In an interview with a team of newspapers, a high ranking Senator of the South East extractions, Senator Osita Izunaso, speaks on issues of who becomes the President of the10th Senate. Excerpts:
Distinguished, first of all, we want to specially congratulate you for your return to the Senate.
Thank you very much
How has the journey been?
My brother, your guess is as good as mine. It has not been easy, but in all things we give God all the praise, we are alive and we are here now.
How can you describe your re-election back to Senate?
It was not easy at all! Every APC candidate that emerged victorious in the 2023 elections from the Southeast geopolitical zone deserves commendation, our victory is like the provabial camel passing through the eye of a needle. It was not funny at aaall, because this time around, the Southeast had a major frontline Presidential candidate who enjoyed massive support and sympathy from voters of the zone. It was not an easy election I can say that a million times.
But you’ve had elections many many times, what makes this one special and what was the big challenge you encountered?
You know this time around, we have one of us Mr. Peter Obi contesting for the President of the country, coming from that geopolitical zone so every attention, support and sympathy were focused on him by our people, for him being a son of the soil of the Southeast, but few of us escaped the unslaught because the people believed in us and they believed that when we get to the National Assembly, we will deliver the dividends to them, that was why they voted for me, but it wasn’t an easy task, I can assure you that it wasn’t an easy task. A lot of people didn’t make it.
If not for my humble credibility and intergrity, I may not have survived the heavy wave, windstorm and political unslaught that devastated the entire Southeast during the 2023 elections which even swept away some sitting governors
What’s your motivation to vie for President of the Senate?
I believe I have what it takes, the capacity to lead the 10th Senate having been around legislative political corridors for a very long while. I have been in the House of Representatives as far back as 2003, in the Senate 2007, and I have run our Party APC as the National Organizing Secretary for five solid years during which I handled two conventions, one in 2014, infact, two conventions in 2014. The first National Convention of APC took place in Abuja in 2014, where we elected the Party officials, after which we moved to Lagos in December same 2014 to elect our Presidential flag bearer; and I want to beat my chest to say that under my watch as the National Organizing Secretary, we never had a single litigation. We conducted 36 governorship primaries, there was not a single litigation, why, because we did the right thing. You will agree with me that, that is what it means to show capacity. You know we battled a sitting President, therefore, we needed to do everything right to wrestle power from them; so if I could hold the Party at that level from its formation stage when we didn’t even know we were going to win, why won’t I be able to lead the Red Chambers effectively as Senate President.
I am a founding member of APC, we travelled to Lagos every weekend for good six months during the formation stages, to coin the name and get it right, we designed the logo, bringing together components of other parties making up the proposed APC then before going for registration in the corporate affairs. Governor Fashola is alive today, he knows all I am saying because he was part of the whole thing from day one; he was a member of the committee, we met everyday for good three months in Abuja putting together the APC constitution.
So for me, I can actually say, it should be a *”Pay Back Time for me”.* Having sacrificed my time, energy, scarce resources and services for the APC, I think it is only fair and just for the Party to think it wise to compensate me, I think the time is now. *Having served selflessly without blemish through rain and shine, during turbulent times when there was no ray of hope for the Party, I think I deserve to be compensated;* and having contested election and fortunately returned to the Senate, I think I am well qualified to vie for the position of the Senate President, and why won’t I seek for it and why wouldn’t APC in their wisdom not consider and compensate me? I’ve paid my dues in the Party, I have sacrificed a lot enough to earn me adequate compensation from the APC; if I am not qualified, that should had been a different ball game.
The people dragging the position of Senate President with me today were in PDP, they were not in APC, they castigated the Party then as *”dead on arrival”* during the formation stage, and recall, PDP did everything within their powers then to frustrate the registration of the Party at the corporate affairs commission because they were in power.
We formed and funded the Party, nurtured and ran it through its formation stage till today, some of them just joined the Party about 4-5years ago. Yes, it is said the more the merrier, so, we heartily welcome them to APC, but if we hadn’t sustained the Party and won, they may not have joined.
What do you think are your chances among about five or six of you are in the race?
Thank you, all the Senators elect seeking for the Senate President’s position are qualified in their own rights, but what I am saying is that, I am more qualified than any of them in all ramifications.
Let me say this, when you are in a race where every aspirant claims they are sure they will win, you don’t disclose your strategies; all you need to do is to ignore them and focus on the ball. I am doing my own thing, I am not brandishing numbers, some of the contenders are claiming they have 70 Senators to their sides, some say they have 80, some claim 90 Senators are with them, and I marvel; for God’s sake how many Senators do we have in the Red Chambers, only 109.
You know in 2015, when Gbajabiamila ran against Dogara, Gbajabiamila had about 285 House of Representatives members elect that supposedly signed on for him, which invariably means that less than 100 may be left for Dogara, however, when they voted at the floor, Dogara defeated Gbajabiamila. So, when people brandish numbers in an uncommon election such as that of principal officers of the National Assembly, simply ignore them because everything will end at the floor of the Senate.
That’s talking from experience I guess?
Of course yes! With my humble years of experience at the corridors of legislative politics, you don’t expect me to be talking about numbers when I know that ultimately, it is the Senators that will eventually determine who emerges at the end of the day and I am engaging them one-on-one, we are talking, we are discussing, we are strategizing. I am sharing my ideas of what I am going to do to them when I become the Senate President by the grace of God and they are keying in and buying into it, so why would I want to be brandishing numbers saying so, so, so and so numbers of Senators are supporting me, no! I would prefer to keep that to my chest so that you don’t even know my strength.
There are insinuations that you may strategically be routing for Deputy Senate President?
That is a lie and wish of the devil, the handiwork of detractors! How can someone in my humble capacity be running for an election and you now say I will step down for somebody, step down for who? Don’t forget I’m from a place. Where I come from, the Southeast geopolitical zone, they believe its their turn to produce the Senate President.
What makes the Southeast believe it’s their turn?
For equity, fairness, justice and more importantly, for political balancing and dousing of tention in the system. There is so much tension in the country, the polity is over heated, we must take conscious steps and do everything possible to douse it.
Secondly, the Southeast believe they haven’t gotten anything substantial in the political equation in the country, since from the days of the PDP in power, to the present day of the APC.
You remember the Southeast supported Goodluck Jonathan when he rose to become the President of this country; so, Southsouth had Goodluck Jonathan as vice President to President Yar’adua, and had same Goodluck Jonathan as President; Southwest had President Obasanjo, vice President Osinbajo and the incoming President, Bola Tinubu, so where is the place of the Southeast in all of these, nothing! even within the ranks of the APC as a party, nothing! I can tell you that if anybody denies the Southeast of this opportunity to produce the next Senate President, that person will not been fair.
You are aware that the Southsouth had produced two national Chairmen of the Party, Chief Oyegun and Adams Oshiomole, Southsouth had also produced national Secretary of the Party, John Akpan from Akwa-Ibom State; the Southwest Produced the very first national Chairman of the Party, Chief Bisi Akande; and as we speak now, Southwest is having the national Secretary of the APC, Omisore. Also, as we speak, the Southsouth is holding the position of the deputy Senate President, Omo Agege, so, what are we talking about, what do we have in the Southeast, absolutely nothing!
Distinguished, don’t you think lack of support for the APC by the Southeast is a major cause in all these?
No, no, no, no, no, no! that will be grossly misleading.
I don’t think anybody will want to use that as a criteria. How can you say Southeast did not vote? Even, come to think of it, what exactly is in it for the Southeast that could have motivated them to vote?
Let’s look at it, in the Southwest, you have the President, you have the Speaker, in the Northwest, you have President Buhari, in the Northwest you have Ahmed Lawal the Senate President, in the Southsouth, you have Deputy Senate President. In the Northcentral, you have Deputy Speaker together with the National Chairman of the Party;* so what is motivating factor that could have spurred the Southeast and motivated them enough to even want to vote in the first instance?
How can anybody say Southeast did not vote, when the zone produced two governors from the APC, meanwhile as we speak now, APC is the leading Party in the Southeast today. By May 29, we shall have 2 governors, PDP1, Labour 1, APGA 1, today, we have 6 Senators elect from the Southeast.
When we started APC in 2015, we didn’t have any Senator elect in the Southeast from the Party, but today we have 6, Labour Party 6, PDP 1, APGA 1 and YPP 1; meaning that the APC have greatly pogressed to the extent that if you are saying that we didn’t vote during the Presidential election, you will then ask yourself, how then did we manage to produce the 6 Senators?
Let met tell you, in my local government where I come from, I got 21, 000 votes, our Presidential candidate Asiwaju got 18,000 votes. I won the election with about 70, 000 votes while Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu made 66, 000 votes in my Senatorial district, all are on record with INEC, so, when people say Southeast did not vote for APC Presidential candidate, that is totally false, it is not correct.
Okay Distinguished, what are your strategies to win over your colleagues, are you aware that some of the contenders are throwing around very huge sums of money jn foreign currencies, Dollars, to elected members and other stakeholders to gain their support?
First of all, I am not aware that money is exchanging hands among Senators elect because nobody has given me any and I have not given nobody any money, these are mere rumours.
What I am selling to my colleagues is the content of what I intend to do when I become the Senate President.
I have a 10 Point agenda for the 10th Senate and I am marketing it among my colleagues and they are buying into it.
Are you sure you are not going against the Party’s zoning arrangements on where the Senate Presidency should go?
No, no, no! If you read the letter the APC issued on the zoning issue, they didn’t say they had zoned. In their letter, they were calling for further and better consultations, that is what the second paragraph of the letter states, ”that we, the NWC are calling for further and better consultations among critical stakeholders including aspirants.” So, the purported zoning is not the Party’s document.
The APC as a Party has a well articulated mechanism of doing things. If they wanted to make zoning of this nature, they may decide to set up a committee. The committee will finish their work and make recommendations to the NWC, the NWC will inturn make recommendations to the NEC; but before moving to NEC, the NWC would have briefed the national caucus and make efforts to get the buy-in of the President elect, the sitting President and ofcourse other critical stakeholders, like the sitting Senate President, the Speaker and even all of us aspiring for the positions, before moving to NEC, because when they move to NEC that will be final and that is the only time one can say the Party have zoned. What you see flying in the media space are mere recommendations. It is not in the natue of the APC to go to the extent of micro-zoning to individuals a position which they know will definitely end up at the floor of the chambers; and I don’t think it is right for them to do so.
Let me say this, elections of principal officers in the National Assembly will take place at the floor of the two chambers, if you are not a Senator elect or a House of Representatives member elect, you will never participate in the voting, you will not even be allowed into the chambers, it is when they have entered the chambers which I will like to describe as conlave, that the presiding officers will emerge, from the Senate first, before the House of Reps.
What kind of leadership would you provide if given the opportunity to serve the Senate President?
When I become the Senate President, because I know I will be the next Senate President, I will want to rebrand the Senate. The Senate requires urgent rebranding. Somany things people don’t know about the Red chambers, people have a lot of wrong perceptions and misconceptions about the Senate as it is currently run.
We need to look at the Senate again and rebrand. If big brands like the Coca-cola can intermittently rebrand, what stops us from rebranding the Senate?
I will embark on proper enlightenment campaign about what we are doing, the function of the Senate.
We are going to be looking at national cohesion and national integration; we shall look at youth restiveness, youths unemployment and consciously make laws that will begin to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, in Nigeria today, we don’t have middle class.
I was elected into the House of Reps as far back as 2003 and into the Senate in 2007, but before then, I’ve worked in the House of Representatives as a staff, also worked in the Senate as staff and im not sure any of my contemporaries have that pedigree, all I’m saying that, I am the most qualified at this point in time for the President of the 10th Senate; therefore, it should be payback time for me.