By Dan Amor
With the pendulum of the Nigerian intricate power calculus swinging in favour of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) following its victory in the March 28, 2015 Presidential and National Assembly polls, the question as to who and who would emerge as new leaders of the 8th Senate and the 8th House of Representatives, respectively, remains a matter for grave national concern. Intrigues, subterfuge, political horse trading, backstabbing, etcetera, are almost at breaking points. The scrambling has just begun, and yet tension is gathering momentum. Whoever emerges as the Senate President will ultimately become the Chairman of the 8th National Assembly Joint Session in a Presidential system of government in which the Legislature is at the epicentre of our democracy. The position is currently being occupied by Senator David Mark of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Benue State in the North Central geo-political zone while the Speaker of the House of Representatives is Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal from Sokoto, North West, who only recently defected from PDP to APC.
For the exalted position of Senate President under the APC, a handful of notable political gladiators are jostling for attention. They include Senator Bukola Saraki, incumbent Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, from Kwara State in the North Central; Senator Danjuma Goje, former Governor of Gombe State, North East; Senator George Akume, currently Senate Minority Leader and former Governor of Benue State, North Central; and, of course, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, former Governor of Nasarawa State, North Central. All of these politicians served as State Governors for two terms,respectively, under PDP and are known to be very wealthy. What this means is that, having made so much money, these parliamentarians need power and influence. But a good number of them have odds against them. From their haunting past records of sleaze while in office and in their private businesses, their lack of decorum and accommodation, their extreme religious sentiments, to the zoning formula of their party, it is certain that the ambition of some of these politicians to preside over the 8th Senate would fall on the rocky ground.
According to analysts, the zero tolerance on corruption mantra of the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency as circulated during his presidential campaign is a progressive policy thrust which would ensure that only those with clean hands would go to equity. And so, given the alleged menacing cloud of sleaze still hanging over some of these gladiators, like the mystical Sword of Damocles, the APC would certainly prefer less corruption-infested elements to lead key positions. First, the party was alleged to have zoned the Senate Presidency position to the North Central and Speakership to the North East. This has narrowed the race for the Senate Presidency to the North Central. One is therefore inclined to assume that the three Distinguished Senators left to slug out the diadem are Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Dr. George Akume, all from North Central. Again, the policy formulators for the incoming administration must see to it that there is fairness in the distribution of key positions reflecting not only ethnic and geopolitical colouration of the country but also religious affiliations. Since Buhari, a Fulani Muslim from the North West has emerged the President with the glaring possibility of another Muslim from the North East emerging as Speaker, it is only fair for a Christian to head the 8th Senate under an APC-controlled Federal Government.
This, analysts believe, would tilt the balance in a multi-religious society like Nigeria. In the absence of an APC Christian Senator-elect from the South East or South South, and the zoning of the position to the North East, and given the fact that the other two contenders, Saraki and Adamu are Muslims, respectively, the odds favour Akume as the next Senate President. One other thing that gives every indication that Dr. Akume will emerge President of the 8th Senate is the way and manner he has helped in stabilizing the 7th Senate as the Senate Minority Leader. While maintaining a fierce radical ideological temperament of the opposition that he led in the Senate for several years, Akume helped in no mean measure in charting a new course for reviving progressive politics in Nigeria culminating in his party’s unprecedented victory in the March 28, 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections. With his experience as a lawmaker who also doubles as leader of the opposition and stabilizing force in the 7th Senate, Akume, a former governor for eight eventful years, would offer creative ideas for tackling Nigeria’s toughest problems and a new governing philosophy anchored on opportunity, responsibility and community.
Akume is from Christian Tiv, about the fourth largest tribe in Nigeria cutting across four States in the North Central. This makes him a potential crowd puller in the North Central geopolitical zone. What affirms his popularity as a politician is the fact that he became the first governor to have completed two terms since the creation of Benue State and won straight to the Senate for eight years. Whereas his close rivals in the race for the Senate Presidency, Dr. Bukola Saraki has pending issues with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC) in connection with the closure of Societe Generale Bank, and Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, another Fulani Muslim also has a running battle with the EFCC, so far no case has been established against Akume by either the EFCC or the ICPC. For a party like APC, which is determined to fight corruption, its yardstick for appointment and support for its members to key and sensitive positions must go beyond political patronage. Above all, Akume is a foundation member of APC , one of the leading lights of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the party which initiated the merger of various opposition parties to form the APC.
A very humble and loyal party man, Akume is an unrepentant patriot who is committed to the growth and development of the nation’s democracy. Since his defection from the PDP to the ACN four years ago, he has remained one of the leading opposition voices in a democracy in which being in the opposition is vilified. As a lawmaker whose legislative interests traverse Appropriation, Works, Police, Business and Rules, the strength of his contributions, the insights and rigour of his debates command attention. A veteran of many fierce battles in conditions in which parochial interests are staked against the national interest, he has decisively intervened in favour of the latter. For him, the overriding interest of the nation should not be sacrificed either on the altar of political expediency or in pursuit of narrow selfish agenda of the operators of the levers of power. With Akume in the saddle as President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under a progressive, liberal atmosphere, the country will experience a new lease of life.
Born on December 27, 1953, George Akume attended the prestigious premier University of Ibadan where he earned a Bachelors degree in Social Engineering and a Masters degree in Labour Relations. He rose to the position of Permanent Secretary before he retired into politics and subsequently won the 1999 governorship election in Benue State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party and served for eight years. One of the few governors who made it to the Senate in the 2007 political dispensation, Akume is not given to the pomposity and arrogant posturing of those who advertise their class and the swagger of their patrician or aristocratic antecedents. He will surely play an enduring role in deepening the values of our democracy and indeed good governance, if given the chance to lead the 8th National Assembly given his academic background, his wealth of experience and patriotic fervour.
Amor is an Abuja-based journalist and public affairs analyst.