As the race for the leadership of the National Assembly commences ahead inauguration of the 10th Assembly in June, various templates for zoning key offices in the parliament have emerged. While some are advocating for zoning according to contributions at the last elections, others have suggested the adoption of the arrangement that held sway between 1999-2007, since the incoming president and vice president are from the same zones with those at the helm of affairs then.
Between 1999 and 2007 when Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar were presidents and vice presidents respectively, the order of zoning at the National Assembly was such that took a cue from the need to give the other geopolitical zones in the country a sense of belonging by spreading the offices across the board.
With Obasanjo from the South West as president and his deputy, Atiku from the North East, the Senate presidency was zoned to the South East, while the North Central got a deputy senate president and the North West produced the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The deputy speaker then was from South South, thereby taking care of all the zones.
The clamour for a repeat of the same template has surfaced with the results of the 2023 presidential elections throwing up a similar configuration. The President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is from the South West and the Vice President-elect, Kashim Shettima is from the North East. While the need to accommodate and give all zones a sense of belonging cannot be overlooked, it is imperative to consider the peculiarities that influence decisions on zoning of offices then and now. In that era, democracy was just resurfacing and there were no benefits of experience or ranking of the legislators to consider as a factor for allocating offices.
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After almost 24 years of uninterrupted democracy, lawmakers making appearances at the parliament for the first time would have to respect the convention of ranking in the choice of principal officers. In the course of the 24 years, there are parliamentarians who, by virtue of their performances and commitment to duty, have been returned to the National Assembly for a good number of years; some for the fifth or sixth time. Such legislators cannot be ignored as their experience in legislative affairs matter.
Therefore, the availability of experienced legislators from each zone in both the red and green chambers should guide the idea of zoning leadership positions. And as such, the 1999 template cannot be adopted in the next dispensation because between then and now, some zones have dominated key positions in the parliament to the exclusion of others.
Within that period, for instance, the South East and North Central zones have produced presidents and deputy presidents of the Senate for a record 20 out of the 24 years, with both alternating the positions at various times, while the North East and South South produced a president and deputy president of the Senate for a period of four years. Similarly, the North West, in the Obasanjo dispensation, held the position of Speaker for good 12 out of the 24 years of the current democratic experience, while the South West held it for eight years with the Northeast serving the remaining four years.
Again, adopting the 1999-2007 template would mean that the North West, which has already served 12 years in the speaker’s position, would have another four years (making it 16 years!), to the exclusion of other zones.
There is the need therefore to juggle the positions to accommodate the other zones that have not occupied these key positions for considerable periods. As it is, the senate presidency could be zoned to the South, for religious inclusion, and to be fair to the South East and the South South zones. Conversely, the position of deputy senate president should not go to either the South East or North Central since both have occupied the position to the near exclusion of other zones.
Another key factor that influenced zoning during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led administration of President Obasanjo was the level of contribution by each zone to winning the presidency. It was justifiable to zone the seat of the senate president to the Southeast then because the region voted overwhelmingly for that party.
Now, since the South West and North East have been taken care of with the positions of president and vice president respectively, the contributions of each zone to the success of the party at the polls should then be a determining factor in sharing the other key positions. And if the need for religious balancing triumphs over other considerations, the Southsouth, which has contributed meaningfully to APC’s overall performance at the last polls should be considered for the senate presidency than the Southeast.
Other than religious considerations, however, the North West which has contributed immensely to Tinubu’s emergence as the next president of Nigeria, should have been the natural beneficiary with its humongous vote donation. At the last presidential elections, the North-west gave the APC presidential candidate 2,712,235 votes, followed by the South-west with 2,279,307, then the North Central with 1,670, 091 votes. The Northeast, on the other hand, polled 1,190,458 of the total number of votes that the APC polled with the least votes coming from the Southsouth and South East with 799,957 and 127,373 votes respectively.
As the religious factor is bound to come to play, the Northwest, based on its contribution to the success of the APC, can be compensated with the deputy senate presidency, more so as the zone is just completing an eight-year tenure in the presidency.
With that, the North Central should take the seat of the speaker. That would seem fair to the various zones, based on their respective contributions.
And in that respect, as well as the benefit of having an experienced members from the Northcentral to preside over the House of Representatives, my vote for the current deputy speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase, to be promoted to the next level as speaker, to guarantee the continued stability of that arm of the parliament.
Shedrack Nansat wrote from Rwang Pam Street, Jos, Plateau State