A WORD FOR SENATOR SARAKI
Senate President Bukola Saraki must watch out for slippery slopes, the banana peels that tripped his predecessors in the Senate. The onus to keep the peace in the Senate lies solely on him. The rout he caused in the Senate has cascaded to the House of Representatives as a mob. And it’s a bad omen. Sometimes, primordial ambition must be subsumed under national interest.
The aspirations of citizens of a modern democracy like Nigeria cannot be wrapped under the arms of a potentate. Saraki is moving into the fringe of totalitarianism; getting more Soviet than democratic – what he accuses the All Progressives Congress leadership of. He mustn’t allow them to use his head to break the political coconut of the push-pull of interests in the APC.
He must also not cause the collapse of any political party in Nigeria’s emerging, and potentially vibrant, two-party political culture. Chief Bisi Akande, former Interim National Chairman of the APC, suggests that Saraki emerged as the Senate President through the convergence of the interests of the Northern establishment, oil subsidy barons, and other cartels. Saraki denies this.
But if Saraki insists on his winner takes all gambits, it may be portentous. Those who thought he could be a brilliant future President of Nigeria may not think so anymore. An APC chief, Audu Ogbeh, observes: “It’s like some of our members from the Peoples Democratic Party… still have the PDP sentiments, and they are using it to achieve their objectives.”
… This is because, once one is adjudged unreliable, nobody will trust such an individual with higher authority.” Pentecostals sometimes pray: “Let my today not constrain my tomorrow.”
It is on record that Saraki told his warring colleagues: “I am ready… to work with you all… to provide that focused leadership in the Senate and the National Assembly… The leadership of our party expects us to hit the ground running, and the populace is waiting to see… (us) deliver on our promises and commitment.”
He charges: “Let us start this journey of unity today, and let the world see that yes, in the 8th Senate, we are one family.” He should walk his talk, and remain within the APC, so that his higher ambitions don’t flame out. He should also reject Senator Ben Obi’s counsel to defy the APC leadership, and ignore his mischievous flattery: “He understands the game very well… and there is no way any other person would defeat Bukola.”
The APC leadership is hopping mad that Ike Ekweremadu of the opposition PDP is the Deputy Senate President, a position that they lost through carelessness. A United Kingdom-based lobby, Concerned Diaspora Enugu West, wants Ekweremadu, who may later prove to be Saraki’s Achilles’ heel, to step down.
The rumour mill suggests that though President Muhammadu Buhari publicly accepted Saraki as Senate President, he deplores his route to the office. Saraki, who allegedly cast a slur on a member of his “Baby Boomers” generation, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, sought “dinosaur” former President Olusegun Obasanjo to pacify the President and the APC chiefs.
President Buhari reportedly responded to Obasanjo’s moves with a polite, “No, can’t do.” There is no proof of that, though Garba Shehu, President Buhari’s media aide, did say: “Politics… is about contest for interests… that may be fully defined by political party programmes.” Saraki’s posturing to stave off the crisis in electing the lesser Senate principal officers is meeting with his own brick wall.
He scuppered the meeting he called to unite his “Like Minds Senators” and the “Senate Unity Forum,” and to elect the Majority Leader et al, by directing senators to break into zonal caucuses. He pointedly didn’t read the letter that contained the party’s diktat on the matter, but declared, tongue-in-cheek, that his hands were tied by Senate Standing Orders Chapter VI, Rules 28, 29 and 31.
The Senate Unity Forum would have none of that. They insisted that the Senate should simply ratify the APC leadership’s suggestion that Senators Ahmad Lawan, George Akume, Olusola Adeyeye and Abu Ibrahim be elected Senate Majority Leader, Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip respectively. The argument degenerated into fisticuffs.
Senator Abu Ibrahim, a would-be beneficiary of the APC leadership’s proposition, argues that, in the past, political party leaders had always chosen this set of Senate principal officers. He reports: “I was a principal officer in the last Senate; the party gave our names, and that’s how I became a principal officer.” In other words, these things are always scripted ahead.
A PDP member of this Eighth House of Representatives, Tajudeen Obasa, says: “I’m not against party supremacy in decision-making, but all of us in the hallowed chamber should remember we are representing the interests of our constituents.”
In America, the Majority Leader represents his political party in the Senate, and has first right of recognition on the floor of the Senate. To fast-track presidential bills into becoming Acts, he gets to introduce them to the floor of the Senate. And the Majority Chief Whip, the second ranking Senator, assists him in garnering votes for the bills.
America has no Deputy Senate President. Indeed, America’s Vice-President is the honorific Senate President. Both the Senate Majority Leader and the Senate Minority Leader in America are elected by the Senate party caucus-with input from their respective political parties.
The jostle for positions in the Senate has opened the flanks of the APC, and the PDP’s allegation that the APC members are only interested in the spoils of office, is spot on. Do you know that beside the Senate President and his Deputy, the Nigerian constitution has no provision for the positions, or oath, of the Majority Leader and the slew of other so-called principal officers?
The APC party leadership is overlooking something: Senator Akume, whom it anointed as the Deputy Majority Leader, is from the North-Central zone as the Senate President, whereas it failed to award a principal seat to the South-South zone. Saraki’s plan however accommodates Senator Francis Alimikhena, from the South-South, as Deputy Chief Whip. And the interest of the All Progressive Grand Alliance group in the APC has not been settled.
And of the foremost five positions in Nigeria, the South has only one slot, the Vice-President. The President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, are from the North. Also, of the APC choices in each of the Upper and the Lower Houses namely, Majority Leader, Chief Whip, and their Deputies, three are from the North, only one is from the South.
So, if the APC doesn’t appear as a Northern political party, this must be reviewed. Like in a jack straw game where you remove straws singly, without disturbing the remaining straws, the APC, Saraki, and House Speaker Yakubu Dogara must realign all interests and tendencies for equity.
It’s absurd that, whereas men should be appointed on merit in Nigeria, their primordial origin is used as a criterion. And Nigeria seems to always pick its leaders from the flea market- depot of used items. The country shouldn’t lumber like a blindfolded elephant for another half century. To demonstrate that his generation is not reprobate, Saraki must end the rumble in the National Assembly. And the time to do that is now!