As the race for the leadership of the National Assembly intensifies, the party hierarchy of the All Progressives Congress, it appears hell-bent on repeating the mistake of the 7th and 8th Assembly. Despite claims by the party chairman that the APC has learnt its lesson and will not repeat the mistake of last Assembly, there are indications that the party’s hierarchy, by its words, actions and body language, is on a highway to that very sad end.
Following its overwhelming majority in both Houses of the National Assembly, the great expectation of many political pundits and party loyalists was that the party will work out an equitable zoning arrangement based on clear, identifiable and equitable criteria that will be understood by all players and will cater for all the geopolitical zones.
So far, the party has done the right thing in zoning the Senate leadership to the North-East (the zone that produced the highest number of votes for the party in the 2019 general elections. As for the House of Representatives, even though the party has not formally announced a position, there are indications that the certain sections of the party hierarchy plans on zoning the Speakership position to the South-West. If this is true, the salient question will then be: what criteria is the party using to zone these leadership positions? One would expect that since the Senate Presidency was zoned to the North-East being the zone that contributed the highest number of votes after the north-west (3,238,783), the Speakership position will naturally go to the next in line—the North Central zone who produced the second largest vote after the North-East (2,465,599). So why is the party suddenly shifting the goalpost when it came to zoning the Speakership position by considering a zone (the Southwest) that performed lesser than the North-Central and even so already has the No. 2 position of a Vice President? Is this an equitable thing to do? Why would the party arbitrarily change the rules of the game based on the special interest of certain persons? How does the party hope to engender party loyalty and supremacy when it cannot commit itself to a fair and equitable zoning arrangement?
If the party goes ahead to zone the position of the Speaker to the Southwest because it wants to foist a particular candidate on lawmakers disregarding popular support and equitable zoning formula, it will be walking, eyes-wide-shut into a cul-de-sac, thereby repeating the mistake of history. It behoves of all APC loyalists, stakeholders and lawmakers to prevail upon the Party hierarchy to do the right thing as any wrong move in getting things right now will not only spell doom for the Party in the coming four years but adversely affect the party’s chances in 2023 which ought to be the end-game of this whole calculation.
It is obvious that the political stakeholders in the Southwest need to reconsider their strategy consultants. This is because, considering its ambition of producing the President in 2023, a wise strategic move would have been for the Southwest to ingratiate itself with other zones (especially in the North) by conceding smaller positions to them for now, thereby creating a ‘favour bank account’ that can be drawn upon in the future, if we reason that the bulk of the votes that will guarantee its victory in 2023 will come from the North. Secondly, it would be another wise strategic move for the Southwest stakeholders to avoid creating bitterness in the emotionally volatile North-Central if they expect to enlist their support and votes in 2023. How do you unjustly grab what equitably ought to belong to someone else and expect the person’s support in a few years? So basically, the South-West ought to fix its gaze on the War of 2023 not on the smaller battles of NASS leadership. What will it profit the Southwest if it wins the NASS battle and lose the 2023 War?
The way and manner the Party is going about zoning leadership positions to individuals instead of zones coupled with its nebulous method of assigning these positions without any identifiable criteria, has created confusion in the Speakership race as various contestants (about 9 of them) are now jostling for the position without consideration for zoning. I asked one of the contestants who is from the Northwest why he decided to contest knowing full well the President was also from the Northwest. His response was that if the party was willing to consider a Southwest member for Speakership despite the zone having a Vice President, then nothing stops him from the Northwest contesting for the same position even with a President from the Northwest. This is how you create of free-for all brawl and madness in a game when you do not have an agreeable set of rules.
An interesting phrase in the provisions of Section 14 (3) is ‘thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional group in that Government…’ Will the APC as a Party not be contradicting this very constitutional provision if it zones the Speakership position to the Southwest?—a zone that already has the Vice President (Lagos State), and APC National Leader (Lagos State) when there are other geo-political zones who have not be given any stake? It will be a case of double injustice if one factors in the fact that such neglected zone (North Central) performed even better than the Southwest in the 2019 general elections.
The North-central as a geo-political zone has for years been the sought-after bride before and during elections considering the fact that it’s a complex and dynamic zone constituted by a potpourri of diverse tribes and ethnic nationalities whose votes can swing electoral outcomes for mainstream political parties. However, this zone has suffered the misfortune of being treated unfairly after elections. It has however remained pacified in the previous three dispensations when the position of the Senate President resided with it. Now that the Senate President has been taken from it and given to the North East, it is only fair to compensate the zone with nothing short of the position of Speaker to appreciate its contribution to the Party’s success at the general elections. If the Party treats this bride shabbily now after the elections, it must remember that very a few years, it will return to it to seek its votes.
In 2015, when APC miscalculated and lost its attempt to elect its preferred candidates in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, it was repeating the history of the 7th Assembly when Rt. Hon. Tambuwal (then with popular support) capitalized on the mistake of his Party to clinch the Speakership of the house. That was a tragedy. If APC repeats that history a second time, it will become a farce. No one will take it seriously after that. It has to get this one right. There is no room for error.
– Ononuga, a legal practitioner, legislative analyst and political strategist, writes from Abuja.