Izunaso, Kalu and South East’s Quest for Senate Presidency

Following the successful swearing-in of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his vice on May 29, 2023, Izunaso Kalu and South East’s Quest for Senate Presidency.

The leadership of the two chambers is at the centre of issues that are gathering traction and that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has been struggling to settle since the president’s inauguration. The party’s candidates are likely to be the primary officers in both chambers.

However, attention is focused more on who holds the job of President of the Senate, the country’s third highest position.

Izunaso Kalu and South East’s Quest for Senate Presidency
Izunaso Kalu and South East’s Quest for Senate Presidency. Photo Credit: @thenigeriansenate: Instagram

If the zoning arrangement given by the party is any indication, one of the senators from the South-east or South-south geopolitical zones will be appointed.

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The competition is already getting traction, with contestants from both regions exhibiting interest in the seat. Former governors of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio of the South-South, Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State, and Senator Osita Izunaso of the South-East have all expressed their intentions to run for the position.

While Akpabio and his supporters have argued that the zone has never held the position since the current administration and that the South-east has held the position for four years, the Southeast has insisted that taking the position away from the zone would mean deepening the party’s alleged marginalization of the zone.

Proponents of this position refer to an established structure that has always permitted the zone to produce the President of the Senate whenever the Presidency has moved to the Southwest, as well as the need to integrate the zone within the party.

They further argue that since the party’s formation, the South-South has produced the national leadership, among other coveted positions.

This school of thought also believes that permitting the South-east to produce the next Senate President was the quickest method to entrench the party in the region, especially given the region’s rejection of the PDP in the past elections and the Labour Party’s breakthroughs. They say that because the party now controls two states in the zone, it is necessary to continue encouraging the region.

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However, there are strong indications that Izunaso will win the office if it is assigned to the Southeast area. This is because, unlike Kalu, he has been with the party since its start and hence appears more sellable.

According to sources, the Imo West senator, a former journalist, is a seasoned politician. He was a Special Assistant to former Governor Achike Udenwa on media and information when he became the APC’s first National Organising Secretary.

Following his appointment to the Udenwa administration, he was elected to the House of Representatives to represent the Oguta/Ohaji Egbema/Oru West federal constituency on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform.

Udenwa allegedly used him to block Senator Arthur Nzeribe, who had served the constituency since 1979, from remaining in the Senate after only one term in the Green Chamber. He served as the senator for Imo West from 2007 until 2011.

He attempted to reclaim his Senate seat but was denied because the Supreme Court declared that the current governor of the state, Hope Uzodinma, was the genuine candidate of the PDP in the election.

Angered by the situation, Izunaso abandoned the PDP in 2011 to form the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) alongside Chief Rochas Okorocha. He was one of the key figures who followed the Okorocha side to the APC merger.

As a result, he was elected as the party’s National Organising Secretary, a position that enabled him to re-launch his Senate bid in 2015, however, he was beaten by Uzodimma.

He also ran for the seat again in 2019 on the APGA platform, finishing third behind APC’s Okorocha and PDP’s Jones Onyereri.  Following his defeat, he returned to the APC to help Uzodinma expand the party.

In 2023, his commitment gained him the senatorial ticket of the party, and he was proclaimed the winner of the Imo West senate election.

Another element that may increase his chances of being apprehended is that he has no cases with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or any criminal cases at all. His state, Imo, is also one of the two APC-controlled states in the South-east. Akpabio and Kalu’s states, Akwa Ibom and Abia, are controlled by the PDP and the Labour Party, respectively.

The lawyer-turned-politician, who was born on October 30, 1966, is reported to have a close working connection with Uzodinma.

According to the analysts, Uzodinma will pull the necessary strings on his behalf to highlight his importance in the party as well as his leadership of the APC in the Southeast area. They also stated that knowing how popular and consistent Izunaso has become in Imo State politics over the years, Uzodinma would have to mobilize support for him, knowing that victory for him would help his re-election chances in the state’s governorship race in November.

He was chosen chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) last Wednesday. The Forum is made up of governors elected on the APC platform, and it acts as a forum for collaboration, policy creation, and experience sharing among members.

What this will do to Izunaso’s senate presidency aspiration is create an opportunity for Uzodinma to rally his colleagues behind the cause.