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OPINION

Will South-East Produce Next Speaker?

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As the dust generated by the Presidential and National Assembly elections gradually settles, it is imperative to move on, and make informed analysis of  how the incoming 9th Assembly leadership would be constituted. Given the suspicion and distrust that characterized the executive-legislature relationship in the outgoing 8th Assembly, it is very likely that the ruling APC and the presidency would not take chances again.

Since the return to civil rule in 1999, caucuses of ruling political parties at the centre strived to fairly distribute principal offices in the two chambers of the National Assembly, to engender national unity, cohesion and stability.

Under the Obasanjo presidency between 1999 and 2007, the Southeast occupied the post of Senate President in the persons of: Evans Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Pius Anyim, Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani. At the same time, the North-central held the position of Deputy Senate President in the persons of: Haruna Abubakar and Ibrahim Mantu.

The Speaker of House of Representatives was zoned to the Northwest, and occupied shortly by Salisu Buhari, and later Ghali Umar Na’Abba between 1999 and 2003; while Chibudom Nwuche from the South-south was the Deputy Speaker. By June 2003, Aminu Bello Masari and Austin Okpara became the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker respectively on the basis of a subsisting zoning arrangement. Both of them represented the North-west and South-south zones.

It is pertinent to note that during the period (1999-2007), the Southwest occupied the position of Nigeria’s President (Olusegun Obasanjo), while the North-east held the Vice Presidency (Atiku Abubakar). Under Yar’Adua/ Goodluck presidency (2007-2011), the North-central and South-east produced the Senate President and Deputy Senate president respectively in the persons of: David Mark and Ike Ekweremadu.

The Speaker of House of Representatives zoned to the South-west produced Patricia Etteh and later, Dimeji Bankole; while Babangida Nguroje and Usman Bayero Nafada from the North-east held the Deputy Speaker position. By June 2011, the status quo was maintained in the Senate, as there was no leadership change, but that was not the case with the House of Representatives. Hence, Aminu Tambuwal from the Northwest and Emeka Ihedioha from the South-east emerged the Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively out of the internal political dynamics of the lower legislative chamber.

When President Buhari was elected in 2015, attempts to enforce an acceptable zoning arrangement in constituting the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly were rebuffed and truncated by a coalition of parliamentarians across party lines. The political misadventure on the part of the ruling party (APC) had costly implications for Buhari’s first tenure. Now that President Buhari has received a fresh mandate, with APC having a clear majority in both chambers, the party should put its house in order, build consensus and take far reaching decisions that would ensure stability in the legislature, especially on the issue of leadership.

For the Senate, the re-election setback suffered by the incumbent Senate President, Bukola Saraki makes the position up for grabs. And with APC’s comfortable lead among the Senators-elect, the party will naturally produce the next Senate President by June this year. Already, the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, the APC’s preferred choice who lost out to Saraki in 2015, appears a logical successor, although there are other competitors from the same zone.

To actualize Lawan’s aspiration or any other person from the same zone, the APC caucus may have to zone the position to the North-east, and likely give the slot of the Deputy Senate President to the South-south, since the South-west has taken the position of Vice President of Nigeria. And having produced the President, the North-west may not be in the calculation for filling the remaining top hierarchical offices in the legislature.

From the foregoing permutations, neither the South-east nor the North-central had taken a shot at the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives since 1999. The two zones should therefore be considered for the positions to reflect the federal character, and in the spirit of President Buhari’s latest pronouncement to run an all-inclusive government in his second tenure.  For the speakership position, the odds favour the Southeast on a number of respects.

One, having taken a shot at the senate presidency, deputy senate presidency and deputy speaker positions since 1999, equity and fairness demand that those positions should move to other zones, while the South-east takes the speakership slot in exchange. The North-central, which would be relinquishing the senate presidency can take the deputy speaker position.

Two, unlike in 2015, the Southeast has ranking members that belong to the ruling party, and who have the capacity, and reach to fill the vacancy. Three, as a third leg of the tripod from the pre-independence era, Ndigbo are among the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, before the political balkanization through the creation of states, which ceded swathes of Igbo territory to other zones. Hence, Ndigbo should be reintegrated into the mainstream of national political economy, in terms of strategic political positions and institutions of resource allocation.

Four, the position will help to douse tension, assuage the feelings of exclusion and marginalization, and change the narrative of neglect bordering on the ‘97% vs 5%’  miscalculation. Five, the APC should consolidate her inroad to the South-east having shored up the number of votes in the last presidential election, unlike the unimpressive showing of 2015. At a recent trip to Aba, Vice President Yemi Osibanjo conveyed Mr. President’s excitement with the development, especially with Abia State that delivered up to 25% of the votes needed from each state.

More importantly, President Buhari has a historic opportunity to change the people’s perception of him in the South-east. After all, he chose eminent sons of the zone (Chuba Okadigbo and Edwin Ume-Ezeoke) as running mates in the ill-fated 2003 and 2007 presidential contests. Now that he has a fresh mandate, he should provide a broad-based leadership in both the government and his political party in order to give the South-east a pride of place, and disabuse the strong sentiments of scorched-earth policy against Ndigbo. The national leadership of APC and the critical stakeholders, especially the re-elected and the new members of the House of Representatives should heed the voice of reason and elect the Speaker of the 9th Assembly from the South-east.

 

–Dr. Uche writes from Enugu

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