On June 9, 2022, Eagles Square was agog as Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was declared winner of the All Progressive Congress primary elections.
The elections didn’t come easy as what started around 8 pm the previous night didn’t end until 11 am the next morning. The 12 hours windows witnessed a whole lot including candidates stepping down, some heartbroken and others wounded; it was a day where people counted their gains and losses.
By the end of the primary, Tinubu emerged winner by a landslide after beating the likes of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.
With votes from over 2,300 delegates, Tinubu polled a total of 1,271 votes, more than four times the votes scored by his closet rival, Amaechi who had 316 votes.
Osinbajo, Lawan, and Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State came behind the duo with 235, 152, and 47 votes respectively.
Tinubu’s victory was the beginning of a dilemma of power balance, diversity and inclusivity for the ruling APC particularly the conversation over a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
One of the speeches that stood out that night was that of Nicholas Felix who stepped down for the vice president and warned the delegates who turned deaf ears to his opposition to a Muslim-Muslim ticket
Felix said, “Apart from the North and the South, Nigerians are divided into two religions, we have Muslims and Christians. I grew up with Muslims—wonderful people. Many of them are my friends, but we cannot have a Muslim-Muslim ticket in this election.”
Spectacularly, the night preceding Tinubu’s victory the delegates had been bombarded with text messages from unknown persons predicting that Tinubu would field a Muslim running mate if nominated as the party’s presidential candidate. The Tinubu camp quickly denounced the text messages.
As predicted, Tinubu, a Muslim fielded Senator Kashim Shettima as vice-president, a Muslim from North East.
The choice of the vice presidential candidate was greeted by heavy criticism and an avalanche of backlash from Nigerians and notable Christian bodies and pastors like Paul Eneche and Sarah Omaku spoke against the ticket even after the elections had been conducted.
According to the Christian Association of Nigeria’s spokesperson, Adebayo Oladeji, making such a decision in a polarised country is a wrong move.
More troubling were members of the party like a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and an ex-government secretary Babachir Lawal, who rejected the move.
Despite the religious controversies that the ruling party got enmeshed in, the APC won the presidential election with Tinubu polling scored a total of 8,794,726 votes beating his two closest rivals, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
The APC also won the majority seats in the National Assembly with a total number of 219 out of 469 seats.
It currently has a clear majority in the Senate.
Having garnered the highest number of seats thus far, according to National Assembly traditions and conventions, the ruling party is expected to produce the major leadership for both chambers.
In the Senate, some of the contenders for the Senate presidency are Senators Jibrin Barau (Kano Central), Sani Musa (Niger East), Ali Ndume (Borno South) Orji Kalu (Abia North), and GodsWill Akpabio (Akwa-Ibom NorthWest ).
Others are Senators Osita Izunaso (Imo West), Patrick Ndubueze ( Imo North), Abdul’Aziz Yari (Zamfara West), and Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North), Gov Dave Umahi (Ebonyi South), Adams Oshiomole ( Edo North) amongst others.
Stakeholders have however argued that since the number one and two citizens are Muslims, it was only fair to have a Christian as number three.
Also, a school of thought argued that since the South East has often cried marginalisation, particularly the agitations that have followed the loss of Obi’s presidency dream, the Senate Presidency should be zoned to the South -East.
Also, different groups have continued to mount pressure on the APC to zone the seat to allow for a Christian from the South-South or South-East to become the Senate president since it was a religious debt that the party owes Nigerians.
Another has also argued that the Senate Presidency and other key positions should be by competence and capacity.
They also argued that lawmakers be allowed to choose their leaders based on the candidates that have the highest acceptability among colleagues.
The stakeholders argued that if the party imposes a candidate on the lawmakers, there could be another experience like the Senator Bukola Saraki-led eight assembly where he upstaged the party and emerged the Senate President against the party’s choice.
A pointer to a likely recurrence of that was the recent threat by the when opposition members of the House of Representatives to upsurge the ruling party over the seat of the Speaker.
The lawmakers-elect met in Abuja where they fine-tuned strategies for using their numbers as bargaining power in their negotiations with the speakership aspirants.
The PUNCH gathered that the opposition lawmakers-elect, at the meeting, planned to work together to influence the election of the 10th House of Representatives leadership.
Lawmakers contesting for the Senate Presidency have also argued that the parliament was different from other arms of government that survive of competence, capacity and experience.
One of the contenders is Senate Ndume who gave a ten-point agenda on why he wants to be Senate President and said that “The issue should be about fairness, equity and Justice. Zoning is a word that is being used for zoning but fairness, equity and justice are what the Constitution preaches and it is the right thing to do.
“When defining the best, you have to look at competence, experience, position and pedigree of the person involved.”
“Being there for a long time and knowing the ropes, all I am saying is that somebody that has the institution at heart and that would protect the inters of the institution,” Ndume told The PUNCH.
Also, Senator Barau in his campaigns said, “It is stated there in our standing rules that aspirations of elections for the seat of the Senate Presidency shall be in accordance with ranking. Among those who are running for the seat of the Senate Presidency, I am the most ranked senator.
“So, it’s constitutional and among those who are showing their intentions to run for the Senate Presidency, I am the most experienced.
“The issue is that of competence. You need to be grounded, in the residue of the legislature before you become the Senate Presidency. Do you now play against competence based on sentiments?”
Kalu in his defence said, “The question is whether I will run for the position of Senate President. Yes, I am ready to run for Senate President if the party zones it to my zone because the party is supreme.
“The party should zone it to Igbere in my ward because I am the only Senator from there.”
He added, “Let me be honest with you, if we practice true democracy I should not be in contest with anybody in this position. Because apart from the Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, and the Senate Leader Ibrahim Gobir, I am the highest ranking member of the Senate; there is no senator that would come up because in a proper democratic position you take by ranking and I am the highest ranking not by years I have stayed in the Senate, but by the position I occupy today.”
In his comment, the Spokesperson of the ninth Senate and the lawmaker representing Osun Central Senatorial district, Senator Ajibola Basiru said that the leadership of the 10th Assembly should not be zoned.
Senator Basiru added, “So, for me, it’s not a question of zoning but of competence and acceptance by the majority of the 10th Senate.
“The Senate president should come from a democratic election of those people who have been elected.
“The Senate Presidency an issue of Primus inter pares (First among equals); so who among the candidates, the senators feel would properly lead them. It should not be an issue of religion, or where you come from.”
He added, “Religious and ethnic sentiments should be played down in the leadership of the 10th Assembly.
Dissecting the issue, the National President of the Centre for Democracy, Ifeanyi Odili, noted that the APC outside of zoning should focus on the character of a person who becomes Senate President.
He noted that people will corruption cases should not be allowed to occupy such positions.
Odili said, “They must all be thoroughly checked and cleared before they are allowed to contest any of these sensitive positions, most importantly, that of the Senate President.
“Some of the Senators are still having cases at the courts ranging from money laundering and other corruption cases.”
“This, we are poised to resist, if we must rid Nigeria of corruption which has become very endemic in our body system. We want Senators whose track records at the Senate are unblemished.”
Odili further noted that, “The Senate Presidency also provides an opportunity for the All Progressives Congress to assuage the feelings of Christians towards the same faith arrangement of the party in the recently concluded Presidential Election.”
Also, a Parliamentary Rights Advocate, Sunny Osiebe, stated that the two Chambers of the National Assembly must be allowed a space that is completely devoid of any interference by the Executive to elect the next President of the Senate, his Deputy, Speaker of the House of Representatives and his Deputy.
He said, “The next leaders of the 10th National Assembly must be individuals who understand the complexities of Nigeria and are willing to help in healing the anger and wounds brought about by our fault lines.
“The 10th Assembly leaders must not be rubber stamps in the hands of anyone. This is, however, not advocating for an antagonist National Assembly, but the fact remains that Nigerians deserve a National Assembly that will stand on the side of the people whenever the need arises.
He added, “The selection of the next leaders of the National Assembly must reflect the Federal Character principle and the nation’s diversity. Every part of Nigeria must be carried along in the truest demonstration of our national diversity.”
Less than two months to the inauguration of the 10th Senate, the APC has yet to give any directive to its members on how National Assembly positions will be zoned.