As the dust raised by the 2023 general elections is beginning to settle, a mighty political wind is growing a speck of thicker dust with the potential to mar an amicable relationship between the incoming executive and leadership of the National Assembly. With the results from all, except a few, polling units declared, none of the four major political parties has a clear majority to form the leadership of the National Assembly. At the moment, about 35 House of Representative seats has not been declared because of the cancellation of results in some polling units across the federation.
However, supplementary elections will hold on April 15, 2023, after which a clear picture of the composition of the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives, will emerge. While the All Progressives Congress (APC) has a clear majority in the Senate with 57 seats, with only 162 seats in the House of Representatives, APC lacks a clear majority to nominate the Speaker.
However, APC may attain a majority in the House of Representatives if it can clinch a few more seats in the federal constituencies where the supplementary election will hold on March 15. But even with a simple majority, the smooth running of government in Nigeria is not guaranteed due to the current distribution of seats among the political parties in the National Assembly. Furthermore, the 10th Assembly may be the most volatile legislature Nigeria has ever got because about two-thirds of the lawmakers are first-timers.
On the one hand, the major opposition political parties – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with 102 seats, Labour Party (LP) with 34, and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) with 18 seats in the House of Representatives may come to the National Assembly with opposing agendas, which may likely affect the smooth running of government. On the other hand, first-time legislators lack experience in legislative matters, and the majority may be radical in their approach. Already, the opposition had expressed a lack of confidence in the electoral process when they attempted to use courts to stop the collation of presidential election results. There is also a call for the annulment of the presidential election and to form Interim National Government instead of transferring power to the President-elect.
Suppose the opposition could not succeed with their plan to truncate a peaceful power transfer. Would they leverage their numerical strength and capitalise on the first-time lawmakers' lack of legislative experience to ensure the incoming government's policies and programmes do not pass through? Or would the opposition cleverly install a stooge from renegades members of APC as Speaker of the House of Representatives to fight the incoming executive government just like the 8th Assembly nearly ground Buhari's government between 2015 to 2019?
Thus, the right leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives is needed to avoid the above-mentioned ugly scenarios. It means finding the right leadership that will command the respect of fellow parliamentarians and staff of the National Assembly. It means finding the right leadership that will collaborate with the Executive arm of government rather than confront it. It means finding the right leadership that will work for the nation's unity and not the country's disintegration. It means finding the right leadership that will put Nigeria first. It means finding the right leadership to stabilise the government and the nation.
But then, finding the right leadership may not be easy. First of all, APC must do the needful immediately after the supplementary election to avert the repeat of the political wrangling that followed the seizure of leadership of the two chambers due to the nonchalant attitude APC leadership and the then incoming government showed concerning the leadership of the 8th Assembly. The party only came up with the zoning arrangement after some lawmakers caused irreversible damage. Consequently, APC leadership, the incoming government, and the outgoing government must devise the zoning arrangement urgently. Thus, finding the right leadership is the function of a meaningful collaboration among all the stakeholders – APC as the party with the majority seats in the National Assembly, the incoming government, the outgoing government and the APC legislators, especially the returning ones.
While it is almost certain that in the spirit of fairness and national unity, the position of the Senate President will be zoned either to the south-south zone or south-east, there is not even a slight clue as to which geopolitical zone in northern Nigeria will APC zone the position of the Speaker. There is a strong argument that the number three position of the President of the Senate should be zoned to the south-south geopolitical zone because of the votes the region gave to APC in the Presidential election. The zone gave APC 799,957 votes as opposed to the southeast, which gave APC the lowest 127,605 votes among all the six geopolitical zones.
As problematic and dramatic as the incoming House of Representatives appears to be, there is no pointer as to which zone will get the position of the Speaker. Meanwhile, one or more members from each of the zones in the north have indicated an interest in the position of the Speaker, including the northeast, where the Vice President comes from. Assuming that the northeast is out of the contest, then the question is to which zone the position of the Speaker (being the fourth most important position in the country) should be zoned between north-central and north-west? Depending on where the President came from, traditionally, since 1999, the north central always get either the position of the Senate President or Deputy Senate President and the north-west gets the position of the Speaker.
History has, or is about, to repeat itself. The return to democracy in 1999 made two precedents. One, rotational presidency, and two, zoning of the six most important positions in the following order: President (South West), Vice President (North East), Senate President (South East); Speaker (North West), Deputy Senate President (North Central), and Deputy Speaker (South-South). The zoning of the positions was for equity and fairness, national unity, and a reflection of federal character. The 2023 result of the Presidential Election confirms that the northwest is the vote bank of Nigeria and was the zone that contributed more votes to APC to win the election. While the north-west gave APC 2,652,235 votes, the north-central gave APC 1,670,091 votes - almost one million less than the north-west. Therefore, even an onlooker can safely conclude that it is only fair and equitable to zone the position of the Speaker to the North-West geopolitical zone to compensate the region for its contributions to APC in the Presidential. It is also necessary to zone the position to North West as doing otherwise may amount to political miscalculation as it will be suicidal for APC to go to the 2027 Presidential Election without compensating North-West of the Speaker for its support and loyalty to the party.
But even with zoning, there is no guarantee that APC members will abide by any zoning arrangement. The way some ranking members of APC from across the north started to show interest in the position of the Speaker is a clear indication that some ranking members of APC in the House of Representatives are ready to defy any zoning arrangement of their party. It is believed that not only APC and the incoming government would not want to see a repeat of how the National Assembly Leadership emerged in 2015 and what followed after that, but even the majority of Nigerians would not because the whole country will suffer from the gridlock Nigeria will find itself. Therefore, even after zoning, APC must use a stick-and-carrot approach to motivate its caucus in the Senate and House of Representatives to respect and adhere to its zoning arrangement. Otherwise, opposition parties will seize the slightest opportunity a crack within the ranks of APC may present to either take the leadership of the National Assembly directly or support a stooge within APC to emerge as the Speaker and to use him or her to destabilise the incoming government and also destroy APC as a party. Thus, if APC gets it wrong right from the beginning, that is the beginning of the end of the APC in Nigeria.
Narrowing the search for the Speaker to the northwest, there are three major contenders for the office of the Speaker from the zone. However, among the three, the stakeholders, especially the president-elect and his deputy, should narrow the search to the most suitable candidate. Who is that candidate? It is the most competent and experienced person who commands the respect of fellow parliamentarians and staff of the National Assembly. It is the candidate who is a team player and who can stabilise the national Assembly and the executive arm of the government. It is someone who is committed to supporting the smooth functioning of government so that policies and programmes of the incoming government can pass through the National Assembly with little or no hitch. It should not be a candidate whose primary focus is enterprise or a candidate supported by volatile people who may instigate the leadership of the House of Representatives against the government at the slightest disagreement with the incoming government.