…as three zones are denied top posts

Few days ago, the All Progressives Congress (APC), held a dinner with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, wherein they zoned National Assembly leadership positions to the North East and South West – Senate President to North East and Speaker of the House of Reps to South West – and consequently endorsed Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos, respectively for the two positions.

The party and President Buhari, by their decision, have, many say, pushed further the sectional agenda that has characterised the Buhari government since inception in 2015, and worsened an already volatile ethnic and religious divide in the country. It has since triggered off opposition, including condemnations by those deprived of all strategic positions in the government.

“It is a very nepotic system that Buhari and the APC are running,” noted Chief Abia Onyike, political analyst and ex-NUJ deputy president. “They should stop talking about fighting corruption because the system they preside over is extremely corrupt, and Buhari is not ready to address it.”

The APC has, apparently, since inception, set out to redefine Nigeria. The long standing tradition of sharing strategic appointments among the three major ethnic groups in the country has obviously been destroyed, with the Igbo relegated to the background in the scheme of things. And as the Buhari government prepares to assume power for second term of office, signs of even further alienation are evident and so is the tension it could create.

The tough talking Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, is apparently determined to ensure that the principle of Federal Character is buried, and that party affiliation becomes the basis for everything else. Political commentators and Igbo leaders who were jolted by the neglect of the South East particularly in the zoning arrangement have reportedly confronted the APC leadership. But Oshiomhole in response, insisted, it was said, that if the Igbo wanted positions in the APC, they would have thought twice about supporting the PDP in the presidential election; an indication that politics of vindictiveness has become the new normal.

The implication of zoning Senate presidency to the North East, and House Speaker to the South West is that three zones: South East, South South and North Central, have been left out in the leadership arrangement of the APC government, while no individual of Christian faith would be heading any arm of government.

President Buhari, the chief executive is a Muslim from Katsina State, North West; the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the chief law officer of the country, is a Muslim from same zone as Buhari. Lawan, a Muslim North Easterner, is, by the party’s arrangement, to head the upper arm of the legislature, while Hon. Gbajabiamila, a Muslim from Lagos State, South West, is to head the lower legislative arm. Justice Tanko Mohammed, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, is a Muslim from north east. Already, the three zones hold at least 20 or over 75 percent of the most strategic appointments of the government at the moment.

The South West producing Speaker of the House of Reps would mean that it has both the number two person in the executive, the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, and the leadership of an arm of the legislature. The zone also heads the Federal Inland Revenue Service with Babatunde Fowler as Executive chairmean, while Babatunde Fashola is Minister of Power, Works and Housing, three of the most strategic ministries in the country.

Meanwhile, the North West, Buhari’s zone, in addition to having the presidency and Attorney General and Minister of Justice, holds such strategic positions as Interior Minister, Abdulrahman Dambazzau; Defence Minister, Dan Ali; Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed; DG, DSS, Yusuf Magaji Bichi; MD, NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman; Executive Secretary, PTDF, Bello Aliyu Gusau, and Ahmed Lawan Kuru, MD, AMCON among others.

Similarly, the North East which the party gave senate president, has Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai; Secretary to Government, Boss Mustapha; Chief of Staff Abba Kyari, NSA Mongunu, GMD, NNPC, Maikanti Baru, INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu; DG, Customs Service, Hameed Ibrahim Ali and EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu.

Buhari had promised that his appointments in the second term would have more spread. But analysts say it is unlikely given antecedents and especially because he is aware of the fact that he won’t be standing for another election.

“I don’t see him changing going by his antecedents,” said Lagos based lawyer, Okey Okoroji. “He is going to spend his time going after those he thought did not vote for him. Remember his 97 percent and 5 percent logic. That’s what he is coming back to do.”

Indeed, the Buhari government has been criticised by many for what they call unbridled display of nepotism. This, perhaps, more than anything else, have defined the APC government in its first four years. The President had particularly attracted outrage when last year, he appointed Magaji Bichi as substantial Director General of the DSS to replace Bayelsa born Mathew Seiyefa, the most senior officer of the Department who had acted as DG following the dismissal of Lawal Daura.

The appointment had effectively put all security and intelligence agencies in the hands of Buhari’s Muslim North. Yet, it had come as dust was yet to settle over a similar lopsided recruitment into the DSS which also largely favoured the North, especially the North West.

The DSS had commissioned 479 new officers, out of which 331 were from the 19 states of the North and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Katsina, the home state of the president, had 51 officers, with the North West generally taking 165, while the five states of the South East had 44 and the South South 42. The figures for the other zones are North East 100, North Central 66, and South West 57. Similar controversy had also trailed recruitment into the Nigerian Police Force in December 2016

Starting with the appointment of his kitchen cabinet – the first set of appointments he made which had an overwhelming Northern domination – the president made it immediately clear, some say, that contrary to his inaugural speech postulation of belonging to everybody and to nobody, he indeed belongs to the North. He never looked back ever since; presently nearly all the country’s major security apparatus and revenue generating agencies are headed by Northerners.

“We have been under Military dictatorship since the day Buhari populated the entire Security apparatus of the state with his kinsmen and cronies,” noted Chief Tola Adeniyi, former MD of the Daily Times.

“You would have noticed that since the inception of Buhari dictatorship, he had used the military for police functions and today the Armed Forces and the politicised partisan police have occupied virtually the entire country’s landscape.”

Nonetheless, as far as the politics of zoning National Assembly leadership positions is concerned, it would be unfair to blame the president. It has had more, obviously, to do with the 2023 presidency, particularly as it concerns the presidential ambition of APC national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Indeed, it had been with the intention of controlling the APC structure ahead of 2023 that Tinubu ensured that Chief John Oyegun, former APC chairman, was removed in favour of Oshiomhole, his long time ally who he had assisted in his governorship quest in 2007. Since Oshiomhole emerged chairman, Tinubu has continued to call the shots.

Those perceived to be potential obstacles to his presidential bid have had their wings clipped. Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, who is himself nursing presidential ambition, has lost his standing in the ruling party. He, as well as his Ogun State counterpart, Ibikunle Amosun, and lately, Ondo governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, have been suspended from the party for “anti party” activities. These individuals have one thing in common: they are not loyal Tinubu men in the APC.

But the implication of Oshiomhole’s moves is that the APC now stands real risk of becoming a regional party. With the South East now completely alienated, and the South South hanging by a thread courtesy of Edo State, the APC may no longer be able to claim to be a national party. And it could have serious implications for it going into 2023, especially as it has become obvious, with the governorship election, that the PDP remains popular in the North.

From May 29, the PDP would have at least one state in each of the six geopolitical zones, but the APC would not.

“This nation will not be properly balanced if the South-East is not carried along in the affairs of the National Assembly. Nobody seems to be talking about the South-East; it looks like the South-East doesn’t have a place anymore. That is wrong, politically speaking and that will not be good for the APC because there is going to be a bigger APC after President Muhammadu Buhari must have left the seat,” Imo governor, Rochas Okorocha had said.

“My fear now is that the APC may have a serious setback in 2023 because the Oshiomhole-led executive is actually turning the APC into a regional minority party, which shouldn’t be. Right now in the whole of the South-East, we don’t have an APC governor. So, if there is any discussion in Nigeria now among the APC governors and President Muhammadu Buhari, there will be nobody from the South-East. This is what the APC has done in the South-East.”

The table could easily turn. The former Lagos State governor, had pushed for Lawan and Gbajabiamila as senate president and Speaker of the House of Reps in 2015, but failed. Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara emerged as leaders of both chambers respectively in what was a revolt against the former governor by members of the opposition PDP and some members of the ruling party.

Similar opposition is already emerging, particularly in light of the growing allegation that Tinubu is seeking to use Lawan and Gbajabiamila to control the National Assembly in preparation for presidential bid in 2023.

Other aspirants to senate presidency like Senator Ali Ndume and Senator Danjuma Goje are understandably plotting to, alongside other APC senators, team up with members of the PDP to stop Lawan. BusinessHallmark has learnt that Lawan has been making efforts to reach out to the PDP caucus but to no avail.

Although Ndume has been more vocal on his intention to contest, and his defiance of the APC, Business Hallmark learnt that Goje is more likely to secure the support of the PDP senators and APC senators, particularly former governors, said to be upset about Oshiomohle, who is himself a former governor, and Tinubu, issuing others to them in the manner they have done.

Goje has not been vocal in his quest, but it is understood that he has growing support among both PDP senators and their APC counterparts, especially former governors who see him as one of their own being a former governor of Gombe himself.

In the House of Reps, it is even more complicated. Following Gbajabiamila’s endorsement, the North Central Caucus rallied in protest. The caucus in a statement by John Dyegh (Benue) – who had since declared his intention to vie for the position – said they were not party to the decision and that the zone deserved to produce Speaker of the House.

“We are not fighting the party, we are not. We shall not, we are only giving the party an opportunity to come back and look at the zoning and look at what we are saying.”

Dyegh argued that aside the fact that North Central was the third largest contributor to the 2019 election success of the party, fairness and equity demands the zone is considered for the position since the region has never produced the Speaker or Deputy Speaker since the return to democracy in 1999.

Other House members from the zone, including Umar Mohammed Bago from Niger State, have declared interest for the position. But Bago’s bid suffered a major setback last week, following the endorsement of Femi Gbajabiamila by the state chapter of the APC.

Governors of the North Central had also endorsed Gbajabiamila, but it remains to be seen how much impact the endorsement would have on the floor of the House when voting would be done.

Nonetheless, discontent is growing against Tinubu and Oshiomhole. Some members of the party’s NWC alleged that the chairman takes decisions unilaterally. He had, for instance, it was alleged, zoned the deputy senate president to the South South and consequently, named Senator Francis Alimekhena who hails from the same senatorial district, Edo North, as choice candidate, much to the chagrin of other aspirants for the position in the zone like Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and a number of others from other zones, including Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, Oluremi Tinubu and Kabiru Gaya from Kano.

Pressure has continued to mount. It is instructive that Oshiomhole has been atypically quiet of late. It was alleged that Buhari himself had reprimanded him.

Few days ago, a group of Northern youths under the Northern Youths Movement released a statement saying that zoning of the speakership position to the South West was insult on the North and an affront on the principle of federal character enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria. The group accused Oshiomhole of plotting to take over the National Assembly in preparation for 2023 presidential bid.

“Our question then is: when did Oshiomhole meet with APC National Working Committee members to arrive at his zoning of the Reps Speaker to the Southwest, a zone that already has the Vice President just as the Northwest has the President?” the group queried in a the statement signed by its chairman, Mallam Ishaya Jato.

“Our understanding of the federal character formula is that with six positions of President, Vice President, Senate President and Deputy as well as Reps Speaker and Deputy available, the six geopolitical zones must get one position each.

“Since Northwest and Southwest have already taken President and Vice President respectively, the remaining four positions must be shared among the South-South, South East, North Central and North East zones. Anything outside this is against the unity of Nigeria and peaceful coexistence of its people, and we in the Northern Youths Movement will never support that.”

The group disclosed that President Buhari had to openly reprimand Oshiomhole for discussing what he described as unnecessary details that were not known to him and that his understanding was that all zones should meet and discuss zoning.

“Our people are feeling that they are being marginalised,” Hon. Tony Nwoye, APC governorship candidate for the 2017 Anambra election said last week. “The Igbo people are critical to the Nigerian project, we cannot be marginalised perpetually because we did not vote for Buhari out of sheer sentiment. The South East deserves the SGF or Deputy Senate President.”

When contacted however, the APC National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Lanre Issa Onilu argued that since every zone would get a share of positions in the National Assembly, there was no basis for allegations of marginalisation.

“There are six principal positions in each of the chambers. Certainly other regions will have a fair share of positions. You have only one Senate President at a time, you can’t have six,” Onilu said.

“We have six geopolitical zones, except you are suggesting that we have six senate presidents and six speakers of the House of Reps. At any point in time, we can only have one each, and it has to come from somewhere.

“Don’t forget that the North Central occupied the senate presidency for 16 years interrupted. There is no zone that cannot put up an argument that will make sense. But at the end of the day, you can only give to one person at a time.”

Amid the growing allegation, Tinubu released a statement last week, saying that reports that he had eyes on 2023 presidential race were “utterly false, based as they are in the febrile imaginations of those persons by whom they are being peddled; they are injurious to President Buhari’s historic quest to reform Nigeria.”

He said his intention in promoting Lawan and Gbajabiamila was to make sure that the mistake of Saraki and Dogara whom he accused of delaying and padding budgets we’re not repeated.

“Just look at the way Saraki, Dogara and their ilk hijacked the budget process these past four years,” he said in a statement released by Tunde Rahman, his spokesman.

“National budgets were delayed and distorted as these actors repeatedly sought to pad budgets with pet projects that would profit them. Even worse, they cut funds intended for projects that would have benefitted the average person. After four years of their antics halting the progress of government, we should do all we can to prevent a repeat of their malign control of the National Assembly.

But he probably got more than he bargained for. Both Saraki and Dogara returned the favour. In a response on Tuesday, Dogara noted that only those with “dubious” academic qualifications can accuse the National Assembly of padding budget it reserves the power to review, while accusing the former Lagos governor of having a “wayward lust for power” and promoting a “fascist agenda.”

Earlier on Monday, Saraki said in his own response, that it was “unfortunate” that after 22 months in the legislature, Tinubu does “not have a better understanding of how the legislature works”.

“Since we have taken it for granted that Tinubu’s attack on Saraki every three months (quarterly) will come as expected, we would just have ignored his statement but for the fact that it was filled with untruth, fallacies and misrepresentations,” Mr Saraki’s office said. “It is unfortunate that a man like Tinubu who had been in the Senate (though for 22 months and under a military regime) should not have a better understanding of how the legislature works.”

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