Senate Presidency: Tinubu shouldn’t be given room for failure – Dr Bolaji Akinyemi
By Clement Adeyi
Dr Bolaji Akinyemi is the Founder and President of Apostolic Round Table (ART), a Non-Governmental Organisation in the vanguard of advocacy for good governance.
In this interview, he bares his mind on the ongoing debates on and clamour for the Senate Presidency.
While several factors, including the recent presidential election votes and religion (Muslim-Muslim or Muslim – Christian) are being considered by stakeholders to secure the exalted seat, Akinyemi believes that such factors should not be the desideratum for the choice of the Senate president, but any senator whom the President elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, would be comfortable to work with and get the desired result, regardless of his religion or geopolitical zone and votes delivered by the zone during the presidential election.
Akinyemi who also doubles as the Chairman of Board of Trustees and National Coordinator of Project Victory Call aka PVC-Naija, an NGO that charts a new course for new Nigeria, stresses that no political sentiment should be used to determine the choice of Senate Presidency, but competence, so as not to give Tinubu any excuse for failure.
The president-elect, Tinubu and Shettima, the vice president-elect are Muslims. Do you think the No 3 position should still go to a Muslim?
I really wouldn’t want to expatiate on this. I may be scuttling Yari’s chance in the process and increasing visibility for Akpabio on religious ground. Tinubu but not CAN or any CAN affiliate blocs endorsed Akpabio as the Christian candidate. The question is; is Akpabio a Christian? If he is, which is his church and who is his ‘hello daddy’? I am not here to give anybody out. But it is important that the public properly understands the foregoing and the Senate be informed of public expectations. Who cares about the religion of a leadership over 107 classmates who all have equal rights in the Assembly and say in its affairs? In this country, the most powerful office under heaven is the office of the president.
The question is; is Akpabio a Christian? If he is, which is his church and who is his ‘hello daddy’?
If in the eyes of Tinubu and APC, Muslim/Muslim leadership suffices, why not give him enough Muslims in his cabinet to work with if they are more competent. We mustn’t give him any excuse for failure.
What factors do you think should determine the choice of Senate president? What is your message to the stakeholders that are in the position to apply the factors?
The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended is a major factor. It vested the authority of representation of the people at the Senate on their elected senators. This, for me, is very expressive. They are there for their people. The party is only privileged to be the platform through which they contested elections. The interference of their party leadership in deciding who should lead them is supposed to be relatively minimal. The rule of the Senate is another factor. No one is as important as each elected member of the Senate. The senators and their constituents are the stakeholders. But the game is for the Senators to play and they must rise up to it, with only one question in mind – what benefit is my choice of leadership in this class to my people who sent me here? If there are stakeholders to be consulted, it is the people who sent them to the Senate. A town hall meeting with their constituencies on this will strengthen democracy. I expect them to give it a trial.
Is Tinubu’s endorsement of Godswill Akpabio and Jibrin Barau as Senate president and vice president respectively justified or not?
Tinubu’s antecedents in Lagos should throw up caution in the Senate. Gaining control of the legislative arm of government is the desire of every executive. It is the nature of man. But the wisdom of democracy is in the separation of powers. We have yet to maximize democratic dividends because of the abuse of executive control over the legislative arm. From the states to the federal level, the story is the same. It’s against the doctrine of democracy to grant Tinubu such a wish, not even APC senators should give consideration to it.
Gaining control of the legislative arm of government is the desire of every executive
The micro zoning in favour of Akpabio is not even the decision of APC leadership, but of the president-elect they were elected to keep in check. For me, it will be the first red flag of failure if Akpabio makes it. Selling Akpabio on religious ground and his being the choice of BAT is a serious minus. Both considerations are threats to our fledgling democracy, especially in our present political season.
Recently, the Assembly members regretted zoning decision in the choice of Senate president and conceded that they goofed. What is your take on this and message to them?
To err is human, to forgive is divine.
They should forgive themselves and return to democratic norms and ethos. As I said earlier, this zoning thing in the Assembly is nothing but a political fraud. Who is zoning what and for who? Any rule of leadership engagement in a democratic Assembly that over-rules the contribution of the minority through the process is a political fraud!
The North West powered Tinubu to victory with 2.6 million votes out of the 8 million votes. They are seeking compensation with the Senate Presidency for Jibrin Barau to be the president, despite that the vice president is from the North East. Are you comfortable with their demand?
I don’t have to be comfortable with their demands and nobody should, except them. Politics is about interest canvassing and position promoting through dialogues and debates. APC is indebted to the North West. But the question is; are the 108 senators indebted to the North West? I don’t think so! The purpose of the legislative arm has excused them from the burden that is meant for the elected president. It’s his business to find ways to compensate them. Though, I personally don’t wish for a Muslim Senate president, for no other reason than the lack of respect for our Christian faith and consideration for our number, that powered APC’s Muslim/Muslim ticket. As far as I am concerned, Abdullahi Yari is a force lurking in the corner. Being an independent candidate is a tremendous advantage if he knows how to use it and if care is not taken, we may see a replay of what happened in the 8th Assembly. But then the question that should be asked is, who is Yari? What have been his contributions to the dynamics of stability in his home state Zamfara? The greatest need of our nation is stability. Can Yari bring that to the table as Senate President?
If a Christian is to be given the Senate Presidency, whom do you think the cap fits and what should be done to achieve this?
All the returning Christian Senators, irrespective of their political parties stand a chance, depending on how they go about it. There is a Senator from the North East that I had a chat with recently over the National Council for Christian Education Bill 2022. We had hot exchanges of our positions but I walked away respecting him. There is a senator from a South West state whose performance at the last Assembly and constituency delivery swept all Senate seats for his party. There are others from the South South, South East and North Central. Consultation is the key to achieving this. With the right policies drawn for the consultative engagement, it’s a 70/30 thing. It is a possibility for anyone who can screw the narrative to gain public sentiment and confidence of his colleagues. Are we being chauvinistic? Why are we not considering gender balance in leadership of the Senate by considering a female Senate president? Is that not a possibility?
The North West votes for Tinubu were higher than the South South’s. Should vote determine Akpabio’s choice since he is from the South South? Are you ok with his emergence?
I am ok with the emergence of anyone the Senate or House of Representatives gives the mantle of leadership. It is exclusively their right and responsibility. It’s political timidity to use general elections votes as yard sticks for consideration of Senate and House of Representatives leadership positions in a setting where over 200 million people are represented by 108 senators and 360 Reps. There are 108 votes to decide who will be the Senate president. No more, no less!
Other geopolitical zones are agitating for the Senate Presidency but the North Central is not showing up at all? What is your take on this and message to them?
The North Central is a conquered territory in the politics of Nigeria.
Our political history can testify to this fact until we have leaders from that region in the frame of TY Danjuma who can rub shoulders with their equals from other regions. He did that effectively well, throughout his military career. Middle Belt has paid prices at stabilizing the nations at critical times. The inspirational leadership of the natural Middle Belt was lost when Abacha created the six geopolitical regions that we have till today. It seeded the native home of Gen TY Danjuma to Taraba and the Middle Belt that we have today lacks motivational leadership. It’s the same reason no one is speaking for Benue over the senseless killings going on there, except the governor.
What would you be glad to tell the Senate president that will emerge if you had your way to see him?
He should be mindful of the reckless romance between the Buhari-led administration and the Lawan-led 9th Senate that has left the nation with a huge debt burden that his generation may not repay. He should lead the 10th Assembly at the level of thinking and deciding for tomorrow in all their engagements. He should lead them to weaken religion and strengthen spirituality so we can institutionalize secularism to lead our country away from bitterness, extremism of tribe and religion fanning our insecurity.