Battle for senate presidency begins before election

Inside the senate Nigeria

Senate President presidening a plenary

The April 2nd legislative arm election is still two weeks away. Only few of the contestants are certain of victory. Fewer of the re-contesting senators are certain of returning to the senateand no one is sure of the composition the final list of senators that will constitute seventh senate, yet, intense lobby for who becomes the senate president is splitting the senate.

Over the past four weeks, there have been deep underhand consultations within and outside the national assembly by aspiring senate presidents from th

e ranks of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and their sponsors – godfathers. The lobbyists and aspirants have been contacting prospective senators and party leader

ship, including the busy President Goodluck Jonathan seeking for support.

There are four major contenders for the seat; three from the current sitting senators, all bandying different criteria favouring them for the job and all hoping for support from President Jonathan. The contestants are not deterred by the first huddle of winning the April 2nd election neither are they held back by the possibility of the seventh senate not being dominated by PDP lawmakers.

The contenders

The senate president, David Mark, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, who are both lobbying for the return of the full line up of senate’s current leadership are proponents of a non-zone inspired leadership of the senate, just like in the presidency. They are favoured by experience and acceptability.

They are pitched against two major opponents. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, a close ally of President Goodluck Jonathan is supposedly pushing for a South West senate president. Mr. Obasanjo, according to sources, has lobbied the incumbent to favour zoning the senate presidency to the South West and is present Iyabo Obasanjo, his daughter, and Bode Olajumoke for the position.

From the outside, Danjuma Goje, the governor of Gombe state is hoping to come to the senate and also nursing an ambition of becoming the senate president. He has allegedly gotten a nod from President Jonathan and party officials that the senate presidency will dedicated to the North East zone. A party official who do not want to be named said zoning senate presidency to the north east is a precondition for the zone to support the presidential ambition of the President Jonathan.

The Mase

The Mase is the symbol of leadership in the National assembly

No zoning formula

“As it is now, there is no zoning formula,” an official of the party told NEXT in confidence. “Until the president wins, nobody can lay claims to any other position.”

In September 2010, President Jonathan who is also the leader of the party denounced the party’s zoning arrangement while submitting his nomination form at the Wadata plaza headquarters of PDP

The president explained that it is only after the president and the vice president have emerged in an election that the party cannot decide on which zones present leaders of the National Assembly positions.

“The office of the President and other elective offices like Senate Presidency, Speaker and National Assembly Officers, PDP have reasonable control as long as we are in the majority.  Those offices could be zoned.  But, before you zone those offices, the President and the Vice-president would have first emerged,” the president had told reporters.

“The president is the leader of the party and nothing has changed,” our source said.

Nevertheless, the three groups are tossing around claims to the senate presidency due to the new zoning arrangement that may emerge should President Jonathan win the April elections.

In a free-for-all contest, the senate president is the most influential senator at present and is most favoured to win the contest should he win back his Benue south constituency, April 2nd. The senate president however faces a tough battle back home. His long standing opponent, Lawrence Onoja is contesting on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which is threatening to sweep the state of PDP’s grip.

Before now, Mark was most favoured for the job following his close association with the president before the PDP primaries. The senate president was also the first to crystallize support from President Goodluck Jonathan for the seat but due to the heightened numbness in their relationship and the president’s ever changing political promises, the senate president’s chances have grown weaker recently.

Mr. Ekweremadu is standing by his boss despite subtle calls from his south eastern colleagues for the position left for the south east. Mr. Ekweremadu’s insistence on the return of David Mark as the senate president and the current line up of senate leadership is a sign of loyalty; however, it puts him in the position of next-in-line for the job should the senate president fail at home.

The agenda to return David Mark as the senate president is at present popular amongst his colleagues from the South and amongst the northern senators who feel differently about zoning the senate presidency to the North East.

Mr. Olajumoke is said to have obtained the support of his state government to return to the senate despite being in the opposition because he also has the support of Obasanjo. He will be serving his third term in the senate – good experience for a senate president – but will face serious opposition from Iyabo Obasanjo who hopes to be the first female senate president riding on her father’s support.

Based on legislative experience, Mr. Goje will be least favoured.

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