Unending ripples in governance over north/south dichotomy

Recently, news made the round that there was an alleged plan to remove the incumbent Senate President, Godswill Akpabio.
The development, again, brought to the fore the sensitive issues of suspicion and sharp political division between the Southern and Northern parts of the country.

The ensuing altercations, which has since pitted some Southern and Northern lawmakers against one another, brings to memory previous leadership crises that have dogged the upper chamber of the National Assembly since Nigeria returned to democracy.
It also raises questions about how a particular section of Nigeria has continued to seek control of the Senate whenever it is not in power at the centre.

But the crisis with the Senator Akpabio-led leadership did not start with the allegation by the embattled former Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, Senator Abdul Ningi, that the 2024 budget was padded.

Ningi, during an interview with BBC Hausa service, had claimed that a whopping N3.7 trillion was illegally added to the 2024 budget. The development angered some of the senators because of the criticisms the allegation drew from furious Nigerians.

Recall that there had been some scheming against Akpabio’s ambition by some Northern elements who believe that the Senate Presidency, the number three in hierarchy in Nigeria’s democratic setting, should be the reserve of the North since the South has taken hold of the centre through President Bola Tinubu’s victory at the presidential election.

This development is besides the fact that since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, the South-South geo-political zone has never produced the President of the Senate. The best the South had gotten was when the Southeast produced five Senate Presidents between 1999 and 2007.

Past Senate Leaders of Nigeria
Evans Enwerem was the first Senate President produced under the Fourth Republic in 1999. He was born in Imo State in Southeast Nigeria on October 29, 1935. He was elected governor of Imo State in 1991 during the failed Third Republic and later became Senate President on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

He defeated the late Chuba Okadigbo with the support of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his allies in the governing party and two opposition parties.

But Enwerem did not hold the post for very long. A Nigerian Senate committee began investigating Enwerem for allegations of corruption in 1999. He was eventually removed from office on November 18, 1999, in a plot spearheaded by allies of Okadigbo. He, however, remained a member of the Senate until 2003.

Okadigbo, a PDP member, who was also from the southeast in Anambra State, succeeded Enwerem from 1999 to 2000. He was in turn removed from office on August 8, 2000.

Another South-easterner from Ebonyi State, Anyim Pius Anyim took over from Okadigbo.

In June 2002, an attempt led by Anyim to impeach President Obasanjo failed. Anyim did not seek re-election in 2003, knowing that under Obasanjo’s watch, he would lose.

Another Igbo lawmaker from Abia State, Senator Adolphus Wabara, was elected Senate President in 2003 but in April 2005, he resigned from his position after allegations were made that he and others took a $400,000 bribe from former Education Minister, Fabian Osuji. This paved the way for Senator Ken Nnamani from Enugu State, also in the Southeast.

Senator David Mark was elected Senate President in June 2007. It was at a time that the late President Umaru Yar’Adua from Katsina State in the Northwest had succeeded Obasanjo, while Mark was from North Central.

Interestingly, Mark, who was a former Military Administrator of Niger State and erstwhile Communication Minister, completed two terms as Senate President without any rancour.

Even when Yar’Adua died and former President Goodluck Jonathan from the South-South emerged, Mark still had a successful tenure as Senate President compared to what the southern leaders of the upper chamber experienced.

Former Governor of Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki, a northerner from North Central emerged the leader of the Senate in 2015 while former Military Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari from Katsina in the Northwest succeeded Jonathan. The duo were from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Although Saraki emerged Senate President against the desire of his party, APC, he however managed to overcome all impeachment attempts against him, including the fact that he was the first Nigerian Senate President to be subjected to trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Saraki was on June 9, 2015 elected as President of the Senate through party alliance comprising PDP and APC Senators. Saraki had faced stiff opposition from Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan who was a preferred candidate by a group of senators-elect within the APC. His deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu of PDP emerged after a tightly contested election using an allegedly forged senate standing order.

The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) cited a 13-count charge of corruption against Saraki. He was accused of offenses ranging from anticipatory declaration of assets to making false declaration of assets in forms filed with the CCB while he was governor of Kwara state. He was also accused of failing to declare some assets he acquired while in office as governor, acquiring assets beyond his legitimate earnings, and operating foreign accounts while being a public officer. Saraki became the first senate president in Nigeria to be issued with a warrant of arrest.

The former Kwara State governor did not make it back to the upper chamber in 2019, having defected from APC to PDP.

He was succeeded by Senator Lawan from Yobe State in the Northeast. Although, the Senate under Lawan was considered as the most weakened and rubber stamp upper chamber Nigeria has ever had, he, however, had a blissful period from 2019 to 2023 when Akpabio succeeded him.

Issues Of Discord
After a rigorous contest for the leadership of the Senate in June last year, Akpabio, with the backing of the presidency, defeated Senator Abdulaziz Yari, a former governor of Zamfara, in the North-West.

But some northerners, whose belief is that the region gave the largest vote to President Tinubu and must therefore be compensated with the Senate leadership, have not been at ease ever since.

There is also the anger that the various appointments so far made under the Tinubu-led administration have favoured the Southwest against the North.

Following the sentiments raised regarding appointments, Senators from the northern part of the country, numbering 58 out of the 109 members, also alleged that projections and provisions in the N28.7tr 2024 budget, were lopsided and skewed against the North, just as they also kicked against the relocation of some federal agencies to Lagos without duly considering the reasons adduced for such relocation.

Though they told their constituents to remain calm as they had begun engagement with the presidency on the issues, the northern lawmakers threatened to explore legal and other constitutional means, in the event that their dialogue with President Tinubu does not work out.

Spokesperson of the Northern Senators Forum, Senator Suleiman Kawu Summaila, NNPP Kano South, noted that all lawful means to reverse the lopsidedness would be explored until justice was done.

In a statement, titled, ‘Allocation and distribution of funds in 2024 National Budget and Relocation of some Federal Agencies to Lagos,’ the Forum stressed that it was committed to addressing the concerns and feelings of their constituents regarding certain decisions and policies put forth by the federal government.

“In particular, lopsidedness in the distribution and allocation of resources in the 2024 budget, relocation of some federal agencies from Abuja to Lagos are seriously viewed by us as disturbing,” the statement read in part.

The outburst was followed by Ningi’s damning allegation, and the alleged plot to unseat Akpabio.

Disturbing Trend
The development, however, triggered a reaction from the Senate Majority Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, who raised the alarm that some senators were scheming to unseat Senator Akpabio as Senate President.

Bamidele, representing Ekiti Central senatorial district, made the disclosure following the suspension of Ningi by the Senate.

Speaking on the controversial statement by Ningi, which generated public outrage on social media, Bamidele said the 10th Senate has been battling crises since its inauguration in June, attributing it to a plot by some Red Chamber lawmakers to remove Akpabio.

The former Lagos Commissioner for Information and Strategy, noted that Senate Presidents of northern extraction that preceded Akpabio such as David Mark, Bukola Saraki, and Ahmad Lawan had peaceful tenures, but when it became the turn of the South again, some northern senators have been trying to unseat him.

He noted that the last time a lawmaker from the South-South was Senate President was about 40 years ago, the late Joseph Wayas, who was president of the Senate in 1979.

Bamidele further alleged that what Ningi did was tantamount to a civilian coup and may have been targeted beyond Akpabio, even to frustrate President Tinubu.

For political observers, any right thinking President would always be interested in who becomes the leader of the Senate, which is the clearing chamber for most of his policies. This is one mistake former President Muhammadu Buhari made with the emergency of Saraki, which eventually created a lot of bottlenecks for his administration between 2015 to 2019.

Bamidele expressed gratitude to the Northern Senators Forum, who, according to him, have debunked Ningi’s claim.

Meanwhile, a National Assembly source said the last has not been seen of the Northern Senators onslaught against the incumbent administration and Akpabio.
He recalled how the issue of agreement with the North by Obasanjo before the 1999 election generated controversy.

It was alleged at the time that President Obasanjo did sign an accord with the PDP Northern caucus to protect the Northern interest in return for their support.

But the former president told a group of select political editors of how he rebuffed an attempt by Northerners to lure him into signing an accord with them before backing his 1999 presidential bid. He said he refused to sign the agreement because, according to him, doing so would have turned him into a figure-head president.

Former President Jonathan also had his own taste of the Northern stakeholders, most of who believe that whenever they are not in power, the incumbent president must do their bidding.

The Tinubu Approach 
The dynamics of power under the Tinubu-led administration is far different from  what happened under the two former southern Presidents.

For instance, Tinubu had carefully selected his vice, Kashim Shettima from the Kanuri ethnic group, a people that have always complained of marginalisation.

In the same manner, he has handled sensitive postings and appointments in the north with some sort of balance.

Regardless of this, there are feelers that some unhappy lot in the north are bent on frustrating Akpabio or removing and replacing him with their interest to get back at Tinubu.

North Kicks
But reacting to Bamidele stance, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), has described the majority leader of the senate as trying to distort history and point fingers at the North for alleged conspiracies to frustrate Akpabio’s tenure as Senate President.

National Coordinator of CNG, Jamilu Aliyu Charanchi, said this desperate attempt to rewrite history and, as usual, put the blame on the North for all the country’s woes is unacceptable as well as repugnant to the sensibilities of northerners.

He said Bamidele forgot or deliberately ignored the fact that President Shehu Shagari, a northerner, made Joseph Wayas president of the Senate of the Second Republic, against a fellow northern aspirant in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

Charanchi said Bamidele failed to mention that it was President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner, who orchestrated the removal of several southern individuals from the Senate Presidency, saying the Senate leader must also remember that southern politicians like Chief Obasanjo too have played their part in manipulating the political landscape when he ruthlessly removed three PDP national chairmen of northern extraction from their positions.

Meanwhile, the recent surprise visit of former Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai to the headquarters of Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Abuja may reflect another dimension to what is likely to happen if the northern oligarchy failed to get their interest protected under the Tinubu-led administration and ruling APC.

Without doubt, the stage for a dangerous ethnic politics may be getting set ahead of the 2027 elections when President Tinubu may likely seek re-election.

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