Senators have plunged into the charged political environment, seeking to renew their mandates either on the platform of the parties that brought them to the Senate or under their new-found political parties. Assistant OGUNWALE reports the momentum being gathered by the renewal bid.
Human and vehicular traffic within the National Assembly complex has thinned out in the past few weeks as a good number of serving senators are currently on the field haranguing the electorate for votes.
Senate President David Mark leads the pack of the senators struggling to retain their seats. Having been elected to the upper legislative chamber for three consecutive times since 1999, the ex-soldier-turned-politician is having the hottest contest so far in his political career.
Clutching the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the Benue South senatorial district, his arch-rival and fellow retired Army General, Lawrence Onoja is keenly contesting the seat with Mark, but on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). The political rivalry between the two prominent sons of Idoma land dates back to 1999 with renewed hostilities at every circle of election. This time around, the battle appears to have assumed a more complex dimension as the ranks of Marks’s political foes appear to be more united by a common destiny of securing their political future.
On the same line with Onoja is George Akume, former Governor of the state and serving senator representing Benue North West. Akume is seeking a return to his seat on the platform of the ACN. He is being challenged by Tersu Tsegba, a member of the House of Representatives and one of the major beneficiaries of the political war of attrition between Akume and the sitting Governor Gabriel Suswam. The Governor was on hand to ensure that Akume, who was elected to the Senate in 2007 on the platform of the PDP, lost the Benue North West ticket of the PDP to Tsegba, apparently with a wink from David Mark; a development that forced Akume to join the ACN where he got the ticket on a platter of gold.
Tugging at Akume’s garment on the ACN plank is Joseph Akaagerger who represents Benue North East in the Senate. He suffered the same fate as Akume as the PDP ticket which brought him to the Senate in 2007 has since been pocketed by the former national chairman of the PDP, Chief Barnabas Gemade. To strengthen the ACN camp, Usman Abubakar who almost truncated Mark’s political career through the election petitions tribunal in 2009 has been drafted into the ACN camp. Reports say that Abubakar was persuaded with the offer of the deputy governorship ticket of the ACN as a counterforce to Mark’s stranglehold on Zone C, where the young politician and the President of the Senate hail from. He has since grabbed the ticket with both hands.
Abubakar contested the Benue South ticket with Mark in 2007 under the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and had challenged the ex-soldier’s victory at the tribunal where he got the latter’s victory voided before the Appeal Court came to his rescue. Today, the ANPP in Benue, just like in many other states across the country, is breathing through only one nostril. Analysts predict a straight 50-50 chance between ACN candidates and the PDP contestants in the coming elections where opposition to the governor’s re-election bid has continued to long in the balance.
Also on the mark is Lawrence Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy President of the Senate who is battling to renew his Enugu East mandate. It took a great deal of legal fisticuffs and political horse-trading before Ekweremadu, backed by the top hierarchy of the PDP at the centre, could retrieve his ticket from an anointed candidate of the party’s erstwhile national chairman, Ezekwesilezie Nwodo.
In that encounter, Enugu State Governor, Sullivan Chime was also shaken to the whiskers by the rampaging Nwodo before stronger forces within the national leadership of the party whipped Nwodo into submission with a court order. With Nwodo out of the way, Ekweremadu may as well smile back to the Senate, depending on the strength or weakness of other contestants in the Enugu West race.
The boisterous Senate Majority Whip, Kanti Bello is also in the ring, trying to renew his Katsina North mandate in a state where stiff opposition from the Muhammadu Buhari-led rival Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) is giving Bello and his ruling PDP sleepless nights in all categories of elective positions on the table. Kanti Bello was one of the candidates who scrambled for the post of Vice President under President Goodluck Jonathan in May last year when the latter mounted the saddle after President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s death. He was beaten to it by former Kaduna State Governor, Namadi Sambo.
Incidentally, Kanti Bello turned out to be one of Jonathan’s fiercest critics in the acrimonious political war over zoning when he aligned with the General Ibrahim Babangida’s camp in the failed battle to scuttle Jonathan’s ambition. For this time-tested political war horse seeking re-election, the battle ahead appears a bit complicated with the image of the CPC looming heavily above the Katsina political firmament.
Also seeking re-election for the third time is the diminutive Deputy Majority Leader, Victor Ndoma Egba, SAN. He represents Cross River Central. Opposition parties seem to have a very weak presence in the state which makes the contest a near-comfortable one for the lawmaker.
Deputy Senate Whip, Muhammed Mana’s fate is still hanging in the balance as the PDP ticket for his Adamawa North is currently trapped in a web of legal contest. It appears he may have to fight the election either through the ballot or the courts.
Minority Leader, Maina Lawan and Minority Whip, Ahmad Sani have also thrown their hats in the rings in Borno and Zamfara states respectively, contesting on the platform of what is left of the ANPP. While Lawan who represents Borno North can still hope to coast home to victory on the back of Governor Ali Modu Sheriff who still has a firm grip of the party in Borno, it may not be that easy for Ahmad Sani. The former Zamfara Governor who left the government house to represent Zamfara West in 2007, has been on a war path with the sitting Governor, Mahmud Shinkafi.
The two politicians became enemies shortly after the 2007 election and their irreconcilable difference led the governor and a good number of prominent erstwhile ANPP stalwarts into defecting to the PDP at different points. Still clutching to the carcass of the ANPP in the state, Sani is faced with a combined forces of the Governor and other powerful forces to unseat the bearded apostle of Sharia. While he is still battling to secure his precarious political career, confetti of negative public denunciation has continued to trail his recent marriage to an Egyptian teenage girl like a horde of flies. But considering the cultural peculiarity in his immediate environment, his marriage to a teenager may not be a major obstacle on the way to realising his political ambition.
His major challenge is the hostile political environment dominated by the governor and the rising profile of his political foes. In the race for the Kano South is Senator Kabiru Gaya, Deputy Minority Whip and chieftain of the ANPP. Gaya had been beating the drums for his governorship ambition towards the last quarter of 2010 only to engage the reverse gear a few months back. Details of why he made the u-turn remained unclear but reports have it that he was being careful not to go against the wish of Kano Governor Ibrahim Shekarau who was said to have penciled down another candidate for the governorship position.
Apart from the determination of the ruling PDP to wrest the state from the grip of the ANPP, the onslaught by the invading CPC has altered the political equilibrium in the state. Gaya obviously has a tough battle ahead of him.
Anambra State presents an entirely different turf. The three senators from the state: Annie Okwonkwo (Anambra Central); Ikechukwu Obiora (Anambra South) and Alphonsus Igbeke (Anambra North) lost the PDP tickets to their more rugged opponents. Okwonkwo is contesting under the Accord Party while Obiora is flying the flag of the LP. Igbeke who displaced Mrs. Joy Emodi in May 2010 through an Appeal Court verdict had contested under the ANPP in the 2007 elections but had defected to the PDP a few weeks after he took his seat. He may as well be waiting for the expiration of the current legislative session before he decides what to do next.
Former presidential aide, Mr. Andy Uba has taken custody of the Anambra South ticket. Among contestants for the three Anambra senatorial seats under various political platforms is former Information Minister, Professor Dora Akunyili who is contesting under the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). Interestingly, none of the political parties appears to enjoy any significant following. The candidates are largely counting on their personal electoral values and the goodwill of the electorate.
The battle for senatorial seats in the North West and South West zones with majority of PDP sitting members is expected to record major upsets with the onslaught from the opposition CPC in the former and the ACN in the latter. It is apparent that a good number of senators in these zones seeking re-election may fall by the wayside.
Other interesting cases in the senatorial race are the senatorial districts where the candidates are fighting to come back the fourth time. Besides David Mark, two other senators in this category are Gbenga Ogunniya (Ondo Central) and Nuhu Aliyu (Niger North). Ogunniya is fighting it out in a state controlled by the opposition Labour Party (LP) where Governor Olusegun Mimiko appears to dictate the tune. But sources close to Ogunniya maintained that the soft-spoken lawyer of the PDP stock may spring a surprise at the end of the day. Their position is premised on the fact that Ogunniya who hails from the same district with the governor, enjoys a robust goodwill from a large chunk of his constituents, including traditional leaders across the zone. He has candidates of the ACN and the LP to contend with in a race generally described keen and competitive.
On the other hand, Nuhu Aliyu may encounter very little problem if political configuration in terms of numerical strength on his ruling PDP vis-a-vis the opposition parties is anything to go by. For now, the ex Deputy Inspector General of Police who has been in the Senate since 1999 appears to dominate his immediate political environment. Senators Abubakar Sodangi (Nasarawa West) and Patrick Osakwe (Delta North) used to be on the fourth-term contestants’ list before the party primaries.
While a war-tested former Governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Adamu snatched the ticket from Sodangi, combined forces of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State and power political interests in the state seem to have driven the nails into Osakwe’s political coffin. An associate of Uduaghan’s and immediate past Secretary to the State Government, Professor Utuama has since taken the ticket from Osakwe.
The scramble by senators to return to the Senate has taken a toll on legislative duties and attendance at both plenary and committee assignments. Since the conclusion of the primaries, attendance has been dwindling progressively up till the time the Senate went on break on Wednesday, March 16. Senators who were attending plenary sessions and committee functions regularly are mainly those who lost their tickets and who are not seeking re-election on the platform of any other party.
Some of the regular faces include Senators Jibril Aminu (Adamawa Central); Effiong Bob (Akwa Ibom North-East); Umeh Ekaette (Akwa Ibom South); Nimi Barigha Amange (Bayelsa East); James Manager (Delta South); and Osita Izunaso (Imo West). Others are Nicholas Ugbene (Kogi East); Otaru Ohize (Kogi Central); Caleb Zagi (Kaduna South); Grace Bent (Adamawa South); Bassey Ewa Henshaw (Cross River South); Patrick Osakwe (Delta North); Anyim Udeh (Ebonyi South) and Lee Ledogo Maeba (Rivers South-East).
Also on the regular attendance list are Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin (Oyo Central); Andrew Babalola (Oyo North); Olorunnimbe Mamora (Lagos East); Kola Bajomo (Ogun West); Umar Gada (Sokoto East); Anthony Manzo (Taraba North); Abubakar Sodangi (Nasarawa West); and Sidi Ali (FCT). Members who are contesting but still kept fairly regular attendance include David Mark (Benue South); Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu West); Victor Ndoma Egba (Cross River Central); Aloysious Etok (Akwa Ibom Nort-West); Ahmed Makarfi (Kaduna North); Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West); Zaynab Kure (Niger South) and Ayogu Eze (Enugu North).