• Plot Senate president’s replacement
From Fred Itua, Abuja
For Dr. Bukola Saraki, emerging as Senate President against the popular wish of power brokers, was like a camel passing through the proverbial eye of the needle. First, his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), saw his rich political pedigree, wealth and robust relationship with the North and South as a future threat to certain interests.
Yes, he may have won the first bout of the fight, but the ongoing plot to unseat and replace him with a ‘loyal’ APC Senator appears to be a movement he may be incapable of stopping.
While his party vis-a-vis the presidency kicked against Saraki’s ambition in June 2015, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), saw him as a tool that could be used to further their cause. With few APC Senators behind him, Saraki secured the votes of PDP Senate caucus. Since his controversial emergence, however, the godfather of Kwara State politics, Saraki, has lost his sleep.
His battle has also meant that the Senate, nay National Assembly would not enjoy peace and stability. Major resolutions taken by the National Assembly have been ignored by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Instead, they refer to the resolutions as ‘merely advisory’. For instance, a resolution passed by the House of Representatives last year, ordering the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to halt plans to increase electricity tariffs was ignored. Sadly, heavens did not fall.
The Senate re-echoed the same position last month. Again, the resolution was ignored. Curiously, no measure has been taken to ‘beat MDAs to line’. Critics of the Senate President have blamed this flagrant disregard for the National Assembly on the controversial emergence of Saraki who is seen in the APC and presidency circles as an ‘outcast’.
Senators, who lost out in the contest, are yet to accept Saraki as the authentic president of the Senate. Every step he has taken since his emergence has been met with stiff opposition from APC elements in the Red Chamber. Similarly, the Senate has frequently received negative bashings from the media. What the public tend to ignore when the executive commits such an offence, the National Assembly does not get away with it.
The current burning issue is the trial of Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over his alleged under-declaration of assets when he held sway as governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011. Efforts to stop the trial, using the Supreme Court have failed. And that leaves him open. As it stands now, Saraki will face the full wrath of the law in the coming days.
Sensing what might be the outcome of the CCT trial, Saraki’s foes in the red chamber have regrouped. In the last couple of weeks, they have been plotting on how to replace him with another Senator in the event that he is found guilty by the tribunal. Interestingly, the fresh moves are not engineered only by APC lawmakers. PDP Senate caucus is not leaving anything to chance.
Many sources, predominantly APC Senators, told Daily Sun that, following the Supreme Court judgment, the two APC camps in the Red Chamber had their separate meetings to strategize ahead of a possible removal of Saraki as Senate President.
The Unity Forum, headed by Senator Barnabas Gemade, comprising Senators from the North-East, North-Central, North-West and South-West, had a meeting immediately after the Supreme Court judgment and reached a fresh compromise to tentatively support Senator George Akume or Gemade. Both lawmakers are from Benue State.
Senator Ahmad Lawan, who was APC’s anointed scribe, but was defeated by Saraki in June 2015, has been dropped by the Unity Forum. Daily Sun gathered that their decision was based on the perceived hostility towards him by some APC lawmakers.
Some members of the group, soon after the meeting, had called on Saraki to resign over his criminal trial. Senator Kabiru Marafa, who is the spokesman of the group in an interview with our correspondent, had maintained that Saraki’s resignation was necessary in order to restore the integrity of the Senate.
Marafa had said: “I have said it before and I am repeating it again that Saraki must resign and face his trial. As a Nigerian, what is he supposed to do? He is supposed to resign. That is the honourable thing to do. That is what is obtainable in other parts of the world. When you are accused of something, you resign and face trial.
“Nobody said he is guilty. Even the Senate has not said that he is guilty. We have been very fair to him. He has exhausted all his appeals and it is clear now that he has to face trial. As a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the honourable thing to do is to resign and face trial.
“So, the Senate President has two options to either resign, face his trial or remain as the Senate President and continue going to court. But the implication is a situation whereby our number three man is always docked. I do not think it is good for the institution and in a civilized democracy, once you are accused, you forget about all other things and try to clean your name. It’s just like when you are drowning. You forget about your pride and every other thing and just think about safety.
“Now, the Senate President has wittingly or unwittingly boxed himself into a corner. He took this case from one court to the other until it reaches the apex court of the land and the court says you have a case to answer, go and answer. For God’s sake, it is not mandatory. What it does is that it shows your desperation. It shows your insensitivity. If somebody were to rise to the position of the governor and a Senator and now Senate President, should he not be in the forefront in doing everything possible to respect or insulate the institutions from himself so that whenever they say this is our Senate President, former or serving, everybody will respect it? If you tarnish the image of the office, you are tarnishing our own image too because at least, that is the highest office he is occupying now.”
Like-minded Senators who are loyal to the embattled Senate President have had series of meetings too. Some PDP Senators who are core loyalists of Saraki, our correspondent gathered, have been attending the meetings.
It was further gathered that two options were being explored by the Dino Melaye-led group. The first option is to back the Majority Leader, Ali Ndume as a replacement for Saraki.
The second option, it was gathered, is to support the PDP caucus to produce the next Senate President. The second option is believed to be the group’s method of paying the presidency and the leadership of APC back for frustrating Saraki.
The lawmakers are also against calls by the other faction that Saraki should resign as Senate President until he is found guilty by the court. Leader of the group, Melaye, who also spoke with our correspondent, said those calling for Saraki’s resignation were clowns and should not be taken seriously.
Melaye told our correspondent: “Senator Marafa, who said Saraki should resign, is a clown. What is going on is not prosecution, but persecution. I want to make it categorically clear that this is not Saraki, but the institution called Senate. This is not about the person of Saraki, but an affront to us.
“We will no longer fold our hands and watch things. We are going to handle it as an attack on the Senate. We want to assure Nigerians that this too shall pass. Anyone contemplating change in leadership is a daydreamer.”
In the meantime, PDP lawmakers are not leaving anything to chance. Although they vehemently support Saraki, they have initiated moves to see the party can benefit from the possible crisis that may erupt in the APC camp.
“Plans are underway to sit among ourselves and think of how we can cash in on this. We did it the last time and elected Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President. We have the number and may woo disgruntled APC Senators to support our move so that the PDP can take over the Senate,” a PDP Senator from the South-South who does not want to be named, confessed to Daily Sun.