By Daniel Kanu
Ahead of the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly in June, the jostling and intrigues for principal offices, particularly the exalted position of Senate President in the upper chamber has begun.
Sunday Sun investigations revealed that the lobbying game is gathering momentum and expected to intensify when the senators-elect will reconvene after the March 18 Governorship/House of Assembly election short break.
Interestingly, the choice of the next Senate President would largely depend on the zoning of the office, among other principal offices, by the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The expectation is quite high that the Senate President seat will be zoned to the Southeast, though this thinking is not cast on stone.
Given high level maneuverings in Nigeria’s political game, political permutations are not usually over until it is over.
What is certain is that expectations are high that the party leadership may zone the office of the number three citizen to the Southeast, as part of moves to placate the Igbo, having missed out from the presidential contest in all the parties at a time the clamour for a president of Southeast extraction was undeniably very high.
Further inquiries by Sunday Sun revealed that the incumbent President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and some of the senators-elect, like Orji Uzor Kalu, Barau Jibrin, Godswill Akpabio, Dave Umahi , Abdul-Aziz Yari and, Adams Oshiomhole, stood out among those that have their eyes on the plum position and had started subtle campaigns among their colleagues.
Expectedly, there are likely odds against some of the aspirants’ ambition.
Going by party sources, the party leadership is said to be fully sensitive and well inclined to avoid another Muslim-muslim leadership for the top job in Senate. With that in mind, it is expected that some of the high flyers currently nursing interest may be edged out of contention. The President-elect and the Vice President-elect are Muslims, and the party chairman is a Muslim.
The party, Sunday Sun gathered, is keen in avoiding being labeled a Muslim party.
If the consideration to zone the seat to the Southeast as expected sails through, the current Senate Chief Whip, Dr Orji Kalu, a former governor of Abia State, has the brightest chance, as a ranking senator with cognate experience from that part of the country in APC. Only few APC senators from the Southeast zone emerged victorious from the recent National Assembly election as the majority are in the opposition political parties.
At the moment, below are some of the factors standing for and against each of the potential front runners as they gear up for the titanic battle for the hot seat.
Lawan, who is the current Senate President, it was learnt, has been banking on his popularity among his colleagues and the fact that he would be needed to stabilise the polity for the incoming administration of Bola Tinubu with his same page policy, which President Muhammadu Buhari had benefited from in the last four years.
Observers are, however, of the view that the support Lawan enjoyed from a faction of the presidency, which made a failed move to present him as the APC consensus presidential candidate, might work against him. Those that subscribe to this view believe Tinubu’s sarcastic comments after winning the ticket of the party, that Lawan should “go and lick his wounds”, was enough warning for Lawan to dump his ambition to lead the red chamber for a second term.
Although the Yobe senator is said to have vigorously campaigned for Tinubu in the Northeast geopolitical zone, analysts contend that his Muslim faith will be a huge hindrance.
Orji Uzor Kalu
Kalu’s political camp is fully confident that the president-elect would run an all inclusive government, bringing on board political tacticians, who are members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Southeast geopolitical zone.
Kalu, the Senate Chief Whip, is a ranking senator who is said to stand out as the most favoured in the choice of Senate President.
Sunday Sun findings showed that apart from making moves among his colleagues, Kalu has started reaching out to sitting APC governors, whose states produced APC senators in the just concluded National Assembly elections.
The former two-term governor of Abia State, is known to be a loyal party man who is said to have proved his “I can do spirit” at different assignments he has been involved in. His contacts across party lines is said to be as natural as nature.
Some political observers told Sunday Sun that given the political savvy of the distinguished senator and his immense contributions in the red chambers, he stands out tops to win the Senate President seat. Some are also of the view that the best way to win the confidence of the Christians and the Southeast is to make Kalu the Senate President so as to calm their nerves.
He is the current Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, also believed to be in the race for Senate Presidency. Jibrin displayed his influence and strength in Kano politics, when he won his election on the platform of the APC in the Kano Central Senatorial District.
He was the only APC candidate, who was able to weather the political tsunami of Musa Kwankwaso’s New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), which won both the Kano South and Kano North Senatorial Districts.
Coming from the North and again a Muslim, may be a limiting factor, and hindrance for him.
Akpabio, a former two-term governor of Akwa Ibom State is also former minority leader of the Senate, is believed to have his eyes on the Senate President seat.
As a first timer in the eighth Senate, Akpabio displaced a ranking Senator, James Manager, to become a principal officer, the position he held until he defected to APC during Bukola Saraki’s tenure as Senate President. He is from the South-South zone. His easy way of switching parties may count against him.
The outgoing governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, a first term Senator-elect is said to be interested in the race.
He is perhaps banking on the possibility the office would be taken to the Southeast geopolitical zone.
Umahi, against all odds, defected to the ruling party, APC, in his bid to contest the presidential ticket of the party. He later stood down for Tinubu and decided to run for the Senate.
As a first-time senator, he might find it difficult running with colleagues and ranking senators with cognate and requisite legislative skills.
The entrance of Oshiomhole, a former APC national chairman, former two-term governor of Edo State, and erstwhile National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), into the race is a surprise to keen watchers of the political game playing out in the National Assembly.
Observers of the development wonder how easy it would be for the first timer to emerge Senate President. However, those canvassing his emergence insisted that anything is possible, especially since the rule of the Senate does not specifically state that only ranking senators can be Senate President.
Yari, a former governor of Zamfara State is said to be eyeing the office of the Senate President in the 10th National Assembly.
He lost the opportunity of becoming Senator in the 9th National Assembly, because of a landmark Supreme Court verdict, which sacked all elected politicians on the platform of the APC following a face-off between his faction and that of Senator Kabiru Marafa.
As a first-time Senator, it may not be quite easy for Yari to get the ticket, considering some of his competitor’s cognate experience as ranking senators.
However, Sunday Sun investigation showed that so far none of the aspirants has properly or officially signified intention to vie for the Senate President position.
But the weeks ahead, after the governorship/state assembly elections held yesterday, will be quite revealing on how the contestants stand.