The last word may not have been heard on the expected configurations of the leadership of the incoming 10th National Assembly; not even with the zoning arrangements purported to have been unveiled by the National Working Committee of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In the zoning formula which was reportedly worked out in consultation with the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the position of Senate President was zoned to South South with Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio named as the beneficiary while the Deputy Senate President was reportedly zoned to North West and Senator Barau Jibrin as the presumptive candidate.
In the House of Representatives, the position of Speaker was also zoned to the North West with Hon. Tajudeen Abbas from Kaduna State as the beneficiary. Similarly, the post of Deputy Speaker was allocated to the South East with Hon. Benjamin Kalu from Abia State as the Deputy Speaker designate.
With these decisions of the NWC of the APC, it would have been thought that the issue of leadership positions in the two chambers of the National Assembly has been settled. On the contrary, the issues are far from being resolved as a lot of maneuverings and scheming that are going on within the APC and beyond to mount a challenge to the position of the leadership of the APC which many people believed was done without enough consultations. For instance, political analysts are wondering the wisdom in zoning two presiding positions to the North West to the total exclusion of the North Central. Similarly, political pundits are also wondering why the third leg of the Nigerian tripod (the Igbo) is being left out in the calculations for the Senate Presidency.
It is, therefore, not surprising that pressures are being mounted from several quarters on the leadership of the APC and President-elect to revisit the zoning arrangement and ensure that there is equity and justice in the distribution of these parliamentary positions.
Even though the President-elect, Bola Tinubu is said to be in the picture of the zoning formula adopted by the NWC of the ruling APC, feelers from those around him, however, suggest that no firm decision has been taken on the issue. The fluid state of affairs has, therefore, resulted into to a situation whereby many candidates from different geo-political zones have thrown their hats into the ring. But in spite of the names flying up and down as the anointed candidates, there might be major upsets on the floor of the Senate as the Senators-elect meet in the next two weeks to elect their presiding officers.
The zoning arrangements by the APC may not work in the Senate as the Senators-elect are determined to assert their independence. This is obviously responsible for the emergence of independent-minded Senators like Abdullaziz Yari (Zamfara), Orji Kalu (Abia) and Osita Izunaso (Imo) who have shown a clear indication to seek the seat on the floor of the Senate. Of the whole lot, Izunaso who was former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Gas is the man to watch. He has been conducting a very quiet and strategic campaign without attracting any attention or unnecessary controversies to himself. He is reportedly reaching out to all the key players and power centres in the party and polity with a view to securing their understanding and endorsement. Given the tacit support he has garnered in the process, he is widely believed to be the dark horse that is going to spring surprise on the national stage.
There is no doubt that he has really prepared himself for the position, given his excellent pedigree and career in the legislative arm of government. The crucial question is: who amongst those jostling for the Senate Presidency has the requisite qualifications and experience to occupy the coveted position? Who amongst them has what it takes to work cordially with Tinubu and bring a measure of stabilization to his administration?
Looking critically at the three Senators in contention from the South, it is quite clear that Osita Izunaso is the man that fits the bill. Unlike the other two, he is the most ranked Senator, having served in different capacities at different times in the national legislature more than any of the other two aspirants.
Osita Izunaso started his political career in the National Assembly in 1991 during the short-lived 3rd Republic when he served as the Chief Press Secretary to the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Agunwa Anaekwe. At the inception of the 4th Republic in 1999, he was appointed the Chief Press Secretary to the then Senate President, Chief Evan Enwerem. In 2003, he was elected into the House of Representatives to represent the good people of Oguta/Ohaji Egbema/Oru West Federal Constituency of Imo State.
He was one of the stars of that Assembly. He chaired the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development during his tenure. It is on record that in his capacity as the Chairman, he organized the first ever National Summit on Housing Development in Nigeria. That Summit brought together all the stakeholders in the housing sector in Nigeria to explore and share ideas on how to bridge the housing deficits in the country and also ensuring that all stakeholders comply with the relevant standards in the housing sector.
Following his good works in the House of Representatives, he was elected in 2007 to the Senate to represent Orlu Senatorial District. It is on record that he was the one that displaced Senator Arthur Nzeribe, one of the most powerful Senators of that era, from the Senate. As a golden fish that has no hiding place in the water, Izunaso was appointed in the Senate as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Gas, a very influential Committee. He achieved quite a lot especially in championing indigenous participation in the industry, including the marginal fields. He also championed the issue of local content in the oil and gas sector.
Following the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in which he played a role as a founding member, he was appointed the National Organizing Secretary of the Party. Under his watch as the party manager, the APC defeated the ruling Peoples` Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015. None of Izunaso`s competitors come close with such enviable pedigree. The other two aspirants, Akpabio and Kalu, are political strangers with baggage who allegedly joined the APC to evade prosecution by the EFCC.
Again, Izunaso has no case pending before the EFFCC, ICPC, NFIU or any other anti-corruption agency in the land. He is not controversial. Izunaso also is in good standing with his colleagues from across the country. There is no doubt that he would draw from the repertoire of his vast political experience to give the needed stabilizing support to the Tinubu administration. The cap fits him. Given the amount of work he has done in terms of consultations and his unrivalled antecedents, Izunaso is likely to spring a major surprise as the 10th Senate is convened to elect its leaders.
▪Chukwu, a public affairs analyst wrote from Abuja.