THE battle for the office of Senate President is on. At the last count, there are three senators struggling to occupy the office. They are Ahmed Lawan from Yobe North, Ali Muhammed Ndume from Borno South and the new entrant, Danjuma Muhammed Goje , a two-time governor of Gombe State, from Gombe Central. All the three contestants are from North-East. Lawan, the Senate leader, is taunted as the anointed candidate of the executive arm of government (even if the claim is in dispute because, presidency officials say President Muhammadu Buhari has no candidate) and some senior leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are saying otherwise. Ndume is the immediate past Senate Leader and a former director of the Buhari Presidential Campaign, North –East. Goje is the incumbent Appropriation Committee Chairman of the Senate. He entered the race for the Senate President some weeks ago. Being ranking senators, all the three have the requisite qualification to pilot the affairs of the Senate. But, beyond that, what are the other issues? Some analysts say the other factors include but not limited to competence, equity, loyalty, sacrifice and party supremacy. So, how do the three contenders stand?
Those who are close to Lawan describe him as a gentleman and an experienced lawmaker, having been in the National Assembly since 1999. He first served as a member, House of Representatives for three terms, that is, between 1999 and 2011, before moving to the Senate in 2011. Before he became the Senate leader last year, he had headed key committees in the upper chamber, notably the Public Accounts committee. He had been anointed as Senate President in 2015 before some senators opposed to him played a fast one on the APC and Senator Bukola Saraki emerged. In essence, this is the second time he is running for Senate President. On the part of Goje, it is taken for granted that he is knowledgeable in law-making, having spent nearly two terms in the Senate. He may not be the choice of the executive and the party, but it appears he is popular among his colleagues, who will ultimately determine who becomes the next Senate President. Ndume is going for his third term in the Senate. Prior to coming to the Senate in 2011, he had spent two terms in the House of Representatives, together with Lawan.
One time Majority Leader of the House, Ndume, according to analysts, is a die-hard fan of the President but he is said also to be blunt to the point of not shying away from saying the truth even when it hurts the authorities. That, perhaps, is why he is loved by fellow senators across party lines. So much noise has been made regarding the issue of party supremacy on the election of the next Senate President. Unfortunately, the APC National Chairman, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, is going about it in a manner that suggests that he thinks he is superintending over a primary school where the headmaster issues orders to his pupils and the pupils have no choice but to obey. By fiat, Oshiomhole says Lawan is APC’s choice for Senate President. It was a unilateral decision. No consultations. Senators-elect of the APC, who ordinarily should have been carried along on a decision as crucial as the choice of who leads, didn’t even have an input on how Oshiomhole arrived at Lawan and neither did the North East caucus whose region the Senate President has been zoned enjoy the courtesy of having a say, in clear breach of tradition.
Regardless, the party chairman has repeatedly said it is Lawan for Senate President and nobody else as if he is God. Meanwhile, this was the same attitude Oshiomhole employed ahead of the 2019 polls that led to the APC losing Adamawa, Bauchi, Imo and Oyo states as well as his own senatorial district in Edo. Even many APC senators-elect are said to be resentful of the way Oshiomhole is going about his ‘Lawan for Senate President’ campaign, an indication that they may vote against the party chair’s anointed candidate on election day. The other issue is acceptability. Between Lawan and Ndume, who is more acceptable to fellow colleagues in the National Assembly? History adequately answers this question. In 2007, when both Ndume and Lawan were in the House of Representatives, even though Lawan had been in parliament since 1999 and Ndume elected for the first time in 2003, it was Ndume who was elected as Majority Leader.
And in 2015, when both of them had become senators and the North-East caucus, which Goje chaired, was to decide who will take the office shared to the zone in a mock election, Ndume came tops with 10 votes while Lawan had one. In fact, it is said that there is growing agitation among senators-elect from the North-East for another mock election to decide who is more popular between the two frontline contenders for Senate President to resolve the issue of popularity. It was on the strength of the 2015 mock election that Ndume emerged the Senate Majority Leader and as things are, the so-called anointing of Lawan by the Oshiomhole APC leadership, according to party sources, has polarised the party’s senators-elect, thereby making it difficult to sell the Lawan candidacy. On this score, a party source said the party leadership is working with the Lawan group to see how the two other contenders for Senate President, particularly Ndume, can be placated as it is becoming clear that Ndume is increasingly getting support among senators-elect across party lines. Now, to underscore the seriousness of the Ndume aspiration for Senate President, of the three aspirants, only he has publicly unfolded his plans for his colleagues in the 9th Senate and Nigerians through a manifesto. He has unveiled the shape of things to come if, by God’s grace, he is elected Senate President in June. In the 9-point agenda, Ndume said he would make the office of the Senate President that which is truly first among equals by reducing the unnecessary privileges attached to the office, and work harmoniously and inter-dependently with the executive without undermining the principle of Separation of Powers.
In addition, he intends to make new laws and review existing ones to be in tandem with APC’s Next Level agenda for Nigeria, especially those of the president in securing the country, and enhance job creation, economic and infrastructure development, fighting corruption; business and entrepreneurship development, health care enhancement services and education. Again, he promises to run the 9th Senate transparently, through open accountability with full participation of all Senators, among others.
Adedayo writes in from Abeokuta, Ogun State.