From 1960 to date, Nigeria has produced 12 Senate Presidents. In the First Republic, the late Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe and Dr. Nwafor Orozu, served as heads of the ceremonial Senate under the parliamentary system.
In the Second Republic, Dr. Joseph Wayas, was the Chairman of the National Assembly under the presidential system. The Third Republic produced Dr. Iyocha Ayu and Ahmed Ebute.
In the last 20 years, seven prominent politicians have occupied the seat. They are the late Chief Evans Ewerem, the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Pius Ayim, Adulphus Wabara, Ken Nnamani, General David Mark and Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The Senate President is number two member of the President’s kitchen cabinet. In the absence of the Commander-In-Chief and his deputy, he automatically becomes the acting president. The Senate President is the Chairman of the National Assembly, which comprises the Senate and the House of Representatives. When there is gulf between the president and holder of the post, the lack of cordial relations will definitely affect the smooth running of governance.
The effects may manifest in delay in passage of budgets, denial of approval for presidential nominees, defections and executive/parliamentary tension.
Since independence, there was never a time the head of government was aloof to the election of key National Assembly officers, except in 2015. Also, the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President have always come from the ruling party, except there a coalition or accord between the ruling party and an opposition party. Usually, the principal officers have always emerged, following the deliberations by the party caucus, in an atmosphere of party supremacy and corresponding party discipline.
Historically, the position was also zoned to a region. The arrangement often confer on the leaders and stakeholders from the region to play an important role in selection. Since charity begins at home, it is expected that the aspirant would have solve himself to senators from his region before reaching out to those aoutside the zone. Forces outside the zone may be formidable and powerful to be ignored, making stakeholders to dance to their tune.
However, since 2015, it has become evident that the opposition has been positioned to play a key role in the emergence of the Senate President, particularly when the ruling party is unable to put its house in order or enforce discipline among its federal legislators. Although the voting are done separately, the outcome of the inner elections in the Upper Chamber may significantly affect the voting pattern in the Lower Chamber.
Many APC senators have not made up their minds on the direction to swing the pendulum. The reason is that President Muhammdu Buhari has not directly declared his preference for the apex parliamentary position.
Senate Leader Dr. Ahmed Lawan, a former two-time House of Representatives member and third-time senator, is from Yobe State. In 2015, he showed interest in the position. But, he lost to Saraki in controversial circumstances. He is the candidate of the party. To that extent, the intention of the PDP caucus is to abort his dream. Lawan has the support of APC senators from the Southwest, Northcentral, Northwest where his campaign manager, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, hails from, and the lone Young Party of Nigeria (YPN) senator from Anambra State, Ifeanyi Ubah. Also, the two senators from the South, Senator Aliemekena (Edo North) and Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central) are toeing the party line.
Lawan’s challengers, Danjuma Goje and Ali Ndume, are not pushovers. Goje is a former Minister of State for Power and Steel and governor of Gombe State. Under his leadership, the APC extended tentacles into the state, which had been a stronghold of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for two decades. He is influential in the ‘former Governors’ bloc in the Senate. Naturally, as a former PDP chieftains, he has links with the main opposition party, whose chieftains have been mounting pressures on him to declare his interest. But, sources close to him said that he is not a desperate aspirant. However, PDP is trying to bring Goje and Ndume together in amity so that one can step down for the other.
Ndume is always full of bravado. He is from Borno State. He is a survivor of personal battles in the Senate. He was once suspended from the Senate in error. He is the former Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, where he spent eight years before moving up to the Senate. Ndume is not the choice of the APC leadership, which perceives him as a very controversial politician. Although there is also a friction between him and a section of PDP Senate caucus who are still loyal to Saraki, efforts are being made to make the two sides reconcile. Since the PDP Senate caucus is more united than the APC Senate caucus, the PDP caucus cannot be ignored. In fact, some APC leaders perceive Ndume as a spoiler, who joined the race in bad faith. In their view, the senator should have vied for other key offices, following Lawan’s endorsement for the topmost position. But, according to observers, Ndume has the inalienable right to contest.
With a benefit of hindsight, Senator-elect Dayo Adeyeye urged the APC to promote compromise by reaching out to Goje and Ndume, who will then sacrifice their personal interests for the party’s collective interest.
The aspirants are reaching out to their colleagues across the six regions. Their campaign organisations are not sleeping on guard. The three aspirants also know that the choice of a deputy Senate President may play a balancing role. The manifestos of the aspirants are similar, except that Lawan has often emphasised the need for respect for party supremacy.
Lawan’s campaign slogan is: ‘a Senate and National Assembly that works for Nigeria.’The Senate Leader said the next Senate should assist the country by helping President Buhari to achieve his agenda in the areas of security, economy, job creation and anti-corruption battle.
He said while he is conversant with the doctrine of the separation of powers, it should not translate into an unnecessary rift that will cripple harmonious working relations among the organs of government to the detriment of the country.
Lawan, who described himself as a progressive, observed that the next Senate will be made up of seasoned professionals, technocrats and statesmen, adding that “the experience we have garnered will help us to assist the country through legislation.”Justifying his fitness for the role, he said: “I have been in the National Assembly for almost 20 years. I have served in the House of Representatives for eight years and the Senate for 12 years, I thank God and my people for renewing may mandate.
“I am a progressive. I was an APP and later, ANPP House of Representatives member and I am now in the APC. I believe in the progressive politics, in ensuring that ordinary people- the masses- get support and opportunities to actualise their potentials and dreams. We should support entrepreneurship and business to grow and thrive for employment to boom.”
The Senate Leader said his consultation is all-inclusive, stressing that no senator-elect will be taken for granted. He said: “We are not taking anybody for granted. We take the campaign seriously. We are going round to talk to party leaders, senators-elect, stakeholders. We have been talking to PDP senators-elect. We have our limitations as human beings.”
Lawan said he will always demonstrate his respect for party supremacy, hinting that, if the position is zoned outside the Northeast, he will respect the decision of the party.
He said President Buhari should be assisted to accomplish his programmes in the areas of security, economic revatilisation, job creation and anti-corruption fight through robust legislation.
The Senate Leader said the Senate must also legislate to grow an all-inclusive economy and support agricultural development, adding that “our economy can be better, if we make the business environment better to encourage investors.”
On other aspirants, he said: “We take it as a game. We don’t talk badly or negatively about our colleagues in the race.”
Source: The Nation