Wanted: Senate President for the 9th Assembly

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Ahmed Lawan., Ndume and Danjuma Goje

As the race for leadership of the ninth National Assembly heats up, who becomes the next Senate president is the main issue, writes Olaseni Durojaiye

With the majority seats in the nation’s upper legislative chamber, the Senate, safely tucked in the political pouch of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), there is no better time to begin to map out the shape of the leadership structure of the incoming ninth Red Chamber and this is being mindful of the benefit of hindsight.

A major criticism of the APC in its first term as the ruling party borders on lethargy. This was most pronounced in how long it took the party to constitute its federal cabinet leading many to conclude that the party was ill-prepared for the business of governance, in addition to the thinking that the long delay robbed it of the opportunity to hit the ground running from day one.

Presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and a former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, re-echoed this perspective in a recent interview with THISDAY during which he argued that “Nigerians voted them (PDP) out for a party that was not ready for leadership. I mean, after six months without a cabinet it became evident that the party was not ready for leadership. They were just interested in grabbing power.”

The perceived ill-preparedness of the APC also reared its head in the National Assembly as the party could not agree on the configuration of the leadership structure in both chambers of the parliament even with the fact that it controlled majority seats.

Many analysts of different persuasions had adduced different reasons for the challenge at the time but none of those reasons will be permissible this time around which is why the party and its leadership hierarchy must immediately put on its thinking cap and arrive at a leadership structure that will appropriately take care of all interests and divides in the party, mindful of all the legacy parties that came together to form the party in February 2013.

It is against this background that analysts expect that the APC leadership and its various stakeholders to have a tentative zoning arrangement in place to be activated ahead of the inauguration of the next Senate. Such an approach will eliminate tension and afford the party the needed time to manage whatever the fallouts from the exercise in good time. The party has agreed to this thinking anyway.

Forming the leadership structure of both chambers of the National Assembly particularly, the Senate, according to political observers, will typify the progressive and democratic credentials of the ruling party. Many commentators argued that the leadership of the lower house is given considering certain permutations especially, regarding the fact that the current Speaker of the House will be returning to the house albeit on a minority platform.

Investigations by THISDAY revealed subtle jostling and underground scheming have commenced in earnest among ranking returning senators with eyes on the seat of the President of the ninth Senate. It was further gathered that though the push at the moment was for the position to be zoned to the North-east, where the party had zoned it in 2015 before Dr. Bukola Saraki upturned the apple cart.

Analysts, however, insisted that whoever emerges must not be a function of zoning and reiterated the importance of competence, capacity, and experience alongside other political considerations and expediency for the purpose of strengthening the legislature and delivering on good governance.

Observers are also waiting to test the democratic inclination of the APC given that nothing has changed in the set up in the presidency with the return of Presidential Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Indeed, political watchers are waiting to see if the party would again zone the Senate presidency to the North-east geo-political zone as it did in 2015.

Interestingly, three ranking senators from the North-east zone are currently at the forefront of consideration for the Senate presidency position. They are Ahmed Lawan, Danjuma Goje, and Ali Ndume – all from North-east.

Pundits insisted that Senator Ahmed Lawan, representing Yobe North Senatorial district should ordinarily get the nod of the party strategists and leadership on account of the fact that his choice passes all the critical criteria of who leads the ninth chamber.

Ordinarily, his choice should have been a stroll in the park but given the scheming and intrigues characteristic of the nation’s party politics, it could be wishful thinking given that other ranking senators have already started eyeing the plum post.

Some observers and analysts opined that Lawan comes to the table with both intellectual capacity and legislative competence to lead the ninth Senate. As a former Senate president, Iyorchia Ayu, Lawan, he is a former university don, having lectured at the University of Maiduguri.

The 60-0year-old seasoned legislator holds a doctoral degree in remote sensing/GIS from the Cranfield University, United Kingdom. This was after he bagged a first degree in Geography at the University of Maiduguri and MSc from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria.

Those familiar with him averred that it is a mark of his legendary humility that he does not flaunt his academic qualifications unnecessarily, thus, his preference for being addressed simply as Ahmed Lawan. What more, he is from the North-east.

A number of reporters covering the National Assembly credit him with laudable legislative contributions to the work of the National Assembly’s Joint Committee on Constitution Review in 2009. As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, he initiated and sponsored the Desertification Control Commission Bill.

And in 2009, he spoke against the proposed Kafin Zaki Dam. He had argued at the time that among other dislocations in the polity if constructed, the dam would cause intense poverty, increase desert encroachment, migration and conflicts between arable farmers and herdsmen.

A Wikipedia entry corroborated Lawan’s expert opinion. The post read in part thus: “A study funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study estimated that if implemented, even with a regulated flooding regime to reduce downstream impact, the Kafin Zaki dam project would have a negative value of around $15 million.”

Being the highest ranking senator in APC, when the ninth Senate is inaugurated is also considered by many as a huge advantage that makes him head and shoulder above other aspirants for the position. This is besides that he is the most ranking member of the third legacy party, the All Nigerian Peoples’ Party (ANPP), that formed the APC and the least favoured of the lot when positions were shared in the National Assembly, until he became Senate Majority Leader midway into the life of the eighth Senate.

Lawan first got into the National Assembly in 1999 as a member of the House of Representatives on the platform of ANPP and served two terms. In 2007, he contested for his current seat and defeated the candidate of the ruling (at the federal level) Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He repeated the feat again in 2011 and 2015 before his latest election, thus making him a four-time senator when the ninth Senate is inaugurated.

Besides, he is an uncommon party man. He stuck to the ANPP even when the trending practice was for politicians to defect to the PDP. He has also shown the same loyalty to the APC even when the party failed to deploy its might to make him emerge as the president of the eighth Senate. What more, he stoutly supported and rallied many senators and House members behind the party’s positions in the National Assembly during the tumultuous moments that characterised the better life in the current Senate.

On his part, Ndume, representing Borno South senatorial district also boasts a robust academic and legislative resume. Like Lawan, his maiden entry into the nation’s parliament was through the House of Representatives in 2003 as a member of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He later dumped the ANPP for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in a dramatic manner after he fell out with former Borno State governor, Alli Modu Sherriff. His spat with Sherrif was to later haunt his political career.

A recipient of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Post-Graduate Scholarship to study Business and Computer Education at the University of Toledo Ohio, United States of America, where he graduated with a B.Ed and M.Ed in 1990 and was awarded Magna Cum Laude academic honour. He was also admitted into the Phi Kappa Phi academic society for outstanding performance. On graduation, Ndume returned to Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri for a second stint as a lecturer, having taught in the institution before he proceeded to the University of Toledo until 2003 when he entered politics.

Knowledgeable source at the National Assembly insisted two factors may prove his Achilles heel. “Senator Ndume is perceived combative and a hardliner” a journalist who covered the Senate spoke about what might count against him when the chips are down, adding that “his alleged links to Boko Haram is another factor that his opponents may resuscitate to knock the wind off his sail to becoming the Senate president.”

Investigations revealed that in November 2011, Senator Ndume was controversially linked to Boko Haram. This charge came about following the arrest and interrogation of the Boko Haram Spokesperson at the time, Mallam Ali Konduga. It, however, turned out that the allegation was spurious as he had been mandated to liaise with the group in a bid by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration to seek a political solution to the Boko Haram security challenge.

According to Wikipedia, it was later discovered that a former governor of Borno State, Sheriff, with whom he earlier had political disagreements had a hand in his ordeal.

Analysts insisted that even though the charges had since been dropped, the unfortunate incident could form bias decision against him on who becomes the next Senate president when the time comes just as his perceived hard line and combative posturing may not sit well with the APC apparatchik.

Senator Danjuma Goje, a former two-time governor of Gombe State is another returning ranking senator of the APC fold being touted as a possible president of the incoming ninth Senate. He is reputed to be vastly experienced in both executive and parliamentary duties on account of having held positions that cut across the two divides.

He was a member of the Bauchi State House of Assembly from 1979-1983 on the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Thereafter, he was appointed the Secretary of the National Institute for Medical Research Yaba, Lagos State in 1984, a position he held until 1989 before he went into private business.

He served as Minister of State, Power, and Steel from 1999-2001 under President Olusegun Obasanjo. He has served in several committees in the Senate, the last being Chair of the very strategic and plum Senate Committee on Appropriation. He was a member of the Bauchi State House of Assembly.

A graduate of the political science of department of the Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU Zaria) and made his entry into the red chamber in April of 2011, when he was elected Senator for Gombe Central on the PDP ticket. With a number of former governors retiring to the Senate, Goje will rally the support of a good number of them, particularly the former PDP members in his push to clinch the position.

A couple of factors and issues considered vital will count against him. One is his ongoing prosecution for graft by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Another and even more daunting is his role in the delay in the passage of the 2018 appropriation bill.

At the height of the budget passage imbroglio, Goje had claimed that the work of the Senate appropriation committee stalled because the EFCC carted away vital documents relating to the committee work in his possession when the anti-graft body raided his Abuja home even though the claim was taken by many with a pinch of salt.

Given the expected scheming, alignment of forces and horse-trading characteristic of such jostles it is pertinent that the APC apparatchik is wary of political antecedents of all the aspirants and would choose right at the end of the day. Of paramount importance is the need to be armed with the lessons learnt from the 2015 experience in order to avoid another round of rancorous term in the Senate for the good of the nation.