OPINION: Saraki and the Battle for 2019. By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to say right away that the ways of politicians are never that of ordinary mortals. Otherwise, we would not have found ourselves in the present peculiar mess which culminated in the virtual fiasco at the National Assembly, last Tuesday, June 9, 2015. The emergence of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki as Senate President has ignited an unprecedented conundrum in the Upper Legislative chamber for several reasons known and unknown to the general public. What is clear is that it was a high-wired game of political chess which caught even the most politically-savvy members of our society napping. It is a tale full of sound and fury but signifying nothing but plenty of intrigues and abracadabra.
But it wasn’t as if the outcome of that combustive election had not been predicted and foretold. The platform had been provided by the inability of the amalgamation of different political parties that made up the All Progressives Congress (APC) to enter into a prenuptial agreement, prior to sealing the union, as to how to share power then and in the future. It was similarly tantamount to a polygamist failing to prepare a comprehensive Will ahead of his death and then suddenly dropping dead intestate. The hullabaloo would naturally reverberate across the seas and to far-flung places.
The APC had managed its multi-faceted marriage well pre-2015 elections to the admiration and adulation of most Nigerians who had expected the unification to be scattered to the winds after the primaries that produced General Muhammadu Buhari as the APC flag-bearer. But, mercifully, the cracks were ably glued and even solidly cemented as the Presidential aspirants came together in an atmosphere of uncommon maturity and vowed to work jointly with their Party’s candidate. Such camaraderie was seen as indication of a new political order and remarkable sagacity in our clime. It was one of the reasons many Nigerian first time voters got connected to the change mantra of the APC and gave their unqualified support to an opposition party that was fighting for a life of its own.
Against all odds, including intimidation, manipulations and near-bastardisation of the electoral process, Nigerians went out with renewed determination to exercise their voting rights and stood stoutly to monitor and protect their votes with anything and everything. The burden of expectation would soon manifest its ugly head after the monumental victory. I had written articles about this and in particular the inherent danger of ascribing talismanic powers to President Buhari and his team. Unknown to us, this was going to be the least of the problems of APC. The lurking danger would turn out to come surreptitiously from a different and unexpected direction, in this case, power-sharing formula.
The CPC had succeeded in producing the President while the ACN got the Vice Presidential slot. The third and very influential bride was the New PDP. A not too distant party in the wedding party was the ANPP. APGA also played the role of bridesmaid. One would have assumed the New PDP would get a sizable chunk of the vast estate from the deal but this was not the case. Outsiders like us had warned about the danger of not taking good care of all interested parties in this holy matrimony. In fact, I had sermonised in my article titled Let’s Honour Our Heroes (Thisday, May 2, 2015) about the need to accommodate and compensate the New PDP in the arrangement without any prevarication whatsoever:
“The first point to note is that APC must resolve all its power-sharing squabbles amicably and equitably. The greed factor must be jettisoned for fair-play. Every partner in the greatest political merger ever in Nigeria must be treated with respect and decorum. No attempt should be made to treat anyone as an inferior member of the union. Once that is taken into consideration and settled pronto, the party would enjoy the bliss it deserves after a most excruciating campaign. What kills most amalgamations is egocentricity. I already foresee a war of attrition if APC does not immediately halt the present macabre dance by some of its members. The Party and the Government that it will establish at executive and legislative level must not see itself as a coalition of Parties with separate ideologies and detrimental interests. Having fused into one it must behave as such and cater to the core doctrines embedded in its manifesto.
“Let me be more specific. The APC has been locked in a logjam over the zoning of the highest positions in the land. The way I see it is that CPC has already produced the number one slot. ACN has provided the number two. ANPP has secured the boss of all bosses the National Chairman of APC. The New PDP which came into the union with five formidable Governors and a multitude of National Assembly members is yet to get any position. This appears to me as grossly unfair and disproportionate. It is one of the reasons many onlookers and non-party members like me supported the candidacy of Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki as Senate President. We must learn to honour our heroes. Dr Saraki with Governors Rotimi Amaechi and Rabiu Kwankwaso risked everything to make this Change Movement possible. They and their other colleagues took the bulls by the horns and took the battle to the doorsteps of PDP. It is unfathomable how anyone would say they don’t deserve any chunky positions in the grand alliance…”
Unfortunately, it seemed no one hearkened to my admonitions. Obviously, Saraki was vehemently opposed by some top guns and practically turned into a pariah within his own party. Yet he was the first to throw his hat into the ring for the position of Senate President. It seemed that other contestants were only put forward mainly to thwart Saraki and not because of the added value that they would bring to nation building. Without any fear of contradictions, Dr Saraki is one of the most cosmopolitan politicians in Nigeria today. He is in the league of the El-Rufais, Donald Dukes, Babatunde Fasholas, Rotimi Amaechis, Adams Oshiomholes, Kayode Fayemis, Pat Utomis, Godswill Akpabios, Rabiu Kwankwasos, Tanko Al Makuras, Ibikunle Amosuns, Abiola Ajimobis, Waziri Tambuwals and many others who have shown enough promise of a greater Nigeria. I will be proud to showcase a Saraki in the gathering of world leaders and wondered how anyone would seek to suppress the obvious potentials of such an urbane and confident politician.
I followed the shenanigans that ensued with rapt attention and keen interest. Every obstacle was placed in Saraki’s path to make sure he did not emerge as the winning candidate for the post of Senate President. Feeling rejected and dejected, but nevertheless determined to succeed, he must have turned to his former friends at PDP for support. At any rate, it should have been obvious to any discerning mind that it would be difficult to win the election without the co-operation of PDP Senators. The numerical strength of the PDP, with more than 40% of the Senators, made this a matter of stark fact. Since it did not appear some powerful members of his party favoured him, Saraki was buoyed by the support that he would get from the PDP. This was the beginning of the chaos that would explode and engulf the House of APC.
What happened when the APC leadership decided to shoot itself in the foot by summoning a Party conference with the President at the same time the Senate was being inaugurated is now the subject of intense speculation as to who, how, and why? What is clear is that this opening gambit played spectacularly into the hands of the Saraki faction. Call it what you want, a coup, double cross, ambush, outflanking, outsmarting, or any other nomenclature; this was surely a great military strategy at work. It is interesting that some of those in the forefront of the denouement are all military, from Senator David Mark to President Buhari. The deft move cut the opponents dead in their tracks. Whislt they were scurrying back to the Senate, having been left in the lurch by a President who had earlier stated in no uncertain terms that he was not going to interfere in the matter, Senator Saraki was being returned unopposed as Senate President by 57 Senators elect out of 108.
The PDP which had co-operated in securing the Senate Presidency for one of their former colleagues suddenly saw a wind of opportunity as there were still not enough APC members to elect a Deputy Senate President from the ranks of APC. Seizing the moment they immediately put up Senator Ike Ekweremadu as thier candidate for Deputy Senate President. He duly won. I believe there was nothing Saraki could have done about this even if many feel he should have waited for his late-coming colleagues. APC simply did not have the numbers at the time and there is nothing in the Constitution stopping the PDP from doing this.
Indeed, given the disunity in the APC it is a wonder that PDP did not decide to go for the Senate Presidency itself. With its block of 49 solid votes it would only take Senators Lawan or Saraki to split the APC vote for a PDP candidate to win by default. There would have been nothing wrong with this, as the Constitution does not stipulate that it is the sole prerogative of the ruling party to present the Senate President or indeed the Deputy Senate President.
There is no doubt that the Constitution expects some sort of democratic input into the selection of the Senate President and his Deputy. It envisages that all shades represented in the Senate must participate in this process. If it wanted only the majority party to present a candidate or candidates it would have said so. In any event this country had just come from witnessing the glorious feeling of what true democracy can bring about. Why should APC which is the prime beneficiary of that spirit of democracy seek to egregiously deprive one of its own from engaging or enjoying this kind of spirit?
It is also instructive that ACN, one of the integral parties of the APC spearheaded the PDP revolt which led to His Excellency Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State becoming Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2011 over Honourable Mulikat Adeola who was the anointed candidate of the PDP. PDP cried foul at the time but APC blew the trumpet of democracy and the constitutional right of members to elect their leader. The PDP realising the truism in this position sheathed their swords and embraced Tambuwal thereafter. The Party closed ranks and worked together. It is not clear what the difference is now and why APC should be complaining when what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. What goes round comes round. For PDP it was certainly payback time. And they did so real good. At least, APC should have pretended that it was not pained at all. After-all, our dear Brother, Tambuwal remained The Speaker to the very end despite picking the gubernatorial mandate of APC and PDP bore its anguish with equanimity.
Now APC must, like PDP in 2011, must close ranks and move forward. It is gratifying that the number one father of the nation and the quintessential leader of APC, President Buhari, immediately congratulated the new leaders of the National Assembly and pledged to work with them. Other national leaders including the Chairman of the APC, Dr John Oyegun, and the projected Chairman of the Party’s Board of Trustees, former Vice-President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, also did the same. This is what Nigerians need in this climate of change and I know that my dear brother and Publicity Secretary of the Party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed would now have the chance to join his fellow Kwarans in jubilating a rare feat by Oloye Saraki.
I must again single out for praise Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for the stoic way he has handled the smashing of his carefully laid plans. Like the statesman that he is, Asiwaju has refrained from pouring oil onto the raging fire even though he is obviously piqued and miffed. That is as it should be. At the end of the day it is Nigeria’s interest that is paramount and not personal interests. Tinubu has the culture of bowing to superior logic and I’m he has risen above unproductive altercations. I’m looking forward to seeing that special photograph of reuniting with his dear Aburo in the next few days. Nobody wants a divided ruling party because that cannot augur well for the much sought progress that the country and its long-suffering citizens are clamouring for.
These are momentous times for Nigeria. Everyone agrees that Dr Bukola Saraki has the qualities for making a good Senate President who will work in grand collaboration with the Executive led by President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the rot in our polity. Like the President, Saraki wanted this position and worked for it. He is not a reluctant candidate who simply contested or was drafted for the sake of it. The problem he faces currently is the strong suspicion that he may enter the Presidential race in 2019. We shall elaborate more on this speculation, sooner than later.
But whether true or false, this is no justification for throwing away this charming baby with the bathwater. God bless President Buhari for dousing this volatile tension.
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