Can Saraki survive the onslaught?

Can Saraki survive the onslaught?
December 30 15:44 2015

By Yabagi Mohammed 

Dr Abubakar Bukola  Saraki is no doubt a man of big ambitions. A true son of his father, he was born with silver spoon to late Second Republic Senate Leader and godfather of Kwara politics,  Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki. He grew up a watching his father hold both daylight and nocturnal meetings, discuss political strategies and how to conquer in political battles.

He has learnt the ropes from his father and is determined to surpass the man’s achievements. He has already surpassed his Late father’s achievements because the man was only able to become Senate Majority Leader, though the younger Saraki will find it difficult to dominate the local politics of the state the way his father did with the kind of opposition against him at the local level right now.

He has that bit of arrogance in him. He  was trained in London as a medical doctor. He has the physical attributes, the height, charisma and carriage of a leader couple with an infectious  accent and looking at the brilliancy with which he addresses variety of  issues, you will discover that he is a case of money well spent.

His father was a highly successful politician. He is also doing excellently well.  He therefore does not think he is such a political pushover who someone or a group of persons can just sit somewhere and bark orders at.

Bukola Saraki has learnt politics from the best school in this part of the world – the Saraki’s household in Ilorin.  He has been two term governor of Kwara state and chairman of the once powerful Nigeria Governors’ Forum and he has grown up to believe he would have anything he wanted in this world.   That may be the reason he found it difficult to summon the discipline and self restraint to submit to party dictates  when his ambition was at stake.

What Saraki and his group, the Like Minds Senators put up on June 9 was a classic show of dribbling skills that even Argentine legend, Diego Armando Maradona would envy.

Saraki has proven to be a realist, a believer in the Machiavellan School which says that power is not given, rather, it is taken and that the  end justifies the means. And again, politics in this part of the world is all about grabbing power first and deciding how to manage it and what to do with it later.  

The Beginning   

When the leaders of the legacy parties that formed the All Progressives Congress were coming together, all they were interested in was to ‘steal’ as many aggrieved members from the then ruling party, the People ‘s Democratic Party   as possible so that they can contribute their financial clout and political weight to take the APC to where it is now. They didn’t bother about how to manage the ego and ambitions of some of these big men. Though, they handed over the state party structures  to the sitting governors who joined the party but that has  now proven not to be enough. In fact,  there was a time the party called on the then president Goodluck Jonathan to join the party. Political observers called it desperation but APC bigwigs said it was political wisdom.

So, the more the PDP was imploding, the more the APC was jubilating  and welcoming  members from that party into its fold. There is no doubting the fact that the likes of Saraki himself , Atiku Abubakar, Abubakar Baraje, Rotimi Amaechi, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Aliyu Wamakko, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and many others contributed in no small measure  to the success the ruling party is now enjoying. This is not taking any credit away from Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his group for laying the foundation for the present order. But if  in the pursuit of the kind glory APC achieved in May, 2015, you open your house to all calibre of persons from different backgrounds , there is no way the present internal contradictions in the party can be avoided.

Just after the victory party came the trouble. The party so far has also shown its inexperience in the sense that immediately the symptoms of crisis states started showing, it should have taken practical steps to nip them in bud but the leadership  thought it could just bark orders at people and everybody will just fall in line. That was  a costly assumption.

One, for the position of Senate President, the party did not choose a candidate who had the charm of Saraki. Two, the President did not move in on time to save the party the embarrassment we all watched on TV on June 9.  Three, the mock election organized by the party was a sham because it exposed the track of the party to the PDP which quickly moved in to mobilize support for Saraki against the interest of the the ruling party.

The party also made the mistake of thinking it can summon a meeting  on the Election Day when it was already too late. Saraki and some other APC senators then decided to dribble the party and proceeded to the Chambers to carry out a ‘coup’. While the party miscalculated, this was also seen as an act of  treachery from the APC senators especially with the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President.

Saraki’s critics have accused him of being over – ambitious , desperate and showing gross disrespect to the office and person of President Muhammadu Buhari  by not showing up at International Conference Centre (ICC). The man has however contended that communication gap was responsible for his inability to attend the ICC meeting, saying he received neither text nor call from the party leadership inviting him for the meeting.

Saraki was also accused of betraying the cause and interest of his party for entering an agreement with the PDP for the emergence of Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President.  He has repeatedly denied these allegations even though observers see most of his explanations as face- saving measures.

From another perspective, the party leadership has also received its fair share of blame for the ways it has managed or mismanaged the Sarakicrisis so far.  At first , the party seemed to have underrated the capacity of Saraki and his few loyalists  within the party to press on with his ambition and achieve result despite the stand of the party leadership. So, the party leaders actually thought it had the capacity to choose leaders for the National Assembly by a manner of imposition.

The party did not also move in on time to settle Saraki and Lawan. Rather than calling the two men and key supporters to meeting and doing the normal horse trading, the party leaders were just grandstanding , threatening fire and brimstone that it will punish anyone who disobeyed the party position. Up till now, both Saraki and the APC senators who supported him have not been punished in any way by the party.

Most fundamentally, the party left everything too late and only called a meeting on the same day of election when  it became obvious that Saraki was becoming too hot to handle. They made it easy for Saraki to humiliate them.

The crisis also raises issues concerning  independence of the legislature and separation of powers and political observers opine that we can’t ignore these concepts in a democracy . This is because attempt by the party to impose leaders on the National Assembly will in significant ways infringe on the independence of the lawmakers. If lawmakers  cannot take decisions among themselves, how are we sure they can raise motions, pass bills and perform oversight functions on the Executive arm and again, the President is the leader of the party, so, if the party is mounting so much pressure on the legislative arm on the choice of leadership, it’s like the President is indirectly seeking to impose leaders on the arm. And the issue of rubber stamp legislature was part of the bane of the PDP reign which Nigerians sought to change by voting change in   May, 2015.

While one cannot also ignore the arguments surrounding party discipline and party supremacy, the problem is that the party leadership did not manage the whole scenario

well enough in the sense that they made look as if it was Asiwaju

Bola Ahmed Tinubu who was the party and whatever he said must be adopted as the position of the party. In fact, it looked like if anyone disobeyed Tinubu, he could be said to be guilty of indiscipline. The issue of party supremacy was not properly defined.

To make matters worse, Tinubu’s recent accusation against Saraki that he had one leg in APC and one in APC confirmed the story that he was the worst hit by  Saraki’s emergence as Senate President. Tinubu only succeeded in confirming the story in town that Saraki is the victim of his political manouverings. Even while arguing that forces outside the Senate Chambers were behind his recent travails, Saraki on the other hand has been  trying to paint a picture that he doesn’t nurse any personal problems with Asiwaju. His calm response to Asiwaju’s rant did not betray this.

In addition to this, it is neither in the Nigerian constitution, Senate rules nor  the APC constitution that the party or a few powerful persons in the party should determine who becomes leaders in the National Assembly.

Failed Peace Moves

In fairness to the party, after all the hullabaloo which took place after Saraki’s and Dogara’s emergence as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively , the leaders decided to pardon the “deviants” and came up with a list of principal officers to be in the two houses. The party prescribed that the two men who lost out to Saraki and Dogara – Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila be made Majority Leaders for the two Houses.

This however caused another round of crises. While Saraki was adamant to give a prominent position to his main challenger, Dogara had the same problem couple with the fact that the  Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Suleiman Lasun hailed from the same southwest as Gbajabiamila who the party insisted must be made House Leader.

After all the chaos and fighting on the Green Chamber over who is obeying party position or not, the President invited the warring parties to a meeting after which Dogara finally agreed to yield to the party’s request and since then the House has been at peace.

As for the Senate, we understand that the Presidency and party leadership were angrier with him due to his alleged connivance that caused the emergence of Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President. So, all efforts he made to see the President failed until recently.

While Saraki’s  obstinate attitude is not in doubt, some political pundits are of the view that if the President had invited the two groups from the Senate  and told them what he told House members, Saraki may have yielded to the party’s list of principal officers. The summary of the whole drama is that unlike Gbajabiamila, Lawan could not emerge Senate Leader.

The Case Against  Saraki 

Since his controversial emergence as Senate President, a lot has been thrown at Saraki and in the coming days or weeks , it will be interesting to see how he navigates through the dangerous waters ahead

He was first  accused of falsifying  the Senate  standing order which was used for his election. The  police investigated the matter and submitted  its report to the Attorney General of the Federation. Nigerians are still waiting for what government will do with the report.

His wife, Toyin Saraki was also invited by the EFCC for questioning over alleged involvement in contact scams during her husband’s tenure as governor of Kwara state. 

There was s twist when the senate committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions began a probe of the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Lamorde, over allegations that he diverted over N1 trillion being proceeds recovered from convicted persons by the agency.

Saraki was accused of plotting  to smear the integrity of the EFCC by contacting Mr. George Uboh, the petitioner, and urging him to submit a petition to the Senate blackmailing the anti-corruption agency through Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, a first-term senator from Delta State. But Saraki denied the report claiming it was part of the smear campaign against him. 

The latest and the most serous allegation against  Saraki is the ‘falsification of asset declaration’ leveled against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau. 

The CCB had leveled a 13 count corruption charge against the Senate President.

His associate,   Kennedy Izuagbe a former director of Societe Generale Bank Nigeria Plc, was also declared wanted by the EFCC . Societe Generale Bank is owned by Saraki’s late father, Olusola Saraki. Izuagbe, 45, is being investigated in a case of conspiracy and money laundering to the tune of over N3.6 billion.

In fact, for some days, Saraki’s credibility rating hit an all- time low as he was in the news for all the wrong reasons. He was asked to appear in court, he failed to appear and an arrest warrant was issued against him. 

He finally appeared before the Code of Conduct Tribunal where he pleaded not guilty and the case was adjourned till October 21.

Earlier, his media aides had denied any wrong doing on his behalf, claiming that the people outside the Senate who didn’t  like his emergence as Senate President were behind his travails.

A member of the Unity Forum led by Senator Ahmed Lawan  said the Senate President lacked the morality to continue in office.

“We don’t want to rock the boat, we all want to celebrate the festivity but as soon as we resume, common sense should prevail on Saraki to abdicate the office. This country at this crucial stage that we are beginning to have a renewed attention from the global village, cannot afford to have a Senate President with such garbage.

“The same man had his wife, Toyin, invited and interrogated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). That alone was strong enough for him to step aside. “Assuming it was not, what about this CCT trial? We will not condone this anymore except we are deceiving ourselves with the so-called anti-corruption and change slogans.

We must start with ourselves and the only way is for the man to quietly leave and allow someone  without such moral burden to mount the saddle,” he said.

The above quotation pointed strongly to the fact that the political angle of the crisis is for Saraki to lose his office and not necessarily to get him jailed. Again, asking him to resign from office when neither him nor his wife had been convicted of any of the crimes also gave some form of confirmation to the fact the trial was put together by his political rivals both within and outside the chambers to get him out of office and not as part of Mr President’s anti- corruption drive.

Political Solution 

Despite the seeming complexity of the situation on ground, hope has in recent times

risen for a political solution. The  only problem here is that any attempt to withdraw Saraki’s case from the court will dampen people’s hope and adversely affect the integrity of the Federal Government’s  anti corruption drive. It will now look obvious that the case was in the first place not about fighting corruption but political persecution.

Another challenge the issue of political solution will have is that some party bigwigs are reportedly giving Saraki a condition that he must ensure Ekweremadu either resigns or is impeached. This, Saraki will find very difficult even if he agrees to do it.

Talking about hope rising for a political solution, Saraki has in the last few weeks met the President a couple of times, the first being at the Eid ground on July 17.

A major meeting came up on October 1st during the Independence Anniversary Celebrations at the State House Forecourt. It was the ceremonial change of guards and both presidents sat next to each other, laughing heartily together.

Saraki also used the opportunity to discuss with the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo in his office for two hours. They came out in a very peaceful atmosphere. He had in the heat of the battle reportedly  failed to honor a meeting with the same man, with a yet to be confirmed rumor saying he called him “an ordinary commissioner”.

Meanwhile, in line with the mandate given to him by the House of Representatives, Speaker, Yakubu Dogara was able to fix the first ever official between the President and Senate President. The meeting also involved the Vice President, other Presidential aides and the entire National Assembly leadership.

Even though Saraki would want us to believe his trial wasn’t discussed at the meeting, the pictures we saw and  the extremely happy mood of the participants after the meeting suggested that they may have found a mutually- beneficial political solution to the crisis.

It must however be made known that the aim of the people who allegedly plotted Saraki’s case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal is to make him lose his position as Senate President. It will therefore be difficult if not impossible to see the them getting them   off his back  without achieving results.

Saraki himself is not sleeping.  He has assembled a competent team of senior lawyers who know what it takes to frustrate and delay any case, no matter the merit or otherwise . He has also gotten the endorsement of over 80 of his colleagues.

One power Saraki and his colleagues have is that the names of President Buhari’s ministerial nominees are on their table. May be that is why the Presidency is also  playing some politics with the lawmakers. Saraki has cooperated well with the President with the maturity he displayed during the first leg of the ministerial screening.

Nigerians are really waiting with bated breadth to actually see where the whole drama will lead to. One thing must be mentioned, the President has shown that he is ready to work with anyone but it is doubtful if some of the party leaders are really ready to let Saraki keep that position for another day.

But in the long run, Saraki will not go down without a fight.

Consequences For Party 

If an amicable political solution to the crisis is not found and if Saraki and his supporters feel aggrieved at the end of the ongoing drama, they may move back to the PDP and if this is not properly managed, this may be the beginning of the end of APC.

We will use this opportunity to recall that the PDP’s defeat did not just happen in May, 2015, there were remote and immediate causes. One of the causes was its inability to manage success and hold on to its strong political heavyweights. These heavyweights who left the PDP in frustration contributed significantly to the success of the APC in the last elections. APC needs to be careful not to make the same mistake of the PDP.

On the other hand, as far as most  Nigerians are concerned, the Federal Government has started a trial against the Senate President and it has made Nigerians believe that it is part of the anti corruption drive of the President.  Any attempt to withdraw the case or make it end inconclusively as part of any political solution  will affect the image of both the party and the government. The future fortune of the party may therefore be negatively affected.

The government has started something which it must finish. Saraki too  decided to push on with his ambition by swimming against the tide. He is facing the music.

Can he survive the onslaught. Time will tell?