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A Progressive for Senate President

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From Abdulrazaq Bello-Barkindo

President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari is in for a fierce battle with corruption in his tenure, which takes off on May 29. And, Buhari would have to parade his most democratic credentials in dealing with it in the other arms of government, especially the legislature, whose backing he requires to conquer corruption. Particularly, Buhari would need the best knife in his drawer for this campaign.

Assuming that Buhari has no preferred candidate, as he said, he would still not find working with a stigmatized legislator, or one with a case with the anti-corruption agencies or the police easy. Besides Buhari has always emphasized rewarding party loyalty. Interested in the office of Senate President initially were Senators Bukola Saraki, George Akume, Abdullahi Adamu and Danjuma Goje, all former governors of Kwara, Benue, Nasarawa and Gombe states in that order. There are also two ranking senators, Muhammed Ali Ndume from Borno and Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan from Yobe. Without the encumbrances of a background check, all these senators are eminently qualified for Senate presidency. But, new alliances have reduced the horses to three- Saraki, Akume and Lawan- while Ndume has filed behind Saraki seeking to deputize.

In seeking the office, several issues have been raised by the contestants, including the zoning formula, the most deserving geographical area, balancing quota, the doctrine of necessity up to the most academically-qualified senator, all in a bid to outwit one another for the office.

Geographically, the North central has monopolized Senate Presidency since Iyorchia Ayu who served from 1992-1993. Senator Ameh Ebute served in 1993 until the military took over power. Then came incumbent Senate President David Mark, who has occupied the office since June 6, 2007. As an icing on the cake, the North central has also produced two Deputy Senate Presidents, Ibrahim Nasiru Mantu from Plateau State and Nassarawa State’s Haruna Abubakar. With this record, candidates from the North central look like the wet blankets because their region has virtually been custodian of No. 3 position in Nigeria.

In-between, the South-east occupied the office of the Senate president during the “banana peel” era – Evans Enwerem -1999-1999 (impeached), Chuba Okadigbo -1999-2000 (impeached), Anyim Pius Anyim 2000-2003, Adolphus Wabara -2003-2005 (forced to resign) and Ken Nnamani-2005-2007.

The Northwest since the debacle of Hon. Salisu Buhari has also dominated the House of Reps. Speakership. It went to Aminu Masari, Umar Ghali-Na’bba, and then to Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. Along the line, Patricia Ette and Dimeji Bankole occupied the office from the South-west. For Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha from the South east and the South-South’s Chibudom Nwuche from Rivers State can be counted. So if fairness and equity or consolidated progressive politics are the consideration, the Northeast deserves it more. The North east has only the cerebral Usman Bayero Nafada and Babangida Nguroje, variously as Deputy Speakers on its record, to account for its loyalty to progressive politics. And now that the progressives are in power should the limited influence of the North east in the National Assembly since 1999 persist?

In assessing all the people seeking to occupy the Senate president’s office, it is important to factor in the type of government that they are coming to work with. A rubber stamp Senate like the Seventh Assembly in Jonathan’s time would be unhelpful, just as a Senate president with a blemish would hurt progressive legislation and keep the president walking on egg-shells. For example, although still lacking evidence, his Boko Haram-related case in court might have dissuaded Ali Ndume’s from the race. This leaves the field open for Senator Ahmed Lawan, because many people believe that governors rushed to the Senate in search of immunity. This is pronounced now more than ever. Although it is not a reason to exclude them from further holding office, there are not enough grounds obliterating the suspicion.

This leaves the race to three horses. But Akume, for example, is alleged to have questions to answer about his personal life, a wild allegation, which can only be left to people with a wild imagination. For Bukola Saraki, who needs immunity more than the Senate presidency, the Societe Generale Bank allegations have been worrisome, though he has not been tried before any court of competent jurisdiction. Moreover, there are indications that he may use the Senate presidency to feed a hidden ambition, which may overheat the polity prematurely. Ironically, when he showed interest in the presidency in 2010 the Police Special Fraud Unit, SFU, harassed him and he succumbed.

As a whistleblower on the subsidy scam in the Senate, the EFCC revisited his tenure as Kwara governor in an attempt to shut him up.

That perhaps is why the Ahmed Lawan option looks like the finest knife in the cupboard. Senator Lawan is a consistent progressive and one of the most experienced in the NASS. He was elected to the House of Reps. in 1999, and has at different times chaired the House Committees on Education and Agriculture. He became Senator in 2007 from a strong APC enclave.

Academically, he is the most rated, being a Phd holder. Lawan served on the National Assembly’s Joint Committee on Constitution Review. In 2009, he was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts. Lawan initiated and sponsored the Desertification Control Bill and vehemently opposed the Kafin Zaki dam. He provided superlative representation, by paying attention to environmental degradation and poverty in his constituency. I read about him in 2010 and thought he was outstanding because a few people in the assembly pay attention to poverty alleviation and other social problems. If Buhari’s promise to reward loyalty is followed, Lawan has preceded the whirlwind in the APC even in the face of the harshest adversity.  Coming from the academia to the legislature, there are no landmines to scare him from presiding over a free and independent Senate, while the North east has been subservient to other regions for too long. So, Lawan and the North east deserve the presidency of the Senate.

Bello-Barkindo is former Editor of Leadership Newspaper and Publisher of The Road Newspaper.

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