BY SIMON REEF MUSA
In less than 24 hours from now, newly elected members of the upper chamber of the National Assembly will be inaugurated and be confronted with the strenuous task of electing one of their equals to preside over legislative affairs. Considering the fireworks that have trailed efforts leading to the June 11, 2019 inauguration, the outcome of the Senate leadership contest could go a long way in determining where the pendulum will swing to. For those preoccupied with the theme of unity between the executive and the legislative arm, the choice of Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan could serve, owing to his many years of experience as a legislator and closeness to the President. For those who want a continuation of a legislative arm that could sometime prove itself a little firm of a crony, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume could be trusted a little. Though many are wont to disagree that Ndume could serve as a better alternative in promoting the independence of the legislative arm, his antecedents in the 8th National Assembly that culminated into his suspension from the upper chamber and eventual removal as Senate Leader by his colleagues proved uninspiring. Others also assert that the Borno-born lawmaker could turn out more of a lackey to the President than Lawan who many think won’t mind turning the National Assembly into a rubber stamp for the executive arm.
For the federal lawmakers, there have always been attempts to blackmail and accused them of being cogs in the wheels of progress. Late passage of budgets and allegations of budget padding and the behind-the-scene maneuverings, amongst others, have remained recurring concerns in portraying the lawmakers as the black sheep of democracy. Despite all these, it is to the credit of the lawmakers that they have remained unshakeable and unwilling to surrender their independence.
History is replete with instances where lawmakers ganged up against any planned imposition of leadership by external forces. The most recent was in 2015 when Sen Bukola Saraki, against the advice of his party, emerged as President of the Senate to the consternation of party leaders who had assured their godsons of irreversible victories. Of course, the performance profile of Saraki as Senate President of the 8th National Assembly may still be a subject of intense argument, one thing remains certain: All attempts to cage the legislative arm and turned it into a mere rubberstamp for the executive had always been resisted by the lawmakers. We saw it in the gale of impeachment that swept away Chief Evan(s) Enwerem, Adolphus Wabara and Chuba Okadigbo as Senate presidents.
In a bid to avoid a song of disunity as was displayed in 2015, the APC has formally endorsed Sen Lawan as its choice for the position of the President of Senate. Despite pressure by party’s officials and APC governors to have Ndume withdraw his ambition, the lawmaker has vowed to go through the entire process “in order not to disappoint his supporters and let down the bars of democratic tenets that grant him the right to contest for the position.”
National Leader of the APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has never hidden his choice. Both Sen Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who are now frontline candidates for the Senate President and Speaker in the House of Representatives, are his anointed candidates. Having lost out in 2015 where they suffered crushing defeat in the hands of Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara, the former Lagos state governor is not willing to swallow another painful pills of defeat. With the Kwara-born former Senate President out of the way, Tinubu’s candidates who were rejected in 2015 are now growing into cornerstones that the builder rejected.
The prospects of Tinubu’s chosen candidates are further buoyed by support from President Muhammadu Buhari who has dropped his principles of “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody”. Those who are quick to justify Buhari’s choice for the Senate Presidency are always quick to remind Nigerians that as the unquestionable leader of the party, it makes no sense to remain standoffish and watch the foisting of yet another Senate President that may turn out a bone in the neck. How President Buhari was convinced to join the fray in supporting Lawan remains an incomprehensible feat plotted by Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai who has become the trusted ally of the President.
Behind the race for who becomes the Senate President lies the subterranean war over the control the party’s machinery ahead of 2023 polls. While it may be tactical not to rock the boat for now, members of the cabal that seek for the total control of the Buhari government might have sheathed their swords to await a propitious moment to dig into the trenches. Having discovered that kicking against Tinubu’s choices for National Assembly leadership may turn out an augury for doom, the strategy of tagging along with the Tinubu’s forces for now remains an unopposed option.
The prospects for a Lawan Senate Presidency may have grown into a solid dream that is set to be realised, but politics, being a game that defies auguries could yet throw up shocking and painful surprises. But such astonishments are becoming so blurred, as the capacity of opposing forces have been weakened by the mortal fear of the cabal whose prowess to wreak havoc remains dreaded. As someone that is skilled in political intrigues, Ndume’s refusal to step down could reveal the underground manipulation of another cabal seeking to test its relevance in the nation’s power game. Today will either reveal Tinubu as the ultimate decider who calls the political shots or unveil a new force poised for a supremacy battle with the old order.
The search for a new Senate President should not be hinged on getting a candidate that can dance to the tunes of the executive arm. The Senate needs a president that is capable of creatively engaging all democratic forces in the country towards attaining the essence of governance which is the security and welfare of the overall majority. Getting a lapdog of the president to preside over the affairs of the Senate could threaten democracy and instill tyranny.
Between the two characters running for the Senate Presidency, Lawan appears to be more favoured to win the race than Ndume. But the truth still stands: both candidates are the same differences. The outcome of today’s contest is key in understanding the dynamics that will shape the APC in the future. With the PDP embracing the song of silence over whom to support, money, more than anything, could decide the ultimate winner. If that happens in a few hours from now, those who have made merchandise of our political voyage may have sent a clear signal that the dream for an independent legislative arm may be far in coming.
BY SIMON REEF MUSA