10th NASS: How Ex-Northwest Governors’ Interests May leave the Region bereft of its Traditional Leadership Position

10th NASS: How Ex-Northwest Governors’ Interests May leave the Region bereft of its Traditional Leadership Position

From all indications, the Northwest geo-political region of Nigeria that hitherto secured one (or even more) of the four key positions of leadership in the country since the return of civil administration in 1999, will, in the present dispensation secure none. Many attribute the situation to the political interests of the region’s governors that led them to negotiate All Progressive Congress (APC) presidential party primary with the president, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (ABAT) then an aspirant, rather than based on their regional interests…..CONTINUE READING

The region consists of Jigawa, Katsina, Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi and Kaduna states; it has enjoyed at least one out of the four top political positions in the country in every administration since the return of democracy in 1999, that is President, Vice-President, Senate President or the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives: From 1999 to 2007 and from 2011 to 2015, the region held the position of the Speaker Federal House of Representatives (by Salisu Buhari and Ghali Na’Abba both from Kano State, between 1999 to 2003; Aminu Bello Masari from Katsina State, was the speaker between 2003 to 2007, so was Aminu Waziri Tambuwal from Sokoto State, from 2011 to 2015); Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, from Katsina State was elected president in 2007 and died in 2010; the region had a Vice-President in the person of Mohammed Namadi Sambo from Kaduna State, who served from 2010 to 2015; while President Muhammadu Buhari, from Katsina State, served as president for 8 years from 2015 to 2023.

When the ruling APC indicated interest of fielding a southern candidate for the presidency in 2022, being the outgoing president is a northerner, the six of the APC governors in the region (only Sokoto was governed by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) indicated immense interests in the presidential primaries as they shopped for various southern aspirants they could back, with each of them hoping to secure a running mate ticket when his aspirant emerged winner.

The foray for southern aspirants led some to even go outside APC’s parameter, and allegedly attempted to rope in former President Goodluck Jonathan who ruled the country under the platform of the PDP for six years, and who had never officially joined the APC; this led to the allegation of Governor Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa State collecting over N200 million from Jonathan for the purchase of his expression of interest and nomination forms for APC’s Presidential primaries, and the staging of some malnourished nomadic Fulani herdsmen posing in a picture as those that bought N100 million APC primary election nomination and expression of interest forms for Jonathan. Governor Badaru had denied the allegation but Jonathan is yet to make a formal pronouncement on the issue, he only denied interest in the contest.

Later, few days to the primaries, all the governors abandoned their respective presidential aspirants as well as their personal aspirations and collectively agreed to back ABAT; Governor El-Rufa’i of Kaduna State who earlier on indicated interest in the contest backed out, as he did not even buy the nomination forms, while Badaru who bought the forms and was successfully screened, withdrew for ABAT. Media reports and insinuations from the political circles indicated that the governors had decided to back ABAT on a tentative agreement that he would pick one out of the region’s five outgoing governors (Zamfara State Governor was serving his first term, therefore intended to recontest for governorship of his state) as his running mate. This was a good prospect for the region if it materializes as planned. This agreement went smoothly at its first phase, as the governors successfully delivered the region’s vote to ABAT who won the primaries hands down.

The respective interests of these governors did not allow them to weigh other alternatives that could crop up along the line: ABAT could renege, and pick a running mate amongst northern Christians (all the interested governors are Muslims); that would not be bad for the region, still, it could clinch the post of the President of the Senate or that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives – not a bad deal for the region; there was also an extreme possibility, which could not be ruled out, that ABAT would not pick anyone of them, but could pick a northern Muslim for a Muslim-Muslim ticket that could be a political albatross to the almost 95% Muslims Northwest region – And that was what ABAT did, by picking a Muslim from the Northeast region, a former Borno State Governor and a serving Senator, Kashim Shattima, as his running mate. Therefore a very slim chance hangs on for the Northwest to secure the post of Senate President or that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, with a Muslim President and a Muslim Vice President; going by the country’s convention of sharing the four top post amongst the faithful of the two major religions in the country, Islam and Christianity, any of the two posts or both could go to Southern Christians.

As leaders, the region’s governors owe their followers a duty of making informed political decision at the party primaries that will favour the region when the chips are down.

ABAT was said to have made amend with the governors after he picked his running mate, promising them the position of the Central Bank Governor and portfolios of key federal ministries. But could these compensate the region for the loss of Senate President’s seat or that of the Speaker House of Representatives? The region could have secured any of these seats as well as the ministerial posts and the seat of the CBN Governor, had the governors backed a right aspirant to clinch the presidential ticket – the region is certainly left in the lurch.

The region has the largest number of voters amongst the six geopolitical regions in the country and had the largest voter turn-out in the last presidential election and in the previous ones, and had given ABAT the largest votes than any of the other five regions, being about 30% of his total votes. Therefore, in the ordinary, this gives the region the impetus for demanding and getting any of the two coveted seats, as well as its rightful shares of the key ministerial seats.

It is a political tradition in the country that the caucus of a ruling party shares the posts of legislative leadership position of the national assembly before it is inaugurated, after which the formal voting for the posts is conducted. This is just a convention and not a rule, and is undemocratic: Legislators have constitutional rights to elect their leaders amongst themselves through the ballot to ensure legislative independence, not to have elected executives and party leaders to impose stogies on them to lead the legislature; this would distort the doctrine of separation of power that is sacrosanct to democracy by creating a leadership that would turn the legislature into the rubber stamp of executives’ interests, and be teleguided from outside.

Therefore, the hustles by politicians from the six geo-political regions of the country and the legislators vying for such posts started not sooner than the 2023 general elections were concluded: From Northwest, former Zamfara State Governor, Senator Abdul Aziz Yari and Senator Barau Jibrin (Kano North) signified interest in contesting for the Senate presidency. There are other eight contestants that showed interest for the post from the other regions: Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia North); Dave Umahi (Ebonyi South); Senator Sani Musa (Niger East); Senator Osita Izunaso (Imo West); Senator Godswill Okpabio (Akwa Ibom); Senator Ali Ndume (Borno South); Adams Oshimhole (Edo South) and Patrick Ndubueze (Imo North).

For the Speakership, five legislators from the Northwest declared for the post with seven others from other regions: Abubakar Makki Yalleman (Jigawa), Alhassan Ado Doguwa (Kano), the Majority Leader of the House; Sada Soli (Katsina), Tajudeen Abbas (Kaduna), who is the Chairman House Committee on Land, and Aminu Sani Jaji (Zamfara). Those from other regions are: The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase (Plateau); Chairman House Committee on Appropriation, Mukhtar Aliyu Betara (Borno); Chairman House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi (Plateau); Abdulraheem Tunji Olawuyi (Kwara) and Princess Miriam Onuoha (Imo).

The Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), an umbrella body for all APC governors had sent a memo in late April to then president-elect and advised him to expedite action in nominating both the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as there were two candidates within the party desperate and ready to buy legislators votes, at prices ranging from half a million to one million dollars each. Therefore, within a week, ABAT nominated Godswill Akpabio as the Senate President and Barau Jibrin as his deputy. The APC’s National Working Committee (NCW) endorsed their nomination immediately; and the following week, ABAT nominated Tajuddeen Abbas from Kaduna as the Speaker House of Representatives to compensate the Northwest, and Benjamin Kalu (Abia) as his Deputy. The NCW also endorsed the nomination immediately.

For the post of the Senate President, Senators Yari, Izunaso, Ndbueze, Musa and Kalu had kicked against ABAT’s nomination of Akpabio and said they would exercise their rights within the confines of the Senate Standing Rules and as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution as amended. Kalu said he will go on the same ticket with Yari as Deputy Senate President, while other contenders such as Umahi, Oshimhole and Senator Ndume have withdrawn from the race and backed Akpabio; and by implication, Senator Barau Jibrin, seems to be contented for the post he was nominated.

Seven of the contenders of the House Speaker rejected their party’s nomination of Abbas and Kalu as Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively, they formed an alliance to fight the situation together, called Group of Seven (G7), they are: Wase, Betara, Doguwa, Gagdi, Soli, Jaji and Unuoha. They had been holding meetings and reaching to both APC members-elect and the opposition’s members-elect.

On the side of the opposition members-elect, they have formed a coalition of the seven opposition parties in the house, called the Greater Majority, saying they would vote for one of their own for all posts in the house, but subsequently they tilted towards supporting Betara, who media reports say he has the support of prominent PDP leaders in the country such as its Presidential candidate Abubakar Atiku, former Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal and former Speaker House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; PDP has more than 100 members-elect in the house. In addition, Betara who do not enjoy the support of his native Borno State government, is being overwhelmingly supported by the members-elect from his Northeast region.

Also, a parallel group consisting mainly Rivers State members-elect and loyal to the state’s former Governor Nyosom Wike, has also formed a breakaway faction of the opposition and had declared support for Abbas and Kalu. Doguwa has bowed to pressure from his state’s party branch and has withdrawn from the contest, but did not announce support for his party’s selection.

Though the Northwest APC Chairmen Forum had endorsed the two nominations, supporters and stakeholders were not happy with the nominations, they are complaining that the Northwest region that gave ABAT the support he got the party ticket and the winning votes that made him president, should not end up with a Deputy Senate President, it should be given the position of the Senate President: Many stakeholders from the region had queried why did Jibrin accept the post of the Deputy Senate President without consulting the region’s leadership.

Therefore, the APC NCW warned the president to step up consultations so as to avoid what happened in the formation of the 8th Assembly leadership in 2015, where in the Senate, Bukola Saraki teamed up with the PDP opposition to clinch the Senate presidency, beating APC’s nominee Ahmad Lawan, carrying a long a PDP Senator Ike Ekwerenmadu as his deputy; while Yakubu Dogara and Yusuf Lasun also teamed up with the opposition to beat the party’s anointed candidates of Femi Gbajabiamila and Mohammed Monguno for the posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively. Similarly, in 2011, then ruling PDP anointed Mulikat Akande for the speakership and was thoroughly beaten by Aminu Tambuwal who connived with the opposition to clinch the post against the interest of his party’s leadership.

As such, media reports say the Vice-President and a former state governor from the South-South region had formed a committee to break the ranks of the Greater Majority and win votes for Abbas and Kalu.

The position of the Senate President is a done deal, the Northwest has lost it and has been landed with the position of Deputy President, with APC controlling 59 out of total number of 109 senators in the house, and with most of them queuing behind the party’s selected candidates, Akpabio and Jibrin need only a simple majority to win. The only chance for the Northwest is in the Speakership, and is dicey: APC has 178 members –elect, while the seven opposition parties collectively have 182 of the 360 member house.

The aggrieved contenders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives took their grievances to the leadership of the party. The Northcentral geo-political region where two of these contenders, Wase and Gagdi, came from, said it was unfair to give the Northwest region both the position of the Deputy Senate president and that of the Speaker, leaving the Northcentral that had never had the speaker since the return of democracy in 1999, with nothing; that in the 2023 presidential election, APC had won four out of the six states in the region in addition to 11 senators, while the party only won 2 states and ten senators in the Northwest, as it had also only won 10 senators and one state in the Northeast. Besides, Umar Bago from the region had contested for the speakership in 2019 with his signature programme of ‘North Central Agenda’, but had respected the interest of the party and stepped down for the outgoing speaker Gbajibiamila that was anointed by the party, therefore, it is now their turn to produce the speaker.

The Northeast where Batera comes from argues that there was nothing wrong if Betara and Shattima come from the same region, as Speaker and Vice President respectively, as it where in the case of Gbajabiamila and Yemi Osunbajo the earstwhile Vice-President, respectively all from the Southwest region, in the last dispensation; so it was in 2011 where Aminu Tambuwal served as Speaker while Namadi Sambo was the Vice President, all from the Northwest. The party leadership pleaded with the aggrieved contestants and advised them to maintain their calm while the party looks into their complaints; but the aggrieved fight on.

There is likelihood of Betara picking Unuoha as his deputy, but the Greater Majority opposition may negotiate the deputy position for one of them from a South-south or Southeastern state, for their support. Most likely the two most prominent contestants in the G7, Wase and Betara, will slug it out with Abbas at the end.

In the final analysis, if the G7 polls a consensus candidate, they will carry the day, if they do not and Wase and Betara contested separately, there will be a bloc vote from the opposition in favour of Betara; APC’s votes will be shared amongst the three contestants and Abbas will have a greater part of it, Wase may take a considerable amount of it and Betara who will take a bit larger chunk of it, will hands down carry the crown home, leaving the Northwest region bereft of its traditional leadership position…..CONTINUE READING

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