Following the election of Dr. Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and House of Representatives’ Speaker respectively on Tuesday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, released a cynical statement, telling the All Progressives Party (APC) to “stop whining and accept the will of the people, respect the independence of the legislature, as the PDP is not responsible for their naivety and crass inexperience.”
I believe that the APC leaders will do well to heed that admonition. The statement released after the party had been out-snookered by Saraki and Dogara was to say the least, very disappointing. Such disposition is not in any way helpful to their cause or that of President Muhammadu Buhari. To imagine that the person you needed to truncate a legally convened legislative session is the Inspector General of Police rather than the Clerk of the National Assembly was poor judgement. And not following on what was happening within the PDP camp was a sign that the APC leaders still need to learn the ropes when it comes to high-wire politics in Abuja.
The night before the election, 47 PDP Senators had gathered at the Apo Legislative Quarters’ residence of the immediate past Senate President David Mark to present to him three options. Option one: Exploit the division within the rank of the APC by sponsoring Mark to contest for the office of Senate President. The argument was that by the Senate rule, all that a winner needed was a simple majority and since neither of the two APC contenders (Ahmed Lawan and Bukola Saraki) would likely step down for the other, Mark would get more votes. The reasoning was that once that happened, Mark could take the gavel. The only thing the APC could do in such situation would be to go to court. But Mark declined the offer. Option two: Conduct a mock poll among themselves (the PDP Senators in attendance) on who between the two APC candidates, (Ahmed Lawan and Bukola Saraki) they should back but with the proviso that PDP would produce the Deputy Senate President. That was something they were not prepared to negotiate. Option three: Nominate another Senator in APC and give him their block vote in what would amount to divide and rule.
This option has a precedent. A similar scenario played out at the Cross River State House of Assembly in 1991 during the transition to civil rule programme of General Ibrahim Babangida when there were two political parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). While Mr. Clement Ebri of the NRC won the gubernatorial election, his party secured only 12 of the 25 seats in the House of Assembly with the SDP winning the remaining 13.
On the day of the election of Speaker, there was drama. The moment the SDP nominated its candidate for the office, a member from the NRC nominated another SDP member to be Speaker and he went on to win on the strength of his own vote added to that of the 12 NRC members. As it would happen, the said SDP member had done a deal with the NRC by trading away the position of Deputy Speaker.
By Monday night, at the end of what was the third PDP meeting in Mark’s house, it was the second option that was adopted. But with 32 of the 49 PDP Senators coming from the South-east and South-south, there was a strong argument at the meeting that Lawan, most favoured by Mark, holds extreme views when it comes to the issue of North and South. “He is, in fact, seen as a northern irredentist. From the PIB debate to confirmation of appointments to state of emergency and insurgency debates, Lawan employs hurtful, arrogant, and clearly divisive dictions”, said a returning Senator from the South-east. That gave Saraki a huge advantage.
However, the biggest odd against Saraki was that he had long-running ego issues with Mark who considers him arrogant and disrespectful. There was also an argument at the meeting that supporting Saraki by PDP would be like rewarding bad behavior since he was one of the people who brought the party down. However, Ekweremadu argued in Saraki’s favour that he is more cosmopolitan and nationalistic in his approach to issues. A PDP Senator also told Mark that even if Saraki was a prodigal son, he was at least once a member of the family, hence it would be easier to work with him than with someone like Lawan who had never been a member of PDP in the last 16 years of his membership of National Assembly (eight years in the House and eight in the Senate).
So, even before the PDP Senators began to cast their mock ballots, it had been concluded that with Lawan being the choice of the APC, it was more pragmatic to go with Saraki who had been sounded out and had agreed to run with a PDP man for the office of Deputy Senate President. The choice of Ekweremadu was also strategic because, being very close to Mark, that helped to douse whatever ill-feeling the former Senate President may harbour against Saraki. There was also a strong anti-Tinubu sentiment at the meeting as many of the Senators argued that a vote for Lawan would be a vote for the APC National Leader. It was the same sentiment that was employed against Gbajabiamila in the House of Representatives.
With the mock poll conducted among the PDP Senators while Mark and Ekweremadu abstained, Saraki polled 28 votes and Lawan secured 17 votes. By this time, the acting PDP National Chairman, Chief Uche Secondus and Metuh, who were practically in Mark’s house throughout Monday, had entered the fray to seal the decision of the Senators as that of the party. And Saraki was brought into the meeting where he agreed to offer the position of Deputy Senate President to the PDP, specifically to Ekweremadu.
However, once the APC leaders got wind of the PDP decision, a meeting was immediately scheduled for 9am at the International Conference Centre, just one hour ahead of the time that the National Assembly was supposed to be inaugurated. Meanwhile, since the president had already transmitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly the proclamation order and did not withdraw it, Mark and Ekweremadu, experienced in such matters (with sufficient clout to put pressure on the Clerk) knew the APC Senators were misreading the rule of the game by staying away from their inaugural session on the pretext of holding a party meeting elsewhere. To worsen matters, attempts were made to use the police to prevent the National Assembly members from entering the premises. Who gave the directive is still a matter of speculations but it only infuriated the PDP Senators who rallied behind Saraki who had also got some of his APC senate colleagues to attend the session. By 6am, Saraki was already inside the National Assembly premises.
10am on the dot, the Clerk of the National Assembly commenced the session for the election of principal officers in the Senate. With Lawan and several of his APC colleagues still marooned at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Saraki was nominated for the post of Senate President and since he was unopposed and there were enough senators to make a simple majority, there was no contest. By the time the APC leaders and the senators (who were still expecting the president to arrive the ICC) realised the futility of their action, it was all over. Many of course rushed back to the National Assembly only to meet Saraki holding the gavel as the Senate President.
However, in what is perhaps a clear pointer that there are testy days ahead, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, yesterday accused both the Clerk of the National Assembly and Saraki of snubbing President Buhari’s request that the time of the inauguration be shifted forward in order for the meeting with the APC lawmakers to hold.
“I am talking about the Clerk, Governor Saraki, the key characters in all of these (who) had sufficient information directly or indirectly coming to them that the President will be meeting the party members and the party chairman was present on the ground. Assumption would have been that every loyal and committed party member would have presented themselves to the party and to their President. That did not happen yesterday (Tuesday)”, said Shehu.
The presidential spokesman, who was on ‘Sunrise Daily’, a morning programme on Channels TV, said while 51 APC Senators chose to respect the president by going to the ICC for the scheduled meeting, some others deliberately stayed away. “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. 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,” he said.
With such statement coming from a presidential spokesman, the days ahead are definitely worrying for the ruling party and its relationship with the National Assembly. However, to put what happened in proper context, we have to go back to the origin of the APC. The party is an amalgam of politicians with disparate interests and from different camps whose main agenda was to wrest control of power (and government) from then incumbent, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Each of the principal actors had his/her own grouse against Jonathan and they all came together with their individual ambitions.
For instance, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was pursuing his long-running presidential ambition just as the former Kano Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was. In the meantime, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was positioning himself to be running mate to Buhari while Saraki never disguised his ambition to be Senate President should the APC win. However, following the emergence of Buhari as the APC candidate, Saraki ganged up with others like former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Kwankwaso and Atiku to block the emergence of Tinubu as Buhari’s running mate. Whatever the other misgivings, that was the beginning of Tinubu’s antagonism towards the idea of Saraki’s emergence as Senate President. But there are other forces that moved against the former Kwara State Governor.
I understand that some of the people close to Buhari were also not comfortable with the idea of Saraki as Senate President. Aside seeing him as an ambitious politician who could possibly have an eye on the 2019 presidency, there is also the allegation that before the election, Saraki was hedging his bets. As the story goes, Saraki was the first person sounded out to be the Director General of Buhari’s presidential campaign but he cleverly turned it down on the pretext that he would prefer to play a role that would give him the latitude to reach out to all sides of the APC divides, apparently with his own ambition in mind.
What the foregoing shows clearly is that the APC leaders that are talking about party discipline are simply being hypocritical. APC was more a special purpose vehicle to get power than any cohesive group of men and women sharing the same vision. That explains why just a few minutes after the party’s national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, issued a scathing statement about Saraki and Dogara, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who is being slated to chair the APC Board of Trustees would congratulate them. Meanwhile, the president himself has accepted the outcome as a fait accompli.
Even before the latest fiasco, the contradictions within the APC are all there to see. For instance, Dr. Samuel Ortom was a minister in President Jonathan’s cabinet who contested and lost the PDP gubernatorial ticket, crossed over to the APC, secured its gubernatorial ticket and is today a governor on the platform of the party. Ditto for Senator Barnabas Gemade, a former PDP National Chairman whose senatorial ticket was taken away from him by former Governor Gabriel Suswan. He simply moved to the APC where he was handed the party’s ticket with which he defeated Suswan. There are hundreds of such cases across the country today which then means that the APC has a lot of work to do before it can be a party of shared ideals.
However, to the extent that Dogara’s deputy is from the APC, the problem in the House of Representatives will be easier to resolve. But how does APC reconcile itself to the fact that the Deputy Senate President is from another party? Saraki himself must be in a quandary over the choices he made. How do those colleagues of his who were backing him feel now that their candidate has practically been taken over by the opposition party? Dealing with these issues in the days and possibly weeks ahead will not be easy either for Saraki or the APC.
By Olusegun Adeniyi: email@example.com