Senate President Saraki

 

The failure of the All Progressives Congress leadership to adopt an agreeable zoning formula for the election of National Assembly leadership has thrown the party into confusion as candidates forge alliances against the party’s preferred choice.  EZUGWU OBINNA reports

As the All Progressives Congress (APC) prepares to take over the leadership of the Senate, it has indeed been an intriguing battle of wits and manoeuvres by the ranking Senators of the party over who should take over from David Mark as the Senate President.

At first, the fight appeared to be based on geopolitical zones with Senators from the North East and North Central proffering reasons as to why they were better positioned to produce the Senate President. The North East had reportedly insisted on leading the Senate based on the fact that it contributed the second highest number of votes to the APC’s success in the presidential election. The North Central on the other hand sought to continue to head the Senate as a way of achieving balance in the polity.

However, while it appears as though the APC has achieved a consensus in allowing the North Central to produce the Senate President, the battle has now mainly shifted to the ranking Senators from  the zone on who should become the President of the Senate. Notably Senator Bukola Saraki, representing Kwara Central Senatorial zone and Senator George Akume of Benue West zone are leading the battle over who should be the Senate President.

Interestingly however, Senator Ahmed Lawan who emerged as a strong contender from the North East with the backing of Bola Tinubu is still in contention and is sure to get the backing of the party’s leadership if that is the only way of stopping Saraki’s emergence, Hallmark checks unveiled.

If the party were to take preeminence in the choice of Senate President, one can be certain that either Akume or Lawan would step into Mark’s shoe in the 8th Senate as they are both understandably enjoying the backing of Tinubu, a key figure in the party who wields overwhelming influence and who for some reasons is not disposed to Saraki emerging. Sources disclosed that Tinubu sees Saraki becoming Senate President as a threat to his political dominance in the South.

It is believed that the former Lagos State governor is more comfortable with and has been aggressively backing Akume and alternatively, Lawan for the position based mainly on his belief that he would have a measure of influence at the upper chamber with either Akume or Lawan in charge but more importantly, his towering political dominance would not be under any serious threat.

“I know for a fact that Saraki is not someone Tinubu can control and for that reason he may not want Saraki to lead the Senate,” said a source close to the corridor of power in Lagos.

Saraki who is known not to be inclined to defer to Tinubu appears to be winning more support among Senators-elect, especially in the PDP camp. The argument of those who are rooting for him is that the Senate, with him in charge, would have a measure of independence from any political godfather.

Already, there are reportedly 65 out of the 109 Senators backing Saraki’s candidature, the bulk of which are those elected on the platform of PDP.

Recently, a group of Senators led by the activist Dino Melaye (Kogi West), known as The Like Minds emerged with the intention of backing the aspirations of Saraki and Ndume, the latter one of the North East Senators tipped for Senate Presidency but who has from indications conceded the position to North Central and opted for the deputy senate president to Saraki.

The principal concern of the group, according to an internal source is to ensure that no external influence or external political godfather hijacks Senate leadership. The source noted that while a particular aspirant had allegedly got the endorsement of Tinubu, the numerical number of the ‘Like Minds’ group continues to increase on a daily basis.

The source further said the North East, which was said to have endorsed the candidature of Senator Lawan has 15 Senators in the Like Minds’ camp and nine Senators out of 21 from the North West.

The stance of the ‘like minds’ was further given a boost recently when the president elect, Buhari made it clear that he has no anointed candidate for the Senate presidency and appeared to be learning towards allowing both arms of the National Assembly the autonomy to choose their leaders. This is coupled with the fact that the APC as a political party appears not to have been able to reach a concrete agreement on who should lead the Senate.

The Senators in Saraki’s camp had on Tuesday last week held a meeting at Transcorp Hilton Hotel with a view to garnering more support for the ex-Kwara governor. The meeting which was reportedly co-chaired by Melaye, Senator Ibrahim Gobir, representing Sokoto East and Godswill Akpabio, the outgoing governor of Akwa Ibom State who won the Akwa Ibom West senatorial seat under the platform of PDP had a number of both the PDP and APC Senators in attendance.

Other notable figures like former Ebonyi State governor, Sam Egwu and Sokoto State governor, Aliyu Wamakko are also known to be very much in support of Saraki. In fact, it was revealed that the Transcorp meeting had over 70 Senators elect in attendance.

More recently, it also emerged that Lawan who is also a top contender from the North East and would have easily got the position if APC had resolutely zoned it to the North East with Ndume, entered into a peace pact with a view to ensuring that there won’t be any grudges between them no matter who emerges Senate President.

Lawan, by the way, is known to have support among a number of Senators from the North East who have reportedly promised to give him block vote coupled with the fact that he is Tinubu’s preferred candidate in the zone, but his chances would have been a lot more realistic if the party had zoned it to the North East. Besides, the ‘Like Minds’ group also boasts of 12 Senators from the zone.

In the South West where the influence of Tinubu is more pronounced and whose Senators may naturally be inclined to supporting the ex-governor’s stance, reportedly have seven Senators as members of Like Minds.

However, while it appears as if the coast is clear for the Kwara senator, one key factor that may work against his ambition and may ultimately lead to its collapse is the insinuation that he has issues with the EFCC and the President-elect, Buhari has made it clear on a number of occasions that he would like to work with only those who have clean records with anti-graft agencies.

It was to this effect that another group of Senators known as the Unity Forum emerged. The Unity Forum which appears to have come to counter the growing acceptance of the ‘Like Minds’ are insisting that the National Assembly must in line with Buhari’s vision of working with leaders without blemish, elect individuals with integrity into Senate leadership.

“We believe that the new leadership of the Senate should be able to help the President-elect achieve and deliver on his campaign promises to rid Nigeria of corruption and establish the rule of good governance in the country, spokesperson for the group was quoted saying.

In the final analysis however, the Senate as an independent arm of government has the right to choose its leaders.