geo-political zones would occupy the office.

Already, the contest is gaining momentum with contestants from the two regions showing interest in the slot. Former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio from the South-south; former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu and Senator Osita Izunaso from the South-east have all declared their intentions to contest the position. While Akpabio and his supporters have hinged their arguments on the fact that the zone has never held the position since the current dispensation and that the South-east had held the position for four years; the South-east has insisted that taking the position away from the zone would mean deepening the alleged marginalisation of the zone by the party. Proponents of this position are quick to point the party to an existing arrangement that had always allowed the zone to produce the President of the Senate whenever the Presidency moved to Southwest and the need to integrate the zone into the party. They also canvass that since the inception of the party, the South-south had produced the national leadership among other juicy positions.

This school of thought also thinks that allowing the South-east to produce the next President of the Senate was the shortest way to entrenching the party in the region, especially with their rejection of the PDP in the last elections and the inroads made by the Labour Party. They argue that since the party already controls two states in the zone, there was a need to continue to encourage the region.

However, there are strong tendencies that Izunaso is likely to clinch the office should it be zoned to the Southeast region. This is because aside from being a ranking senator like Kalu, he has remained with the party from inception and appears more sellable.

Sources indicated that the Imo West senator, a former journalist, is a well-experienced politician. The pioneer National Organising Secretary of the APC, he was a Special Assistant to former Governor Achike Udenwa on media and information. From his appointment into the Udenwa government, he was elected to represent Oguta/Ohaji Egbema/Oru West federal constituency in the House of Representatives on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). After just one term in the Green Chamber, Udenwa reportedly used him to stop Senator Arthur Nzeribe from continuing in the Senate having represented the district since 1979. Thus, he represented Imo West senatorial district between 2007 and 2011. He had attempted to retain his return ticket to the Senate but could not, as the Supreme Court ruled that the current governor of the state, Hope Uzodinma, was the authentic candidate of the PDP in the election.

Angered by the development, Izunaso left the PDP and joined forces with Chief Rochas Okorocha in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in 2011. He was among the big names that followed the Okorocha faction to the merger that gave birth to APC. Consequently, he was elected as the National Organising Secretary of the party, a position that helped him to re-launch his return bid to the Senate in 2015 but Uzodimma defeated him.

He also re-contested for the seat in 2019 on the platform of APGA but ended a distant third behind APC’s Okorocha and PDP’s Jones Onyereri.  After the defeat, he returned to the APC to join Uzodinma to build the party.  In 2023, his loyalty earned him the senatorial ticket of the party with which he was declared winner of the 2023 senatorial election for Imo West.

The other factor that may enhance the chances of his emergence is that he neither has any case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) nor any criminal case at all. Also, his state, Imo, is one of the two APC controlled states in the South-east region. The PDP and Labour Party are controlling Akpabio and Kalu’s states, Akwa Ibom and Abia respectively.

Born on October 30, 1966, the lawyer-turned politician is said to have a strong working relationship with Uzodinma. Sources said that since both men hail from the same senatorial zone, he (Uzodinma) appears to have thrown every strength and tactics he could muster into the game to ensure his emergence. Those who know Uzodinma well describe him as someone who is ready to sacrifice anything to any cause he believes in. They also see Izunaso as a major pillar in the success of his administration in the state.

The pundits added that Uzodinma would pull the necessary strings on his behalf to underline his relevance in the party as well as his headship of the APC in the South-east region. They also pointed out that knowing how popular and consistent Izunaso has become over the years in Imo State politics, Uzodinma would have to rally support for him knowing that victory for him would boost his re-election chances during the November governorship election in the state.

Last Wednesday, the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) elected him as their chairman. The Forum comprises governors elected on the platform of the APC, which serves as an avenue for collaboration, policy development and sharing of experiences among members. What this will do to Izunaso’s senate presidency ambition is that it would provide the opportunity for Uzodinma to enlist the support of his colleagues to the cause.

Nonetheless, the national discourse that has continued to trail the emergence of a new President of the Senate in the Tinubu administration and the possibility of an Igbo person occupying the office, seem not to elicit any excitement from the greater percentage of the people of the region. They appear to think that what they want at this time is not the occupation of such an office. This probably could account for why the contest has not generated the level of support expected from the region.

Many of the people believe that occupation of the office in the past by politicians from the zone did not impact the region. They stated that the likes of Evan Enwerem (Imo), Adolphus Wabara (Abia), Chuba Okadigbo (Anambra), Ken Nnamani (Enugu) and Pius Anyim (Ebonyi) held the office in the past without any thing to show for it. Thus, they think that the present quest is simply for personal aggrandisement and would come with no benefit for the region as a whole.

Orji Uzor Kalu

When the National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Alex Ogbonnia, spoke with The Guardian, recently, he advanced reasons the apex Igbo organisation would not discuss the zoning of offices, especially the quest by Kalu and Izunaso for the office of the senate president.

He stated that the Igbo believe that 2023 was their turn to produce the president of the country, adding that anything short of that was not acceptable to the people.

Ogbonnia, however, added that the people would not accept any arrangement that could relegate the zone to the background. He stated that the non-excitement of the people of the region about the senate presidency race was hinged on their belief that the Labour Party presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, won the presidential election and was still in court attempting to recover his mandate.

“We are not preventing anyone from gunning for such office but all I can tell you is that Ohanaeze cannot discuss such. We believe that what our people want at this time is the presidency of the country. That was why they trouped out in their numbers to vote for Peter Obi during the election. Again the appeal over the election is still in court and has not been dispensed with,” he said.

A chieftain of the APC, Kennedy Okwuoma, however, cautioned on the implication of continuing to hang “onto sometime that may on the long run rob off everything”, stressing that those angling for the number three position of the country from the zone should be supported.

“It will amount to downgrading the Igbo if we feel uninterested in the ongoing debate over who occupies the senate presidency seat. It should bother us because the position has been zoned to the area. Other zones are showing support to our zone and that should be a good sign. We will be losing out again if we decide not to discuss it and allow the opportunity to slip away from our hands,” he warned.

Okwuoma agreed that time has come for an Igbo person to occupy the prime position of president of the country, stressing: “Since our hopes and aspirations were dashed in 2023, we shall all try the next time. I have this conviction that if the statement we made in the 2023 general election is sustained, it will be difficult for anyone to deny us our legitimate rights or make any impact in the leadership of the country without getting our backing.”

He also called on elected senators from the zone to support Izunaso, stressing that the pendulum was already swinging to his side.

“He will do well if supported. Many people have already joined in the campaign for him to be allowed to occupy the office because he remains the cleanest among those who want the office at the moment,” he added.