By Chidiebere Onyemaizu
Three months away from the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, returning and new South East federal lawmakers are engaged in pragmatic bi-partisan efforts to grab either the Speakership of the House of Representatives or, the presidency of the Senate.
This Magazine is privy to series of informal meetings and conversations for this purpose.
“With 65 APC Senators and PDP’s 37, so far declared, it would be practically impossible for the opposition party where majority of us come from to produce a Senate President. Had it not been so, Senator Ike Ekweremadu would have had it on a platter of gold. He is the most qualified, of all the ranking Senators”, one of the returning South east Senator told this magazine.
To actualise the South East’s dream, party and political leaders cutting across the three visible parties in the zone- PDP, APGA and APC – are mulling two options, this magazine can authoritatively report. The first option is to rally round former governor of Abia, Dr.Orji Uzor Kalu who has just been elected to represent Abia North in the upper federal chamber.
So far, Kalu is the only South East APC Senator as the fate of Senator Ben Uwajimogu hangs in the balance. Uwajimogu represents Okigwe(Imo state) senatorial zone, and INEC is yet to make a pronouncement as to between him and PDP, APGA and Accord candidates who won the election, three weeks after.
The third would-be- APC Senator from the South East is the out-going Imo state governor, Rochas Okorocha but like Senator Uwajimogu, his fate is also uncertain as INEC has refused to issue him with Certificate of Return. This aside, considering his sour relationship with his party, and his controversial eight – year tenure as Imo governor, it will be an uphill task to allow him to occupy such a high profile position.
Dr.Kalu’s draw back in ascending the Senate Presidency is his green-horn status in the Senate. Senate rules stipulate that to be elected into the Senate leadership, one must be a ranking Senator.
South East leaders are, however, dismissing this, citing a precedent. They recall that former Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was a first timer in the Senate when in June 2015, he assumed the position of the PDP Senate Minority Leader.
Besides that, it is also being argued that the former Abia governor cannot be said to be a green-horn in the National Assembly as he was in the House of Reps in the aborted third republic. “Kalu is qualified for the job. He is not a green-horn; he was a legislator in the aborted third republic so he is a ranking National Assembly member”, an APC chieftain from Ebonyi state told the magazine.
The second option the South East is weighing is to ask the out-going Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ekweremadu, to announce his defection to the APC immediately the ninth National Assembly is inaugurated and then bid for the Senate Presidency as a Senator from the majority party. Which may not be altogether surprising. Even before the elections, the rumour was strong that he had almost perfected plans to defect to the APC. It became stronger than ever when the PDP Presidential candidate, Atiku Abubarkar, picked former governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi, instead of Ekweremadu who had long coveted the joint ticket with Atiku. The rumour of a possible defection by Ekweremadu has not faded.
The Source has learnt that a section of the Northern political establishment, including returning Senators from that part of the country, are solidly supporting the rotation of the Senate Presidency to the South East, and have, in fact, started reaching out to political leaders in the South-west and South-south for that purpose.
The magazine was informed that it was on the basis of the understanding that the Senate plum position might be ceeded to the South-east that some Northern Senators, including Senator Kabiru Gaya(Kano) have been scheming for the position of Deputy Senate President.
It was also learnt that it was on the strength of the promise of the Senate Presidency to the South East that, during the presidential election, South East governors, sensing that President Buhari was headed for victory, allegedly agreed to tamper with the presidential election results in their states to enable the President score 25% votes to achieve an outright victory and avoid second ballot with Candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
Ebonyi state governor, Dave Umahi, while reacting to the allegation that PDP governors in the zone negotiated with the APC and top echelon of the presidency in the heat of the election for 25% votes for Buhari, asked a national daily: “Why do we need to negotiate for the sex of a child when the child has been given birth to?”
Political analysts say Governor Umahi was actually talking about President Buhari’s victory as faith accompli.
Meanwhile, a segment of South East political establishment is insistent that with a significant number of returning ranking APC Rep members from the zone, Speakership of the House of Reps. will be easier to accomplish than the Senate presidency. They, therefore, want the zone to channel its efforts to producing the next Speaker of the House of Representatives.