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SENATE PRESIDENCY: Tinubu Shuts Out Saraki

Race For Office Of Senate President In The Next Republic Seems Over For Bukola Saraki As APC Intrigues May Have Consumed His Ambition

Francis Moses

There are indications that the All Progressive Congress (APC) leader, Bola Tinubu, may have effectively shut the door to the office of senate president in the in coming Gen. Muhammadu Buhari administration, against erstwhile governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki, who is seen as favoured for the office, especially, among senators. This is as the battle for other offices in the National Assembly hots up among zones to which the offices had been zoned to by the leadership of the APC.

The present political development in the APC ahead of the inauguration of the new government is now a source of concern to the leadership and fears are being expressed by stakeholders that the situation, if not handled appropriately, may cause internal separations in the party and dissatisfaction in the regions affected. At the heart of the intense lobbying and mudslinging are Senators Saraki, George Akume and party leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The UNION gathered that the party leaders had, soon after the elections, agreed to zone position of Senate President to the North Central and that of Speaker to the Southwest. Reason given for this was so as to spread such high offices in a fair and equitable manner, considering that the north central had held that position well, in addition to the fact that the party recorded additional victory in the zone with Plateau, Benue, Kogi and Kwara states, hitherto PDP enclaves, joining it. It was further disclosed that no sooner had the zoning formula been agreed upon than other considerations came into play, such as party allegiance and power play.

Tinubu, The UNION gathered, had pitched his tent with Senator Akume for the Senate Presidency for the simple reason that he is from the stable of defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). For the Speakership, he is alleged to have thrown his weight behind Femi Gbajagbiamila, one of his boys from Lagos. The purpose, it appeared was to ensure all the strong power blocs within APC got their deserts. The defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) bloc in the party already had the office of President. It was reasoned that the ACN bloc should therefore get the Senate President and Speaker. However, The UNION was informed that subtle, but popular issue of corruption among top shots of the party was raised by the Tinubu group to kick against Saraki’s ambition.

But as The UNION learnt, the strategic long-term goal of Tinubu was to be in a position to checkmate Buhari, in the event the North, as it is increasingly becoming clear from the continuous adjustment and inclusion of key northerners in the transition list, hijacks the presidency. The fear was heightened with the resurfacing of Alhaji Babagana Kingibe and Ahmed Joda on the Buhari transition list. Saraki, it will be recalled, has been under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged involvement in fraud in the defunct and family-owned Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria (SGBN). He was also alleged to have laundered some billions of Naira belonging to Intercontinental Bank of Nigeria Plc (now Access Bank) as well as allegedly used fronts like Sintex Ltd, Skyview Properties Ltd, Asam Oil, Quality Packing Ltd, Bastone Ltd, Madison Properties Ltd, Airline catering Services to allegedly launder money when he was governor of Kwara State.

The UNION further learnt that this alibi has gotten the bitter part of Saraki, whose supporting group, comprising Governors Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State, is fighting back and dirty too. Investigations show that the group is being linked with the sponsorship of campaign against Tinubu, in an article that appeared in a foreign newspaper, The Daily Beast, during the week, detailing Tinubu’s alleged involvement in drug trafficking. Headlined Buhari: Nigeria’s Next Leader’s Ties To A Heroin Ring. The story detailed alleged heroin and money laundering activities involving Tinubu while he was a student in Chicago State University as well as Treasurer of Mobil Oil in the 1990s. The group is also accused, by Tinubu’s acolytes, of spreading the information that Senator Akume is a heavy drinker.

This, The UNION was informed, is a minus on the character required for the exalted office of the Senate President. Indeed, The UNION reliably gathered that Amaechi looked Tinubu in the face and asked him how much he donated into the party campaign war chest such that he would be dictating who gets what and how to which Tinubu replied that he had the political structures and delivered his zone during the polls unlike Amaechi who could not even deliver his Rivers State and therefore should take the back seat when serious party issues are being discussed. In an obvious attempt at damage control, and to stop the brewing internal crisis, the APC leadership met in Abuja and mandated the party to come up with a more acceptable zoning formula.

The new zoning structure takes cognizance of performance, integrity, legislative experience and ranking in considering candidates for National Assembly positions. The new zoning formula cedes the Senate Presidency to the northeast while the Speaker goes to the Southwest. The position of Senate Leader went to the North-west while the deputy Senate President went to Northcentral. Stakeholders privy to the new zoning formula from the North west and North east expressed delight with the new arrangement while some members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), who know of the new arrangement but not mandated to speak said the new zoning  formula was with their leaders.

They only await directives to make it public. Meanwhile, three lawmakers eyeing the Senate Presidency from the North central are yet to respond to the party’s new zoning arrangement, which according the report may ruffle feathers and possibly the party. However, a group of professionals from the North West geopolitical zone, recently, said that Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim should succeed David Mark as Nigeria’s next Senate President. But how this can work is another task because Abba is from the North West, the same zone that produced the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari.

At a news conference in Kaduna, professionals from Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi States, led by Mallam Nasir Jafar said: “Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim is a veteran politician, who made remarkable giant strides in an opposition party, ANPP, as a two term governor in the face of the ruling party’s intimidation, harassment and bullying among others. “Ibrahim not only made tremendous strides in the merger of all opposition political parties that formed the APC, which emerged winner in the just concluded polls across the country, and unified different political interests in the political history of this country. “Another credit to this man was his indefatigable efforts in the last fifth National Assembly. In the last Senate, there were eight former governors from various states, but Senator Ibrahim was the first among his equals.

As a true democrat and an advocate of genuine change, he made more contributions in the legislative process than many of his colleagues.” Many political watchers have argued that bequeathing these exalted seats especially that of the Senate president to the North-east would be giving too much to the North, which already has the presidency. Meanwhile of the six-geopolitical zones, the North-east has been particularly shortchanged in the power equation in the National Assembly. During former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure from 1999 to 2007, the North-west maintained a grip on the speaker’s office with Salisu Buhari, Ghali Na’Abba and Aminu Masari holding sway in succession. The deputy speaker is so far the highest position the North-east has occupied in the National Assembly since 1999. From 2007-2011, the region only produced former deputy speaker under Bankole, Usman Bayero Nafada, from Gombe State.

The zone is the third most populous in Nigeria after North-west and South-west, having the highest number of minority tribes, who have always been schemed out and marginalised in the country’s power sharing arrangement. Perhaps in the just concluded presidential and National Assembly elections, the North-east produced the second highest number of votes for the APC and second highest number of federal lawmakers for the party. Furthermore, since the North-central has been in the saddle since 2007, with David Mark, completing his second term as the Senate president, it is time to look elsewhere and, in the spirit of cohesion and sense of unity, zone the post to the North-East which has been left out in the cold since 2007.

Against the backdrop of the zoning, the North-east caucus has tipped Senator Ahmad Lawan for Senate president. The Justice Forum, a non-governmental organisation, is rooting for Senator Ahmad Lawan as Senate president in the Eighth Senate, which will be inaugurated in June. Addressing newsmen recently in Abuja, the Executive Director and National Coordinator of the forum, Oladunjoye Babatunde, said the incoming administration, known for its strong anti-corruption stance, must have a Senate president who has no links with corruption or corrupt practices. Babatunde further added that the General Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government would require a corrupt-free Senate to deliver on his campaign promises.

Babatunde further urged senators-elect and returning senators of the 8th Senate to dissociate themselves from the aspirations of some senators who are already considered unfit for such exalted office Senator Lawan was first elected into the House of Representatives in 1999 where he served two terms. In 2007, he was elected into the Senate and was re-elected for a third term on March 28. Aware of the crisis the stalemate is causing the party, President–elect, Buhari said during the week that he prefers somebody without questionable character to occupy the offices of Senate and Speaker.

Apart from Saraki and Akume, other contestants from the North Central who have indicated interest are former Nasarawa governor, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, Senator Danjuma Goje of Gombe State and Senator Ali Ndume from Borno State. Among them only one is said to have no case with the EFCC. Nonetheless, the coming days will prove testy for the APC as the power blocs within pitch for their candidates with the near possibility of splintering into the old factions that merged to form it.

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