From Government Houses to the Senate -By Mahmud Jega

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From Government Houses to the Senate -By  Mahmud Jega


The scramble by governors who are completing their second terms in Government Houses to politically migrate to the Senate assumed the proportions of the 19th Century Scramble for Africa at the weekend when this country’s two major political parties held their primary elections.

I saw a wire services report late afternoon yesterday that Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang won PDP’s ticket for Plateau North senatorial district. He defeated the former Nigerian Ambassador to Ukraine Ibrahim Kasai by 273-18 votes. The ambassador was lucky he got 18 votes, the way things work in Nigerian politics.

Many results were not yet in but several PDP governors were standing for election in the senatorial primaries and all of them were expected to emerge victorious. They include Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue, Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu of Niger; Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, Governor Theodore Orji of Abia, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom and Governor Sa’idu Dakingari of Kebbi.

Many of these governors had set their sights on going to the Senate from the beginning of their second terms as governors, if not earlier. There were reports that some of them offered Senate seats to selected associates in 2011 with a clear understanding that such associates will hold the seat for only one term, after which they will surrender it to the governor when he completes his second term. Sometimes the manoeuvre is open, as happened in Niger State recently. The death of Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta necessitated a by-election for the Niger East senatorial seat and from all indications PDP’s successful candidate, the former deputy governor Shem Zagbayi Nuhu, has an agreement with Aliyu to hold the seat for only this tenure, hence he did not seek re-election.

Akwa Ibom’s rambunctious Akpabio either did not have such a solid agreement with Senator Aloysius Etuk or the senator failed to keep his part of the bargain, hence Akpabio began openly campaigning for the post several months ago. At one point Etuk said in an interview, “As for the governor seeking to go the senate, I have told him that there is no vacancy in the senate. He can look elsewhere. If he needs a vacancy to be filled let him look into the state execute council but in the senate no vacancy because the people I’m representing have not told me they have finished with me. They have not told me that I’m not going to the senate again.”

The number of PDP governors seeking to migrate to the Senate was unexpectedly reduced at the weekend when Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta and his Enugu State counterpart and Sullivan Chime dropped out of the races. “Forced to drop out” was how many newspapers described it. Uduaghan has had an uphill task managing Delta’s governorship race and reports said President Jonathan forced him to quit the Senate race in order to accommodate some of the aggrieved aspirants. As for Chime, he successfully blocked Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu’s governorship aspiration and in addition he wanted to take Ekweremadu’s Enugu West senatorial seat for himself. A settlement was however worked out at the last minute.

The other big party, APC has fewer cases of gubernatorial migrations because most of its governors are either first termers or second termers who are not due to complete their tenure until after 2015. It does have two cases however. One is Governor Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto. Wamakko’s aspiration to grab the Sokoto Central senatorial ticket prevented Senator Ahmed Maccido from decamping from PDP to APC along with all his political associates. In Kano too, Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, who is vying for the presidential ticket, is said to have reserved a senatorial ticket for himself just in case.

If and when all these men land in the Senate they will find that it is already a club full of former governors. Former state governors currently in the Senate include Ahmed Mohamed Makarfi of Kaduna, Mohamed Danjuma Goje of Gombe, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki of Kwara, Joshua Chibi Dariye of Plateau, Ahmed Sani Yariman Bakura of Zamfara, Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa, Bukar Abba Ibrahim of Yobe, Maina Ma’aji Lawan of Borno, George Akume of Benue, Chris Ngige of Anambra and Architect Kabiru Gaya of Kano. They were once more than that. Former Jigawa State Governor Ibrahim Saminu Turaki was in the Senate in 2007-11, as was former Enugu State Governor Chimaroke Nnamani. Former Kebbi State Governor Mohamed Adamu Aliero went to the Senate in 2007, left after a year to become FCT Minister but is angling for a return next year. Also angling to go to the Senate next year is former Taraba State Governor Jolly Nyame and former Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, who tried but failed in 2011. At least one former governor is there by proxy: former Niger State Governor Abdulkadir Abdullahi Kure sent his wife to the Senate when he was leaving the governorship in 2007.

Any young lad in Nigeria will be forgiven if he thinks the Senate is but a retirement home for state governors. At the rate at which they are going to the Senate, very soon there would be nobody left in the Senate who is not a former state governor. Governor Akpabio, who is the chairman of PDP Governors Forum, did not see any problem with that when he recently said, “The Senate has about 109 members and the serving governors of PDP who are interested in going to the Senate are not up to nine. So we have at least 100 chances for incumbent senators… There is no threat to any senator where the governors of PDP have interest to go into the Senate because I believe just like the sky, there is enough space for every bird to fly.”

Will the governors find it very cosy in the Senate? Not likely. A man who goes from being the boss of a Government House to being a floor member in the Senate will find that it is a major political, financial, administrative, security and protocol climb down. He used to appoint commissioners, advisers, a battery of assistants, senior civil servants and even traditional rulers but will now have to make do with appointing a few legislative assistants. A man who used to be surrounded by a whole Protocol Division with officers running up and down to attend to his everyday need with have to make do with a skeletal protocol staff, if any. The number of policemen that surround a governor often outnumber the full complement in a small garrison but as a senator he may have to walk the streets without a security aide.

Maybe they are enticed because the National Assembly legislated a national order of precedence which placed legislators above governors. This order of precedence is unenforceable in practice. A governor’s arrival at any event elicits interest all around. There is commotion as his huge entourage walks in. Necks are strained to see the VIP. Photographers and television crews fall over themselves to get a picture. Everyone wants to shake a governor’s hand. Every politician around wants to have a few words with him. It is very pleasing for a Nigerian politician if the governor mentions his name in public and especially if he exchanges a banter with him. Most prized by a politician is for the governor to say that he wants to see him after the event. As a senator, our lad the former governor may have to sit quietly while the commotion lasts.

It is human nature to want to be going higher and higher but for a man who has been a governor in Nigeria, there is very little space to go higher. The only political offices that are decisively higher than a governor are President and Vice President. Senate President and House Speaker are said to be Number Three and Number Four but why are two House Speakers, one of them still serving, now trying to become state governors?