The event of Saturday, March 23 in which some All Progressives Congress, APC, Senators-elect abandoned the retreat organised for them by their party in Abuja to announce the adoption of two northern Senators as President and Deputy Senate President is a big goof. The action of the Senate Unity Forum, as the group is called, is strange, insensitive, overtly reprehensible, and bereft of a sound sense of history.
The faction of APC Senators-elect had announced the adoption of Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State and Senator George Akume from Benue State as Senate President and Deputy Senate President, respectively. More strangely, the group’s statement read by Senator Barnabas Gemade claimed that the weird agenda was “in the collective interest of our party and our dear nation, Nigeria”. Fa-fa-fa foul.
Yet this did not come as a total surprise since there were several media reports to the effect that some APC leaders and National Assembly Members-elect lead by Ahmed Tinubu were pushing for the distribution of the Senate presiding offices to the North East and North Central to take care of their strong agitations in order to clear perceived road blocks to the emergence of Tinubu’s loyalist, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker. The APC Chieftain and Tinubu’s ally, Bisi Akande declaration that the APC does not believe in zoning and never zoned anything to anybody strengthen the speculations even stronger.
Yet, these signposts notwithstanding, no Nigerian in his right senses, and who understands the multifarious nature and political history of Nigeria, could have taken such reports seriously. Sadly, the announcement by the so-called Senate Unity Forum has not only proved the reports right, but has also confirmed that we live in a country where the strangest things happen normally.
Talking about irony, it beats the imagination that a group, which goes by the name Senate Unity Forum would make a proposition that neither promotes unity nor cares a hoot about the sensibilities of other parts of the country. Whereas Section 14 (3) provides that “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”, this strange Unity Forum believes it is cool for one part of the country to pocket virtually all the key substantive positions in the land, while the others can go empty-handed. It doesn’t matter that the nation survives on oil wealth from South-South and partially from South East.
While it has always been the norm to give every part of the country a sense of belonging right from the days of the nation’s founding fathers to the present era, this Senate ‘Unity’ Forum believes key offices in the three arms of government could be occupied after May 29th as follows: President Muhammadu Buhari (North West), Senate President Ahmed Lawan (North East), Deputy Senate President George Akume (North Central), Deputy Speaker (North West), Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mahmoud Mohammed (North East), President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, ( North East), and Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Auta (North Central). Simply put, they are proposing a Federal Government of Northern Nigeria. This is thoughtless and obscene.
Incidentally, this insensitivity to the sensibilities and interests of southerners and Christians has been the major problem with Senator Ahmed Lawan’s politics. It is also hunting in the Senate presidency race. He is perceived as arrogant, ethnocentric, and sectional to a fault. Although he is brilliant (at least, he was a former lecturer and holds a PhD), his education has unfortunately not changed his “Born to Rule” mentality in any way. His vociferous arguments on the floor of the Senate, his militant and obstinate approach in canvassing northern interest over and above national interest leaves no one in doubt that to Lawan, southerners are second-class citizens, while southern interests are also second-class interests.
This runs so deep in him such that he cannot pretend about it again. For instance, even as a Senate President hopeful Senator Lawan’s attitude has not changed. Speaking in Abuja just last April, he left no one in doubt he believes that the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, is a southern Bill, which must not see the light of the day. To him, the 10% Host Community Fund is an anathema. He boasted about how ‘they’ killed it in the 6th and 7th Senate, and how ‘they’ would kill it in the 8th and future National Assemblies if the Bill was not radically redrafted. Whatever the subject, Boko Haram, etc, Lawan takes extremely unbending stand.
It is the duty of every lawmaker to protect the interest of his people and give expression to their feelings. We all have interests, even personal interests to protect, but Nigeria is and should be bigger than all our narrow interests. So, a lawmaker should be able to manage sectional/constituency and national interests diligently.
This is where Senator Lawan misses it. He has no pan-Nigerian sentiments and approach. Information once had it that it was for the same extremity and obstinacy that his colleagues in the constitution amendment panel felt they could no longer work with him.
So, nobody would be surprised that Lawan plotted or agreed to a plot that will make the Senate presidency an all north affair. Typical of him, not even an APC Senator-elect from the South West is worth Lawan’s consideration. So, how can such a person be entrusted with the exalted office, which automatically makes him the Chairman or overall head of the National Assembly, wielding a lot of influence over the fate of the entire nation?
Moreover, the APC must be reminded that it is gambling away its goodwill so fast and its lack of sense of justice and equity could be the straw that might break its back. Even with all of its excesses, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, never ever went this far. In 2011 when the party did not do well at all in the National Assembly elections in the South West, the party still zoned the House Speakership to them. Although that plan did not materialize, it at least tried to give the people a sense of belonging.
Concerning the Senate in particular, I am deeply surprised that the APC leaders are playing the ostrich, burying their heads in the sand of greed and power-grab instead of taking a realistic evaluation of the situation. One, APC is inheriting a highly fragmented country flowing from 2015 general election. More than anything, it needs to show some sense of sacrifice to be able to weld the whole country together. Two, with 59 Senators (that, minus late Senator Zanna) against PDP’s 49, the APC cannot just do what it likes with the Senate because it does not enjoy the kind of majority PDP used to enjoy.
Therefore, I thought a party that genuinely cares for Nigeria beyond merely grabbing the levers of power, a party that wants stability in the National Assembly would have looked the way of the PDP in the South-East or South-South in its search for a Deputy Senate President. Some would wonder if the PDP itself could have been that magnanimous. One can’t be too sure, but that is the reasonable thing to do in this circumstance. That is also why Nigerians elected APC- to change the way we do things.
Now that Senator Lawan, Senate Unity Forum, and their supporters among the APC leadership have goofed this much, Senator Bukola Saraki has just been awarded a penalty. How he plays it will determine his political future.
Adebayo writes from Ibadan