Since 10 senators walked out of the plenary while Senate President, BukolaSaraki, was presiding on February 14, 2018, his mystic and cult-like hold on the lawmakers appears to have gone awry. There have been two failed attempts to unseat him since then, and in the days ahead, the senate that used to be in unity opposing the presidency may no longer be, writes AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH
In the keynote address he delivered as special guest of honour during Senate Press Corps Retreat for 2018 held at the Government House in Jos on Saturday April 7, 2018, Senate President, BukolaSaraki gave surplus insight into the lingering senate-presidency cold war.
However, Saraki said it all when he stated: “In a situation, where a particular arm of government stands up and calls people from another arm of government thieves, looters and other names, how can we work together? How? It is not possible. It is not realistic. If we collaborate, the country will be better for it.”
After the June 9, 2015, election of the leadership of the National Assembly in which Senator Saraki and Hon. Dogara defied orders of their party, All Progressives Congress (APC), by emerging Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, the administration of President MuhammaduBuhari had filed a charge marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, against Saraki, who was a two-term governor of Kwara State between May 2003 and May 2011.
President Buhari wants him tried for breaching Section 2 of the CCB and Tribunal Act while he was a governor, an offence punishable under Section 23(2) of the Act and Paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which carries some jail terms.
To fight back, Saraki expanded senate standing committees, share and re-share to curry favours and punish presidency apologists, sends some on foreign trips while denying others. With this measures and other forms of ‘’carrot and stick’’ regime, he was able to break presidency ranks in the senate, line more senators behind him for any action he chose to take against the presidency.
For President Buhari to suppress and stage Saraki’s ouster as Senate President, he needed to give him ex-President Obasanjo’s treatment of spreading bribe-moneys amongst senators. This option became intractable or unworkable for Buhari’s government that professes herself as anti-corruption fighter.
To worsen its foothold in the senate or House of Representatives, Buhari who sees constituency of projects as cesspool of corruption refuses to release money to implement any. Since the advent of this democracy, these lawmakers are the worst hit with the alleged sharing of illegal lush funds or largesse. The payment of N13.5 million monthly running cost to senators that Senator ShehuSani disclosed recently is highly meagre compared to the past.
The policy of President Buhari to look the other way while the senators that defied odds and threats to stick to him are being punished by the senate leadership, again makes it look foolhardy to choose to be canvassing his briefs or support in the red chamber.
Hence, like triumphant Mongol leader Genghis Khan, senate leadership carried on unchallenged or with little or no resistance. It passed the budget when it deemed appropriate, after the budget is muddled in the name of padding which senate usually claims is allowed by the constitution. After it was so muddled in 2017 fiscal year, the Vice-president YemiOsinbajo in his capacity as acting president when Buhari was away on a medical trip remarked that the passed Budget Bill he signed into law was un-implementable. Presidency identified over 4,000 projects smuggled in the appropriation, just as some of these projects belong to states and Local Government Council.
The Presidency had requested the Senate to confirm the Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu’s nomination in July 2016 through a letter signed by Vice-president YemiOsinbajo in his capacity as the acting president when Buhari was away on a medical trip. The Senate President BukolaSaraki read the nomination letter on July 14, 2016.
However, the Senate showed no readiness to act on it until after several months of delay before the upper chamber brought it up on December 15, 2016 and consequently rejected Magu’s nomination citing security concerns.
For mounting resistance over senate resolve not to confirm Magu, Senator representing Borno south, Mohammed Ali Ndume was removed as senate leader On March 29, 2017, Senate suspended Senator Ndume, for raising a motion on the floor of the senate demanding investigation of media reports that Saraki imported a bullet proof range rover with fake documents; while Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi west) forged Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria first degree certificate.
The senate insisted that he ought to have investigated the veracity of the media reports, to establish prema facie evidence before daring to raise such motion on the floor of the senate.
Since Ndume resumed on November 15, 2017 from his suspension, he has remained cold like iced-fish, because President Buhari chose to look the other way while Ndume went through his ordeal in the hand of senate leadership.
However, with the advent of crisis trailing passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2018, the senate has never remained the same again. To say there is crack in the rank and of the senate, or no longer may a conquered senate underscored the situation.
Ten aggrieved senators led by Senator AbdullahiAdamu walked out of the senate plenary against new sequence of 2019 elections and declared that a total of 59 of them are against section 25(1) of the Act which reordered sequence of elections earlier announced by INEC last year by fixing National Assembly election first, followed by Governorship and State Houses of Assembly Election and Presidential election last.
Events that followed confirmed the 59 senators mentioned as real. Within a month since the 10 senators stormed out of the plenary while Saraki was presiding, an action that has never happened since he became a senate president, there have been two botched attempts to effect a change in the leadership of the Senate.
On March 24, 2018, Saraki, was billed to travel to Geneva, Switzerland for an official engagement. His aides and some senators, including Dino Melaye, had already gone ahead of him.
After attending the wedding ceremony of the daughter of AlikoDangote, Saraki boarded a presidential jet in Lagos and was about to take off when he got a call tipping him of an alleged grand plot to remove him and his deputy. He aborted his trip and returned to Abuja late Saturday night
According to a senator, the snatching of the mace on April 12, 2018, was an orchestrated plot to effect a change in the leadership of the Senate, while Saraki was again away in the United States for the spring meeting of the IMF/World Bank.
“The plan by some senators was to seize the mace, disrupt proceeding and force the chamber to abandon plenary. With the mace in their possession, the senators would come back into the chamber, appoint senate president pro-tempore, hold a session during which they would impeach the leadership.
“But what they did not know was that there was a spare mace. So, rather than adjourn, Ekweremadu simply called for the spare mace and continued the business of the day. That move punctured the grand plot.”
“But I doubt if this will end attempts to effect a change of senate leadership headed by Saraki’’.
In the recent advertorial published by “Parliamentary Support Group (Senate) for President MuhammaduBuhari”, in some dailies which was signed by Senator OvieOmo-Agege (Delta central) as secretary and Senator AbdullahiAdamu (Nasarawa west) as chairman, they insisted that the Senate was polarized.
Indeed, the senate is divided between pro-Buhari and pro-Saraki, and in the days ahead, the struggle would no longer be an opaque or discreet one. No senator will pretend on where he stands, they will openly canvass for support or membership.
This was aptly demonstrated on April 18, 2018 when due to sharp division amongst senators leading to the controversial 2018 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, seeking to reorder sequence of elections suffering setback in the Senate as it could not pass second reading when it was considered in plenary.
Majority of the Senators in their contributions to the debate opposed the bill, thereby prompting the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, to rescue it from being totally thrown out by referring it back to the committee for more legislative action. Somebody jocularly said that Ekweremadu is right to have saved this ‘’Saraki’s Bill’’
The first senator to kick against the bill, was the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North), who said that he was vehemently and comprehensively against the bill.
According to him, the right thing was not to legislate for new sequence of elections but to support INEC in the conduct of the elections to ensure free, fair and credible polls.
Also, Senator KabiruMarafa (APC, Zamfara Central), while opposing the bill said, “this bill will further divide us, it is unnecessary and we should not go to that I don’t want us to finish the way we started.”
The Senate Minority Leader, GodswillAkpabio also spoke against the bill, saying, “when we initially did the first one that president sent to us, I believe strongly that the National Assembly has the powers to fix sequence of election in the law as opposed to dates, all the judgments so far have talked about dates.
“INEC has the rights to fix dates for election but in terms of sequence of election, I believe we can legislate on it. But my disagreement with the bill is that we cannot aprobate and reprobate, as a senate we are distinguished people and we must not speak with both sides of our mouth. The sequence that is proposed here is such that not only has it taken us backwards it shows that we look confused”.
What is equally tempting and playing in favour of Buhari in the senate is the newly released All Progressive Congress (APC) convention committee list in which out of the eleven serving senators making the list, ten of the are pro-Buhari while only one is said to be associated with Saraki.
Senator Ben Uwajomogu (APC, Imo north) who was named as member/Secretary of the APC convention committee was among the ten senators that staged a walk out of the senate plenary in protest against senate resolution reordering 2019 election sequence on February 14, 2018.
The other senators in the committee are Ahmed Yerima, AdamuAliero, DanjumaGoje, AbdullahiAdamu, George Akume, suspended Senator OvieOmo-Agege, Andrew Uchendu, AbdullahiDanbaba, Baba Kuka and John Enoh.
The interest of an average senator is how to secure his or her party ticket to return. A senator jokingly said ‘’it would be foolhardy for anyone to allow his fly to follow a dead body into the grave’’.
Another one said ‘’Saraki requires to apply wisdom rather than pouncing on senators he sees in the days ahead joining pro-Buhari’s group in the senate. He will be embarrassed to see some of his trusted allies crossing too. Of course, they need ticket to come back which he Saraki cannot afford to give to them. In his own case, he is well secured because he has Kwara state governor to himself.
‘’Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’’. (‘The Second Coming’ by Irish poet W.B.Yeats)
With the dawn of reality, Saraki himself has started to adjust as he rightly gave 24 hours ultimatum to the 20 committees of the senate on April 10, 2018 which have not submitted their reports to the Appropriation Committee to do so unfailingly. Saraki, who gave the ultimatum shortly before the beginning of the day’s plenary session, declared that the 20 committees “cannot hold us back on the issues of budget”.
This is just as he directed senate committees to screen appointments made by President Buhari the following day. The President had requested the senate for confirmation of appointment of Barrister Festus Okoye as a Federal Commissioner for the INEC, representing the South East Geo-Political zone, just as he sought for confirmation of 23 newly appointed commissioners for the National Population Commission (NPC). Senate had earlier vowed not to confirm appointments made by the Presidency.
This turnaround by Saraki is also made to assuage the presidency as well as the emerging and swelling pro-Buhari lawmakers in the upper legislative chambers. By and large, Saraki’s gargantuan hold on the 8th senate for quite some time is fast eroding, and the situation will degenerate further as the 2019 general elections draws closer.