Saint Saraki’s sermon on mount Abuja

It was impassioned. It was soul stirring. It was statesmanlike. It brimmed with moral fervour and patriotic ardour. It was the perfect speech clinically crafted to meet the demands of the moment. I call it Saint Bukola Saraki’s sermon on Mount Abuja. Senator Bukola Saraki had emerged Senate President on June 9 in controversial circumstances and against the preference of his party hierarchy. To achieve this feat, Saraki had swung the bloc opposition votes of 49 PDP Senators to his side by offering the minority party the deputy Senate Presidency. With nine rebellious APC Senators and in the absence of a majority of his party’s Senators, Saraki was elected Senate President in perhaps the hastiest leadership election in the history of Nigeria’s National Assembly. Some saw this as wily political pragmatism at its best. To others it was nothing but cynical Machiavellianism in which Saraki’s ends, no matter how ignoble and self- serving, justified any means no matter how foul or disreputable.

The Senate had adjourned abruptly on June 9 ostensibly to let tempers cool and allow some form of compromise and reconciliation before the resumption of plenary. To strengthen his hands and pre-empt the APC leadership, Saraki had immediately announced principal officers immediately after his election. Perhaps his most clever and strategic move in this regard was the naming of Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, who had lost to Senator Ike Ekweremadu of the PDP in the contest for the position of Deputy Senate President, as Majority Leader. This not only broke the ranks of those opposed to him within the APC but was also calculated to shift the geo-ethnic balance of forces in his favour.

It was against this background that the Senate President gave his impressive welcome speech on resumption of the Senate on Tuesday, 28 July. The speech was wide ranging touching on the economy, the country’s dwindling revenue profile, crude oil theft and the challenges of security among others. For me, however, the most important aspect of the address was Saint Saraki’s sermon on the challenges and demands of leadership at this critical juncture in Nigeria. In his words “Distinguished colleagues, we have our work cut out for us, we cannot afford to frolic. Nigerians did not give us our mandate to come and pursue leadership; their mandate was for us to pursue governance and bring solutions to their burning issues…Leadership is secondary to our primary responsibility of good governance. As Senate President you have given me responsibility to ensure that our primary responsibility is placed on the table not under the table”.

What is remarkable about Senator Saraki’s pious admonitions to his colleagues on leadership is the wide gulf between his words and his actions in his burning, remorseless pursuit of the Senate Presidency. In his cynically single-minded pursuit of his ambition, nothing mattered to him – not the interest of his party, the sanctity of the Senate’s rules and conventions or the moral health of the National Assembly. Having attained his objective of leading the Senate at all costs, it is therefore quite convenient for Senator Saraki to advocate the virtues of placing service to the people above selfish personal quest for leadership positions.

Even more damaging is the fact that the rules under which Dr Bukola Saraki was elected as Senate President seemed to have emerged mysteriously from under the table rather than from on top of the table to adapt his own phrase. No amount of sweet sounding words can deodorise the lack of transparency and credibility that characterised the way he emerged as Senate President on June 9. The truth of the matter is that the Senate 2015 Standing Orders (as amended), under which Dr Saraki was elected Senate President is of doubtful provenance and illegitimate paternity. All the acts purportedly carried out under its purview on June 9, particularly the election of principal officers is akin to constructing a structure on a non-existing foundation.

How do we explain the magical leap from the 2007 Senate Standing Orders (as amended), which guided the 7th Senate between 2007 and 2011 and the 2015 variant, which is said to be the arbitrary contraption of some National Assembly bureaucrats in utter contravention of the extant rules of the Senate? Given the inexplicable haste with which the National Assembly bureaucracy conducted the Senate Presidency election in the absence of half of the Senators, they were obviously in partisan collusion with some forces to achieve a pre-determined outcome of the process. Can the leaders of such a bureaucracy be entrusted in future to carry out their duties in an objective and disinterested manner that will enable them enjoy the confidence of all partisan tendencies in the Senate?

Of course, given the nature of Nigerian politics with most actors being largely self-seeking, Senator Saraki’s hands have been considerably strengthened by his emergence as Senate President no matter how dubious and questionable the process. He now has considerable largesse, including juicy Committee memberships to dispense. Thus, the vote of confidence passed on him and other leaders of the Senate by a majority of Senators on July 28. The prevailing sentiment among the majority of Senators is that they should put the unsavoury events of the past behind and move forward in the national interest.

Some of the pro-Saraki Senators, obviously referring to the on-going investigation into allegations of forgery of the Senate rules; a crime that allegedly aided his emergence as Senate President contend that the affairs of the Senate should not be externalised. This they argue will amount to threatening the legislative immunity of the Senate. Indeed Senator Samuel Anyanwu urged “The Nigeria Police Force and all other security agencies in Nigeria not to allow themselves to be used by any person or persons to harass, intimidate or blackmail the Senate, Senators and/or their spouses”.

Of course, the crime of alleged forgery of Senate rules is not an internal affair of the Senate. It is a crime against the laws of Nigeria for which there is no legislative immunity. Since the investigation into the alleged crime has commenced and has even become a subject of litigation, the process cannot now be aborted without doing grave damage to the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise of change.

Senator Bukola Saraki concludes his sermon on Mount Abuja with the stirring declaration: “My distinguished colleagues, the job of changing our corporate destiny starts today. Though the challenges are huge, they are not insurmountable. Let these challenges inspire us as leaders to show courage, statesmanship and valour”. I agree entirely with Saint Saraki’s submission. But that process of change cannot preclude pursuing the alleged forgery of Senate rules to its logical conclusion and bringing to book all those implicated in the odious infraction.

Posted By: Segun Ayobolu.

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