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Senate presidency race stokes Muslim-Muslim ticket concerns

No request for presidential jet before us yet – Senate

The race for the next Senate president is hotting up and reigniting concerns over Muslim-Muslim presidency in the country after an election whose outcome is being challenged by opposition.

Some top members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have raised concerns as several Muslim lawmakers are jostling for the top job in the National Assembly.

With the exit of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian, on May 29, Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, both Muslims, would be inaugurated as president and vice president respectively.

While the duo of Tinubu and Shettima would be heading the executive arm of government from May 29, Olukayode Ariwoola, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, a Muslim, heads the judicial arm.

The next leadership of the legislature, comprising the two chambers of the National Assembly – Senate and House of Representatives – would emerge in June.

Already, five Muslims are aspiring for the position of Senate president, who is also the chairman of the National Assembly and invariably the head of the legislative arm of government.

Some political analysts have made a case for the ceding of the Senate presidency to the Christian-dominated South-East and South-South geopolitical zones and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to the North-Central, with a very large population of Christians.

Lawmakers-elect that have indicated interest in the position of Senate president are Ahmad Lawan, the incumbent; Uzor Orji Kalu, the current chief whip; Godswill Akpabio, the former minister of Niger Delta Affairs; Barau Jibrin, chairman of Senate Committee on Appropriation; Danjuma Goje, former governor of Gombe; Adams Oshiomhole, former Edo governor; Abdul-Aziz Yari, former Zamfara governor; Dave Umahi, the outgoing governor of Ebonyi; and Ali Ndume, former Senate leader.

Worried by the possibility of having another Muslim head the legislative arm, Salihu Lukman, the APC national vice chairman (North-West), said recently that the aspirations of some of the lawmakers was a clear disregard for national unity and outright disrespect for Nigerians.

He said any Muslim aspiring for the position of Senate president has no respect for both the constitutions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the APC.

He said: “This is because Chapter II, Section 14(3) of the Nigerian constitution clearly outlined that ‘the composition of the government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.

“With two Muslims already elected to be sworn in as President and Vice-President of the Federal Republic on May 29, any attempt to consider another Muslim as Senate President will promote the dominance of Muslims in the Federal Government and will be injurious to national unity and peaceful co-existence of Nigeria as a sovereign entity, which must not be allowed.”

Lukman said some of the aspirants, including a contender for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, from the North-West had sent bags of rice and sugar to members of the APC National Working Committee.

Cletus Obun, a member of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, said having a Muslim-led 10th National Assembly would “confirm to the Christian population that the Islamisation agenda has been completed”.

“No matter how you play the ostrich on the matter of religion and tribe, you will agree with me that APC had a challenge with the 2023 elections due to the Muslim-Muslim ticket; we cannot exacerbate that crisis with the leadership of the National Assembly being ruled by the same religion,” Obun said on Tuesday on Arise Television.

Solomon Gbenga, deputy national youth leader of the Young People Party, blamed the APC for the religious tension in the country.

Gbenga, in an interview with BusinessDay, said: “They (APC) all agreed that there was no problem with the Muslim-Muslim ticket. So now it should not be a problem with the Senate Presidency going to a Muslim too. You can not change the goalpost every time because you want to favour people.

“They started it so they should end it. The party said they were okay with the Muslim-Muslim ticket for the Presidency, why are they now against the Muslim ticket for Senate Presidency?”

Johnson Akpoki, a public affairs analyst, said the ruling party should redeem its image by zoning the Senate President to favour a Christian from the South for ethnic and religious balancing.

“It is not right for another Muslim, especially from the North, to take the number three position when we have a Muslim President and Vice-President. This is an opportunity for the ruling party to redeem its image by making sure a Christian either from South-East or South-South to produce the Senate President.”

Contenders for Senate President

Ahmad Lawan (North-East)

The incumbent President of the Senate was first elected into the House of Representatives in 1999; he moved to the Senate in 2007. The Yobe lawmaker served as the Senate Leader in the 8th Assembly.

Orji Kalu (South-East)

The former governor of Abia State is the incumbent Senate Chief Whip. Kalu, who was elected into the Senate in 2019, was also a member of the House of Representatives in the botched Third Republic.

Read also: Senate indicts NNPC for unrecorded N102bn crude oil sales

Godswill Akpabio (South-South)

He is the immediate past minister of Niger Delta Affairs and a former governor of Akwa-Ibom (2007 and 2015). He was elected to the upper chamber of the National Assembly in 2015 and broke the jinx to emerge Senate Minority Leader as a greenhorn in the legislature.

Barau Jibrin (North-West)

The ranking lawmaker from Kano is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation. He has had a stint in the House of Representatives and was a commissioner in his home state, Kano.

Danjuma Goje (North-East)

The former governor of Gombe state, who served between 2003 and 2011, was elected to the Senate at the end of his tenure.

He has served in different capacities, including chairman of the Appropriation Committee in the 8th Assembly.

Ali Ndume (North-East)

Ndume was elected into the House of Representatives in 2003 and was reelected in 2007. In 2011, he was elected into the Senate for Borno South, Borno. He was Senate leader in the 8th Assembly and is currently the chairman of the Senate Committee on Army.

Adams Oshiomhole (South-South)

He is a former chairman of the APC, former governor of Edo State and ex-president of the Nigerian Labour Congress. A first-timer in the legislature, Oshiomhole will represent the Edo North Senatorial District in the 10th National Assembly.

Abdul-Aziz Yari (North-West)

He is a former governor of Zamfara State and ex-member of the House of Representatives. While serving as governor, Yari was the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum.

Dave Umahi (South-East)

The outgoing governor of Ebonyi State will be one of the first-timers in the legislature. He also served as a deputy governor of Ebonyi and state chairman of his then party, the Peoples Democratic Party. Umahi, who joined APC in 2020, contested for the party’s presidential ticket in 2022 but was defeated.