Musical chairs at the 9th NASS

The season of ‘inconclusivity’ of elections is fast behind us, even the supplementary results have come and gone, and the next level is to settle down to good governance and the drive to fulfill all campaign promises. Despite the backlash from PDP supporters about the credibility of the polls, they have had more gains in the guber elections, claiming the three states of Oyo, Bauchi, and Adamawa from the ruling party. These losses are colossal when the 2023 election is brought into context, but that is a discussion for another day.

However, it’s a different ball game altogether when we talk in terms of the national assembly elections as the ruling party had a field day, claiming about 64 seats with another YPP party senator from Abia, decamping to the APC to make it 65, compared to the PDP’s 41 seats.

The APC also has over 200 members in the House of Representatives out of the 360, while the PDP has just a little over a 100. Back in 2015, APC still had the majority in the national assembly but struggled with the passage of the budget and other bottlenecks that made it difficult to execute projects, and cumbersome to implement policies.

When the national assembly was picking its leadership, the presidency’s arms were at akimbo and they assumed the ‘siddon look’ posture, allowing for a truly democratic process, with Mr President bent on being bipartisan and shedding from the GMB to the PMB persona.

While the senate was totally hijacked by the PDP, the Speaker of the House of Representatives was produced by a largely APC following, and through the course of time and proceedings, the lower chamber appeared to be more co-operative with the executive arm of government’s agenda. Even before the speaker decamped, he did say Buhari was a father to him and he had a good working relationship with him. His own issues were indeed local as it had to do with the politics in Bauchi state.

Recovering from the agonies and disappointments of working with an antagonistic senate, the ruling APC is not willing to make the same mistakes again, as they are poised for battle to take command of the legislative arm of government, particularly the senate. 60 days to the resumption of the 9th national assembly and its all musical chairs, as there are strategic alliances and schemes to take control of the senate.

Musical chairs is a game in which music plays as the contestants swirl around a fewer number of chairs to the number of contestants, and when the music stops, they scramble to get a seat, and the person left without a seat is taken off the contest. Another chair is removed in another round of music until it boils down to just two contestants and one seat.

The winner takes the seat and the prizes that come with it. This ‘musical game’ in the contest for the leadership of the national assembly has started in earnest as it is no longer a given, that the ruling party with an overwhelming majority, will produce the senate president. He can be an APC senator, but then a wolf in sheep’s clothing; loyal to the rival PDP, doing its bidding, subverting budgetary provisions and other key government appointments and bills.

For President Muhammadu Buhari to interfere, it is indeed undemocratic, but this particular democratic deed was one of his greatest undoing in his first term. However, for the APC as a party to mobilise and sensitise its legislators to have a common ground on who they make their speaker and senate president is thoroughly democratic.

It is also a positive for good governance, as the party’s manifestos and programmes can be pursued without the avoidable rancour and drama on the floor of the senate as witnessed in the 8th assembly. Buhari has also said that since this is his last term, as he will not be contesting again as spelt out by the constitution, he needs all the support and cooperation of his party’s legislators, so that he leaves behind laudable and lasting legacies.

He therefore needs their support in the passage of bills, budgets and approval of appointments to be presented by his government as he is sworn in again on May 29, 2019.

The ruling APC has zoned the senate presidency to the North-east. Three senators have come to the fore in this quest, namely, Senator Ali Ndume from Borno state, Senator Danjuma Goje from Gombe state, and Sen. Ahmad Lawan from Yobe state.

Reports say that Senator Goje is most likely not going to contest and will toe the party line on whoever they agree on as a consensus candidate; to be ratified on the floor of the red chamber come June 2019.

Senator Ali Ndume is however the only candidate challenging the decision of the party as it is clear that they favour an Ahmad Lawan led Senate, who was earlier proposed as senate president in the 8th assembly.

Senator Ndume was part of the Saraki-led takeover of the senate but they were later to fall apart as he was suspended for 90 days while he served as majority leader.

There is still much to be seen, if the Saraki-Ndume alliance can be resurrected, or if their fracas in the 8th assembly has done more than enough damage. But in politics, they say, there are no permanent enemies or friends, just permanent interest, so anything is possible.

Saraki has already lent his voice to the 9th assembly debate, sending a warning signal to the presidency, saying that they will not allow them to hijack the senate. This has revealed that he will try to control the senate by proxy, just as it is suggested that his senate was guided by even more powerful elements from the rival PDP.

Senator Goje chairman of the appropriation committee was touted as a likely PDP cum Saraki pick, being a former governor and a ranking senator. But his recent comments, as mentioned earlier, have put that to rest. For now, Ahmad Lawan remains the anointed senate president come 9th assembly.

Lawan remains the longest serving member of the national assembly, having been there since 1999 as a House of Representatives member from Yobe North, Yobe state. From 1999 to 2007 while he was in the House of Reps, he chaired the committees on education and agriculture. He was later elected to the senate in 2007.

In 2008, he was a member of the national assembly joint committee on constitutional review, and in 2009, he became the chairman senate committee on public accounts. He is the author of the Desertification Control Commission Bill. He has been a member of the APP, ANPP, CPC and APC, seemingly why he is considered a Baba Buhari core loyalist in the senate.

He is well educated, having a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography from the University of Maiduguri, a Master’s Degree in remote sensing from the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, and a doctorate degree in remote sensing/ GIS from the Cranfield University UK.

Throughout his political sojourn, Lawan has been stable and devoid of the new found political somersaults of changing camps and parties. Having stayed so long in the senate, he is bound to command a lot of respect from his colleagues as he brings his wealth of legislative and diplomatic experience to bear, in the dynamics of leading the 9th assembly.

On the other hand, the fact that Lawan has been presented as ‘the candidate’ by the APC may undermine him, if we are to rely on recent assembly-leadership tussles as was the case with Tambuwal, Saraki and Dogara.

The legislators might feel that he is being imposed on them and they can have a mutiny against an official pick. Only time will tell whether the 9th assembly musical chair will stop with Lawan seated, or if he will lose his balance and be floored.

Tahir is Talban Bauchi.

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