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WHY SOUTH EAST PREFERS SENATE PRESIDENCY

By NBF News
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With the South East caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) affirming, ahead the expected auspicious meeting of the Central Working Committee (CWC) of the party, that it would accept only the position of Senate president or Speaker of the House of Representatives, the die is cast on the question of zoning arrangement in the emerging Federal Government. Until now, lobbying had intensified over the zone that would produce the Senate president. At present, the battle is between the North and South East.

Checks revealed that Senate president, David Mark, is still interested in the post. He is believed to be relying on the understanding that since President Goodluck Jonathan is running the Umar Yar'Adia/Jonathan ticket, the zoning arrangement would remain. It is believed that this understanding encouraged Mark to embrace Jonathan, knowing that the emergence of another person, as PDP presidential candidate and, by extension, president, would change the zoning structure.

The zoning arrangement now
In 2007, the zoning arrangement was thus: a president from the North works with a vice president from South. The Senate president went to the North, while post of Speaker, House of Representatives goes to South. Therefore, Umar Yar'Adua (North West) was president, with Jonathan (South South) as vice president. Mark (North Central) was elected Senate president, with Hon. Dimeji Bankole (South West) as Speaker, House of Representatives. Also, Ike Ekweremadu (South East) was picked as deputy Senate president, with Hon. Nafada (North East) as deputy Speaker.

Yar'Adua's death, in May 2010 brought minor structural changes, as Jonathan automatically replaced him as president, in accordance with the constitution. The position of the vice president went to Namadi Sambo, from Yar'Adua's North West zone, while Mark and Bankole retained their positions.

The expectation now
With Jonathan elected president, it is believed that the zoning arrangement, despite the Yar'Adua/Jonathan ticket sentiment, would change. Sources revealed that leaders of the PDP are contemplating rezoning the post of Senate president, so that the arrangement, where the president and Senate president come form the same area would subsist. In 1999-2007, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo (South) was in office, there were Senate presidents from the South. At that time, the post of Senate president was zoned to South East, which explains why the late Evan Enwerem, the late Chuba Okadigbo, Anyim Pius Anyim, Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani occupied the office.

When Yar'Adua (North) became president, the post of Senate president was zoned to the North, with North West being the lucky sub-zone. Mark was elected to the office.

With Jonathan presidency, the thinking is that the South would also produce the Senate president. Between the South West and South East, the latter has an edge to produce the Senate president. The South West has only one PDP senator from Oyo State, while South East has 13 senators.

Saturday Sun gathered that leaders of the PDP, before the elections, wanted South West to produce the Senate president. Now that the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) produced 90 per cent of the senators from the zone, it is not possible for such an arrangement to stand. In the absence of South West Senate president, the other option is to zone the post back to South East.

The South East lobby
Checks revealed that the South East is favourably disposed to produce the Senate president. It was gathered that the PDP governors from the zones prefer the position of Senate president to national chairman of the PDP, hitherto occupied by the zone. The governors are working together, to have a common voice, in their quest to have the South East produce the Senate president.

It was gathered that the governors want the position because they reckon that the South East has been a backbone of the PDP and, therefore, should no longer be relegated to the background. The governors, it was learnt, say that the zone gave the PDP the highest single percentage of votes in the presidential election and, therefore, should be adequately compensated.

In the Senate, senators from the South East are positioning themselves for the post. Those who are interested in the post are Ekweremadu (Enugu), three-time senator; Uche Chukwumerije (Abia), three-time senator; Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia), former Abia State deputy governor and two-time senator, Anyogu Eze (Enugu), two-time senator and Ngozi Nwoga, two-time senator.

Among these senators, Ekweremadu has more experience. He's currently deputy Senate president. He once vied for the Senate presidency, but lost to his fellow Enugu senator, Nnamani. However, it was gathered that Chukwumerije poses an obstacle to him. The Abia senator is backed by his state governor, Theodore Orji, who has strong links with the wife of President Jonathan. This gives Chukwumerije an edge.

Senators Eze, Nwoga and Abaribe are said to be hoping to emerge if leaders of the zone opt for consensus candidate, in the event that the tussle between Ekweremadu and Chukwumerije becomes fierce.

The position of Speaker, House of Reps
The South East is not putting its eggs in one basket. Even as it lobbies for the position of Senate president, the zone is ready to settle for the Speaker, House of Reps, if it becomes the last resort. Already, names are being mentioned as to who would occupy the position.

Sources revealed that Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, member of the House from Imo State, is being tipped. In the next dispensation, he would have been in the House for three terms. He is the majority leader in the House of Reps.

The past zoning arrangement
Nigeria's political firmament, since 1999, has been divided into North and South. Each of the zones is sub-divided into three zones, making up six geopolitical zones. They are: North West, North East, North Central, South West, South East and South -South.

When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged as the dominant political party, after the 1999 elections, it came up with a power sharing formula, which includes power sharing and rotation. Rotation was based on the colonial division of Nigeria into North of River Niger and South of river Niger. Zoning is a political arrangement that recognizes the six zones, as power centres.

Nigeria runs a presidential system of government, which recognises the post of president as number one in the power equation. Thus rotation of presidential power, according to this formula, is between the northern bloc and the southern bloc of the country. Because a southerner, Chief MKO Abiola's victory at the 1993 presidential election was annulled by the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida, a northerner, it was felt that to assuage the bitter fallout of this annulment and also as a stabilising political balm, the southern bloc has to be given the opportunity to start the rotation formula in 1999 when democratic government was restored. Again, since Abiola hailed from the South West, it was also politically correct to give it to his kinsman, hence emergence of Obasanjo's presidency.

The understanding is that each time power rotates to a particular bloc, between North and South, the zoning arrangement would change. This was the case till Yar'Adua died. Now, the question is: Will the PDP revert to its tradition or hide under the Yar'Adua/Jonathan ticket sentiment to retain the status quo?