OPINION: The imperative of zoning the Senate president to the north-east

OPINION: The imperative of zoning the Senate president to the north-east

Editor's note: A former minority leader in the House of Representatives, Honourable Mohammed Kumalia, writes on the need to for the position of the Senate President in the incoming 9th National Assembly, should be zoned to the north-east region.

Read below:

The issues arising from the political calculations of the shape of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly is the next most important exercise going into the next democratic dispensation coming into effect on the 29th May, 2019.

The issue of zoning of political offices among the geo-political zones of the country by political parties is an exercise that finds its legitimacy from the constitution of country. The 1999 Constitution as amended, clearly states in Section 14 (3) as follows:

“The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”

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Therefore, in pursuing the observance of this objective as clearly spelt out by the constitution, political parties zone offices of the government of the federation among the different geo-political zones in a manner that reflects federal character, thereby promoting national unity and to ensure that there is no predominance of persons from a few states or few ethnic or sectional groups in the government of the federation.

The two principal offices of President and Vice President of the federation are zoned in a way that whenever a person from the Northern part of the country is nominated to run for the office of President, a person from the Southern part of the country is nominated as running mate, to be elected as Vice President and vice versa. This is done in compliance with the principle of federal character enunciated in section 14(3) of the constitution.

Once a President and a Vice President are elected, the other elective principal offices of Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives are zoned among the other geo-political zones in a manner that ensures that there is no dominance of any geo-political zone over the others. One of the major factors considered by political parties in zoning these offices is the contribution of the zones to the political fortunes of the party among others.

In making a case for the zoning of the office of the Senate President to the north-east zone, the electoral contribution of the northeast to the fortunes of the party especially in the election of the president is a very serious point that needs to be considered in making the decision. The north-east contributed the second highest number of votes to the election of the president in the recently held 2019 general elections. Being the zone with the second highest number of votes, the north-east deserves the office of the Senate President.

Secondly, the north-east zone has never produced the Senate President as this position has always been zoned to other zones, especially the north-central and south-east zones since the commencement of the current democratic dispensation in 1999.

In the last 20 years, the north-central zone has occupied the position of Senate President for a total of 12 years; Senator David Mark (8 years) and Senator Bukola Saraki (4 years). The zone had earlier produced two Senate Presidents in the persons of Chief Ameh Ebute and Senator Iyorchia Ayu.

The south-east has also produced Late Senator Evans Enwerem, Late Senator Chuba Okadigbo, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and Senator Ken Nnamani who cumulatively occupied the exalted position for a period of 8 years.

In view of the contribution of the north-east to the electoral fortunes of the APC by voting massively for President Muhammadu Buhari, becoming the zone that contributed the second highest number of votes, it is only just and fair that the north-east is considered for the third highest position of the country, after the positions of president and vice president, considering the electoral contribution of the zone to Mr President’s victory at the polls.

It is in view of the forgoing that the North East Advocacy group, a non-governmental organization which I chair, whose objective is the promotion of the socio-political and economic interest of the north-east has advocated for the zoning of the position of Senate President to the north-east.

Another important issue is the need to have a harmonious working relationship between the executive and the legislative arms of government. A harmonious relationship is important in order to achieve a hitch free implementation of the president’s campaign promises and the development agenda of the government. Past experiences has shown how the workings of the government has been negatively impacted by an unfriendly or antagonistic executive/legislative relationship.

Consequently, it is important for the party to pay attention to two important issues that are key in defining the executive/legislative relationship in the process of electing principal officers of the National Assembly.

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After the party has carried out its responsibility of zoning the offices among the different geo-political zones, it is important to allow the senators to elect a Senate President of their choice. It is imperative to draw the attention of the party and the executive arm of government to allow the senators to exercise their constitutional right to choose a Senate President of their choice among the Senators from the zone that the party has zoned the position to. This is to avert the experience in the past where a candidate who seems to be the preferred choice of the party is rejected by the senators, leading to the election of another candidate who ends up being hostile to the government of the day. I therefore advise the party to avoid the temptation of micro zoning the position to a state or an individual. The 2015 experience readily comes to mind.

It is pertinent to also call on the party to announce the zoning formula for the principal officers of both the Senate and the House of Representatives as soon as possible in order to avert a situation where the zoning is done after interested candidates have started campaigning, causing a feeling that the zoning is targeted to favour particular individuals. The 2015 experience should be a guide.

Finally, I would also wish to respectfully urge our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) to carry along all geo-political zones of the county in the zoning of both elective and appointive offices in order to promote national unity, social cohesion and command national loyalty.

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