Senate presidency and avoidable crisis

After the acrimonious party primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that have now cost the ruling party some states in the general election, the party is facing a fresh crisis. This time, the problem is about who heads the senate from June when the ninth session of the upper chamber is inaugurated. At the centre of it all is Adams Oshiomhole. During the party primaries, the APC national chairman behaved like the proverbial housefly that follows the corpse into the grave. The APC lost two states as a result of his indiscretion concerning the shadow elections. The wish of some party leaders whose motive was anything but noble became his wish and that proved costly for the party. Now, with no lesson learnt from the misadventure, Oshiomhole is treading a similar path in the race for the senate presidency.

Many concerned APC members are hoping that reason prevails and the party chairman retraces his steps in this avoidable crisis before it is too late. The clarion call becomes even more pertinent against the backdrop that the 2015 episode that saw the geopolitical zone to which the senate president was allocated by the APC ended losing it. And that set the stage for the emergence of a deputy senate president from a party that ordinarily was not entitled to it but also the coming into office of a senate that was antagonistic to the APC leadership and the executive controlled by the party. Just like it happened at the party primaries, Oshiomhole is neck-deep in the crisis brewing in the party. The first sign that all was not well with the latest move to choose a senate president emerged after a former senate leader, Ali Ndume, spoke out, describing as unconstitutional the picking of Senator Ahmad Lawan for the number three office by the party leadership.

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Ndume, who is a contender for the top office, also said that the choice of Lawan was an unpopular decision, unilaterally carried out by Oshiomhole.  The import of the Ndume statement is that the party chairman had convened the Monday meeting attended by the APC senators-elect merely to inform them that the leadership had taken a position on who emerges as the president of the ninth senate. It also showed that prior to the Oshiomhole announcement, there was no consultation whatsoever. Granted that being the party with the majority of the senators-elect (64 out of 109) and it is within the constitutional right of the APC to choose the leaders of the senate, it does not look neat that the party leadership would embark on the exercise without wide consultations with stakeholders. This is not how things are run in a democracy.

Maybe decisions can be taken on some issues in a democratic experiment like ours but you don’t appoint the number three citizen without consultations especially with the stakeholders primarily concerned, senators-elect. The issues are very clear and everyone’s interest will be served if Oshiomhole does not appear to act the script of some people who do not wish APC well, as is being suggested in some quarters, by announcing Lawan as Senate President even when the party leadership had not sat down to zone the senate leadership positions to the deserving geopolitical zones.

After the presidential election and President Muhammadu Buhari and VP Yemi Osinbajo were re-elected, North-West and South-West, where the two men hail from, were effectively ruled out of the contest for the numbers three, four, five and six positions, namely Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Deputy Speaker, to be shared among the remaining four geopolitical zones (North-East, North-Central, South-South and South-East). It does look like the North-East is favoured for the number three office to compensate it for the injustice done to the geopolitical zone after the senate presidency was allocated to it by the APC ahead of the eighth senate but had it snatched by the North-Central. That we have this mindset shows that the system cares about equity, and that we can genuinely redress a wrong done to a section of the country. But the pro-Lawan approach Oshiomhole has taken can only rock the boat if unchallenged. To avoid the crisis the party chairman has inevitably caused in the APC, the process should have been for the leadership to design the zoning of the senate leadership offices and allow the various caucuses from the zones to come up with their candidates.

The name of the president is already being dropped into the undemocratic action of Oshiomhole but those who know Buhari very well say he cannot support any action that does not advance the cause of democracy. Already Ndume has vowed to challenge any attempt to impose Lawan as senate president. Those who oppose the democratic norm of imposition say the ruling party may have a role to play in the emergence of the principal officers of the ninth senate but that the ultimate decisions lie with the senators-elect themselves. This position comes against the backdrop that, regardless of the norm that the majority party will always have its way, you cannot rule out the influence of the minority party (Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) which has 42 senators-elect in whatever happens at the end of the day.

 

  • Awosiyan is a Lagos-based public affairs analyst

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