The Next Senate President


When he addressed incoming members of the National Assembly last week, President-elect Muhammadu Buhari must have understood the obstacle that the legislature constitutes in a democracy. The change he seeks can happen only if the lawmakers agree to change also. But will they?

By seeking the lawmakers’ cooperation and refusing to interfere in the s(election) of the next Senate president or speaker of the House of Representatives, the president-elect has taken the right step forward. I have learned that he prefers letting them elect their leaders themselves in the Senate and House chambers. But he also hinted that he would like to see only those that are not tainted by corruption. More than anything else, cases at the EFCC are now impediments to several aspirants to the offices of Senate president and House speaker.

Allocation of offices to geopolitical zones [some Nigerian grammarians call it “zoning”] used to be a PDP policy. It is good, but, as recent events have shown, it is not sustainable. APC should not adopt rotation as a policy, though it should not abandon fairness. Nigeria as a nation was founded on a tripod: north, east and west. Even though the six-zone structure first proposed by Dr Alex Ekwueme during the 1994/95 national conference has been accepted, the tripod remains. That’s why everyone agrees that, with the broom revolution this year, the next Senate president should naturally come from the east, since the north will take the president and the west, vice-president. But because no senator from the east belongs to the majority party (APC), the office will almost certainly shift to another zone.

I have not hidden my worry over the east’s failure to have even one APC senator in the next session. Its office let another take! But I wonder why the north-central senators thought they were the right heirs to the throne of the east. Is it because the zone has produced three other Senate presidents? Must they retain the position after David Mark’s eight years? In any case, there are at least three aspirants from the north-central: None of them is willing to step down, and each was once in the PDP.

There is another “east” that has suffered marginalisation just like the east of the Nigerian tripod: north-east. To this zone should the seat of Senate president go. Luckily, there are some experienced senators from the north-east that meet the requirements for the job. I have examined the records of many of them. And, even as Buhari has suggested that anyone with a case of corruption to answer should not be preferred, there are still a few north-east senators that qualify.

One senator has received the blessings of other senators across the zones: Alhaji Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North). That he has been endorsed by caucuses of the south-west and north-east shows that the gods, too, have been working for change in Nigeria. [Even the weather has changed since the elections!] For stability in the 8th Senate, let Lawan be allowed to take the seat in June. I’ve never met him or other contestants in person. But his records speak for him.

Senators from the north-east that adopted him on Thursday spoke of Lawan’s integrity. Currently chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Lawan resisted all attempts from the executive to sway him. No anti-corruption agency has ever knocked at his door for the past 16 years he has been in the National Assembly. He was in the House of Reps from 1999 to 2007 and has been in the Senate since 2007. A former lecturer, he has never held any executive position. And he has never been a member of the PDP. What a breath of fresh air!

Now that a credible person to lead the 8th Senate has been found, the searchlight should be directed to the House of Reps. Let the incoming House members give us another sound person as speaker. I believe that, with matured people at the helm of the National Assembly, the Buhari administration would have no problems implementing its change programmes. Bills would no longer live in the NASS for four years or longer, and lobbyists would be unable to invade the hallowed chambers with Ghana-must-go bags.


Jonathan and Hungry Politicians

Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday made a prediction everyone knows will come true: PDP members now dumping the party for the victorious APC will return hungry. Alluding to his inability to reward up to 50 per cent of those that worked for him, the president said the next government would first take care of the original members of the APC.

In the early days of the Jonathan regime, I stated in this space that academics do not make good leaders. The president has proved me right. Patronage seems to be his idea of governance: unless one grabbed money from government, he would go hungry. Indeed, many will remember the Jonathan regime for its profligacy or patronage. We know those that have occupied the 10th floor of a popular five-star hotel for five years now. The story of fuel importers who bought 123 private jets in one year is still being told. A key member of Jonathan’s cabinet from the south-east owns over 250 fuel stations across the country, over 500 houses in Abuja alone and innumerable other assets that a normal person would not desire. We know the houses hurriedly bought in Abuja by pro-PDP campaigners between January and March this year. My friend who lives in Yenagoa and another friend in Otuoke have told me how magnificent buildings have sprouted in remote places in the last four years.

Even in his last days in office, the president is still rewarding “people who worked for me” with political appointments. The next president would do well to sweep these eleventh-hour appointees out in good time. Some told me Buhari would lack the power to do that. And I wonder where Jonathan borrowed the power with which he sacked the Central Bank governor and others.

Truly, those rushing into the winning party will return hungry, but so will APC members joining the government with the aim of amassing wealth. It shall be Buhari’s duty to hunt down looters and bring them to justice.

The disillusioned may, however, not return to the PDP as Jonathan predicted, because there may be nothing left in the party to return to. My fear, in fact, is that the PDP may not exist by 2019. It may not be funded anymore. Not even the “missing $20billion” would be laundered successfully when a responsible government is in place.


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