By Ricky Ola
That the All Progressives Congress (APC) came out victorious in the last national elections is no longer news. The party won the presidency, produced governors in about 22 states and won majority seats in the National Assembly. What is news is the degree of underground manipulations, dialogue and horse trading going on to activate its smooth take off as a ruling party. Like a new bride that it has become, the party is not leaving any stones unturned in its determination to ensure a harmonious and balanced threshold.. The President-elect Alh. Mohammodu Buhari and his deputy, Prof. Yemi Oshinbajo will assume the mantle of leadership on Friday 29th May, 2015. A week later, specifically on Saturday 6th June, 2015 the Eighth legislature will be inaugurated.
The task of putting in place a cabinet that will drive the ‘change agenda’ of the in coming administration is perhaps the only one that compares intensely to the need to enthrone a legislature that will robustly complement the executive. Indeed, one early advertisement of the party’s brand of change and it’s implication for the polity may not be the promptness or otherwise with which it puts in place a federal cabinet, but the dexterity with which it resolves a potential leadership crisis that hovers on the yet to be inaugurated National Assembly like the Sword of Damocles.
Reasons for the importance attached to the National Assembly leadership over and above the selection of members of the cabinet are not far fetched. Whereas cabinet members are appointees of the President who can be hired and fired according to the oscillation of his mood, assembly members are elected representatives of the people. The assembly is also peopled by individuals of myriad political background. It is therefore paramount that those who form its leadership are people whose characters are impeccable and who have the charisma or wizardry to ensure stability in its two cameras namely the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Going by the body language of its national leadership especially of Buhari and Oshinbajo the APC does not leave anyone in doubt that the duo intend to hit the ground running once they occupy Aso Rock Villa, the nation’s seat of power. To avoid the distractions that an unstable assembly may portend for the executive, the leadership of the APC is working assiduously building consensus to ensure the process for the emergence of a new legislative leadership is rancor free.
Once beaten is twice shy. Nigerians know the implications of an unstable National Legislature. The first eight years of democratic governance beginning from 1999 was fraught with instability in both arms of the legislature. While the upper house produced five Presidents of the Senate within the period who are the late Senator Chuba Okadigbo, Senators Evans Enwerem, Adolphus Wabara, Anyim Pious Anyim and Ken Nnamani the lower house fared marginally better, chalking up three Speakers namely Salisu Buhari, Ghali Na’aba and Aminu Masari. A measure of stability was achieved in the post-2007 legislature, where the Senate had just one President in eight years in the person of Senator David Mark, the House of Representatives still maintained its average of three Speakers in eight years in the persons of Hon. Patricia Ette, Dimeji Bankole and Aminu Tambuwal.
Although the inauguration of the assembly is still weeks away, the question of its leadership has become a burning issue in political discussions across the country. The situation has been laced with more suspense as the party is yet to come out with a categorical statement on the zoning of political offices after its victory at the polls. Zones in contention for legislative leadership are North East and North Central for the Senate and South-west and North West for the House of Representatives. The Igbos (the third major tripod in the Nigerian federation) which naturally would have been given the right of first rejection unfortunately does not have a single Senator elected on the platform of the soon to be ruling party. The North East’s agitation is based on its perceived marginalization in the previous senates and the trauma it has suffered as a result of Boko Haram insurgency. It is however generally believed that for clear political considerations the national leadership of the party may eventually favor zoning the Senate President to the North Central, while Speaker of the House of Representatives may be zoned to the South West.
The Senate has a standing rule of giving preference to old or ranking members when it comes to filling its leadership positions. Going by that ranking rule, over half a dozen Senators are qualified to take a shot at the Senate Presidency. They are George Akume: Benue NorthWest,Barnabas Gemade: Benue Central, Abdullahi Adamu: Nasarawa, Mohammed Ohiare: Kogi Central, Dino Melaye: Kogi West, Bukola Saraki: Kwara Central and Joshua Dariye: Plateau.
Out of these Senators, the names of George Akume and Bukola Saraki have dominated recent political discourse as frontline contenders for the Senate Presidency.
Both men parade intimidating credentials. Saraki is a trained medical doctor turned seasoned banker. He was Special Assistant to former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Budget Monitoring between 1999 and 2002. He rode on the massive political chest of his father the late Oloye Olusola Saraki to become two term Governor of Kwara State from 2003 to 2011. He was former Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum, an association he built to a respectable position of strength and tremendous influence. From the Government House in Ilorin he proceeded to the Senate in 2011 and won re-election in the just concluded general elections.
Saraki has been applauded for his sterling resume of a contemporary Nigerian politician: urbane, suave and vibrant. He is, however, considered in several quarters as over-ambitious, arrogant and self-serving. The fate of the defunct Societe Generale Bank and the Songai Agricultural project under which some Zimbabwean farmers relocated to Nigeria have attracted the attention of the anti-corruption watch dogs ICPC and EFCC to some of his activities. But even of more importance is the concern in some quarters that his ethnicity as Yoruba from Ilorin is a major hindrance to his current ambition.
*Ric Ola, a public affairs analyst, lives in Lokoja, Kogi State.