By Alade James
For the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the storm gathers once again. Just as the party savours its victory in a bitterly-fought presidential election that President Muhammadu Buhari won, clouds of crisis hover over it as the jockeying for principal positions in the National Assembly begins.
By virtue of Section 64(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the 8th National Assembly expires by effusion of time on June 8. Barring last minute development, Buhari, going by precedent, is expected to proclaim the 9th National Assembly into being on June 9, 2019.
However, barely have winners emerged in the National Assembly elections than newly-elected lawmakers, comprising returning members and first termers with enough heft to swing things their way, have started positioning themselves for the leadership positions of the National Assembly.
At stake are the following positions: Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Majority Leader, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip, among others.
But while the lawmakers are lining up themselves for the various leadership positions in the legislature, the APC, which is expected to play a crucial role in who gets what, unlike in the 2015 race, is playing it close to its chest.
In 2015, the APC, then a rainbow of political forces determined to wrest power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), badly managed the process and this led to the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki, a powerful politician from Kwara, as the Senate President. He won
despite efforts by the party to stop him. The APC officials were determined to work for the emergence of Senator Ahmad Lawan from the North-East.
Their inability to assert any authority to rally party members behind Lawan was aided by Buhari’s now famous quotation in his presidential inaugural address in which he spoke about being for nobody and being for everybody.
The party lethargy, arguably due to its inexperience in managing the complexity of national politics, as the key decision makers in the party were hitherto little emperors in their tribal political hegemonies whose words were laws to other party members, provided the leeway for Saraki to outfox the APC.
Saraki, a two-term governor of Kwara State under PDP and former Chairman, Nigerian Governors Forum, tapped into his PDP root to beat APC leaders at their own game of intrigues. As part of the bargaining chips, he traded off the deputy Senate Presidency for the support of opposition senators, whose numerical strength was crucial in picking a Senate President.
While 51 out of about 66 APC senators were at the International Conference Centre, Abuja for a controversial meeting whose convener(s) remain(s) unknown to the public till date, the 57 senators at the maiden sitting unanimously elected Saraki as the Senate president.
The absentee senators barely made it back to the National Assembly for the inaugural sitting only to witness PDP’s Ike Ekweremadu who expectedly defeated APC and Ali Ndume, in a contest that gave a legal veneer to the horse-trading between Saraki and PDP.
That is why the APC cannot fritter away a second chance to manage the process better this time.
Before the 2015 elections were won and loss, the expectation was that the APC would back a South-East lawmaker as Senate President or House Speaker. With the president from the North and the vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, from the South-West, conceding either of the two positions to the South-East seemed the logical step in conformity with Nigeria’s power rotation system that aims to quell fears of marginalisation among the federating units by ensuring equitable distribution of power and its appurtenances among the six geopolitical zones.
However, the poor performance of APC in the South-East, a traditional stronghold of PDP, derailed that expectation. All the federal lawmakers from the five states in the geopolitical zone were PDP members.
Even the five Igbo who won election to the House in Lagos State, dominated by the APC, did so on the platform of PDP. But for the Saraki deal with PDP that birthed the Ekweremadu Senate deputy presidency, the South-East would have been out of the power loop in a nation were strong ethnic sentiments drive relationship between constituent states and the federal government.
And now that the first stanza of the 2019 general election is over with APC even improving on its 2015 records, the party is on the cusp of another crisis.
The performance of the APC in the South-East in the recent election has thrown up a spectre of the marginalisation of the geopolitical in the power equation. However, unlike in 2015, the geopolitical zone has produced two APC senators and could get another one should Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu win his re-election bid for the Imo North Senatorial District. INEC declared the contest inconclusive on February 23 and rescheduled the conclusion for March 9. Uwajumogu won his reelection, making him,arguably the most favoured APC senator from the South-east to become a principal officer in the Senate.
In the presidential election, the five states in the geopolitical zone also gave Buhari 403,242 votes, up from the 198,248 votes he got in 2015. The incoming senators, former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, the outgoing Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, and Uwajumogu should present an opportunity for the APC not to tread the 2015 path.
Like Okorocha in Imo State, Kalu was instrumental to the impressive showing APC put up in the National Assembly election in his Abia State. Apart from winning his senatorial seat, he played a key role in the election of two APC members, Benjamin Kalu of Bende Federal Constituency and Nkeiruka Onyejeocha of the Isikwuuato/Umunneochi, into the House of Representatives. He also delivered his Bende Local Government to Buhari who beat PDP’s Atiku Abubakar by 9,233 votes to 6,649.
However, unlike Okorocha, Kalu, by virtue of his election on the platform of the now defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) into the 593-member House of Representatives in the July 4, 1992 to herald the aborted Third Republic, could be considered a ranking senator.
The ranking rules confer on former House members same privileges as former senators. Should Kalu choose to bid for the post, it certainly will not be a picnic but he is eminently qualified.
Although many may argue that power distribution should be seen as a reward for electoral performance, the danger in that narrative is that it foists on the polity a winner-takes-all mentality that negates the principles of fairness and equity enunciated by the nation founding fathers.
In addition, we should start shifting away from the divisive policy of punishing voters for their choices. The moment the election is over, winners such as president and governors should forget about who voted for them or against them by ensuring an equitable distribution of political power.
The APC would gain more from running an inclusive government that gives the South-East a better sense of belonging in the federation than the 2015 attempts that seek to punish the geopolitical zone for voting against the party. If the tokenism of the Buhari first term could
pave the way for the improvement in the party’s performance in 2019 in the South-East, giving the zone a greater chance in running the nation’s affair will enhance the incremental progress APC is making in the geopolitical zone.
Perhaps this is the time for the president to give life to his promise while collecting his certificate of return, to run an inclusive government.
*James, a public affairs analyst, writes from Kaduna