By ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI
LONG before June 9, 2015, the Nigerian Senate, also referred to as the red chamber has always been a bed of intrigues; at least, in this Republic.
Rewind to June 2, 1999 when the Fourth Senate in this Fourth Republic was inaugurated. After the presidential inauguration on May 29, former President Olusegun Obasanjo didn’t hide his preference for Senator Evan Enwerem as his Senate President; the number three man in Nigeria.
Enwerem’s colleagues thought otherwise. They wanted the more oratorical, eloquent and independent-minded Chuba Okadigbo. At the end of the day, Obasanjo’s will prevailed.
That was when intrigues entered the chamber and it has refused to leave. Before long, Enwerem’s colleagues began to murmur and some eventually complained aloud about the identity, the real identity of their Senate President.
When the heat got to Enwerem, in his defence, he claimed to be Evans and not Evan. His colleagues were not ready to listen.
His replacement was Okadigbo, who would later, because he was not the candidate of Aso Rock, also, fall by the wayside when he was impeached for “anticipatory approvals.”
That was when “ways and means” entered the lexicon of the National Assembly. It has stuck ever since. Suffice to state that Okadigbo’s removal was hatched when he was hosting the president in his official residence in Apo Legislative Quarters. Right across the road, as revealed to Saturday Sun by one of the participants in 2006, some Senators, some of whom were Okadigbo’s friends, mapped out his impeachment plan.
His successor, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the supposed darling of the Presidential Villa only managed to survive by the grace of his colleagues. It got to a point when relations were frayed between the two arms and the Villa wanted him out.
For the first time, Senators rallied round Anyim well enough for him to finish his tenure. Wisely, he declined to contest for a second term from his home state of Ebonyi.
The Fifth Senate
Again, as it was in 1999, in 2003, Obasanjo looked afield and because the seat was still zoned to the South East, settled for Senator Adolphus Wabara. Relations between the two arms were so smooth that some of his colleagues said the legislature, under him , was like an appendage of Aso Rock. Wabara was not ready to rock the boat but two years down the line, relations became frosty.
The Presidency latched onto a bribe-for-budget scandal which eventually forced Wabara to resign. What happened was that during the routine budget Defence of ministries, departments and agencies, then Educarion Minister allegedly offered N55 million to lawmakers in both chambers to get his budget through. In a March 15, 2005 national broadcast, Obasanjo implicated Wabara as one of the participants.
On April 5, he resigned, which paved the way for Senator Ken Nnamani, a first time lawmaker to succeed him. In order for Nnamani to succeed Wabara, some orders in the Senate Standing Orders remained suspended until the end of that session in 2007.
Yet, intrigues in the chamber were still not over even though Nnamani was a popular choice of his colleagues. It was gathered that several meetings were convened by some Senators to get him out but did not succeed because he enjoyed the trust of his colleagues. Even the failed Third Term debacle was not enough to unseat him.
The David Mark years
In the Seventh Senate, Senator David Mark, from Benue State, served two terms as Senate President. Attempts to unseat him did not succeed because he had a strong kitchen cabinet and as Nnamani, enjoyed the trust of his colleagues.
In fact, more than Nnamani, Mark had a strong bond with his colleagues such that any impeachment plan leaked at the embryonic stage. It was not out of place in Mark’s Senate for opposition lawmakers to defend policies of the ruling party.
The Eighth Senate
The March 28, 2015 election was not supposed to go the way it did. The then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had thought that, with the power of incumbency, at all levels of governance, it would be business as usual and some people had even shared principal positions in the two chambers of the National Assembly before the elections held.
Even before the last votes were counted, it was obvious that the All Progressives Congress (APC) was in the majority in both chambers and, would, naturally, decide the shape of the leadership; save for the traditional four seats ceded to the opposition in the 10-man Body of Principal Officers.
It was gathered that long before the March 28 National Assembly poll, shortly after the emergence of the presidential candidate of the party, Senator Bukola Saraki had intimated the party leadership of his interest in the Senate Presidency. No one blinked or went against his wish at that time.
And so, even before President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, some party chieftains insisted on choosing principal officers for the National Assembly. Fortunately, the APC had an overwhelming majority in both chambers, but, did not have two-thirds (73 members) in the Senate. Regardless, with 60 members, APC had sufficient majority to control the chamber.
It didn’t quite turn out to be so.
Considering candidates to fill leadership positions in both chambers, ranking was on top of the list; having been the tradition since 1999. In fact, it was expressly stated in Order 3 of the Senate Standing Orders in 2011.
As far as ambitions go, Saraki was qualified as the ranking rule favoured him. But, he was just a second timer in the chamber. Save for Mark, who returned for a record fifth time, and he is of the opposition, Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan was the most qualified member to occupy the Senate President position in the ruling APC, going by the Senate Standing Orders.
Although, Lawan also had a major contender in Senator Ali Ndume, who was also favoured by the ranking rule, Lawan had an edge because he got to the Senate before Ndume. A factor which made him the first in line, according to Order 3 (2) (i) of the Senate Standing Orders.
Here, the party also played a major part. In deciding who gets what, zoning was considered. With the president from the North West, rather than pick a Senate President from the South, the APC decided to stick with the North, which had occupied the position for unbroken eight years.
Thus, the race was thrown wide open but Saraki, having been a former governor of Kwara State for eight years and one of the leading lights of the APC when it was still in opposition, drew on his wide contacts within and outside the chamber. In a chamber of more than 15 former governors, Saraki clearly had the edge.
Regardless, the party, perhaps, seeing the way the contest was going, decided to zone leadership positions in the National Assembly. For the Senate, the North East was favoured while for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, the South West was in pole position.
That was for the party. Federal lawmakers thought otherwise. Saraki dug in, as well as Lawan. A popular hotel became the battleground. At the end of the day, the now opposition PDP gave substantial support to Saraki.
The APC decided to deal with the matter once and for all by organising a primary. At the International Conference Centre, Abuja, Lawan won but, the Saraki camp, made up of Like Minds Senators rejected the primary. They vowed a Senate President would be chosen by Senators inside the chamber and not out of it. The battle line was drawn with the party.
Thenceforth, all efforts to get Saraki to toe party line failed. It should be noted here that most Senators, who professed to be with the party by day, and by extension, the party’s candidate, were with Saraki by night. They pledged loyalty in exchange for what is now termed ‘Grade A committees.’
And so, on election day, June 9, curiously, a text message was sent to the telephone handsets of all APC members in the National Assembly.
The text, purportedly from the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, summoned all members to a meeting with the president at the ICC.
Before then, there were unconfirmed reports that security agencies had been mandated to take out Saraki before inauguration day. The plot, was for him not to be present in the chamber, leaving the floor open to their preferred candidate. As with all rumours, it was unfounded.
Nevertheless, some Senators obeyed the call for a meeting and presented themselves at the ICC. A head count showed that they were only members of the Senate Unity Forum loyal to Lawan. All Like Minds Senators, with the exception of two or three, who missed the Saraki’s election, due, in part, to the over zealousness of some security agencies who restricted movement into the National Assembly premises that day, were in the chamber.
The next set of Senators who strolled in were PDP members. All, but one, of the 49 PDP members were comfortably seated.
It was further gathered that in the early hours of June 9, 2015, the PDP decided to vote as a bloc, if it came down to it, and settled for Saraki as its candidate for Senate President. Thereafter, he was called into the meeting, which reportedly held in Mark’s Apo residence to intimate him of their decision.
They also told him of the second decision. Senator Ike Ekweremadu was to be his deputy. The deal was struck. Fast forward to a few hours after. The first Senator-elect to enter the chamber that day was Ndume. In an informal discussion with our correspondent then, he said Saraki’ s election was a done deal and that two candidates would be nominated as his deputy; himself and Ekweremadu. If things go well, he would take it but, if the PDP decides to apply its strength, Ekweremadu would be deputy.
After Saraki’s election and he had taken the table and mace, APC members in the chamber believed that, having seen what happened, they would rally round Ndume to be deputy Senate President. For one, after nominations were done, and no Senator was nominated from the Unity Forum, the results were known, even before secret voting was done.
Ndume’s prediction came true
Even after Saraki was elected, the APC found Ekweremadu’s return to the seat as a bitter pill to swallow. But, swallow it, they did on the condition that Saraki would reverse the collateral damage done the party by ensuring that it’s favoured candidates were given the remaining four seats in the leadership. They are: Senate Leader; deputy, Senate Chief Whip and deputy.
To back up the demand, Oyegun followed it up with a letter and the preferred candidates for the seat. Before the letter got to Saraki, a meeting convened in the Senate President’s meeting Room 301 had concluded that caucuses should produce candidates for the position. The North East caucus preferred Ndume as Leader. The party didn’t take kindly to its directive being ignored. The battle line between Saraki and the party was again drawn.
Besides, no one foresaw what happened on that day; that some Senators, on inauguration day, would be outside the chamber, despite Order 3 (3) (i) which stipulates that, “all Senators-elect are entitled to participate in the voting for Senate President and Deputy Senate President.”
By the time former Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa made the roll call, it was clear Saraki was the Senate President.
As it was in 2011, when Mark returned to office for a second term as Senate President, there was no single ‘nay’ in the chamber. On June 9, Saraki’s Senate Presidency began. The troubles also started.