OPINION: Who Deserves To Be The Senate President? – Yahaya Tanko

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As expected, the entire media space is abuzz with stories, news reports, scoops and features; either real or imaginary, planted or skewed, about the leadership of Nigeria’s 8th Assembly. The entire polity is awash with discourse about who and where gets what in the Senate and House of Representatives. The build-up of political activities to the Thursday June 4th Inauguration of the 8th Assembly is getting interesting and revealing. As the countdown to the Inauguration date and subsequent election of Principal Officers for the Senate and House of Representatives gathers momentum, Nigerians are treated to a daily menu of intrigues, twists and turns by respective Camps, Caucus, Groups and Contenders.

Though the battle for leadership positions is fierce in the Senate and House of Representatives, it appears; from all parameters, it is more potent in the Red Chamber. For very obvious reasons. The Senate being the Upper Chamber (or House, if you like) has more strategic function in the nation’s political development. The Senate President has dual responsibilities – as Head of the Upper Chamber and Chairman/Head of Nigeria’s Parliament.
Therefore, the All Progressive Congress must do everything possible to ensure that whoever emerges Senate President is a man of impeccable character, integrity, consistency and honour. In achieving this, the APC and leaders must; as a matter of necessity, take into consideration the socio-political, religious and ethnic diversity and sensitivity of Nigeria.
The writer agrees that there are Senators – Elect who are eminently qualified for the Presidency of the Red Chamber. Indeed, aside the names of contenders being promoted, there are others who, considering their personality, achievement, antecedent and pedigree, also qualify to vie for the No. 3 position.

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However, for the purpose of this discourse, the writer, after detailed comparative analysis, socio-psychological juxtaposition and informed critique of the three top contenders – Ahmed Lawan, Bukola Saraki and George Akume, states unequivocally that the former Benue State Governor and current Minority Leader, is the most suitable for the Senate Presidency. Though the writer concedes that both Saraki and Lawan, just like Akume, have the education, exposure and personality, but other considerations (which are very critical to the continued co-existence of Nigeria) clears the way for the Benue-born Parliamentarian.

Akume’s socio-cultural background gives him an edge over and above Saraki and Lawan. Saraki is a Fulani and Yoruba Man from Ilorin, Kwara State – an ethnic group which has already produced the Vice President – Elect, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo. Having another Yoruba man as Senate President (in addition to the VP slot) negates the principle of federal character and equity. Similarly, Lawan is a Kanuri – Fulani; an ethnic group which shares same cultural affinity with the President – Elect’s group. The emergence of Senator Lawan as Senate President will truly confirm insinuation that APC is not only an AREWA Fulani Party but gives credence to alleged Malamisation of the in-coming GMB Administration.

This is where Akume comes in as the veritable game-changer. Akume is from the Minority Tiv nationality which boasts kinsmen in Benue, Adamawa, Taraba and Nasarawa States. His emergence as Senate President (and Chairman of National Assembly/Legislature) will assuage the feelings of Nigeria’s minority ethnic groups in both sides of the North – South divide, especially with the ouster of President Goodluck Jonathan, who is from a minority ethnic group; Ijaw, during the last general elections.

Indeed, religion plays a massive and determinant role in every political development in Nigeria. Though regrettable, but that is the reality. Taking into cognizance the sensitive religious contraption of Nigeria, it will be politically unwise to edge out Christians in the Senate Presidency. With a Muslim President – Elect and the huge prospects of a Muslim Speaker in the House of Representatives, most probably from the South West, it becomes politically expedient to balance positions along religious lines. To have a Muslim Senate President will surely be an over-kill. A development that will, most definitely, affect the electoral fortune and public acceptance of the APC.

Recall that during the formative stages of APC, the party was poo-poohed as a party of Muslims. During the gestation period of APC, its frontliners included; GMB, Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Bisi Akande, Rabiu Kwankwanso, Nasir El-Rufai, Danjuma Goje, Bukola Saraki, Kashim Imam, Bukar Abba Ibrahim and Abubakar Audu, who are Muslims.
The general perception, then and now, is that APC do not seem sensitive to the religious secularity of Nigeria. Ensuring the emergence of Akume (who is the only Christian Senator amongst the contenders) as Senate President (by extension Head of Legislature) will be one sure way of diluting this mindset and repositioning APC in the public consciousness.
The increasing number of former governors in the Senate will play strategic role in the race for headship of the Red Chamber. A formidable coterie of twenty former state chief executives and deputy chief executives will surely have more than passing interest in who emerges the Senate President. Considering the Afro-Nigerian conservatism about age and biological seniority, it is not likely that any of these leaders; in their own right, will agree to be bossed by “a Saraki or Lawan Senate Presidency”. These former chief executives and deputy chief executives which includes; Danjuma Goje, Kabiru Gaya, Adamu Aliero, Rabiu Kwankwanso, Joshua Dariye, Abdullahi Adamu, Enyinaya Abaribe, Abiodun Olujimi, etc will most likely embrace an Akume Senate Presidency who belongs to their generation.

The public service profile of contenders and GMB’s proposed “clean government” will swing the Senate Presidency to Akume. The Tiv-born Senator remains one of the few former governors who did not initiate a retirement package for himself upon his departure from office in 2007, nor instigate Benue State House of Assembly to articulate any such largesse. This he probably did out of sensitivity to the lean economic resources of Benue State. Similarly, Akume who left office without blemish, remains one of Nigeria’s few former leaders who has not been a regular feature at the “Idiagbon House” Headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

However, the reverse is the case for Saraki. As an Executive Director in the liquidated Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, SGBN, the Kwara-born Senator was not insulated from the trivails of the bank. His sojourn and sudden disengagement as Special Assistant on Budget to former President Olusegun Obasanjo which was allegedly shrouded in controversy remains a carefully guided secret. As Chief Executive in Kwara State, many policies and programmes embarked upon were fraught with controversies. A case in point is the invitation of Zimbabwean farmers for the Shonga Modernised Farm Project. Not forgetting alleged conversion of such public properties like Kwara Cargo Terminal and Kwara Metro Park into personal use.

While leaving office in 2011, he reportedly awarded himself humongous sums as disengagement benefits. Since exit as governor, Saraki has reportedly, continued to draw heavily on the resources of the state such as paying for his frequent travels by Chartered aircraft and the construction of a palatial mansion for him; a shouting distance from Government House, Ilorin. Shockingly, he is alleged to continuously exert a stifling influence at the jugular of Kwara politics where he is the “be all and end all” in all matters related to nomination and election into political offices; appointments at the local government, state and federal levels, and even in the sitting of projects.
True, a GMB administration desirous to clean the mess in Public Service, the choice of who to pick as the Senate President is clear. An Akume – Senate Presidency will provide the necessary moral and legislative support for GMB to fight corruption and economic waste.

The attitude, conduct and aptitude of the contenders will be very germane in determining the Senate President. Though Saraki has been applauded for his sterling resume of a contemporary Nigerian politician; suave, vibrant and urbane, but he is largely seen and described as arrogant, self-serving and over-ambitious. Students of contemporary Nigerian political history allude to how he rallied the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, to virtually arm-twist and rail-road an otherwise strong-willed Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who psychologically devastated by the demise of his wife Stella in 2005, into the stitched-up pairing of the Late Umaru Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan in 2007. Recall that the experiment eventually culminated with the death mid-term of Yar’adua and the lack of capacity demonstrated by his successor. Saraki was an initial major beneficiary of the project, at least all through the first term of the administration from 2007 to 2011, earning political patronage for his constituents, until he fell out with President Goodluck Jonathan and joined the PDP which fused into the APC.

Keen and regular observers of Senate Plenary Sessions, agrees that Senator Ahmed Lawan comes across as an unrepentant ethnic jingoist, tribal crusader, irreverent and irreducible traducer. The Yobe-born Senator comes across as a gadfly who has the tendency to rock the boat; whenever and wherever he desire.
However, Akume comes to the contest with rich credentials in human resource management. He is reputed to be sober, level-headed, a good listener, a pragmatist and a team player. His honest disposition, consistency, cosmopolitan exposure, organizational ability and compassionate mien are some of the qualities that seem to have attracted him to the vast majority of Senators; across party lines. Akume is a consummate public administrator who is unapologetic about his commitment to public good. Unlike the other contenders, for Akume, public interest will always take precedence over and above personal interest. This is a feat he has always demonstrated in all his public service career – as Permanent Secretary, Executive Governor, Senator and Minority Leader.
No doubt, the GMB – administration will find a worthy collaborator and partner in an Akume Senate Presidency, who will truly, sincerely and genuinely complement every policy and programme of the government in uplifting the political, social, economic and infrastructural standard of Nigeria and Nigerians.

When push comes to shove, the sentiments of key leaders of the All Progressive Congress could be the decider in the race for Senate Presidency. Each Leader will consider respective candidates relationship, antecedents, loyalty and relevance to their future political relevance in determining whom to support.

Having laboured so hard to nurture the socio-politics of the South West in the last two decades, Bola Tinubu will resist any attempt to decimate his fiefdom. Realizing that Saraki is Yoruba through and though, Tinubu will not give him any space to nibble at his political estate. The Lion of Bourdillon will not be disposed to have Saraki as the Senate President. Similarly, taking into consideration the potential cantankerous nature and overtly-principled stance of Senator Ahmed Lawan, the South West political war lord may not give him support. This may pave way for Akume who is considered a level-headed, broad-minded, loyal and responsive politician.
It is believed that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has not forgiven Senator Bukola Saraki for severally stabbing him in the latter’s political ascension. Atiku encouraged Late Dr. Olusola Saraki to consider building Bukola into his political successor, way back in 2002. According to reports, the older Saraki had shared his bitter experiences of facilitating the emergence of governors in the old Kwara State, since 1979, who eventually fail the State and disappointed him. The Turaki Adamawa went further to facilitate Saraki’s appointment as Special Assistant on Budget in the Obasanjo administration. Atiku does not believe Bukola Saraki has been fair to him. He believes the 2007 Project to have two governors paired on the Presidential ticket, orchestrated by Bukola Saraki, was hatched to scheme him out of the race. In 2011, Bukola Saraki’s sudden emergence to struggle for the consensus Northern ticket with him, is seen by Turaki Adamawa as a ploy to thwart his Presidential aspiration. The more recent 2014 presidential bid of Saraki and his exit from the contest to pave way for GMB, is perceived as a grand-plot to undermine his political relevance by the son of Oloye Kwara.

Senator Ahmed Lawan is seen as a political upstart by the Turaki Adamawa political camp. Supporting him will scuttle Atiku’s eminently qualified and reserved position as Chairman BOT of APC.
On the other hand, Senator Akume and Atiku Abubakar have enjoyed very robust and wonderful relationship since 1999, having both being elected governors of Benue and Adamawa States, respectively. Unknown to many Nigerians, the highest traditional title conferred on Atiku by Tor Tiv, the paramount ruler of Tiv Kingdom was facilitated by Akume as governor of Benue State. Both men left the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for Action Congress and later Action Congress of Nigeria, at about the same time. To underscore the depth of their friendship and relationship, financial support to the North Central Zone, during the last general elections were said to have been routed through Senator George Akume.

–Tanko writes from Rabah Road, Kaduna.

SEE ALSO: GBAM!!! Dear Aisha Buhari, Please, History Must Never Repeat Itself! – Tony Ademiluyi

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