10th National Assembly: Why the Leadership Tussle?

Elections in Nigeria

“From my observation of the ongoing political permutation and as a democrat and a nationalist, for the Senate to remain stable and robust in legislative affairs, it needs a focused and visionary leader as its president. So far, Dr. AbdulAzeez Yari from Zamfara West Senatorial District, based on his experience and exposure is the most ideal person for the tasking job”…….Muhammed Garba Gololo

It was in 1999, that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was dragged into politics by the outgoing military administration. He was declared the winner of the February 27, 1999 presidential election on the platform of a party he was neither a founding member nor any association, until he was forced on Nigerians using the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

At the advent of the fourth republic, there were only three registered political parties; The All Peoples Party (APP), Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Chief Obasanjo defeated Chief Olu Falae candidate of APP/AD Alliance to emerge as the president. As soon as Obasanjo was declared winner of the election, he took charge of the levers of power, influencing and determining the direction of the emergent government and the concomitant politicking to define the shape and texture of his governance unlike the Mihammadu Buhari brand of administration.

Obasanjo had a clear idea of what he wanted. He predetermined the outcomes of the contests for the positions of presiding officers of the National Assembly because he was too interested in who became the Senate President and Speaker House of Representatives. The choice of the Senate President was particularly much more engaging than that of the Speaker.

Dr Chuba Okadigbo had emerged the natural choice of the senators-elect of the ruling PDP for the Senate Presidency. In fact, in the pre-consultative meetings ahead of the inauguration of the national assembly on June 3, 1999, the flamboyant Okadigbo was endorsed at the historic Agura Hotel, Abuja meeting by the 60 senators-elect of the PDP as their candidate for the senate presidency.

Okadigbo was sure to clinch the position, but Obasanjo had a different plan altogether which he was determined to push through by all means possible. He wanted a candidate who was not as independent-minded as Okadigbo; and, against the run-of-play, he propped up Evans Enwerem as his pick for the exalted position.

The retired military officer threw everything into the mix because the emergence of Enwerem instead of Okadigbo mattered more to him than any other consideration. The number three position in the country was a big deal and whosoever stepped in must be loyal and subservient to him. Obasanjo moved into the camp of opposition AD/APP senators and effectively cornered all the 43 senators-elect. That was the first strategic step he took and thereafter moved into the PDP caucus in the senate to deplete their numbers.

By the time the dust of the hotly contested race settled on June 3, 1999 on the floor of the senate, the tide had turned against Okadigbo who appeared surefooted that he was going to emerge as the Senate President.

Obasanjo deployed intimidating presidential powers of patronage in the Senate to reverse the pre-election calculations and configuration in favor of Enwerem who had 66 votes (43 votes from AD/APP caucus and 23 from the 66-member PDP caucus, whose endorsement of Chuba Okadigbo was secured before the inauguration of the senate as against Okadigbo’s 43 votes to emerge as the Senate President.

The emergence of Enwerem unsettled not only the senate but also the Fourth National Assembly because Obasanjo had replicated the same stunt he pulled in the senate in the House of Representatives where he successfully pushed through the candidature of Salisu Buhari as Speaker.

Obasanjo ensured that the Senate President and the Speaker were his selected men although both Enwerem and Buhari lost their seats some few months later.

While the losses caused a permanent seismic shift in the House of Representatives where an independent-minded Ghali Umar Na-Abba emerged as Buhari’s successor and successfully finished his course despite the hiccups encountered, it was a game of the musical chair in the senate as three Senate Presidents were turned over between 1999 and 2003, namely Enwerem, Okadigbo who succeeded Enwerem and Anyim Pius Anyim who succeeded Okadigbo when he (Okadigbo) was removed by a coalition of opposition senators secretly sponsored by Obasanjo.

I recall that Anyim who succeeded Okadigbo had enjoyed the backing of senators with strong link to the presidency, but at a certain intersection after stepping in the saddle, he freed himself from the apron string of the Aso-villa Chief Superintendent the Owu Chief to define his eon and trajectory. Although, I cannot specifically implicate the point of departure in the romance between Obasanjo’s presidency and Anyim’s senate presidency, one thing that remains a fact of history was that due to the strain in relationship, Anyim decided not to seek re-election to the senate, and instead, he bowed out with the fourth senate. Obasanjo had thus moved into the fifth National Assembly to influence the emergence of Adolphus Wabara as Senate President, who unfortunately lost his seat to some high-octane conspiracy by some Southeast senators who were in bed with Obasanjo over the plot for possible tenure extension (Third-term agenda). Wabara was reasonably suspected to be interested in running for the presidency of Nigeria after his Senate Presidency. He was implicated in a N50-million-bribe-for budget scandal for which Obasanjo, as president, made a national broadcast aired live on television and radio stations.

But unfortunately for Obasanjo, the man who succeeded Wabara, Sen. Ken Nnamani, was an independent-minded character who espoused and expounded the imperativeness of legislative due process in the conduct of senate business, especially the senate consideration of the proposed bill for tenure elongation under Obasanjo presidency.

Nnamani presided over the death and burial of the Third-term plan which Obasanjo was eagerly looking forward to profiling from Nnamani, like Anyim in 2003, decided not to seek re-election in 2007 because Obasanjo, who was smarting from the death and burial of the Third-term agenda, was not going to allow him a return.

In the House of Representatives, Obasanjo had placed Aminu Bello Masari as Speaker from 2003-2007 who was seen as a mere robot of the Owu Chief. In 2007, as Obasanjo was egressing Aso Rock Villa, he had facilitated the emergence of David Mark as Senate President and Patricia Etteh as House of Representatives Speaker. Whereas, Mark, a retired military officer, was able to secure his senate presidency for two terms with the magnitude of his legislative legerdemain, Etteh lost her speakership less than a year into office and was succeeded by Dimeji Bankole.

I endured the pains to provide the historical context supra in for the race to 2023 Senate Presidency and Speakership of the House of Representatives to situate and explicate the huge influence that presidents who are interested in those who partner them as Senate President and Speaker House of Representatives can deploy in the legislature to tilt the balance of leaderships in their favour.

The late President Umaru Musa Yar Adu’a, initially in the shadows of Obasanjo facilitated their emergence; President Jonathan maintained the status quo in the Senate with David Mark in 2011. He could not weigh in to reinforce support for the PDP anointed candidate, Mulikat Adeola, to emerge as speaker. She was defeated by Aminu Waziri Tambuwal in a grand conspiratorial alliance that fed on the support of opposition members in the House.

Funny enough, in 2015, the new breed on the political turf that won the presidential election, the All Progressives Congress (APC), went to bed earlier before zoning strategic positions of national interest. The President, Muhammadu Buhari was not interested in who became what in the national assembly. He promised to work with whosoever emerged as Senate President and Speaker House of Representatives which birthed Sen. Bukola Saraki as Senate President and Yakubu Dogara as Speaker House of Representatives against the last minute zoning decision of the positions by the ruling APC.

As for the 2023 national assembly leadership positions, the scenario of 2015 may come to play. APC leadership was napping when it was most ideal to zone the positions. All manner of qualified and super qualified contestants for the positions had indicated interest. At last, there was a kangaroo arrangement to have one Sen. Godswill Akpabio as Senate President and Hon. Tajudeen Abas as Speaker House of Representatives. That was the arrangement announced as endorsed by the president-elect and National Working Committee (NWC) members of the ruling party.

The arrangement was made without due consultation with those in aspiration or their representatives. It was a Rambo style of arrangement expected to be endorsed by the contestants as if they are robots. After all, neither the president-elect nor the NWC of the ruling party has the constitutional right or mandate of the contestants to make such offending arrangement of direct imposition. That may create additional mudslinging and brouhaha for the APC.

If wishes were horses, what stops the ruling party from organizing a sincere parley with all the contestants to arrive at the right formula? Why should the North with 63 percent of the winning votes be denied the Senate Presidency for whatever reason? What stopped the other regions from delivering winning votes to the APC as the North did? Should the North be blamed or punished unjustly for delivering the winning votes to the APC? Is Sen. AbdulAzeez Yari not the most qualified for the Senate Presidency?

Fast-forward to 2023, whatever may be the case, after the inauguration of the next president the 10th Senate President must come from the North, because the North delivered over 63 percent of the votes in the February 25th presidential election to navigate the incoming president to power. Election is all about numerical strength. The North displayed that numerical strength needed and ought to be compensated no matter what!

The president-elect, the ruling party and opposition parties should matter in the ongoing scramble for the 10th Senate Presidency and the Speakership of the House of Representatives because the National Assembly is an independent component of the democracy that deserves autonomy in deciding its leadership. Precedents of national and presidential interests in the fostering of synergy with trusted loyalists not zombies or partly faithful abound in historical contexts. We are watching and keenly monitoring how the game is played.


Muhammad is a commentator on national issues

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