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Senate Presidency And The Evocation Of Empathy

The next President of the Senate is most likely going to be Senator Ahmed Lawan of Yobe State and the deputy, Senator George Akume of Benue State

Terhemba Shija

Our country is a theatre of idealism, but it is also a home of realists. Nigerians cherish discussions especially on politics and football and it appears most of them give excellent commentaries and analyses on these two games in beer parlours, street corners, informal and formal discussion groups and in social media. They invest so much emotion in the dialectics of the fundamental essence of these games and, by so doing, interrogate or accept different ideas; compare or contrast Nigeria’s standards with those of other countries and generously proffer ideas to improve the performance of this giant of Africa in either football or politics.

Generally, Nigerians tell themselves the truth anytime they crave for success. They demonstrate their ability to criticize themselves just as much as they prove that they also possess the capacity to appreciate one another when victory comes their way. The euphoria that engulfs the nation at the end of a fierce international football match or at the emergence of largely acceptable presidential candidate after a free, fair and credible election is incredibly fulfilling. The ecstasy is even therapeutic for a robust nation with great diversities seeking to harness its potentials to ensure progress and advancement. The Nigerian political discourse, for instance, is as multidimensional as it could be of a nation with over 300 ethnic nationalities, multiple religions and a 170 million strong population fused together by a colonial power.

It engages the instruments of the idealist and that of the realist; the objective and the subjective; the scientific and primordial as well as the logical and the emotional in its discursive heterogeneity. What invariably comes out as Nigeria’s political verdict in most debates held either formally at Constituent Assemblies or informally in beer parlour discussions is consensus rather than the strict adherence to the fundamentals. Our people are constrained to deal essentially with what they can do rather than what ought to be done. They seem to say that the law was made for man and not man for the law.

In this regard, emotions play a more critical stabilizing factor in reaching a consensus than any other parameter that may bother on logic and the law. I am concerned here with the feeling of empathy which Nigerians evoke at critical times to solve naughty political issues that threaten the fragile fabrics of our confederation. The word, empathy, is not as commonly used as its cousin, sympathy, perhaps because it carries more weight and significance. Everybody talks of sympathy which means simply commiserating or being sorry about someone else’s problems.

Empathy goes further than that. It involves showing understanding or being sensitive to someone else’s predicament to the point of vicariously participating in his grief. Empathy is indeed a cryptic current that surreptitiously works its way into the psyche of Nigerian disrupting laiddown procedures, destroying ethnic and primordial sentiments and promoting unspeakable solidarity and camaraderie among Nigerians. On such rare occasions when the spirit of empathy takes possession of the Nigerian nation, the victims of tragedy are very often lifted up, pampered and placed in a position where they could feel reasonably comfortable to call themselves part of the Nigerian community.

Several examples abound to demonstrate this phenomenon in our political history. The late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was only a Lt- Colonel in the midst of Generals when the then Head of State General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in 1976. The gravity of the predicament was not merely that a very popular and dynamic Head of State was killed in cold blood. It was because his death marked the second time in Nigeria’s short lifespan that two popular Presidents of Hausa-Fulani extraction would be killed in such a reckless manner. Of course, the entire nation was enveloped in grief. Sympathy messages flooded everywhere and the government then did a lot to immortalize the name of General Mohammed. All these were not sufficient to assuage the misery of many citizens of our country. They needed to be empathized with by practically engaging the victims of tragedy in the political arrangement of the day.

The appointment of the then Lt-Colonel Yar’Adua to take the position of military Vice-President in violation of military hierarchy was therefore a necessary step to empathize with the Hausa-Fulani people and to further cement our unity as a nation. The language of empathy is so subtle that it appears most Nigerians cannot easily codify. The Yoruba people did not readily join other Nigerians who were empathizing with them in 1999 by releasing Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from prison and picking on him to run for the presidency of Nigeria.

The Yorubas had refused to vote for him in the 1999 elections. At that time, the South West had thoroughly deserved the sympathy of the rest of the country by the way and manner, their son, Chief M.K.O Abiola, was denied the presidency of Nigeria and hauled into jail after winning the credible polls of June 12, 1993. Chief Abiola later died in jail without trial under the tyrannical leadership of General Sani Abacha, who also threw Chief Obasanjo into jail on trumpedup charges of attempting a coup.

The nation was outraged by the catalogue of tribulations of their Yoruba compatriots and chose to vicariously identify with them. Chief Obasanjo’s presidency in 1999 was therefore a faith accompli principally because of the consensus of the Nigerian citizens to empathize with the South West on account of those atrocities. As we await the proclamation of the 8thNational Assembly on June 9, 2015, there are strong indications that Nigerians may again resort to empathy as strategy to get out of the seemingly intractable problem the emerging ruling party, the APC, has found itself. The party has publicly confessed its inability to zone the presiding offices of the National Assembly even as it is closely marked by its rivals, the PDP which membership in the Senate is exceeded by just eleven members.

So far, the North Central geopolitical zone has provided a water-tight argument as to why the Senate Presidency should continue to be theirs, giving persuasive arguments of how they had pulled the carpet under the feet of PDP to emerge as the best performing zone for the APC in the last presidential and governorship elections. They even cite the presence of the current Senate Minority Leader, Senator George Akume, among the foremost contestants who should naturally be given the right of first refusal in line with legislative practices all over the world in the race for the Senate presidency.

The zone also parades prominent other names like Senators Bukola Saraki and Abdullahi Adamu as well as exhibits their strong comparative advantages of providing Nigeria with the needed religious and minorities balance in leadership of the three arms of government. All these have, however, not stopped the All Progressives Congress (APC) leadership from leaving the race to be won by means of survival of the fittest, an approach which is capable of plunging the country into dire consequences. However, it appears that the stage is set to once again release the currents of empathy on the citizens to do some soul searching. The focus this time is the North-Eastern geopolitical zone, the area that had for the past six years dominated national and international discussions as the theatre of war, rape, deprivation, mass killings, hunger, deprivation and neglect. The Boko-Haram had declared war on the North -Eastern part of Nigeria in which about 3,900 Nigerians lost their lives including civilians and the military. The area also has a terrible refugee crisis.

However, just like the Yorubas were unaware of the national sympathy towards them, it had taken the group of Senators-elect outside the North-East Zone to announce a consensus to unanimously adopt Senator Ahmed Lawan from this zone as President of the Senate in the 8th National Assembly. About thirteen Senators-elect from the North-East Zone comprising those of the Presidentelect, Mohammadu Buhari’s home state, Katsina, have constituted themselves as the core group of canvassers for Senator Lawan’s Senate Presidency. The General himself has refused to support any particular candidate or zone for this position. But if this gesture by the North-West Senators is not Buhari’s body language concerning this matter, then I do not know what else it is. I guess that the President-elect, having vigorously campaigned for the office using the factor of insecurity in the North-East and having promised a special package for the people of this zone may as well have decided to help in the emergence of Senator Ahmed Lawan as President of the Senate.

Secondly, the North Central zone which has a very strong case in the quest for Senate presidency appears to have listened to the body language of the President elect hence the subtle withdrawal of a candidate who looked like the heir apparent, Senator George Akume and his consequent merger with Ahmed Lawan of the North-East zone. Akume now runs as the Deputy Senate President. The South-West Senators- Elect, most of whom are APC members, have also unanimously adopted the tag team of Ahmed Lawan /George Akume, thereby sealing the zoning arrangement for the positions of Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives among the four zones in the total control of the APC. What is particularly spectacular about the joint ticket of Lawan/Akume is that credibility has not been sacrificed for empathy.

Both gentlemen are ranking Senators and longest serving APC Senators from their respective zones. The bottom-line is that the North-East, being the worst victims of terrorism, is easily the object of sympathy in the new administration. Nigerians in their wisdom would not just want the government to retrieve the Chibok girls under captivity and the vast territories of Bornu and Yobe under siege, but to restore the souls of their disoriented compatriots from psychological trauma and make them part of the Nigerian society after six years of nightmare. It appears our people are now once again poised to underplay certain indices and provide a space for their brothers and sisters from the North-East zone to be part of the emerging leadership. The next President of the Senate is most likely going to be Senator Ahmed Lawan of Yobe State and the deputy, Senator George Akume of Benue State.

•Dr Shija is of the Nasarawa State University, Keffi.

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