By Adedeji Adebayo
It is no longer news that Senator Bukola Saraki, representing Kwara Central, emerged the President of the 8th assembly in a controversial circumstance that has pitted him against his party’s leadership; in an election where 57 members only decided whom to lead a legislative house of 109 members. No better expression can be used to describe the scenario that played out on June 9, 2015, than conspiratorial affirmation. Subterfuge.
Prior to the June 9 inauguration, it was (in principle) resolved upon by the APC’s National Working Committee that the position of the Senate President should be zoned to the North-East for equity and fairness. The NWC of the party were of the view that the zone, which has been terribly hit by the Boko Haram insurgents, gave the party the second highest votes after North- West, where President Buhari hails from. Since 1999 when the 4th Republic began, the highest position that has gone to the zone in the Senate was Deputy Majority Leader (which was occupied by Senator Maina Lawan from Borno State who later became Minority Leader in 2007 when he defected to the ANPP). It was on the strength of these numerous arguments that Senator George Akume, whose North Central zone produced the Senate President from 2007-2015 in the person of David Mark, shelved his ambition of becoming the Senate President. Akume, it must be pointed out, was Governor of Benue State (1999-2007): while Bukola Saraki only became Governor of Kwara State in 2003. Also, whereas Akume was first elected to the Senate in 2007,Saraki’s first stint at the Red Chamber was in 2011.In 2011, Akume became the Minority Leader in the Senate on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the legacy parties that consummated the All Progressives Congress (APC). From 2011 until the dissolution of the 7th Assembly, Akume was a cynosure of all eyes and emblem of the opposition in the Senate.
In advanced democracies like Britain and the United States, the Minority Leader usually transmutes into the primus inter pares in the legislative assembly as soon as his party forms the central government. So Akume, by all standards, deserves the Senate Presidency than anyone else. But being a disciplined and loyal party man, Akume complied with the directive of the party and settled for the position of the Deputy Senate President. However, all the pleas of the party leaders to Saraki (also from North-Central) to stand-down for Senator Lawan, who is from North- East and has been in the National Assembly since 1999 (in the House of Representatives 1999- 2007 and the Senate 2007 till date), fell on deaf ears.
To maintain cohesion in the party and present a united front in the Senate (having regard to the fact that the new opposition party PDP was lurking in the corner to take advantage of any balcanisation in the APC), the APC NWC conducted a straw poll where senators on the party’s platform would choose one candidate. While 33 senators preferred Senator Lawan, Senator Saraki and his backers, (having seen defeat staring them in the face) staged a walk-out.
Despite the unruly behaviour of the Saraki’s group, the party continued to enjoin them to honour the party’s decision in the general interest of the party. The Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo also arranged a meeting with Senator Saraki in an effort to achieve truce in the party but the latter was rumoured to have called the bluff of the former, saying he could not be summoned by a ‘mere Commissioner’, in derisive reference to earlier appointment of Professor Osinbajo as Justice Commissioner in Lagos in the government of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.Saraki, through his media aide Bankole Omisore, has since refuted the claim. The party’s NWC even scheduled a meeting with the Saraki’s group that would have had President Buhari in attendance but Saraki and his backers shunned the parley and went on to expose the party to public opprobrium.
According to Shehu Garba, one of President Buhari’s Spokespersons, “The party had begun a process and concluded it and some of these actors were part of that process. They knew what had happened. There was a shadow election of some sort. It is clear that there was nothing accidental in all of these things that happened. APC as a party had begun a process for choosing leaders. There was a shadow election in which leaders were chosen on the platform of the political party and it was complete. There was no doubt about it.” (The Nation Newspaper June 10, 2015).
Many eminent Nigerians have questioned the emergence of Senator Saraki, describing it as repugnant, unconventional and alien to parliamentary democracy. Femi Falana, a legal luminary and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, on his part said: ” The refusal of the Saraki and the Dogara camps to line up behind the candidates picked by the party APC is an affront on party cohesion and discipline.“
Another constitutional lawyer Professor Itse Sagay (SAN),while advising President Buhari not to recognise Saraki as the Senate President, had more scathing words for Senator Saraki:“In my view, it is not only an act of gross impunity which Senator Saraki has brought from the PDP, it is an illegal act because there is no way a Senate can be formally inaugurated without all the members being present – provided they want to be present. It was an attempted coup in the first arm of government in Nigeria and it is a very serious assault on democracy in this country. (Punch Newspaper, June 10, 2015)
To Robert Clark (SAN), “…what transpired in the senate today does not confirm with the rules of the senate in the election of its principal officers… What Saraki has done today is sell out his party. I can’t see Saraki last for 9 months.” (Nigeria Monitor, June 10, 2015)
Former ASUU President and Harvard University Professor of Comparative Literature, Biodun Jeyifo also severally in his column in The Nation has condemned the heretical move of Saraki against his party.
However, most of Saraki’s sympathisers are wont to cite the case of Aminu Tambuwal, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, to rationalise the sheer indiscipline and rebellion in the Senate. First, APC is not PDP. The two parties profess to different political ideologies. Second, events that led to the scenarios of 2011 and 2015 are not the same. Whereas members of the House of Representatives from the PDP in 2011 wanted Tambuwal ahead of Mulikat Adeola, Senators-elect (as they then were) on the platform of the APC chose Senator Lawan. In the House election, Tambuwal polled 252 votes as against Adeola’s 92 votes. During this period, ACN members were 77, ANPP 50 and other smaller parties like APGA, LP (two parties which were always in cahoots with the PDP) 10. If all the non-PDP members had abstained from the election, Tambuwal would still have polled 125 to defeat Mulikat Adeola. Clearly, not less than 125 PDP members in the House wanted Tambuwal to lead them. Tambuwal was favoured by the majority of the PDP members: the same way majority of the Senators from the APC favoured Senator Lawan during the mock election where 33 of them cast their votes for him. Saraki is not popular among the majority of the APC Senators in the Senate and this should be the moral question Saraki and his backers should contend with. While Tambuwal did not reject the candidates of the PDP for the position of the Majority Leader and other principal officers, Saraki, with the imprimatur of some interlopers, spat his party by appointing other principal officers different from what the party wanted. Given the horse-trading that characterised the emergence of Saraki and a PDP Senator Ike Ikweremadu as a Deputy Senate President, It is tempting to conclude that Saraki is on the mission to bring back the PDP (that Nigerians rejected at the polls) to power and limelight.
At this juncture in our nation’s history, this is not the appropriate time for Senator Saraki to hold the position of a Senate President. Saraki is enmeshed with corruption cases. Bukola Saraki is being investigated for his role in the collapse of the defunct Societe Generale Bank and his tenure as the Governor of Kwara State (2003-2011). Saraki has against him cases bordering on conspiracy, forgery and stealing. He is said to have used fronts to siphon the sum of N6billion from the accounts of Joy Petroleum domiciled in Intercontinental Bank Plc (now Access Bank). While presiding over Kwara State as Governor, he is also alleged to have used the state’s assets as guarantee to secure a loan of N21billion for the use of private company. Saraki is known for his penchant for tying the hands of prosecutor by unleashing court injunctions on them. At every opportunity, he rushes to seek court injunctions to bar Nigeria Police and other agencies of government from investigating, arresting or prosecuting him. One of the court cases he has instituted is that of FHC/ABJ/CS/131/12 pending before the Federal High Court in Abuja after a coordinating court in Lagos has rejected a similar relief he sought there. Saraki, who was first taken to court by the EFCC in 2011, has not been able to present a strong legal representation to exonerate him in court rather he has been playing cache-cache by seeking injunctions now and again.
I am of the opinion that Saraki should first of all strive to clear his name of graft allegations before he seeks to hold a position as high as that of a Senate President, a number three position in the political hierarchy in the land. Most Nigerians, like me, voted for President Buhari and his party the APC on the General’s avowal of zero tolerance to corruption and the manifestoes of the APC to fight graft and clean the Augean stables. The hoopla that followed the appointment of former Bayelsa State Governor Timipre Sylva as Chairman of Buhari’s Inauguration Committee is still fresh in my memory. National Chairman of the Labour Party Abdulkadir Abdulsalam, said (in the Guardian Newspaper of May 1, 2015) that President Buhari might fail in his crusade to tackle corruption in the country because of the people he has surrounded himself with…. ‘Imagine, the man he chose to lead his transition (sic) team, former Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State appeared in court only yesterday to answer to corruption charges. This is a minus for a man who wants to fight corruption…’ (italics mine)
Saraki should not be used to blackmail President Buhari and his party to rid the country of corruption. Some of the political office holders of yesteryears who have been indicted of either dipping their hands in the till of the country or have character issues are currently in the Senate and it will be morally inappropriate to appoint a Saraki, who is in the same league with them, to supervise the same Senate.
Since his joining of the APC in 2013, Mr. Saraki has been accorded adequate regards that befit his status. The party has allowed him to control the political structure in Kwara State. It would be recalled that it was as a result of pre-eminence the party gave to him that made Dele Belgore (SAN), who was the governorship candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria in 2011, to dump the APC for the PDP. Belgore, (who was also the boss of former Lagos Governor Raji Fashola in the law Firm of Sofunde, Osakwe, Ogundipe and Belgore), was for many years the face of the opposition in Kwara State. Saraki should think less of his personal ambition but as a leader think more of his political lieutenants. If he carries on as if, in local parlance, there is no lele, his senate leadership is heading for monumental failure. Only political naivety will make a Senate President believes that he can succeed in a legislative house full of rancour, division and above all, absence of support of his political party and the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the country. The statement of President’s Buhari spokesperson is a pointer to the fact that Mr. Buhari is miffed with the way Senator Saraki rubbed mud in the face of the party. Saraki and his backers should shed the toga of war and embrace reconciliation as begun by the party. Politics is about give-and-take.
I want to see Mr. Saraki in the mould of Senator Olorunimbe Mamora of Lagos State. Mamora, a former Financial Secretary of the University of Ife’s Students’ Union in 1977, a medical Doctor of repute, Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly (1999-2003), two-time Senator from Lagos East and an encyclopedia of legislative procedures was asked by his party to jettison his ambition of returning to the Senate in 2011. Although the decision of the party was a painful one to him, as a thorough-bred party man, Mamora took the setback in his stride and did not rock the boat of his party. Today, the same Mamora has regained his prominence in Lagos, nay, national politics. He was a member of the Buhari Campaign Organisation in the 2015 election and he is likely to become a Minister when the cabinet is set up.
Saraki should apologise to his party for his sheer misconduct and the way he has brought her to public ridicule; beat an immediate and permanent retreat and allow peace to reign in the party. It will not do him or any Saraki any good if the party beats him to his own game by giving her support to another political group in Kwara State to rival Saraki’s hitherto political dynasty. It would not be good if someone like Dele Belgore (SAN) is appointed a Minister to represent Kwara State. A minister has the capacity to impact positively on the state than a Senate President, who has no statutory power to control his budget, has no power to recruit into the public service and maintains frosty relationship with his party and President of the country. Senator Saraki should show statesmanship and display camaraderie spirit now that the centre can still hold.
About Adebayo Adedeji:
Adebayo Adedeji is a Publisher.
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