It seems fairly certain now that the Senate President for the 10th National Assembly will come from the South-East or South-South, a Christian, to assuage the feelings of those who feel marginalised and to make the All Progressives Congress the party it always claims to be, one that belongs to us all, irrespective of religion, region or ethnicity, one in which every Nigerian may aspire to greatness.
With 57 senators so far, the party has a comfortable majority in the Senate and because of the famous “cognate experience” rule, which presumes that only ranking senators may vie for the office of the Senate President, the battle is going to be amongst the returning senators, of whom there are half a dozen or so who fit the bill; a Christian from the South-East or, perhaps, the South-South, a leader in a previous assembly and a former governor. Names like Senators Orji Uzor Kalu, David Umahi, Godwin Akpabio and Adams Oshiomhole, all former governors, top the list.
What this means is that baring any seismic changes, the speakership of the House of Representatives will be zoned to the North, possibly between the North-West and the North-Central, mainly because the North-East already has the Vice President-elect, Senator Kashim Shettima. This may well truncate the ambition of someone like Hon Mukthar Aliyu Betara, the current chairman of Committee on Appropriations, who represents the Biu/Bayo/Shani/Kwaya Kusar federal constituency of Borno State. It is the same principle that has knocked off Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, who comes from the same Lagos State as the President-elect, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
In the North-West, names like Rt.Hon. Sada Soli from Katsina State, Aminu Jaji from Zamfara State and Tajudden Abbas from Kaduna State, appear to be at the forefront of those vying for this office. The current Deputy Speaker, Honourable Ahmed Idris Wase, who is from the North-Central state of Nasarawa and has shown serious interest in the job is a major contender.
In the end, nearly everything will depend on how the party chooses to zone the offices and how it wishes to share the spoils among the six geopolitical zones. Recently, the leadership of the party and the president-elect and vice president-elect have been working out a zoning formula for the extant offices. Although, officially, the president-elect has said he would not interfere with the elections of the presiding officers into the National Assembly, it is clear that both Tinubu and Shettima, former senators themselves, will be taking a more active role in the process – if only to avoid the debacle that saw Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Senator Bukola Saraki upset the applecart a few years ago, when they took the speakership of the House of Reps and the Senate presidency away from the chosen candidates of the party. At the time, Bola Tinubu was said to very furious and though he eventually got his men, Gbajabiamila and Senator Ahmed Lawan on the saddle in subsequent assemblies, it is doubtful if he would allow that sort of clumsiness to play out on his watch.
It is clear that the North-West has some edge over the rest of the regions in this quest for speakership and there is a more than even chance that it would provide the candidate for that office. First, the zone was able to provide the party, and thus the president-elect with the largest number of votes during the presidential and National Assembly elections of 25th February, 2023, and may well do so again in the governorship and State Assembly elections. But beyond that fact is a nebulous but nonetheless profound fact: In an election in which the president-elect was buffeted from all sides, harassed and harangued by almost every power block, the Northern governors, led by the formidable governors of the North-Western states of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, and Zamfara, in the persons of Ganduje, Nasiru El Rufai, Aminu Masari and Bello Muhammad, Mutawalle, stood by him in plain sight, defending him at every turn. Tinubu would certainly feel that he owes them some political capital.
In the end it may come down to who has the largest number in the National Assembly and in that case Katsina State holds the ace, with its three senators and nine members of the House of Reps, giving it the largest contingent of APC legislators from any zone.
So while there is no shortage of quality in the 10th Assembly, these permutations may well have skewed the process in favour of some. One of these is Hon. Sada Soli, the calm but highly influential member who represents Jibia/Kaita federal constituency in Katsina State and is the current committee chair for Water Resources. His name stands out in the House of Reps today because of the trust he elicits from colleagues and Assembly staff alike, but also as a result of his remarkable, extraordinarily particular experience: a former civil servant who worked for a decade-and-a-half in the National Assembly, clerking for committees in both the Senate and the House of Reps, he spent four years at the Nigerian Mission in Washington as Special Assistant and Minister Counsellor to Ambassador Jibril Aminu, on the approval of President Olusegun Obasanjo, through a Special Dispensation that is granted by only the president when a crucial need arises.
After gaining crucial diplomatic experience, Sada returned to Nigeria and was posted as Clerk to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. Three years later he resigned and joined politics. Hon. Sada Soli was first elected into the green chamber in 2007. In 2011 he became chief of staff to the speaker of the House of Reps, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal. He returned to the House in 2019, where he was chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources. This, his third term in the chambers, may be the charm, and having won his election in the 25th February election, he is being prevailed upon to run for the speaker of the 10th Assembly.
His slogan, “Better Together” resonates with those who believe that the last elections was fractious and exposed the raw underbelly of our problematic union, our tendency to revert to atavistic ethnoreligious groupings. The clear path available for us is to find ways to come together and heal by agreeing that no part is more important than the whole.
A man of great generosity of spirit who likes to walk the talk, Hon. Soli is determined to make his campaign about experience, about issues and about competence, but even more clearly, about unifying the nation through the efforts of the foremost symbol of democracy, the House of Representatives.
Olu Jacobs, a former newspaper editor, wrote in from Abuja.
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