By the time the Senate reconvenes next Tuesday, one of the major issues that will come up is that of who will be the Senate Minority Leader. MUYIWA OYINLOLA in this report examines the intrigues and scheming for the position among the gladiators.
Until about two weeks ago when the immediate past Akwa Ibom State governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio, indicated interest in the Minority Leadership of the Senate, political pundits had thought it was the exclusive right of James Manager.
Reason: Akpabio is a fresher in the Green Chamber, while Manager has been there since 2003. The rule of the Senate is however clear on who can become a principal officer in the chamber, and it is simply that such a lawmaker must be a ranking senator, that is, he must not be a newcomer.
Order 2 of the Senate Standing Orders reads: Election of presiding and other officers states that in determining ranking, “the following order shall apply: (i) Senators returning based on number of times re-elected; (II) Senators who had been members of the House of Representatives; (iii) Senators elected as Senators for the first time.”
However, the two things both lawmakers have in common are that they are both members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) now in the opposition, and they both hail from the South South where the position is zoned to.
Akpabio, as indicated earlier is from Akwa Ibom state, while Manager is from Delta State.
But Akpabio says he is not bothered with the ranking rule, stating that all senators are equal.
While speaking with newsmen about his ambition last week in Abuja, he stated that “It is not a question of interest, it is a question of capacity. So, if I have the capacity, my colleagues will decide.
“In the Senate, everybody is equal but some have been there for a long time like the ranking senators and all that. So, when you have the opportunity to be in the red chamber, you have equal rights to aspire to any position but you first have to be sure that your colleagues will be interested in you.
“If my name has been mentioned, probably by my colleagues, and I consult, and at the end of my consultations with stakeholders of our party across the nation, I will be able to make appropriate statement”.
But the former governor is not the only one challenging Manager for the seat, two other lawmakers, both also freshers in the Senate, have shown interest in the seat. The only thing is that Akpabio’s interest appears more pronounced.
The two other senators, John Enoh (Cross Rivers) and George Sekibo (Rivers), have also commenced campaigns towards achieving their ambition.
Imminent party crisis
The ambition of the new comers in the chamber which is clearly against the Senate Rule on ranking is already causing ripples both within the PDP caucus in the chamber and within the party as leaders are being pitched against one another over their preferred candidates.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience, are in support of Sekibo, where as the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike are against his candidacy.
Speaking on the implication of this development, a PDP senator said: “We are seeing the APC crisis now, ours is also in the making because before July 21, if we too don’t sort ourselves out, we can at best say that what is capable of weakening the PDP ahead of its role as a viable opposition party in the years ahead may have been planted.”
However, Akpabio’s ambition, which is at variance with the Senate Rules on ranking appears to have received the support of most senators from South-South which will produce Senate Minority Leader.
Meanwhile, the chances of Manager, who had hitherto been touted as the Senate Minority Leader are looking dim as financial muscle appears to have laid a path ahead of the final decision that will be announced when the senate resumes plenary on July 21.
“We all thought the issue of Senate Minority Leader had been laid to rest until the DSP (Deputy Senate President) called us for a meeting in his house where he sought people’s opinion on the propriety or otherwise of selecting Senator John Enoh for the position.
“I think it was from there the former Akwa-Ibom governor got the feeling that if the matter has to be revisited, then he would take a shot at it, but he doesn’t know that his ambition is against the rules of the senate as regards the selection of its principal officers.
“Before then, we were all facing the challenge of the suggestion by the former president and his wife that we should consider Sekibo from Rivers but the duo of Ekweremadu and Wike kicked against it.
“From all indications, if we don’t step in on time, our earlier decision backing James Manager may fail as you know what money can do in politics; we can’t say money won’t work in this circumstance”, the lawmaker stated.
Enoh vs Manager
A source at the meeting called by Ekweremadu to resolve the lingering crisis over who becomes the Minority Leader reveals that the leadership of the party at the meeting gave their blessing for Enoh, a development which has now pitched the deputy senate president against other ranking members from the South South who believe that ranking rule should be followed.
The source disclosed that:”The meeting was held to choose the minority leader. “As the meeting progressed, Senator James Manager, who has the same ranking in the chamber with Ekweremadu, was not invited to the meeting.
“Immediately Manager got to know of the meeting holding behind his back, he went straight to the venue where he met Ekweremadu presiding over the meeting to choose a minority leader.
“By the time he got there, it was decided that although the South South would produce the minority leader, Manager would not occupy the position since he is from Delta State where the same position had been zoned to Leo Ogor, his kinsman.”
Considering the on-going crises within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) where the leadership of the National Assembly emerged against the dictates of the party, analysts are worried that the nation may be heading for danger if a similar situation is repeated in the PDP.
A number of ranking senators within the opposition party have already told Ekweremadu to respect the position of the party and that of the Senate on ranking.