By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The endorsement by former Abia governor and Senator-elect, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, of Senator Ahmad Lawan’s candidature for senate presidency in the 9th National Assembly is quite significant. It gives a strategic geo-political advantage to Lawan in the potentially gusty race for the plum position.
Following his endorsement by the All Progressives Congress (APC), a former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume had declared interest in the position, thus undermining the party’s position. Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation in the 8thSenate, Danjuma Goje, also has his hat in the ring.
Despite the proliferation of other significant personal interests in the race, Lawan’s candidature continues to enjoy significant support and endorsement by leaders of the APC countrywide. To be sure, President Muhammadu Buhari tacitly supports it. He was present at a dinner in the Presidential Villa for senators-elect where the announcement of Lawan’s endorsement was made by the party’s National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and did not raise any objection.
Buhari’s tacit backing signposts the most significant endorsement so far in the crystallization and contextualization of Lawan’s impending senate presidency, thus producing some restraints on other APC’s ranking Senators-elect, from zones other than the North-East, from joining the race.
Indeed, Lawan’s candidature, besides enjoying presidential approbation, sits deftly on the tripod of the country’s main ethnic configurations and approvals – the Hausa/Fulani North, the Yoruba West and Igbo East. In other words, the political leaderships of the APC as typified by Buhari in the North, Bola Tinubu in Yorubaland and Kalu in Igboland have forged the political-cum-philosophical foundation on which to hoist and foist a Lawan presidency on the Senate, effective June 11, 2019.
Lawan remains Buhari’s candidate. The 2015 arrangement failed because Bukola Saraki outsmarted the party to clinch the plum position. Tinubu backed George Akume in 2015 but Buhari’s interest subsumed his and he advised Akume to settle for deputy senate presidency. Unfortunately, their plans were nailed by Saraki’s nimble moves.
Within the context of the 2015 jostle for positions in the National Assembly, Tinubu’s original interest was Femi Gbajabiamila for speakership. So it is in 2019. There is therefore a fallacy in describing Lawan as Tinubu’s candidate. However, there is a sense in which Lawan could be misconstrued as such: if one considers the extent to which the Lion of Bourdillon has been promoting the interest of the President by galvanizing support for Lawan.
It is important to situate Lawan’s candidature within the above context, in order to deliver some leaders in the APC, who are ill-at-ease with Tinubu’s perceived strategic presidential agenda in 2023, from their entrenched misconception and needless conspiracy against Lawan. Therefore, not being a benefactor of Lawan, Tinubu’s ancillary support for Buhari’s candidate rides on the crest of his (Tinubu’s) massive political goodwill, especially in Yoruba land.
Given Tinubu’s pan-Yoruba political network and goodwill, he can easily secure or has already secured the support of all members-elect in the South-West zone, to ensure the emergence of Lawan as Senate President and also Gbajabiamila as Speaker in the House of Representatives. Indeed, his endorsement of Lawan is thus as significant as Buhari’s even if Lawan was not his original choice for the position in 2015.
It is within the same context that the significance of Kalu’s endorsement matches the combined endorsement of Buhari and Tinubu. The South-East zone is a traditional enclave of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As it is, Kalu is the only confirmed APC senator-elect from the zone. The two others, namely: Benjamin Uwajumogu and Rochas Okorocha both from Imo State, have pending issues with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over their election. Until the issues are cleared, their election remains tentative.
Meanwhile, Kalu’s intervention is a significant and strategic gateway into the traditional enclave of the PDP. Interestingly, Kalu is from the PDP pedigree, having been governor of Abia State, on the platform from 1999 to 2007. In his subsequent political voyage, he has associated with many politicians across party lines. His capacity to relate very well with all senators-elect and even members-elect in the South-East zone is not in doubt. He has the gravitas, charisma and penetrating reach to rally the South-East as a bloc.
By heading in Lawan’s direction with his solid endorsement, the matter is significantly settled. Although, I am not in pari materia with the details of the endorsement – whether or not there were conditions attached; yet I am inclined to believe that Kalu has not backed down on his push for the position of Deputy Senate President to be ceded to the South-East zone in APC’s position sharing arrangements in the 9th National Assembly.
If Kalu had presented that as a condition for endorsement; he could not be said to have acted in bad faith in the nation’s predominant quid pro quo politics of regional and egocentric interests. There must be something for South-East APC, particularly in the Senate, in Buhari’s second term. It is a burden on Kalu’s shoulders to push through. And, if he ends up being a beneficiary of that breakthrough, he is eminently qualified to appropriate it, having paid his political dues. He was once an elected member of the House of Representatives in the ill-fated Third Republic.
Kalu is charting a clear trajectory for himself with the Lawan endorsement. He has eloquently declared his support for the party and the Buhari presidency. No pretensions. No shenanigans. And, that is the good thing about him. Sans chicanery, he bares his mind and declares his stands on issues. Therefore, Lawan can rest assured that he can take Kalu’s endorsement to the bank. Besides, Lawan can count on Kalu to enlist many more senators-elect in support of his senate presidency.
Kalu can be trusted up to the hilt to deliver on any promise made. Kalu is a good man. When I penned a piece on him some months ago, titled: “Kalu’s eleemosynary” in which I recalled how our paths crossed while in the saddle as Abia governor, I had prayed and said he would win the Abia North senatorial seat this time round after analyzing how he narrowly lost the election in 2015. My magisterial declaration was made in the context of the magnitude of his politics, his burgeoning APC platform in the South-East and his strong political structure and machinery which he has consistently oiled.
Kalu’s senatorial voyage is, over all, a product of providence. It is also providential that he has now thrown his weight behind a good choice for the Senate plum post -Lawan- with whom I interacted closely while reporting for THISDAY in the Senate. A robust legislative collaboration is thus in the offing. Lawan is a legislator par excellence: eight years in the House of Representatives from 1999 before moving up to the Senate in 2007. Brilliant and perceptive, Lawan, with a PhD in Remote Sensing, has been able to deploy and integrate his savoir-faire in legislative and political interactions.
Having learnt from the leadership styles, successes and failures of past Senate Presidents, Lawan will be well guided by history – especially the history that endorsements for election as senate presidents had not always translated or equated support needed to sustain senate presidents in the saddle. Lawan will need to put his nose to the grindstone to achieve a delicate balance in his relationship with his colleagues on the one hand and with the executive arm on the other, so that he does not become a casualty in the game of the musical chair that has characterised the positions of National Assembly’s presiding officers due to mismanagement of executive-legislature relationship. Indeed, from the potential political ferment, he should be able to define his eon – positively or negatively.
▪ Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, contributed this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org