FOLLOWING well over two months of protracted horse-trading, along and across party lines, ninth National Assembly (NASS) of Nigeria elected its presiding officers shortly after it was proclaimed by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday.
Senator Ahmad Lawan representing Yobe-North Senatorial District on All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket and his counterpart from Delta-Central, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, emerged as Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively.
Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila representing Surulere Federal Constituency and Mr. Idris Ahmed Wase representing Wase Federal Constituency were also respectively elected Speaker and Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives.
While their emergence as primus inter pares at the Upper and Lower Chambers seems to have balanced the equation of Nigeria’s geopolitical configuration, South East as a key component of this construct is nowhere in the picture.
For the avoidance of doubts, section 50 (1) (a) and (b) of Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) stipulates that Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy shall be elected among members of the two Houses from among themselves.
In a way this provision clears the way for just anybody – no matter where he or she comes from or his or her creed – who is a member of either of the two chambers to be elected. The only criterion or qualification here is simply denoted in membership.
But this is as far as it can fly, because the principle of zoning has become an integral factor in the democratic process that salves or cushions fractures arising from heterogenic political dynamics of Nigeria since the Fourth Republic.
Any attempt to overlook the principle of zoning as political convenience or consider it infra dig will pale into mere window dressing when interfaced with federal character principle fused into Part I of Schedule III of Nigeria’s Constitution of 1999.
This provision seeks to remove equal representation of all sides to the federation from the horizon of child’s play in promoting even spread of public and political offices in the country based on the six geopolitical zones – North-Central, North-East, North-Central, South-East, South-West and South-South.
It, therefore, becomes curious whether powerbrokers followed this calculus in arriving at the algorithm upon the power matrix of ninth National Assembly will revolve until June 2023. For, if they did, South East as a leg of Nigerian tripod would not only have been factored but indeed seen in the power sharing formula. And, if the zone is left behind to lurk melancholically in the background, on whose desk should the bulk stop?
Not a few had come forward to justify or rationalise this trend with one excuse or another. While some heap the blames on what has for long registered as “consistent marginalisation” of South East people in Nigeria political equation, others say it is a “self-inflicted” wound. But no matter where anyone is pitching on this controversy, the bottomline is that an entire zone has been injured – and none knows how fatal it may yet prove in the days ahead.
Perhaps, this explains eleventh-hour efforts by some groups to minimise the damage they saw building up immediately after he last general elections in which President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (from North West and South West respectively) were re-elected with National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomohole coming from South South. Political expediency demanded that the two remaining zones – South East, North East and North Central – will take first slots at the federal legislature before any other blocs. But some groups saw the hand writing on the wall and raised the alarm. Hence, they started making hay with South East caucus of APC, for instance, pushing for a review of the zoning arrangement ahead of the inauguration of ninth National Assembly.
Arising from a stakeholders meeting it held in Enugu, the group issued a seven-point communiqué that called on the national leadership of the party “to revisit the subsisting zoning of principal offices in the 9th National Assembly in a more equitable manner that will accord more deserving positions to the Southeast zone considering that the Federation of Nigeria rests on the six geopolitical zones of Southeast, South South, Southwest, North Central, North East and North West.”
At the time, APC National Working Committee had just zoned the speakership of the House of Representatives to the Southwest and the Senate President to the Northeast, while Deputy Senate President goes to the South South, with Deputy Speaker going for North Central – leaving out South East in the calculation.
But the tide that has played out at NASS so far shows that the party has stuck to its guns, thereby throwing to the winds calls on its hierarchy by stakeholders to re-align APC to draw strength from the need to utilise the zoning of principal offices in ninth National Assembly to further deepen and strengthen the electoral appeal of the party, especially in parts of the country where it may be considered as weak.