•Drama, intrigues that followed reconcilliation meeting
By Fred Itua, Abuja
The intense battle to succeed the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki by desperate lawmakers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), may have reached a dead end. Saraki is currently facing trial over his alleged under-declaration of assets when he held sway as governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
Saraki’s trial kick-started on March 10, 2016, having failed to secure the backing of the Supreme Court to save him from prosecution. Saraki whose appeal was thrown out by a seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court on February 5, is answering to a 13-count criminal charge bordering on his alleged false declaration of assets.
The apex court panel headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohamed, had in a unanimous judgement, maintained that Saraki had a criminal case to answer, even as it upheld an earlier verdict of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal which ruled that the Senate President should face prosecution before the CCT.
Sensing that his trial may go either way and open up the Senate presidency’s seat, the PDP Senators who have remained united since the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, were believed to have been plotting another surprise. Names were bandied around on whom to succeed Saraki in the event that he is removed.
Political pundits, basing their arguments on the current composition of the Senate, were apprehensive that the PDP could dislodge the APC. As it stands now, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has 57 Senators, while the PDP has 46. Six seats, with three in Rivers, one in Imo, another one in Anambra and one in Kogi states are still pending.
Rivers, Anambra and Imo states are believed to be under the strong grip of the PDP, while Kogi may go either way. If the PDP is able to secure the six slots, the Senate will now be divided 57 to the APC and 52 to the opposition. Based on the foregoing arithmetic, PDP Senators were bouyed to aim for the top job. The Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio was fingered as the consensus candidate the PDP was going to feed to replace Saraki.
Disturbed by a possible takeover of the Senate by the opposition PDP, APC Senators have suddenly woken up and are not leaving anything to chance anymore. In their latest move to counter PDP’s plan, the two factions of the party in the Red Chamber, held a meeting on Tuesday night in Abuja. The meeting had in attendance, Senators who opposed the election of Saraki as Senate President. Notable supporters of Saraki were also present at the meeting which was held at the Asokoro residence of Senator Aliyu Wammako
Although the meeting is seen as a fence-mending move to douse the tensions that have permeated the Red Chamber since the controversial election of Saraki as Senate President against the popular wish of some powerful forces, it is also believed to be a last-minute attempt to counter plans by the PDP.
Daily Sun gathered that the strategic meeting, had in attendance, 10 Senators, five from each of the two warring camps in the Senate. Arc rivals of the Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, Kabiru Marafa, Gbenga Ashafa and Suleiman Hukunyi who are the arrowheads of the weakened Unity Forum.
Similarly, the Like Minds group was represented by Danjuma Goje, Aliyu Wammako, Sani Yerima, Kabiru Gaya and Adamu Aliero. Leaders of the two groups, Senators Dino Melaye and Barnabas Gemade were absent at the meeting. No principal officers were present either at the meeting. Convener of the meeting, Senator Wammako, said the meeting was held to end the crisis rocking the APC caucus in the Senate, since the emergence of Saraki as Senate President.
“Effectively, the meeting has brought an end to the crisis in the Senate between APC Senators who now support the Senate President, Bukola Saraki,” Mr. Wamako said.
Senator Ashafa also confirmed the meeting to Daily Sun, but declined to make further comments on the issue. Other lawmakers who attended could not be reached for comments. It was reliably gathered that the lawmakers who were present at the meeting, agreed on a number of issues. Our correspondent gathered that the main thrust of the meeting was how to reunite the feuding groups of APC caucus in the Red Chamber and fully support Saraki against an imminent coup by the PDP caucus.
It was further gathered that the lawmakers expressed worry that, while the opposition PDP remained united, the APC caucus was enmeshed in crisis, which they said had weakened it. The lawmakers expressed fear that if Saraki was to be removed today, the PDP stood a better chance to take over the leadership of the Senate.
In an extensive interview with our correspondent, Senator Marafa explained what necessitated the meeting and how both camps have chosen to restore peace to the troubled chamber. He also revealed how the former governor of Sokoto State, Senator Wammako has been making frantic efforts to reconcile the feuding APC members. He also revealed that he was ready to give peace a chance, by aligning with the position of the generality of APC Senators.
He revealed that the case in court, instituted against the leadership of the Senate over the alleged illegal composition of the standing committees maybe withdrawn as part of the peace moves. He said if the conditions given by the Unity Forum were meant, the long battle in the camp of APC would become history.
He explained: “The problem of leadership has been on in the Senate since we came on board. Last week, Senators from the North-west came up with the idea of uniting of APC caucus in the Red Chamber. Senator Wammako was at the head of it. He consulted with his people in the Like Minds group and reached out to us. Each side nominated five Senators to meet.
“So, we decided to meet last week. At the end of that, we came up with a three point agenda. We talked about the issue of committees’ composition. We talked about APC members in the Unity Forum who were sidelined in the composition of the committees. We said if you want to come together, we need to review certain things. The third thing was the issue of leadership.
“We had a meeting on Monday. We agreed on two out of the three items on the agenda. We are still on the third issue on how they can comply with the position of the party, APC. We are likely going to see again today (yesterday). We have agreed that it in the best interest of APC for us to work together.
He confirmed fears that parts of the reasons why the peace meeting was called was to counter the growing fears that the PDP may take over the leadership of the Senate.
He said: “Nothing is impossible in the midst of chaos and disunity. When you are not united, anything can happen to you. If you are saying that the meeting is because of fear that the PDP may take over the Senate, it is not unfounded.
“Let us be fair. People are quick to make out things from what they hear. As for the case in court, it depends. If we resolve the issue, why will I continue with the case? There is nothing personal about it. As far as I am concerned, if the committees are brought in line with the rules of the Senate, I will withdraw the case. We were elected to serve the people. Whatever is needed to make this government of President Muhammadu Buhari work, we will accept it.”