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‘How Lawan can become Senate President’

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Senator Margery, widow of former Senate President Chuba Okadigbo, spoke with reporters in Abuja on the plight of her late husband as number three citizen. She also spoke on the feeling of marginalisation by the Southeast and what President Muhammadu Buhari can do to succeed in his second term. Assistant Editor GBADE OGUNWALE was there.

If Dr. Chuba Okadigbo were to be around today, perhaps, he would have offered a word of advice to the three lawmakers vying for the position of Senate President in the Ninth Senate.

Okadigbo, whose tenure as President of the Forth Senate witnessed so much turbulence, got thrown under a moving bus by an adversary. Okadigbo became the President of the Senate against the wish and desire of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He stepped on the proverbial banana peel and the rest is history.

Okadigbo’s widow, Senator Margery who stood by her husband through the testy times, has been watching the contest for the President of the Ninth Senate from the sidelines. With the benefit of hindsight, she would rather urge the contestants to tread softly. The turf, she cautioned, is too slippery for anyone to believe they can skid to victory. Mrs. Okadigbo them advised them against anti-party activities just to meet an end. According to her, one may benefit personally from engaging in anti-party activities, but it will ultimately end up a Pyrrhic victory. Perhaps the leadership of the Present Senate can tell the story better.

Using Dr. Okadigbo as case study, she said both individuals and political parties, even a President, can be guilty of playing anti-party activities.

Her words: “The party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) hounded him from day one. When we begin to talk about anti-party, it started with Chuba Okadigbo. Remember that the PDP as senators-elect, had all decided that they wanted Okadigbo as the Senate President.

“But, some people decided that Okadigbo as Senate President was not what they wanted, and on the floor of the Senate, there was anti-party. The PDP as a party hired the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the APP All Peoples Party (APP) at the time and voted against their own candidate. That was why the then President Obasanjo went and solicited support from other parties, because PDP was in clear majority and the majority of PDP senators wanted Okadigbo.

The PDP at the time was a united party, but somebody started the anti-party. It did not start today. My husband was the first case. You can even add that when it came to inducements, we know when it started. So, some of these issues that we are talking about today, they have been in existence a long time ago”. Mrs. Okadigbo, however, is of the view that with their majority status, senators-elect of the All Progressives Congress (APC) can change the narrative.

She counsels: “If the senators-elect believe in the supremacy of the party they belong to, they should know that their first responsibility is to defend their party. And in defence of their party, they have to first understand that the APC is in the majority. I am not talking about any influences on the outside. I am talking about them as senators-elect. They should understand and I am sure they do know that they are in the majority. So, if they are in the majority, they should stay together as the party in majority and vote the person who will be their Senate President. They do not need to solicit the participation of any other party”.

In most cases,  personal interests and the quest to leverage on loyalty to a particular candidate in the long run, have always dictated how some senators-elect vote on the floor, with little regard for party discipline.

To Mrs. Okadigbo, without sanctions, the trend may continue to dominate politics in the legislature in a long time to come.

She said: “I just said that the first thing senators-elect should do is to respect the decision of the platform upon which they were elected. You know there have not been any sanctions for all these cross carpeting and what have you. Until we get sanctions, party discipline will never be in place. I just said that the APC, being the majority should understand that they are the majority, and they should work on the basis of party supremacy. And if out of the 109 senators, the APC, which has about 64, decides amongst themselves to elect a member, they will have the majority. They do not need to go looking for other parties to support them. They can still choose who they want by staying together”.

So far, three returnee senators, Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North), Ali Ndume (Borno South) and Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central) are in the race. However, the leadership of the APC has expressed a preference for Lawan, but Ndume and Goje have refused to back down. Even as the APC has maintained that its choice of Lawan is cast in hard granite, Okadigbo said the issue goes far beyond that.

Her recipe: “I am not even sure the party’s insistence on Lawan can work on its own. They are not dealing with children. I am saying that the APC senators-elect are in the majority. The 64 or so of them should have their shadow election. They should be mature about this thing. If they have three people that want to be Senate President, the 64 of them should have their shadow election and decide on whom it will be and whoever it is that they decide on, they should take it to the floor. At that point, they are the majority because they are coming with one voice”.

Mrs. Okadigo observes a disconnect between the Executive and the National Assembly, particularly the Senate in the present dispensation. She opined that the APC cannot afford a repeat of the acrimony that characterised the relationship between the two arms of government in the unfolding dispensation.

A few years after the death of her husband, Mrs Okadigbo represented Anambra North Senatorial District from 2011 to 2015 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The ex-lawmaker had joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) early 2018 and had re-contested the seat in the February 23, 2019 election. She lost the contest to the confusion and in-fighting among party chieftains in the district. She described the Anambra chapter of the APC as a house of confusion. For someone who played an active role in the PDP during the 2017 governorship election in Anambra State, her decision to join the APC came to many as a surprise.

Apparently in recognition of her contributions to the APC, the leadership of the party has appointed her into the APC committee for the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari coming up on May 29. What is her expectation after the inauguration, more so given the fact that her husband was Buhari’s running mate during the 2007 presidential election?

She replies: “I really do not think this is a fair question to ask. The reason is that President Buhari has been in power since 2015. In 2015, as I said, I was not around. I had issues that led to the loss of my son. So for me as a parent and as a single parent at that time, that was my priority.

Four years later, there is a new situation. The government is back in power. At this point, I ran an election on that platform. It is a family I know. In all these years, I have been in touch with them. I have had a relationship with them. Even when I lost my son, the First Lady sent quite a delegation to Ogbunike because this was happening at a time when she also had her son involved in an accident. So, there were two mothers in situations involving their children.

“However, government is unfolding and I am available. I am ready to serve in any capacity that I find myself. Right now, I am in the service of the inauguration committee, preparing for the inauguration. So, I do not know where it will head or where it will end up. But wherever it is, I am ready”.

Politically speaking, would the situation have been different if Dr Okadigbo were to be around?

She said: “When I went to the Senate, I always tell people that, if Dr Okadigbo woke up and you told him that I went to the Senate, he will tell you to leave him to continue his sleep because he would never have believed it. That is why I say that politically, I am a child of circumstance. I never had any godfather, and I did not wake up and say to myself that today I am going to be a politician. Although I have always been in a political home. My paternal uncle, the late Nwafor Orizu, was my grandmother’s younger brother. My grandmother is an Orizu. So, I have always been in a political family. Then I married into politics. When it comes to representing Anambra North, I am richly qualified. I was born in Anambra North and I married from Anambra North. I think everything depends on time and circumstance and when that time and circumstance are right, things will fall into place.”

Asked if Chuba Okadigbo would have joined the APC if he were to be alive today? “Yes, if my late husband was alive, he would have been in APC, that is what I can tell you from what I know of him. If I recall, he said that he may not be here, but Muhammadu Buhari will forge ahead. So, I have no doubt that Chuba would have been a member of APC. My husband was a politician; he learnt it, he taught it, he practiced it. There are no two ways about it. The man was a tactician. So, maybe, he would have been able to offer something. Even at a young age of thirty-something, when he was political adviser to Shehu Shagari, he had a lot to offer. So, I do not doubt for one moment that Chuba would have been APC”.

She felt no qualms joining the APC, despite complaints from her kinsmen in the South East, that the Igbo are being marginalisation by the Buhari administration. Does she see things differently?

She said: “I want to talk about a simple thing like the Zik Mausoleum. That Zik Mausoleum has been hanging for so many years. It took Buhari’s government to finish it. I was sitting as a Senator for Anambra North when we went for the ground breaking of the Second Niger Bridge in the year 2013 or 2014.

“But before Jonathan, there had been talks about Second Niger Bridge. But today, I can tell you that Second Niger Bridge is happening. Talking about roads, there are roads now being done. Remember, in the Senate on one of those occasions when we had the debate, I said that the Second Niger Bridge in particular was a campaign slogan for most politicians in the Southeast.

“The Southeast has not learnt that political arithmetic. We are yet to learn it. I stand exactly where Dr. Okadigbo stood in 2003, that one plus one does not necessarily give you two; that one plus one can give you zero. But that you can play one plus one and it will give you five. We are yet to understand that political arithmetic and we get it wrong all the time. Until we learn to do it, just like he said years ago, we will never get it right in the Southeast”.

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