Despite some reservations, the new leaders of the Eighth National Assembly emerged yesterday. Managing Editor YUSUF ALLI revisits some of the intrigues behind the choice of Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu as leaders of the Red Chamber.
SAN faults process
A Senior advocate, Robert Clarke, has faulted the process that produced a new leadership for the Senate yesterday.
Clarke, who spoke on Channel Television, asserted that what the senators did amounted to disenfranchising 51 other members at a time they were not sworn in.
He noted that the rule of the Senate that the senators quoted to support their claim on quorum formation was equally wrong.
He called on the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to fight the matter in court.
After two weeks of horse-trading, lobbying and outright conspiracy, the battle for the soul of the Senate climaxed in a coup d’etat by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that led to the emergence of ex-Kwara State Governor Bukola Saraki as the President of the Eighth Senate and the return of Chief Ike Ekweremadu as the Deputy Senate President for the third term. With a configuration of 59 All Progressives Congress (APC) senators to PDP’s 49, the development saw the PDP regaining a little rebound from the devastating defeat it suffered in the hand of the rival APC on March 28 and April 11 elections.
Countdown to inauguration
Prior to the inauguration, there had been bitter straw polls in the APC which led to the selection of Ahmed Lawan and George Akume as the party’s candidates for the Office of the Senate presidency and and Deputy Senate Presidency. Former Minority Leader Femi Gbajabiamila and Tahir Monguno also emerged as the party’s preferred candidates for the leadership of the House of Representatives. The outcome of the shadow elections created rumpus in the party with those defeated threatening to defy the APC leadership. Worried by the threats, APC National Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun, said: “I want to appeal to APC members of the National Assembly, both Senate and the House of Representatives, to please respect the party, the views of the party and the decision that they themselves took in selecting the persons that will be presented to the National Assembly as presiding officers.”
lacuna and G-7 meeting
Despite the choice of National Assembly leaders being a mixture of party politics and legislative duty, the aloofness, or the perceived neutrality of the President allowed the ‘fight’ wthin APC to fester until it went of hand. Until President Muhammadu Buhari left for the G-7 meeting last Friday, the jostle for the Senate Presidency was still an open race between Saraki and Lawan. But pro-Saraki loyalists used the opportunity to work on strategists, friends, associates and relations of the President on why Lawan is loyal to APC National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
A respected source said: “In what appeared like a brainwash, they warned these people not to allow Tinubu to form a ring around the President. They even attributed some concocted statements to Tinubu to create a gulf between him and the President. The overall target was to instigate the relations and associates of the President to influence him. And these propagandists spoke with those who have the ears of the President.
In order to checkmate Femi Gbajabiamila, who enjoyed considerable followership, loyalists of the new Speaker of the House of Representatives dug into archives and recruited some elements to approach the court to hang moral issues on his neck over his alleged disrobing in the United States of America (USA). And the last straw that broke the Carmel’s back was the twilight propaganda among members from the Northwest, Northeast and Northcentral that Gabajabiamila is not a Muslim as being claimed. It was therefore not a surprise that Dogara, who could barely garner 56 votes among his APC colleagues went on to clinch the speakership position with 182 votes yesterday.
The hefty funding of the anti-APC project by some PDP governors, stalwarts and those who served as ministers under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan assisted in deepening the crisis over the scramble for power between the camps of Saraki and Lawan.
Huge funds were spent to camp and cater for potential voters such that those otherwise rated as conscientious lawmakers sold out in the end. “I think the highest bidder had an upper hand, “said a Senator from the Northwest. The target of these PDP moneybags is to prove that the APC is not prepared for governance at all.”
One major issue that dominated the pre-inauguration politics of the National Assembly leadership was the alleged marginalisation of members of the New PDP which defected from the PDP to the APC in the power-sharing formula of the Buhari administration. President Buhari’s delay in appointing key aides like the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chief of Staff also fuelled the suspicion of the New PDP elements that they might be completely edged out. These fears were shared with new senators and representatives leading to leaders of the New PDP taking their destiny in their hands by hijacking the Senate and House leadership. By the time some APC governors convened in Abuja on Monday, it was difficult and too late to salvage the situation
Botched meeting with Buhari
Against all predictions of a possible neck-to-neck contest between Saraki and the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Sen. Ahmed Lawan, the PDP played a smart one on the ruling APC to “install” Saraki. The day began with suspense and a water-tight security siege on the National Assembly. The militarisation left most mobile phones of Senators and members-elect, guests, workers and journalists buzzing, seeking intervention on how to gain entrance into the sprawling Assembly Complex. No one was sure the election of the principal officers of the Senate would hold. In ensuing confusion, a terse statement by the APC National Publicity Secretary Lai Mohammed inviting the Senators and members-elect for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the International Conference Centre (ICC) provided some relief. The invitation was said to be at the behest of the President. The summons however provided the PDP an opportunity to act faster to install Saraki.
While 51 pro-Lawan Senators relocated to the ICC, Abuja for an emergency audience with the President, 57 Senators (mostly PDP) hurriedly left for the Senate Chamber for the inauguration of the Eighth Senate. The bewildered 51 APC Senators, who were waiting endlessly for the President in ICC, watched the proceeding of the inaugural session from a nearby TV box. Before the 51 APC Senators could race down the five-kilometre stretch from ICC to the Assembly Complex, Saraki had emerged as an unopposed candidate. To add insult to injury, President Muhammadu Buhari neither showed up nor sent apology to the stranded Senators at the ICC. They were left at the mercy of troops from the Brigade of Guards, who had already been deployed in the centre ahead of the supposed arrival of the President.
Conspiracy and the
According to investigation, the initial plan by the President was to delay the inauguration of the Senate by one hour for fence mending by APC members of the National Assembly and re-strategise on how to stop the PDP from capitalising on the crack in the party. If the strategy had walked, the inauguration would have held at about 11am.
A highly-placed source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The President had actually made up his mind to be at the ICC but there were feelers that some associates and strategists prevailed on him not to dabble in the selection of the Assembly leadership because he will portray himself as an inconsistent leader having promised not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Legislature.
“Probably acting pro-Saraki’s script, these associates/ strategists made the President to realise that his last-minute intervention would amount to dancing to the tune of one man: Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
“The joker probably made sense to the President and he chose to abandon the meeting at the ICC. Unfortunately, there was no communication between his office and the 51 APC Senators who heeded his invitation.
“It was around 10.35am, we saw that the inaugural session was already on and Saraki had been elected. If we were to be defeated, it should have been done on the floor.”
A battle of forces at play
The forces behind Saraki were as intimidating as those for Lawan. These include: former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, some of the former G-5 governors (like Rabiu Kwankwaso, Aliyu Wammako), who defected from the PDP. Others are former governors Ahmed Sani Yerima (Zamfara), Danjuma Goje (Gombe), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Theoodore Orji (Abia) as well as governors Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (Sokoto), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), Dr. Rahman Mimiko (Ondo) and Nyesom Wike (Rivers).
As for Lawan, he pulled heavyweights from the APC National Working Committee (NWC), Asiwaju Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande, APC governors, ex-governors Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa), Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe and Adamu Aliero (Kebbi). They include: senators Kabir Gaya, Ajayi Borrofice, Gemade Barnabas, Adamu Abdullahi, Jide Omoworare, Abu Ibrahim, Bayero Nafada, Gbenga Ashafa, Sola Adeyeye, Abdullahi Abubakar Gumel, Suleiman Hunkuyi, Ahmed Barau Jibrin and Isiaka Adeleke.
Others are: senators Nazif Suleiman, Nafada Ibrahim, Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu, Shehu Sani, Solomon Olamilekan, Kabiru Marafa, Fatai Buhari, Mrs. Monsurat Sunmonu, Soji Akanbi, Bala Na’Allah, Umaru Kurfi, and Mustapha Sani.
between Saraki and PDP
The last-minute deal between the PDP and Saraki was sealed at the residence of former Senate President David Mark in Abuja. At the meeting which held Sunday night were PDP Senators and governors. The meeting lasted till the wee hours of Monday. The session was tense on who to support for the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives.
A top source said: “At the end of the day, we could not agree on bloc votes for any of the candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives. In fact, Governor Ayodele Fayose pleaded with party leaders to see the battles as one between PDP and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. He begged the party to ‘clip’ Tinubu’s wings.
“But some senators-elect warned Fayose against going personal. They queried the morality behind PDP supporting candidates who defected from the party to APC. They alleged that their defection led to the defeat of PDP at the Centre.
“The governors also split on who to back for the National Assembly offices. At the end of the day, we could not reach a consensus on casting our votes en bloc for any of the candidates for the leadership of the National Assembly. I can tell you that everyone was on his own.”
Notwithstanding, the PDP senators later opted to vote on Monday night on who to back in the Senate. In the wee hours of yesterday, 28 opted for Saraki/Ekweremadu ticket and 17 consented to Ahmed Lawan/George Akume ticket. The same voting strength was taken to the inaugural session of the Eighth Senate.
A source added: “We were at a crossroads on whether to forgive Saraki for defecting to the APC or paying back the APC in its own coins for making Aminu Tambuwal, the Speaker of the Seventh Senate, to defect in defiance of the PDP directive. We basically went for vengeance because all is fair in politics.
“Our assumption is that were it not for mismanagement of PDP crisis, the likes of Saraki are PDP in spirit and APC by circumstance. When there is realignment of forces, we believe we can still work together.”
But findings confirmed that the choice of Saraki was with a cost. The new President of the Senate was ‘forced’ to sacrifice his favourite for the Office of the Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ali Ndume, who was the arrowhead of Saraki’s campaign in the North. Although Ndume got a wind of the plot on Monday evening, he dismissed it as “distracting and impossible for Saraki to dump him.”
Another source added: “Till the last minutes, they sold a dummy to Ndume that he will be Deputy Senate President of the Senate if Saraki gets the ticket.
“But as soon as Saraki won, Ekweremadu was nominated for delivering bloc votes of the Senators-elect from the Southeast in collaboration with Senator Andy Uba.”
Five reasons Saraki emerged as Senate President
•Gang up against Tinubu and the Southwest.
The outcome of the results of the election of leaders of the National Assembly showed a deep-seated hatred for Asiwaju Tinubu. Some APC leaders were said to be angry that President Buhari at every forum had always acknowledged Tinubu as if he was the only hero of change in the country. A few ones assumed that the President was conceding too much to Tinubu and that former Lagos governor must be cut to size. Others also felt that with the Office of the Vice President, the Southwest has got more than its fair share of power. The amalgam of forces merely used Saraki as the springboard.
•Sheer politics of betrayal.
Many, who won tickets into the National Assembly on the goodwill of Tinubu, opted to betray him. They just keyed into the plot against Tinubu without weighing the consequences.
•Absence of a power-sharing formula in APC
The refusal of the APC leadership to address this important index of power-sharing formula deprived its National Assembly members of the much-needed unity. If there had been an acceptable formula in place, the situation may not degenerate to this extent. What Saraki did was to be tactical in conceding the Deputy Senate President to the Southeast which is almost relegated to the background by the Buhari administration.
•Emerging politics of realignment.
Saraki’s election has signposted the looming realignment of forces between some APC and PDP leaders in the race to 2019. Ekweremadu has been saddled with the responsibility of repositioning the PDP and he is already reaching out to aggrieved APC leaders. In christening their group, pro-Saraki forces branded it as ‘Senators of Like Minds’. The successful alliance between PDP and loyalists of Saraki might be the beginning of what the nation should expect in the next few months. According to sources, one of the sections which the Eighth National Assembly might review is the one which makes defection unlawful. This will enable APC members in the National Assembly to romance the PDP, or engage in anti-party activities. Some APC leaders saw some hope in the proposed realignment and embraced Saraki.
The records of Saraki has built a huge political network for him. The mileage includes being a former governor, a former Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), his role in the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, experience as a former presidential endowment with charitable war chest and now a two-term Senator.
PDP’s coup for Buhari
Responding to the emergence of leadership in the Senate, Buhari said “though a constitutional process has somewhat occurred”, he would have preferred that the wish of the APC leadership was respected on the choice of candidates. The agenda of PDP in supporting Saraki smacked of “vengeance.” The coup is a signal of of likely antagonism, criticisms and reckless opposition politics that Buhari should expect henceforth. At least, President Buhari will be kept on his toes by the PDP if he has the political temperament to withstand it. The PDP is ready to hold him responsible for all his campaign promises and he might not have a rest of mind until he delivers.
What becomes of Saraki’s tenure? Will there be peace in the National Assembly?
Since yesterday, the debate has focused on the legality of the election of the President of the Senate by 57 Senators, the Speaker and other principal officers of the National Assembly. Prof. Auwalu Yadudu, who was a former Special Adviser on Legal Matters to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, said the election of Saraki was illegal and unconstitutional. The Clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, however, said “37 Senators were needed to form a quorum.” The Constitution says any member of the National Assembly can lead any of the chambers with votes from one-third of members.
For a National Assembly that has been bankrolled from its first assignment, President Buhari may as well forget his anti-corruption agenda. A case of “money for hand, back for ground cannot be ruled out.”
But the APC raised moral issue on the emergence of Saraki.
In a statement by its spokesman Mohammed, the APC said: “APC decried a situation in which some people, based on nothing but inordinate ambition and lack of discipline and loyalty, will enter into an unholy alliance with the very same people whom the party and indeed the entire country worked hard to replace and sell out the hard won victory of the party.
‘’There can be no higher level of treachery, disloyalty and insincerity within any party,’’ the party said, vowing to resolve the matter using all constitutional and legal means available to it.”
Although the APC has directed the ‘dribbled’ 51 Senators to go to the Senate for inauguration, the nation might have not heard the last word on Saraki’s emergence and others. The PDP coup might lead to a change of leadership or distress in the Senate and House of Representatives. The extent to which Saraki is able to manage the aftermath of the election will determine his political altitude. But certainly, a counter-plot against his presidency is not unlikely by the PDP or even APC.
Is APC’s future bleak?
The tone of the reaction of APC suggested a looming crisis ahead. The APC is already threatening sanctions against some of its chieftains.
It said: “Senator Bukola and Hon. Dogara are not the candidates of the APC and a majority of its National Assembly members-elect for the positions of Senate President and House Speaker. The party duly met and conducted a straw poll and clear candidates emerged for the posts of Senate President, Deputy Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, supported by a majority of all Senators-elect and members-elect of the House of Representatives. All National Assembly members-elect who emerged on the platform of the party are bound by that decision.
‘’The party is supreme and its interest is superior to that of its individual members. ‘Consequently, the APC leadership is meeting in a bid to re-establish discipline in the party and to mete out the necessary sanctions to all those involved in what is nothing but a monumental act of indiscipline and betrayal to subject the party to ridicule and create obstacles for the new administration.”
Unless an urgent reconciliation is put in place, the anti-party activities which led to Saraki’s Senate Presidency might cause a prolong crisis in the party. And with plans by the APC leadership to enforce discipline, some leaders might call it quit with the party.
Will Buhari now assert himself?
Even if President Buhari is not interested in a second term, he owes the APC a duty to keep the party intact. The coup in the National Assembly by PDP is a litmus test for his leadership prowess. The President may need to assert himself by playing a fatherly role to reunite his political platform that is in tatters. When some leaders met with the President after the coup in the Senate, he was said to “be hollow” without a solution to the crisis at hand. The time to act is now.