Senate presidency: Izunaso as a threat to Akpabio, Kalu’s ambition

As the race for the Senate Presidency gathers momentum, it is becoming clear that the main contenders for the coveted office of the number three man in the country is a three-man race.

Former governors Orji Uzor Kalu and Godswill Akpabio have hitherto been the frontline contenders before the coming on board of Osita Izunaso, the senator-elect for Imo West who was a key player during the formative years of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in 2014/2015.

While the APC hierarchy has endorsed Akpabio and Senator Jibril Barau as senate president and deputy senate president; Tajudeen Abbas and Ben Kalu as speaker and deputy speaker, respectively, there is still disquiet and even open resistance in the party.

On Thursday, the National Chairman of the ruling party, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, admitted that aspirants for various offices in the 10th National Assembly were not consulted before the decision on zoning was reached.

Adamu spoke at the APC national secretariat in Abuja when aggrieved aspirants for the senate presidency stormed the headquarters to vent their anger.

Addressing the aggrieved contenders for the senate presidency, comprising a former Governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu; a former Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari; Senator Sani Musa (Niger), among others, who submitted a protest letter to him, Adamu said the party would go back to the drawing board and review the zoning arrangement, where necessary.

The APC helmsman, however, said the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) could not take a decision on the matter without the inputs of the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, stressing that once he (Tinubu) returns to the country; there would be a meeting to review the decision on zoning.

In a letter jointly signed, the aggrieved lawmakers asked the party to correct “its mistake or face the consequences,” warning that, while they have never violated the party, the leadership should brace themselves for a surprise on election day, because the disgruntled hopeful will openly defy the party.

While Yari and Sani Musa have their own claims with the foot soldiers and financial war chest to prosecute their ambition, it is largely presumed that this position should go to the South-south or the South-east and to a Christian.

Akpabio and Orji Kalu are, no doubt, frontliners with one being a former minority leader and the other a chief whip. Both are Christians from the South-south and South-east, respectively. They perfectly fit the description but are also controversial when it comes to the use of power. In 2015, Akpabio was arrested over alleged misappropriation of N108.1 billion of Akwa Ibom funds.

Similarly, in March this year, Akpabio was invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over allegations of N40 billion fraud at the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, an agency under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, which he headed for three years. 

On Saturday, a civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), said Akpabio has too many alleged corruption baggage and is not fit to be the next senate president. HURIWA, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, said the APC should not act in any way that will portray it as endorsing graft.

While Orji Kalu has a strong influence in the party, particularly in the legislature, being the chief whip, like Akpabio, he is also bogged down by the weight of alleged corruption cases.

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 N7.1bn alleged fraud alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited, and a former Director of Finance at the 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.

Amidst the swirling corruption allegations, Senator-elect Osita Izunaso is widely tipped to be the most viable, if not the only alternative for the senate presidency, being a Christian and a South-easterner. He is also a party man and a long time parliamentarian. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 and in 2003. He became a senator in 2007 and later the inaugural national organising secretary of APC before his latest re-election to the senate.

Akpabio and Orji Kalu’s frontline positions are increasingly coming under attack by the growing support for Senator Izunaso, who has no case to answer with the EFCC. This is particularly as the APC and the incoming administration are in the eye of the world, 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.

Dr Tom Ohikere is CEO APC newsonline