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LAGOS, NIGERIA.     Thursday, March 27 2003






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New faces, old hands on the road to the Senate
By Kodilinye Obiagwu

INSPITE of the present crop of candidates poised to seek a place in the Senate, you would wonder what the next Senate would look like if it had in its hallowed chambers the likes of Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, Chief Olu Falae, Ambassador Jubril Aminu, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Mahmood Waziri, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Ayo Adebanjo, Ganiyu Dawodu, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Gamaliel Onosode, Paschal Dozie, Isyaku Ibrahim, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Chief Samuel Ogbemudia, Balarabe Musa, Professor Barth Nnaji, Professor Tam David West, Hamzat Ahmadu, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd). This list, which is not exhaustible, would be a dream Senate.

It has to be said that most of these men are believed to be the embodiment of courage and acute political conviction; some have them have proved to be selfless, consistent, principled, and repositories of the qualities as can guarantee the elegance of the Senate.

The National Assembly plays a very critical role in the affairs of the nation. The senators especially are the makers of the law of the land and the custodians of the very democratic values that sustain governance. The pulse of activity at every level of government can be measured by the quality of laws the National Assembly turns out.

In America, the bastion of modern democracy, a senatorial seat is coveted. Some of the grizzled haired American men and women senators have made a career out of being in the Senate. The American Senate is a respected institution, and is seen as the launching pad for higher political aspirations. Political appointees sent from the executive consider it a badge of honour to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. American Senate Committees are powerful tools of legislation and the members are lobbied for the impact of their recommendations.

The circumstance that has thrown up the present Senate in Nigeria has been traced to four years ago, when the administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) was concluding the process of his transition programme. Then, some politicians who doubted that the military was sincere in its programme to hand over power so soon, stayed away from the process. Their apprehension, which was drawn from precedence, was based on the several scuttled transition programmes by the military.

However, some politicians braved the odds and got elected, and in no other area was the outcome felt more than in the National Assembly where virtually every "Tom, Dick and Harry" found a seat. This gave vent to the suggestion that credible Nigerian politicians did not end up in the National Assembly as senators. It is said that the political space was not crowded then, hence the competition was not stiff. But in the run up to the 2003 polls, the political space has become crowded.

That crowd has been attributed to two facts. First, unlike in 1999 and for the first time in the annals of the nation's politics, there are 30 political parties taking part in an election. And most of them are determined to field candidates in as many elective posts as they can find aspirants. In the Senate for example, if each of the 30 parties fields a candidate for the three senatorial slots available in every state, there would be about 90 candidates per state and 3,270 nationwide.

Secondly, with the take-off of the nation's democracy, the septic politicians of 1998 are now desirous to seek a place in the political landscape. A feature of the kind of candidates that have flooded the parties is that most are young professionals-lawyers, medical doctors, businessmen, journalists, architects, engineers etc - who have made their mark in their various careers. Others are older politicians, who had been part of the polity, earned experience in public administration and had been the technocrats that had kept the engine of governance going in various administrations.

In various ways, this mix of politicians lay a copious claim to a cognate experience by what they have done in the past to indicate what they will or can do in the future and they believe they can shape the outcome of things in the Senate.

Another group of candidates also presents an interesting hue on the election. It is the group of politicians who have made a career out of their political aspirations. They are familiar faces in the hustling for power and they also claim to have the experience in politics and how things should be done, but they have never had the opportunity to win any election.

In defence of the present senators, Senator Tunde Ogbeha (PDP Kogi) said, "I do believe that the lawmakers have performed above average, considering the impediments. For 15 years, this arm of government has not been functional and if you also compare it with the Second Republic, we have passed more bills and more laws and more motions."

Also Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi said that they have been very vibrant and have played their role as a check on the executive. But Mr. Tunde Fagbenle a senatorial candidate of the National Conscience party (NCP), in Osun State said of the senators: "if people have faith in them, they would not have suffered this high level of casualties in terms of failure to get their mandate renewed."

An Alliance for Democracy (AD) member in the House of Representatives, Wumi Bewaji said that in most of the public hearings, it was a show of shame where some senators will display their ignorance of the topics that were even under scrutiny. He said the situation in the National Assembly generally, was unlike what happened elsewhere in the world where lawmakers were well versed in the area within their jurisdiction.

The calibre of some of the candidates that have emerged across the parties has raised the possibility that the next senate will have politicians whose track record can improve the stature of the Senate.

Mr. Lanre Towry-Coker, an architect and AD senatorial candidate in Lagos said he has a feeling that things will change if more interested parties who have credible track record in private sector come out. The public he said would be looking at how knowledgeable and experienced some of the senatorial candidates are. The trend should be that states should send their most credible and experienced sons and daughters to the Senate to design ways to manage the affairs of the nation.

The Senate therefore will be a different place if some of those candidates manage to scale the hurdle of the voters. Most of them like 37-year-old Faruk Bello from Kebbi are fresh and young and come from the private sector; while some, like Ambassador Aminu Jubril are older, versed in the formulation of public policy and with a background in public sector.

Chief Uche Chukwumerije

Comrade Uche Chukwumerije did not go to the senate in 1998 because it was speculated he had an agreement to step aside for Senator Ike Nwachukwu. With Nwachukwu now NDP presidential flagbearer, Chukwumerije is out to go to the senate to represent Abia North on the PDP platform. A Minister of Information in the late Abacha administration, Chukwumerije's has a penchant for handling controversy and he is remembered easily for the role that he played during the June 12 saga. And if that takes him to the Senate, he could prove to be a strong and stringent voice on issues.

Felix Ibru

Chief Felix Ibru (PDP, Delta North) is the acclaimed politician in the Ibru family. He started seeking elective posts in the Second Republic on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). When in 1992/93 he became the first governor of Delta State on the platform the Social Democratic Party (SDP), it was considered a logical progression for him in the politics of the state. But the June 12, 1993 saga truncated that mandate. He was in 1988 elected into the Constituent Assembly.

In 1998 his name was linked with the governorship race, which would have been an opportunity for him to revalidate his mandate as his contemporaries, Chief Segun Osoba in Ogun State or Prince Abubakar Audu in Kogi State did, but Chief Onanefe Ibori got the better of everyone.

Ibru was to say of that time: "the whole thing was getting complex" and he chose not to get into the process. In the run up to 2003, he was beginning to see himself as a big brother and did not bother to challenge Ibori, who he believed should be left to enjoy the power of incumbency. Ibru decided to seek political relevance elsewhere and the Senate was the most logical move. Predictably, he picked the senatorial ticket despite the musical chairs at the primaries.

The Senate will thrust him on the national stage where he could pursue such concerns like the politics of the South-South. He had been in the forefront of the politics of the Niger Delta before it became a national pastime. Considered as a sure bet for the Senate, he has to his advantage experience, financial resources, a well-known family. And in the Senate, he is not likely to suffer the kind of hindrances that would distract some senators.

Daisy Danjuma

Mrs. Daisy Danjuma, wife of the Minister of Defence, Lt.-Gen. Theophilus Danjuma has always shown interest in representing Edo South in the Senate.

Two years ago, she signified her intention in the seat then occupied by Chief Rowland Owie, the PDP Chief Whip in the Senate. It had appeared a daunting task for her to scale the hurdle of stalwart politicians like Chief Paul Ogbebor. But Omo N'Oba N'Edo Uku Akpolokpolor, Erediauwa II, Oba of Benin thought she had a chance. During a palace visit, the Oba told her fellow aspirants that he believed that Mrs. Danjuma was as qualified as any other aspirant and should not be dismissed as a non-starter as she plans to go to the Senate.

Her ambition, sought on the platform of the ANPP will benefit from the political capital of her husband's name, but how that will translate to votes will be seen. Her major opposition will come from the ANPP where Ogbebor, a veteran politician will try to prove a point. Fortunately though, she is in a PDP state and it is unlikely that the opposition will whittle her advantages. Mrs. Danjuma, a graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is a lawyer.

Faruk Bello Bunza

Mr. Faruk Bello Bunza represents the corps of professional young men who are joining politics from their professional careers. Bunza is an executive director and Head of the Public Sector Group of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc. He is contesting for the Kebbi Central Senatorial seat of Kebbi State on the platform of the ANPP.

Faruk says he wants to bring professionalism to bear in public office, to touch people's lives through rapid development particularly in Kebbi Central. He hopes to use his private sector experience to meet the development of his people through politics. In the private sector he has interacted closely with the top echelon of business and government and has an excellent understanding of the workings of government.

As a young man, he hopes to champion the cause of youths through education and employment. Most importantly, he would bring into politics the values of professional ethics and honesty, which for him is the hallmark of growth and development. The ANPP candidate says that teamwork will impact positively on the work in the senate. An alumnus of the Harvard Business Scheme, Faruk has his first and second degrees in economics.

Chief Arthur Nzeribe

For longevity, and persistence, on the political field, Sarumi might find a parallel in Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe, the recurrent decimal in the senatorial politics of Imo State. Nzeribe has always made it to the senate. He was there in the Second Republic (1979-1983); the Babangida era in 1994 and he got there again in 1999 under the All Peoples Party before it transformed into the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). But for 2003, he is contesting on the platform of the PDP.

He might be the most experienced senator, beside Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, the running mate to the ANPP presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari. But Nzeribe, who has always brushed aside opposition, will have to contend with the widow of the slain ANPP senatorial candidate for Orlu Senatorial Zone, Chief Ogbonnaya Uche. Nzeribe might again brush her aside, as competition despite the sentiments of her candidacy will whip up among the voters. Mrs. Ogbonnaya's major problem might not be Nzeribe however, but Chief Victor Green-Mbadiwe who is running on the platform of the United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP). The reason is that both hail from Arondizuogu and a split of their votes seems likely. If Nzeribe makes it back to the senate for a record fifth time he will possibly become the longest serving senator in the country.

Dr. Catherine Acholonu

The NDP candidate who decamped from the PDP and UNPP is also up against Nzeribe. Her introduction into politics is her appointment as Senior Special Assistant to the president on Culture and Tourism. An academician and author, her feminism might not draw more sentiments and support for her against Uche's wife to secure the Orlu Senatorial ticket where Nzeribe holds sway. But she could be vibrant and fresh face in the Senate.

Ahmadu Sheidu

An ANPP candidate for Kogi West, Alhaji Ahmadu Sheidu, retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, lost the senatorial seat to Maj.- Gen. Tunde Ogbeha in 1998 and he is up against him again. It is unlikely that he will overcome Senator Ogbeha this time in a state that is drawing a lot of PDP supporters. If he could make it, he might have been the first retired policeman to go to the Senate.

Tunde Fagbenle

A pro-democracy activist and a journalist, Mr. Tunde Fagbenle said he joined the National Conscience Party (NCP) because as an activist, he felt at home with the party's agenda. He said that though he was in the vanguard for the restoration of democracy, he never considered he would want to go into politics until he "saw the charlatans running the show."

Campaigning to represent Osun Central senatorial zone, Fagbenle said that in 1998, some people did not participate in the politics, "because we did not believe that it would come to anything much." The experience with the late Abacha made a lot of politicians wary, and the arena he said was taken over by people of all sorts of character.

Leaving what he calls his position as an armchair critic and getting involved in government, he said: "I am not going there to reap anything. What I sowed during the military regime. I sowed for posterity, for generations to come."

He added: "No more leaving the stage for unqualified charlatans to have a field day making mockery of the legislative process. I am going to the Senate to join hands with a few credible lawmakers who because of their minority position have been dwarfed by majority of the charlatans. I am going there so we can increase the number of credible people for effective legislating."

Perhaps the likes of Fagbenle will find a place in a post-military democracy, and if he scales the hurdle, he could find himself directing his activism towards sustaining the nation's democracy.

Chief Dapo Sarumi

Chief Dapo Sarumi has always wanted to be governor of Lagos State. He was a governorship aspirant of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1993, but he lost his quest for nomination in a confusion that was to make the SDP lose to Sir Michael Otedola of the National Republican Convention (NRC). He however got recompense of sort when the Head of the Interim National Government (ING), Chief Ernest Shonekan appointed him Secretary of the Ministry of Communications. He however kept that governorship dream alive during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha, but it never materialised. He was again appointed minister, this time as Minister of Information, and later, Minister of Commerce and Integration in Africa, by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

In the campaign for 2003, he sought the governorship again on the platform of the PDP. But things did not work well and he decamped to the Progressive Action Congress (PAC). But he adjusted his political pursuit to focus on the Senate to represent Lagos East. Will he make it to the Senate or will it be another futile outing. His major political capital is his name, which has come to be tagged a recurring decimal on the Lagos political landscape. His popularity will be tested in this election. It remains to be seen how far the PAC will in Lagos. Sarumi will be contesting for the senatorial seat with the AD candidate, Dr. Olorunimbe Adeleke Mamora Speaker Lagos State house of Assembly, and Chief Adeseye Ogunleye of the PDP.

Rose Okoji Oko

If the Senate needs women, then it better makes space for those who are educated and exposed. Dr. (Mrs.) Rose Okoji Oko, 46, senatorial candidate (Cross River North) of the NDP fills this bill. She flaunts her public service record to prove that she can contribute to the debate on the senate floor. She was once Commissioner of Education; National Commissioner of the National Electoral Commission, NEC and Federal Commissioner for Refugees, National Commission of Refugees. But she will have to convince the voters first.

Professor Jubril Aminu

Prof. Aminu Jubril Muhammed is Nigeria's Ambassador to the United States. The first class scholar from Adamawa State won the senatorial ticket for Adamawa Central on the platform of the PDP. Aminu was minister in the Ministry of Petroleum and the Ministry of Education.

Aminu's views on issues will be sought. On public issues, he has a reputation to be blunt and to hold onto positions for which he offers no apologies. His solid academic attainments and service in the public sector will mean that he will be looked up to a lot to guide proceedings on the floor of the senate. If he has any liability, it is that he is not the typical politician and might have a lot to learn from the Senate.

Christopher Osondu

Navy Captain Christopher Osondu's chances are viewed in the context of the present fad where ex-servicemen are becoming part of the nation's democracy. A former administrator of Cross River State, he was one of those who were asked to retire from the military because they had held political appointments. Now a senatorial candidate of the NDP in Abia North, he relishes the opportunity of going to the senate to "meet other Nigerians to exchange ideas on how to govern the country." He said that his military experience, which he will bring to the senate, is a big plus. Said he: "Military training is very broad, and having served in the capacity I did, I have been able to manage men and materials. Serving as a military administrator exposed me to the civilian populace and I think I understand the rudiments of administration well." He claims that if other ex-servicemen have done well in politics, his military background might just serve him well. To get to the Senate, he might have to ride on the back of the NDP presidential candidate, Maj.-Gen. Ike Nwachukwu (rtd) who is from Abia. This will be tough in a PDP state.

Chief Ken Nnamani

In Enugu East Senatorial, the name of Chief Ken Nnamani attracts some attention. The reason is that he shares the same surname with the state governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani. Many therefore consider the senatorial candidate a relation of the governor and therefore a government candidate. But the candidate who is not a relation of the governor said that he is on his own.

He is contesting on the platform of the PDP and because he seeks to represent a zone, which Senator Jim Nwobodo, represents in the senate, he is also seen as a big fish. He is seen as the man who 'defeated' Nwobodo in the PDP primaries but Nnamani did not defeat Nwobodo, now the United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP) presidential flagbearer. Nnamani said he hopes he can get into the senate on his own merit. This in his third time, he said. He won the senatorial seat under the UNCP and in 1998, under the APP where he also won, but due to what he called "questionable circumstances," an AD candidate was declared winner. Undoubtedly, the coast seems clear for him now, with the absence of Nwobodo and the voters have tested his electability.

To be continued

Among the several reasons advanced for the poor performance of the National Assembly, especially the Senate, is inexperience and immaturity on the part of the Senators. Most of the senators have also been accused of being weak in principles, integrity and as well as in the ideas that would make the Nigerian project work

Secondly, with the take-off of the nation's democracy, the skeptic politicians of 1998 are now desirous to seek a place in the political landscape. A feature of the kind of candidates that have flooded the parties is that most are young professionals-lawyers, medical doctors, businessmen, journalists, architects, engineers etc - who have made their mark in their various careers


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