When I read that former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and now Senator-elect for Abia North Senatorial zone, had endorsed Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives, I had the feeling that, only half of the story had been told. It did not take long for the complete story to emerge. Indeed Dr. Kalu had endorsed Hon. Gbajabiamila on the premise that, as a loyal party man, he would abide by the decision of his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC which had tapped Senator Ahmed Lawan, from the North East Zone as candidate for the Senate President and Gbajabiamila, from the South West zone, as candidate for Speaker of House of Representatives. However, people tend to overlook the most significant aspect of Kalu’s comment, being that he would drop his ambition to be Deputy President of the Senate, if his party zoned the position of Speaker to the South East zone. In that case, his support for Gbajabiamila would naturally abate.
To be sure, there are those who will argue that Kalu is speaking from both sides of his mouth. However, from whatever side of his mouth he chooses to speak, of greater significance are the reasons he gave for his position. First, he believes that it is immoral to exclude the South East from the leadership architecture of the country, as his party, the APC, seems to be perpetrating. Secondly, and this is particularly instructive, he argues and correctly too, that the position of Speaker, is superior to that of the Deputy Senate President hence, for love of the South East, he is prepared to drop his personal ambition.
Kalu is right. His position which has been the argument of many patriotic Nigerians, is consistent with the “Federal Character Principle” as enshrined at Section 14:3 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 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 command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or sectional groups in the Government or any of its agencies”.
This position is a stout rebuttal of the exponents of “winner-takes-all” politics who are ready to subvert the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and sacrifice national unity, equity and fair play on the jaundiced altar of personal greed, ethnic hegemony and sub-cultural nationalism which, by itself, is a recipe for instability and assured national paralysis. The position questions the integrity of those who have no qualms applying the federal character principle in areas where they are vulnerable while dismissing it in areas of their assumed superiority. That is as dishonest as can be.
I make this point with special reference to those who want to deny the South East the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, on the dubious claim that the zone brought nothing to the table in terms of electoral support for the President. On the contrary, progressively, not only did the South East embrace the APC, President Buhari received at least 25 percent of the votes cast in three, out of the five South East states, as against only one in 2015.
Besides, but for the crisis that bedeviled the APC nation-wide, the party would have clinched at least two governorship positions in the zone. Those who are inclined to dispute the position should explain why the APC lost Oyo, Benue, Zamfara, Adamawa and Sokoto governorship elections. Therefore, it is hypocritical to dismiss areas where the party made significant inroads, relative to 2015 while extolling areas where the party indeed recorded decline. If the party strategists are not seriously considering these realities, then something is seriously wrong somewhere.
At any rate, to pigeon-hole the Buhari Presidency to the 15.2 million votes he received is to narrow his legitimacy in a county of about 200 million people and to deny the over 180 million Nigerians access to decision making or, as we say in local parlance, the “dividends of democracy”. That will be preposterous in the extreme. The acceptable practice is that, once elected, a President becomes President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not President of the APC or any zone or ethnic group.
As things stand, Kalu’s intervention, on the position of Speaker, challenges the sincerity of his party, the APC, as an honest agent of nation building and a custodian of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I believe that Kalu is sincere. For those who do not know Orji Kalu well, I believe he would not contemplate subjugating his ambition to any other person’s ambition if he was not certain that there is a candidate who possesses the qualities to fit the bill.
Does such a candidate exist in the South East? The answer is an emphatic YES; indeed, there are several candidates. But the emerging consensus favours Hon. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba. Here is a young man who is familiar with Nigeria’s legislative processes. He was a member of the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003 before stepping aside, in deference to the zoning arrangement, in his constituency. He then ran for Governor of Imo State, first on the platform of the ANPP in 2003 and the CPC in 2007. Ever since, he has been part of the country’s political process and is said to have played crucial roles in the negotiations and processes that led to the emergence of the APC. He has also served as chairman of the Board of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND.
Besides, in recent times, Hon. Nwajiuba has been the arrowhead of a number of strategic advocacy groups, aimed at advising government on policy issues and good governance. Highly cerebral, unassuming, introspective and disciplined, Hon. Nwajiuba is a self-effacing team player whose belief in the Nigeria project has endowed him with a social network that cuts across political, ethnic, religious and generational divides. He is an astute businessman, and an advocate of capitalism with a human face and a philanthropist who is more animated by service to humanity than competing for the klieg lights with leaders and celebrities. That explains the fact that whether in government or not, in and out of politics, his constituents in Imo State always feel his empowerment programs. I believe that Kalu has seen in him, a formidable political asset that the APC should leverage as the party consolidates on the progress made during the 2019 elections.
Therefore, to advocates of the “winner takes all” position; to proponents of ethnic and regional hegemony who neither have any respect for the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria nor the pristine philosophical underpinnings of the concept of federalism, this moment challenges them to reflect on not only the future of the country but the fate of the APC after this time out. Like the Rotarians would want us to submit our actions to the Four Wheel Test, Nigerian politicians, especially the legislators should, in line with the Federal Character Principle of the 1999 Constitution, submit the zoning of leadership positions in the NASS to the following tests:
Will it promote the Federal Character of Nigeria? Will it promote national unity? Will it command national loyalty? Will it ensure that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states in the Government or any of its agencies? Will it ensure that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few ethnic groups in the Government or any of its agencies? Will it ensure that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few sectional groups in the Government or any of its agencies? Will it heal the gaping wounds in our polity, stem the dry the tears of excluded groups and usher in a new bonding that reduces the stress on our security and the sacrifices families of the members of our Armed Forces are making?
LAST LINE: It was reassuring watching the television footage of the President, beaming with smiles, as Senator Danjuma Goje announced that he had stepped down for Senator Ahmed Lawan who has been variously described as the President’s preferred candidate for the position of Speaker; reassuring because only recently, the President promised to run an inclusive administration. I believe him. And there is no way the Administration can be “inclusive” without the South East or any zone for that matter! Now, nobody should bother to tell us that the President will not interfere in the emergence of NASS leadership; please he should. If the President could be involved in resolving the Senate leadership impasse, he can do the same for the House of Representatives; in favour of the Federal Character requirement of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which he swore to uphold.