- Will APC sacrifice him on the altar of politics?
By FRED ITUA, Abuja
HIS leadership of the Senate is under great pressure to be one of the most extraordinary in Nigeria’s history. Former Senate Presidents Adolphous Wabara, Chuba Okadigbo and ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari’s travails might appear every inch like a child’s play by the time the unfolding melodrama ends. The exaggerated behaviours and emotional displays of parties to the bellicose discharges between the Presidency and the Senate underscore the trouble that awaits him. When he was sworn in as the Senate President in 2015, it was obvious that the stability of the Upper Chamber of the 8th National Assembly was at risk. But like a tested political actor that he is, he took the reins of Senate leadership, posturing and promising a stunning departure from his predecessors. Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki offered a political strategy so novel that it was dubbed by those with authority on political subjects as a tightly tangled mass of strands that would be difficult for the presidency to untie.
He rooted for a return to the traditional values of lawmaking that is founded on patriotism. He gave hope that prosperity is just around the corner and that happy days are here again, at least for Senators who merit to be where they are supposed to be. Thus, while some All Progressives Congress, APC Senators who hitherto opposed Saraki’s election as Senate President had agreed to support him, Saraki, apparently still angry over the refusal of his party to support his Senate Presidency, dumped the list of principal officers sent to him. On Wednesday, June 24th, 2015, Gbenga Ashafa (APC, Lagos East), who relied on Order 15 of the Senate Standing Order, had urged the President of the Senate to read, on the floor of the chamber, the letter from the party.
“Most of the media houses carried a letter that was written by the Chairman of our great party, the APC. We were expecting that that letter which has been received in your office will be read in order to see to the resolution of the party’s leadership tussle,” Ashafa had said. Quoting from Order 28 (1), he had read: “There shall be a Majority Leader of the Senate. The Majority Leader shall be a Senator nominated from the party with the highest number of senators. I believe that that letter should have been read to the hearing of all senators here present. Perhaps that will be the solution to the leadership tussle in the Senate.”
The APC National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, had in a letter dated June 23, 2015 recommended Senators to occupy the other principal positions. The letter had recommended Ahmed Lawan as Senate Leader; George Akume, Deputy Senate Leader; Olusola Adeyeye as Chief Whip and Abu Ibrahim as Deputy Whip. Nevertheless, Saraki allegedly backed the selection of his core APC loyalists as principal officers of the Senate. This obviously fuelled the crisis that has virtually crippled the once-revered red chamber. Soon after Saraki announced names of the principal officers, the two factional groups of the ruling party, Like Minds and Unity Forum, which were formed to support the two leading rivals, returned to the trenches. While the Like Minds group is headed by Senator Dino Melaye, Barnabas Gemade heads the Unity Forum. The former supports Saraki, while the latter is backing Lawan.
The last straw that shattered the fragile peace in the Senate was the composition of the headships of the various standing committees of the Senate by Saraki. After the announcement, members of the Unity Forum who felt cheated, accused him of marginalization. They argued that ‘juicy committees’ were handed down to PDP Senators and members of the Like Minds group.
In the beginning
Saraki was first elected to the Senate in April 2011, representing Kwara Central Senatorial District on the platform of PDP and was re-elected in the March 2015 elections on the ticket of APC. After failing to secure the presidential ticket in 2011, Saraki was rumoured to have made an attempt to challenge the then President of the Senate, Senator David Mark. Saraki and a former governor of Benue state, Senator George Akume, had in 2011, against the Senate Standing Rules, challenged Mark. Whenever there was crisis in the 7th Senate, Saraki was always rumoured to be making frantic efforts to oust Senator Mark.
His dream to secure the coveted Senate Presidency became a reality in 2015, having dumped the party he rode on to serve as governor for eight years and as a Senator for three years. When he announced that he was going to run for the office of Senate President, powerful forces within the ruling APC who feared that he could not be controlled, moved against him.
The presidency, the leadership of the party as well as one of the national leaders of APC, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, were reported to have kicked against his ambition. A Senator from Yobe State, Ahmad Lawan was ‘anointed’. But since APC, unlike the PDP in the past did not have a clear majority in the Senate, it could not effectively decide where the pendulum will swing. Eventhough a mock election that was held by the party ahead of the June 9, 2015 inauguration of the 8th Senate, saw Lawan emerging.
In the end, Saraki formed a strong alliance with his former party, the PDP and subsequently secured their support. He was elected while his APC counterparts were holding a meeting at the International Conference Centre in Abuja. However, neither Saraki nor the Senate has known peace since the inauguration of the 8th Upper Legislative Chamber in June, 2015.
Not resting on their oars, some aggrieved lawmakers and supporters of Senator Ahmed Lawan, petitioned the immediate-past Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Solomon Arase. In the letter to the police, members of the Unity Forum said at no time was the Senate Standing Rule 2011 amended during the 7th Senate. In the letter, signed by the secretary to the Forum, Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi (APC, Kaduna North), the group maintained: “The Senate Standing Order 2015 as amended and used by the Clerk of the National Assembly and Clerk of the Senate to inaugurate the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015, was fraudulently produced as the 7th Senate did not at any time during its tenure, amend the Senate Standing Rule.”
The police, under the leadership of IGP Arase, after conducting its investigations, said in its report that the amendment to the Senate Standing Rules was illegal. The report said the rules failed to follow laid down procedures provided by Section 110 as amended. The police investigation report on the matter stated: “The allusion by the Clerk of the Senate, Ben Efeturi, to the procedure of amending the Standing Orders of Parliament through “practice and not necessarily by procedure” is a misplaced analogy and undemocratic because the Nigerian Senate has a clear procedure to be adopted in amending its standing orders.”
In his statement to the police, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business in the 7th Senate, Senator Ita Enang, said the standing order was not amended. Enang told the police that the committee proposed the amendment of the 2011 standing order, but up to the expiration of their tenure, the proposal was not debated and approved or rejected at any sitting. Efeturi, however, said there was nothing wrong with the amendments. He told the police that, “the leadership of the 7th Senate ordered the 2015 Standing Rules as amended by their convention and practice. The Senate Standing Orders 2003, 2007 and 2011 followed the same procedure as that of 2015. In the parliament, amendment of standing orders is by practice and not necessarily by procedure.”
Another prosecution witness, Senator Abdullahi A. Gumel said that during the induction course of the National Assembly, he was given a copy of the Senate Standing Order 2011 (as amended) as the rules book to guide their conduct and working in the Senate. On resumption of the 8th Senate, a new standing order 2015 as amended was shared to them with which all the businesses of the Senate are being conducted. “In one of the sittings of the 8th Senate, Senator Kabiru Marafa raised a point of order that the new Standing Order 2015 (as amended) produced and shared was never approved by the 7th Senate. As such, it is a fraudulent document. At that point, it came to his notice that all the activities conducted from June 9, 2015 are null and void.”
Police gave two recommendations. “From findings, especially from the statement of the Clerk of the Senate who doubles as the Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, the Senate Standing Orders 2015, which was used to inaugurate the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015 was ordered by the leadership of the 7th Senate without following Section 110 of the Senate Standing Rules 2011 as amended, which requires that any amendment to the rules must be debated and approved by senators on the floor of the Senate.
“This practice where some senators amend the rules of the Senate without following legal procedures is not only criminal but portends danger for our growing democracy. It should be discouraged.” All the same, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami who instituted a criminal lawsuit against Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, over claims that they forged the Senate Standing Rules in 2015, decided to opt for one of the recommendations of the Police report. Malami, relying on the recommendations of the Police report and on behalf of the Federal Government, sued the former Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, outgoing Clerk of the Senate, Ben Efeturi, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, are charged with conspiracy and forgery, an action, he said, is contrary to sections 97 and 362 of the Penal Code law.
According to the court documents sited by Saturday Sun, the prosecution maintains that, “It is a prosecution’s case against the defendants, that about June 9, 2015, the defendants (Saraki, Ekweremadu, Efeturi and Maikasuwa) conspired among themselves to forge the Senate Standing Order 2011 (as amended) and caused the said forged document to be circulated among the elected senators for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is the forged document that was used in the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly which paved the way for the election that ushered in the present leadership of the Senate.”
The list of witnesses expected to testify against Saraki and Ekweremadu include the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly (Senate), Senator Ita Enang; Senator Sulaiman Hunkuyi, (APC, Kaduna North); Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central); Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe North); Senator Robert Ajayi Boroffice (APC, Ondo North) and Senator Abu Ibrahim (APC, Katsina South). Others are Doma and a police investigator, David Igbodo.
One year into his presidency of the Senate, government officials are questioning the credibility of Saraki remaining the President of the Senate. On Wednesday, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, David Babachir Lawal threw down the gauntlet, saying the alleged forgery trial of the Senate President and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, qualified them for resignation. Lawal said the principal officers should act in the same way former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari did when he was accused of certificate forgery.
But while the SGF, in a statement he personally signed, averred that the complaint leading to the forgery investigation was reported to the police by some aggrieved Senators who, specifically, accused certain persons, the Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi claimed that the Senate President and his deputy were never mentioned in the case and that the trial was a creation of the Executive to “criminalise the internal affairs of the Senate to create a distraction for the leadership of the Senate, force a leadership change and cow the legislators.”
Saraki’s several battles
But Saraki is not a stranger to battles. For now, however, his headache is that his past gestures seem to be rebounding. His first political appointment was in 2000, when President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as Special Assistant on Budget. With the backing of his father, the late Dr Olusola Saraki, a Senator (1979 – 1983) and a one-time Senate Leader of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Saraki in 2003, ran for the office of governor of Kwara State on PDP platform and won, thus displacing an incumbent governor of the state, Mohammed Lawal. He ran again for re-election in 2007 and won his second term.
While serving his terms as Kwara governor, he came under the searchlight of the federal authorities who attempted to nail him with the collapse of the Societe Generale Bank, where he was a director before joining politics. Somehow, he survived the onslaught due to lack of evidence to crush him or so it seems.
Upon completion of his second term in office 2011, Saraki had his first major political battle with his father, when he moved against his sister Gbemisola who had been anointed by the senior Saraki to be the next governor of the state. Some political pundits have often argued that the junior Saraki retired his father from active politics in 2011, when he supported his political godson, Abdulfatah Ahmed to succeed him as governor.
Even, under the last administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Societe Generale Bank case was again dogged out. As a result, he was declared wanted by the Police Special Fraud Unit. After the media razzmatazz of that move, the matter fizzled out. Soon after he emerged as the Senate President of the Eight Senate, some APC leaders and government officials mobilized the EFCC to dig out something to nail him and the alleged false declaration of assets came up. He is today standing trial over that at the Code of conduct Tribunal, CCT. However, against the expectations of the mastermind of the case, the matter has dragged on for too long and appears to be losing the initial potency. Just as Nigerians were still wondering how the CCT trial would end, those after him came up with a forgery case against him and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu. The Senate has described the latest case for which both men had already been arraigned before an FCT High Court as a coup by the executive the Senate with the sole aim of crippling it through a forced leadership change. The presidency has however denied the allegation, insisting that President Buhari has no hand in whatever the Senate leadership is going through.
As it is, there is no news like that of the face-off between the presidency and Saraki; the frenzied sabre-rattling; the devastating firepower; and the pretentious peace moves. This may well be the guiding light of the battle for the soul of the Senate as hostilities reach a crescendo. Since the first “bomb exploded,” in the early days of the 8th National Assembly, the conflict has eclipsed some major national news. On a daily basis, reports of the “war” hit the front pages of Nigerian newspapers with bold headlines. The many dimensions of the battle and its many fall-outs have become staple news for Nigerians. Critics of this development have counter-posed that there have been an overconcentration of the issue at the expense of formula for the revival of the nation’s economy.
The battle ahead
With the current battle over the office of the President of the Senate, both the presidency and Saraki backers in the upper chamber are busy fashioning out their winning formula. Alliances are being built, new friendships are being created and greater ploys are being designed, albeit secretly, to enhance their positions. Unfortunately for Saraki, his political party, the APC is the most influential in pushing for his removal. The situation now is that APC might not have the mass appeal in the Senate for the removal of their president, but is believed that the party could only, as it is doing, take away the charisma of the Senate President as a personality fit to oversee the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But even after the showdown between the presidency and the Senate, whoever emerges victorious might not find any cause to celebrate. The weight of a forced removal of a politician like Saraki coupled with the economic difficulties in the country can be overburdening even for any shoulder.
2019 as a factor
Many political analysts are already drawing the conclusion that with the barrage of charges hurled against Saraki alone, it is becoming difficult to rule out the fact that political calculations for the 2019 elections may be the motivating factor for his traducers. Keen watchers believe that some APC leaders see Saraki as a dangerous political strategist who must not be allowed to stand with any shred of credibility before the next elections or remain a major political factor to reckon with by then. Saraki’s elevation of the Nigeria Governors Forum as a strong power broker in the polity during his leadership of the elite group also made him a political figure to be watched and/or dreaded. Though President Buhari is yet to give any indication he may contest the 2019 election, the political profile of Saraki and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who is likely to have his last shot at the presidency in 2019 is enough to give Buhari’s men cause for concern as the duo may be too difficult to control or decode.
Pro, anti-Saraki Senators keep mum
Unlike in the past, when lawmakers who were both for and against Saraki took extreme positions, the atmosphere appears to be different. The spokesman of Unity Forum, Senator Kabir Marafa, who in the past was quick to respond to enquiries from journalists, now maintains a loud silence.
He does not pick his calls or return any. Some anti-Saraki lawmakers who equally in the past, expressed their positions freely, have suddenly gone quiet. They rather, prefer to speak off record and also plead that their comments should not be published.
For Senators loyal to the Senate President, the same loud silence holds sway. Apart from the spokesman of the Senate who periodically doles out press releases, no Senator from Saraki’s camp is openly speaking up anymore. Whenever calls are put across to them, they quickly end the conversation when a question regarding their position on Saraki’s issue pops up.
Some lawmakers who spoke with our correspondent in confidence, have however blamed their silence on what they describe as the dicey dimension the case has assumed. They often argue that since the case was already in court, it is wrong to take a position. Their new positions are however different from what they professed when the Senate President’s CCT trial began in March.
His chances of survival
It is tempting to suggest that Saraki will survive this onslaught by the presidency. Popular analysis of the chance of survival of the Senate President tends to assume that since his backers in the Senate cut across the two main political parties, the Senators will rally behind Saraki to keep his job of steering the affairs of Nigeria’s apex chamber.
Notwithstanding the razzmatazz of the presidency and despite facing two court cases simultaneously, Saraki still appears to enjoy some level of support from Senators. When the struggle started after his election as Senate President, Saraki had more enemies than friends in the Red Chamber. Apart from PDP lawmakers and a handful of APC Senators, Saraki did not enjoy the kind of support he enjoys now. One factor that worked in Saraki’s favour was his ability to change the narrative and paint a picture that not him, but the entire Senate that is under trial.
In no time, more lawmakers who were hitherto opposed to Saraki, started falling in line. The Unity Forum base, opposed to Saraki and seen to be President Buhari’s ‘boys’ in the Senate started collapsing. From a commanding figure of over 50 members in June 2015, the group’s number has been decimated and currently stands at 15. At the moment, over 90 Senators are directly and indirectly rooting for Saraki and his deputy, Ekweremadu.
His fate if convicted
The offence of forgery carries a punishment of a jail term of 14 years. One of the first consequences of being convicted for forgery would be a sentence to a jail term. Secondly, convicts will not be able to hold a public office or contest elections for a number of years. For now, it maybe too early to predict where the pendulum will swing. Whether or not Saraki and Ekweremadu will be convicted will become clearer in the coming days, weeks and months.
On the 5th of April, 2005, Adolphous Wabara resigned as the Senate President. It was the climax of two weeks of bickering over alleged N55 million bribe-for-budget between him and five others. Wabara who read his resignation letter told the Senators that after reflecting on the case and other matters and after due and extensive consultations, he believed that the Senate should and must preserve the integrity of the National Assembly because it serves as the refuge and bastion of the collective will of the people through their elected representatives in the upper and lower houses. With these words, Wabara took a bow and left the Senate President’s seat. Will Saraki tow this line after two cases that have landed him in courts in Nigeria? Or will he cling to his philosophical belief that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy? Time will tell.