OrderPaperToday– As 2019 gradually draws to a close, this special report takes a look at later day politicking in the Senate and how the drama and intrigues culminated in the outlook of the extant 9th National Assembly.
The build up to the National Assembly polls in February 23, 2019, was characterised by an unusual political alignments, realignments, loyalties and betrayals, especially in the 8th Senate.
A landmark re-positioning took place on July 25, 2018 when 13 senators defected from All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and African Democratic Congress (ADP) with perceptions that their new leanings will enable them secure their seats in the 9th assembly.
Some of the reasons given by the defectors include the internal party crisis brewing in the APC at the time.
In a tension-filled chamber, the then Senate president, Bukola Saraki, read out names of the defectors during plenary. The list had Senators Rabi’u Kwankwaso (Kano-Central), Dino Melaye (Kogi-West), Monsurat Sunmonu (Oyo-Central), Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara-South), Suleiman Hunkuyi (Kaduna-North), and Lanre Tejuoso (Ogun-Central) on it.
Others included in the list are Usman Nafada (Gombe-North), Ibrahim Dambaba (Sokoko-South), Ubale Shittu (Jigawa North-East) ,Isa Misau (Bauchi-Central), Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi-North), Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara-North), Barnabas Gemade (Benue North-East), Adesoji Akanbi (Oyo South) and Abdul-Azeez Murtala-Nyako (Adamawa-Central).
In an interesting twist, Akanbi and Tejuosho later denied their defection, claiming loyalty to the APC.
What was obvious was that most of these defectors were protégés of Senator Saraki who would later defect months later to the PDP following a fallout with the bigwigs in the APC who were not in support of his decision to contest for president in the 2019 general elections.
With the declarations made, PDP became the majority party in the Red Chamber with 55 members, leaving the APC with 50, and APGA and ADC with 1 senator each.
As elections drew nigh, certain developments emerging from the PDP and the APC began to show that Saraki’s stronghold on power was beginning to weaken. The former Senate president immediately had to clear the air that his dynasty still had a political clout strong enough to secure victory for himself and his loyalists in the upcoming elections.
Rain of defeat for defectors
Nyako and Bayero picked governorship tickets in Adamawa and Gombe states respectively but their ambitions to move to the Government House of their respective states were cut short at the polls where they lost out to the APC candidates. Thus, they lost their Senate seats and failed to actualise their governorship dream.
Senator Sunmonu who contested to retain her Senate seat, was defeated by Teslim Folarin to secure the Oyo central senatorial seat while Lola Ashiru of the APC won Kwara South senatorial district election to secure Ibrahim’s seat.
Similarly, Hunkunyi suffered the same fate as he was replaced with Suleiman Kwari of APC to represent Kaduna North senatorial district, while Ibrahim Hassan, also of the APC, took over Shitu’s Jigawa North seat.
Nazif lost to Mohammed Bulkachuwa of APC as Bauchi North senator and Misau got knocked out of Bauchi Central seat by Haliru Jika.
In Benue State, Gemade lost to Gabriel Suswam in representing Benue North-east senatorial seat, while Lafiagi, on the other hand, decided not to go into the contest to retain his seat.
Also affected by the wind of change is Saraki’s favourite, Dino Melaye, who gave a good fight but failed to secure a win. He was initially clinging to a slim chance on the Kogi West senatorial seat but lost out following a rerun that saw Smart Adeyemi emerging as winner.
But the biggest loss of them all is that of the erstwhile Senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki, who lost the presidential and senatorial race and an entire political dynasty. All his anointed candidates for governorship position, Senate and the House of Representatives all lost out to the opposition APC. His unbroken three-term run in the Senate and indeed, his giant-sized image in political terrain in Nigeria, had been quashed.
The only fortunate defector is Senator Ibrahim Danbaba who returned in November, months after the general elections, after a court ruled against the declaration of Shehu Tambuwal as winner of Sokoto South senatorial district election.
Battle for the Senate Number 1 seat
After the general polls in February began the tussle for who will lead the Red Chamber. Two top opponents for this position were Senators Ahmad Lawan and Ali Ndume, both of the APC.
Lawan emerged as his party’s anointed candidate for the seat supposedly vested to him since 2015. Undeterred by their party’s endorsement, other APC senators went ahead to declare interest for the number one Senate seat, leaving Lawan to move to opposition colleagues to canvass for votes.
But right from the onset, two senators from other parties-Peter Nwabaoshi of the PDP and Ifeanyi Ubah of YPP – openly declared support for him.
Nwabaoshi, while endorsing Lawan, said he preferred him to other candidates because of his competence, intelligence and ability to carry along senators, irrespective of party affiliations.
The PDP senator had declared: “For the Senate presidency, I have made it clear to my friends that I will support Sen. Ahmad Lawan for the presidency of the 9th Senate. I have found out that Sen. Lawan has been in the senate for the past 20 years and as such, he has gathered a lot of legislative experience in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.
“The president of the Senate is the chairman of the National Assembly who ought to understand the workings of both chambers and Lawan has experience from both chambers. Also, as a leader, I found in him competence, intelligence and he appreciates the views of others and he listens to better arguments.
“Any leader who is going to preside on that chamber must be able to accommodate other persons and must be intelligent. Make no mistakes, I never supported him in the 8th Senate and I had my reasons but I also believe that in this one, I am making a good choice in supporting him.”
Similarly, Ubah said while passing a vote on confidence on Lawan: “From day one, I have always had my position. I have consulted with my party, we looked at his pedigree. He was the Senate leader in the 8th Senate and politics is about risk. We looked at his resume and we found out that he is the right person to support. Even if he never makes it, let us assume but that we don’t pray for, I will still work with him. I am the only YPP senator-elect. So I need to form alliance in the Senate and that is what politics is all about.”
The race was made easier for Lawan when his major contender, Danjuma Goje, set aside his ambition and put his machinery in motion to work for Lawan. With this development, the Senate president only had Sen. Ali Ndume to contend with. After the election, Lawan polled 79 votes while Ndume received 28 votes, thereby making his ambition to lead the 9th Senate a reality.
Reward for loyalty
From the results of the elections, it was discovered that 17 PDP senators voted for Lawan. While their identities remain unknown, those who openly declared their support for him got rewarded with chairmanship of committees that are considered ‘prestigious’. Senator Nwabaoshi was appointed to chair the Committee on Niger Delta while Ubah got the vice-chairmanship position for Petroleum Resources (upstream) Committee.
The support enjoyed by the deputy Senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, who was fingered in the mace theft invasion of the chamber in the last dispensation, was also remarkable.
Notwithstanding that the Saraki-led Senate had handed down a 90-day legislative suspension to him over the incident, a defiant Omo-Agege defied the punishment and appeared in the chamber. The rest like they say, is history.
Six months down, Lawan and Omo-Agege appear to have showed capacity in coordinating the Red Chamber’s affairs despite diverse party inclinations.