Senate Presidency: The Akpabio scenario, By Louis Achi

After over a month in Paris, France, on vacation after a hectic campaign and enervating election season, President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu returned home Monday proclaiming: “I’m ready for the task ahead.”

One of the major tasks ahead that would arguably shape the impact of Tinubu’s first presidential term is who he helps influence as the next chairman of the National Assembly – or more commonly – the President of the Senate – the 10th Senate in this instance .

The matter of senate presidency in the United States is a constitutionally cut and dried routine as the country’s vice president serves as the president of its House of Senate and presides over affairs of that august national legislative body.

In Nigeria, which incidentally cloned the basic template of her presidential democracy from the US – after dumping the Westminster model – it’s a horse of different colour.

Further, given that a key feature of advanced democracies the world over is legislative stability which largely pivots around the quality of its leadership, who emerges the President of the 10th Senate matters in a fundamental sense. This imperative generally applies to who becomes principal officers of the nation’s federal legislative assembly.

As it were, the 10th National Assembly, barring any unforeseen twists, will be inaugurated on Tuesday, June 13, 2023 – two days after the lifespan of the current 9th National Assembly, NASS, would have lapsed on Sunday, June 11.

Inaugurated on June 11, 2019, the lifespan of the current 9th NASS will terminate on June 11, 2023. This is Sunday, a non-working day while the next day June 12 is a public holiday, being Democracy Day.

This is why many stakeholders are agreed that Tinubu’s return home on Monday from France is certainly not too soon. With the composition of the membership of the 10th Senate finalised, the six opposition parties have altogether 50 senators-elect as against APC’s 59.

While these leadership positions are by convention supposed to be decided by the federal law makers themselves, the party with the majority number of seats has a critical role, as regards zoning and balance of power.

Though President-elect Tinubu correctly believes that competence should be prioritised over religious and ethnic considerations in electing the next senate president, many Nigerians including members of his party believe there is an important consideration in influencing who emerges president of the 10th Senate.

The emerging consensus, beyond the customary political hot air, is that the Senate President in the new dispensation, incidentally number three in the constitutional power pecking order, should be a Christian given that Number 1 and Number 2 are Muslims.

Senators-elect who have declared their ambitions to lead the 10th National Assembly include: Senator Jibrin Barau (Kano Central); Sani Musa (Niger East); Orji Kalu (Abia North); Godswill Obot Akpabio (Akwa-Ibom North-West); Osita Izunaso (Imo West); Peter Ndubueze (Imo North); Abdul’Aziz Yari (Zamfara West); Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North); and Ali Ndume (Borno South).

Expectedly, all eyes will be on the ruling party, bearing in mind its inability or unwillingness to ensure geographical spread since 2015 during which the South-east and South-south were not represented among Nigeria’s top four citizens: President, Vice President, Senate President and Speaker. The highest position the regions have produced is Deputy Senate President.

Many may have forgotten that since the Second Republic to date, the South-South region has produced only one senate president in the person of late Joseph Wayas from Cross River State, while the South-East has produced five in the current Fourth Republic – Evan Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Anyim Pius Anyim, Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani.

Today, it is not surprising that many believe it is politically deserving of the South-south geo-political zone to produce the 10th Senate President. The zone has not been given the opportunity since the return of democratic rule in 1999.

It is politically imperative to balance all the power algorithms to ensure confidence in the system and deliberately promote a culture of participation and inclusiveness.

In conceding the position of senate president to the South-south region, a position that has picked up considerable momentum, Senator Godswill Akpabio is the only ranking senator from the region and based on Senate standing rules, only ranking members of the upper legislative chamber are eligible to contest for the positions of the President and Deputy President of the Senate, respectively.

Senator Akpabio, many may have forgotten, was the first presidential aspirant to step down and throw his support behind Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, now president-elect, a situation that measurably scaled down tension at the APC presidential primaries. He is an uncommon leader who always stands for the people, irrespective of their ethnic and religious affiliations.

Another key point often captured by keen political observers is that the electoral contribution of the South-south also greatly helped the ruling party to clinch the presidency in the 2023 presidential election. Hence, perhaps not surprisingly, an emerging consensus points to the necessity of the ruling party moving to consolidate its electoral success by zoning the Senate Presidency to the South-south with Senator Akpbabio as the natural trump card.

Akpabio delivered over 120,000 votes in Akwa Ibom State, knowing that it is the state of the Chairman of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council.

From all relevant metrics in picking the next president of the senate, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, is widely seen to tick all the significant boxes and neatly fits the bill.

At this testy period in the nation’s political history, the national assembly undoubtedly needs a humble, level headed leader to guide its affairs. Akpabio is a dedicated realist and reformer who bridged all gulfs and levelled much of the development hurdles that challenged his state as exemplified by his selfless stewardship to the people of Akwa Ibom State from 2007 to 2015 as its first citizen.

It is worth noting that as former Senate Minority Leader and former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, is a very experienced and qualified candidate for the job. His unique qualities and exceptional leadership skills have earned him the praise of many groups, including Northern groups, who see him as the best candidate to lead the Senate at this time.

As then Senate Minority Leader, he was at the head of the intervention to put the Calabar-Lagos railway project in the budget. Even the then Senior Special Assistant to the President on Senate Matters, Senator Ita Enang, confirmed and praised him for it.

As governor, he transformed Akwa Ibom State from a typical rural community to an urban community with gigantic infrastructures across the state. As Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, he completed the 30-year-old abandoned NDDC Headquarters started by Chief Horsfall in 1993, within two years and relocated the NDDC there.

More, he was able to construct roads, built Police Barracks, provide several other critical infrastructure. He carried out a forensic audit of the NDDC and firmly insisted that the right things must be done. Today, Akpabio has certainly morphed into a respected national figure ready for higher political responsibility.

Clearly, a failure to transition to a new political governance cycle headed by the new democratically elected president, and complemented by a level headed leader of the 10th National Parliament, thereby sustaining critical democratic stability may imperil the country’s future as a coherent state.

As it were, only tested pathfinders with demonstrable vision, knowledge and courage can provide the critical leadership to ensure both legislative stability and national progression. And this is Akpabio’s proven forte – the Akpabio scenario.

*Achi, analyst and development journalist, writes from Abuja.




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