The race for the position of Senate President appears to be reaching a crescendo.
Pockmarked by webs of intrigue, horse trading, claims and counter-claims, it has engagingly gripped the Nigerian political system on the eve of the transition to a new political dispensation.
While the ruling and triumphant All Progressives Congress (APC) has chosen its preferred candidates for both the Senate and House of Representatives leadership, it is not yet Uhuru for the party, amid staunch and swelling opposition from other factions in the fold.
There still seems to be no clear presumptive Senate President, especially as political parties in the National Assembly seek to join the fray and rally their members-elect for a repeat of the 2011 and 2015.
In this analysis, APC NewsOnline looks at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and potential Threats to the aspirations of the declared candidates for the position of Senate President of the 10th National Assembly.
The former Governor of Akwa Ibom State is a former Minority Leader in the Senate as a then-member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) before defecting to the APC in 2015 and subsequently emerging as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
Akpabio’s sellability for the office of Senate President is hinged on the fact that he is a Christian and from the South-South geopolitical region, particularly against any lingering reservations over the Tinubu/Shettima Muslim-Muslim ticket.
The Muslim Muslim ticket fielded by the APC at the 2023 general election had generated, and is still generating, controversy, so as expected in the necessary politics of delicate balancing, a Christian mounting the number three position will, no doubt, douse tension.
What’s more, Akpabio is also from the South-South, a region that is seemingly marginalized in the scheme of things, since the ascendancy of the APC to power in 2015.
There is a great and growing clamor for greater participation of the region and the contiguous Southeast in the next government especially as the APC has retained power with the shifting performance of the party there.
Akpabio has no doubt had a remarkable run since joining the APC in 2018, becoming a Minister and even gunning for the office of the country’s President at the convention that produced Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the party’s flag bearer.
But his baggage, which many believe may have prompted him to join the ruling APC, has continued to haunt him. He has been on the radar of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for a long time for allegations dating back to his time as governor.
In 2015, he was arrested and an investigation began into the alleged theft of N108.1 billion of Akwa Ibom funds.
In March this year, Akpabio was invited by the EFCC over allegations of N40 billion fraud perpetrated in the NDDC, a huge parastatal under the ministry headed by Akpabio for three years.
Recently, the civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA), said Akpabio has an oversize alleged corruption baggage and declared him unfit to be the next Senate President.
HURIWA, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, said APC should not act in any way that will portray it as endorsing graft.
The group added that Akpabio should be immediately probed just like the EFCC is already investigating Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle, over alleged N70billion fraud.
Akpabio comes from the South-South region, a region where APC tentacles are struggling to take root and consequently has relatively fewer APC lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
The APC also made a comparable significant showing in the South South, particularly in the presidential election, in which analysts had predicted a landslide for the Peter Obi-led resurgent Labour Party (LP).
Not only did the APC win a Senatorial seat in Akwa Ibom, but it also won in Cross Rivers and Edo states and Akpabio, who was a Senate Minority Leader before crossing over to the APC, has political relationships and a network that transcends party lines.
And in the APC, he has continued to solidify his position, even winning the approval of the President-elect, culminating in his endorsement for the highly coveted office of Senate President.
Akpabio faces challenges for this position from other juggernauts in the party. The likes of Orji Uzor Kalu, Abdulazeez Yari, Senator Mohammed Musa Sani, and Senator Osita Izunaso are also in the race.
These senators also have the network, alliances and clout to upstage the show and sway the votes away from him.
While Kalu is the current Senate Chief Whip, Izunaso has been a powerful political actor in the nation’s legislative space since the advent of the Fourth Republic, and Yari, that strong man of Zamfara politics, also has the network and war chest to prosecute his ambition.
Orji Uzor Kalu
The former Abia State Governor is also a force to reckon with in the APC.
Since joining the party in 2016, he has been a visible face of the party from a region initially antagonistic to the APC. He went on to build strong relationships in the party, becoming a close ally of outgoing Senate President Ahmed Lawan.
Before the party’s zoning formula was unveiled, Kalu’s name was largely associated with the clamor for greater inclusion and representation of the Southeast in the business of governance.
While Orji Kalu has strong influence in the party, particularly in the legislature being the Chief Whip, like Akpabio, he is bogged down by the weight of corruption cases and allegations that hang around his neck.
Kalu was released from jail in 2020 by a Federal High Court in Lagos, months after a Federal High Court on December 5, 2019, jailed him for 12 years.
He was convicted of N7.1billion fraud alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited, and a former Director of Finance in Abia State Government House, Jones Udeogu, in charge No: FHC/ABJ/CR/56/2007 between the Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 Ors on December 5, 2020.
However, following the defendants’ appeals against the judgment in which they argued that since the trial Judge, Justice Idris was already elevated to the Court of Appeal, he could not be granted a fiat to conclude the case as it was done in the case, the Supreme Court nullified their trial and conviction.
In nullifying their trial and conviction, the Supreme Court held that Justice Idris no longer had jurisdiction to try the case after being elevated to the Court of Appeal.
Consequently, the court ordered that the case be re-assigned to another Judge for trial de novo.
The defendants (Kalu and his company), filed applications before the Federal High Court, Lagos relying on the judgment of the Supreme Court for them to be released from the sentence and the conviction since the Supreme Court had held that the trial was a nullity.
The applications were granted and Kalu was released from Kuje Correctional Centre,Abuja.
In line with the judgment, the case was later re-assigned to Justice I. E. Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja. But the case was re-assigned to be tried in Abuja despite the Court of Appeal’s earlier judgment that held that Lagos and not Abuja has jurisdiction to hear the case.
However, at the re-trial, Kalu, who is the 1st respondent in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/73/2021 Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 Ors, filed an application before Justice I. E. Ekwo in which he sought, among others, an order of the court prohibiting the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from prosecuting him again on the allegations in Charge No: FHC/ABJ/CR/56/2007 between the Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 Ors on the ground that he had earlier been tried, convicted and sentenced on the charge.
EFCC also filed a counter-affidavit and written address opposing the application.
However, ruling on the suit, the court held that the applicant (EFCC) cannot re-try the respondents.
The court also held that the plea of autrefois acquit and autrefois convict and the principle of double jeopardy availed the 1st respondent (Orji Uzor Kalu) and that the re-trial of the 1st respondent would amount to the violation of the provisions of Section 36 (9) and (10) of Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, and Section 238 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
Kalu has been a prominent name in the nation’s political firmament since the return of democracy in 1999, being an influential actor in the previous Obasanjo government of 1999 and 2007, before now.
The insistence on a Christian from the South, and especially from the perceived marginalized Southeast, may play into his hands given his clout and sympathies in the National Assembly.
While being a Christian Southeasterner should ordinarily be a good sell in the light of a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket amid the clamor of marginalization from some sections of the country, he is contending against others with similar claim, the likes of Godswill Akpabio and Osita Izunaso, both of whom are Christians from the South-South and Southeast respectively with the requisite political clout and network.
The endorsement of Akpabio by the party’s hierarchy is also no surprise, as Kalu is considered to not have participated vigorously in the party’s presidential election campaign against the threatening tides of the Labour Party in his native geopolitical zone.
Yari is a former Governor of Zamfara State and was instrumental to the formation of the APC.
In 2015, he became the Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum. Yari has been a big player in APC even gunning for the party’s Chairmanship position during the last special convention.
Yari is largely considered a controversial fellow within the APC, particularly with the disqualification of the party from governance in the state in 2019 largely blamed on the crisis between him and Kabiru Marafa, another strongman.
Yari, like Akpabio and Kalu, is also not free from the radar of EFCC. In May last year, he was arrested at his Abuja residence following the commission’s investigation of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, for alleged N80 billion fraud.
He is also one of the key actors in the persistent crises rocking the APC in Zamfara State, that even cost the party the state in 2015.
Speaking recently, an APC chieftain, Dr Garus Gololo, warned the party against giving Yari the senate presidency.
Gololo said: “l pray that this time, the party is quick, up and doing to prevent this type of person from infiltrating our ranks. He has shown what he is capable of doing, and we must not allow him to succeed at it.”
Gololo further explained that Yari’s inordinate ambition is capable of causing a rift within the party, especially seeing that the party has chosen where to move as far as the senate presidency matter is concerned.
Yari is from Zamfara State in the Northwest, a region that has been the traditional base of APC and has maintained significant electoral showings for the party.
Yari, who also was once the Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum, has strong political network across the board and with ploys and plots by the opposition to subvert the endorsement by the ruling party, Yari’s connections and war chest may come in handy.
Speaking in that regard recently, Yari said: “The election has come, gone and the same zone (North-west) demonstrated what they are doing and took the lead in terms of producing votes to our President-elect and party.
“Even though some people were thinking about how to subvert it, we have done our best despite the challenges.
“Now, we have a President-elect (Tinubu) from the South-West, we have the Vice-president-elect from the Northeast and the Northwest is waiting.
Yari has found himself contending against an array of powerful contenders, such as a one-time Minority Leader, a one-time Chief whip, a long-time National Assembly power broker, and an influential senator from Niger state.
Yari still has forces in the party who are blaming him for his role in the 2019 fiasco and may see all these forces join the coalition and permutations against him.
Yari is from the North-west, a region considered to possess too much influence in APC, especially with the purported zoning of the Deputy Senate Presidency and Speakership by the party to the Northwest.
Senator Osita Izunaso, like Akpabio and Kalu, is also a Christian and from the Southeast, a region fiercely agitating for inclusion in the government after a perceived long stretch of marginalization.
Senator Izunaso also has the requisite experience and political dexterity, and, unlike the above duo, comes with a clean record, without any fraud or criminal case attached to his name.
This Imo West Senator-elect has paid his dues in APC as a core party man. He was in the merger committee that midwived APC and became the founding National Organising Secretary, a position he held for about five years during which he built a formidable political network. He has the best and most robust understanding of the National Assembly having served as an aide to both the presiding officers of the assembly before being elected into both the green and red chambers.
He has not been in the federal legislature since 2011 when he was replaced as the Senator for Imo West by Hope Uzodinma. Unlike others, Senator Izunaso is not a money bag.
While the leading contenders for the Senate Presidency are no doubt Godswill Akpabio and Orji Uzor Kalu, both Christians from the South-South and Southeast necessary to give geo-political and religious balance to the APC Muslim-Muslim ticket, both men have severely failed the integrity question as their antecedent is a necessary and inevitable factor for consideration in an incoming administration pledging a new chapter anchored on the renewed hope mantra.
He is also a party man with a strong network and philosophy of people-oriented politics, a fresh face that the APC direly needs for a new dispensation of things, especially with the doctrine of renewed hope, the mantra on which the incoming government is anchored.
He is contesting against big names who have been dominant in the nation’s political and legislative landscape in the past four years. These include Akpabio and Kalu, with one being a one-time Minority Leader before becoming Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and Orji Kalu, being a one-time Chief Whip of the Senate, amassing power and wealth along the way.
Yari is another powerful figure that has the strings and power moves to checkmate his influence and ambition.
Senator Sani Musa
He is a two-term Senator from the North- Central, a region that is also accusing the APC of marginalization in the purported zoning formula.
Like both the President-elect and the Vice President-elect, Senator Musa is also a Muslim. His North Central zone has been subsumed by its recently too close alliance with the far North.
The North-central seems to have been forgotten in the scheme of things and Sani Musa, who has enjoyed a good stay in the National Assembly as the current Chairman of the Senate Services Committee, has built a sizable influence, even vying last year for the position of party chairman before stepping down for the National Chairman of the party, Abdullahi Adamu,in compliance with the party’s directive.
He seems the man with the smallest cause in this clash of the giants, particularly with the Muslim-Muslim controversy and the clamor by the Southeast and even the South-South for greater representation in government and party administration.
From the foregoing analysis, it is hard to place a bet on this or that contender. The situation is no doubt dicey, made dicier with the return of the President-elect to the country amid intense politicking, both overtly and covertly, with APC National Chairman, Senator Adamu, promising the need for a revisit of the party’s declared zoning formula for the National Assembly leadership.
Akpabio and Kalu’s positions are increasingly coming under attack by the growing support for Senator Izunaso and even former governor Yari, but the Imo West senator may just hold the ace being a Christian from the Southeast, and an unwavering loyal party man.
For now, everything hangs in the balance as the schemings and tortuous horse trading continue a few days to the May 29 Inauguration Day.
The APC and the incoming administration are in the global eye, coming in on the plank of anti-corruption, accountability, and transparency, which will inevitably affect the ultimate choice for the leadership of the National Assembly.
This will inevitably affect the ultimate choice for the leadership of the National Assembly.
Dr Tom Ohikere is CEO of APC NewsOnline