The elections of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives, is threatening to tear the ruling All Progressives Congress apart, even as Nigerians wait for positive change promised by the party
| By Olu Ojewale | Jun 22, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE political tsunami which hit the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, on Tuesday, June 9, following the election of Bukola Saraki as Senate president and Yakubu Dogara as speaker of the House of Representatives may take a while to settle. Irked by audacity of both Saraki and Dogara to contest and win at the expense of the party’s preferred Ahmed Lawan for Senate president and Femi Gbajabiamila for speaker, the leadership of the party appears to be up in arms against the two National Assembly leaders and their supporters.
The APC formally registered its anger and bitterness on Tuesday, by pouring out vituperations on the principal actors as being overambitious.
The party, in a statement, issued by Lai Mohammed, publicity secretary of the party, said that the actions of Saraki and Dogara and their supporters amounted to treachery and disloyalty. It said that the inauguration and the process which led to the emergence of the two National Assembly leaders represented the highest level of indiscipline.
The APC, therefore, threatened to sanction the two men and their supporters in order to clearly show its determination “to enforce party discipline and supremacy.”
The party was especially bitter because Saraki and Dogara had relied on the alliance of members of the immediate past ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to win their elections, saying it was unacceptable because it was based on nothing but “inordinate ambition and lack of discipline and loyalty.”
On Wednesday, June 10, it was the turn of the sponsors of Lawan and Gbajabiamila to vent their anger. Members of the Senate Unity Forum, SUF, who sponsored the two candidates first of all walked out of the Senate in protest and later addressed a press conference where they threatened to take a legal action against the election of Saraki. They claimed that the election did not follow due constitutional procedure. Barnabas Gemade, a senator and leader of the group, who stated this while addressing journalists at the National Assembly Complex, said 51 senators were not allowed to take part in the election of the Senate president because they were waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari, who invited them to a meeting at the International Conference Centre, on Tuesday, June 9.
He said the group would, very soon, challenge the alleged illegality in court, “since it takes two-third of members to impeach the Senate president, two-third of the members should also have been in attendance before he was elected on Tuesday.”
He said: “Our right to participate in the election of the Senate president is a constitutional right which cannot be taken away by any person or group of persons. The Clerk of the National Assembly knowing full well that the quorum for election of the Senate president has not been met, went ahead to conduct an election that shuts the door on about 51 other senators which would remain unacceptable until what would meet democratic parameters was done.”
But members of the Like Minds Senators, LMS, the platform on which Saraki and Dogara emerged, at another news conference addressed by Dino Melaye, a senator, and in company of four others, maintained that due process was followed in the election. Melaye, therefore, dared the SUF members to take the matter to court as threatened.
From all indications, the APC appears to have been polarised and set for a long-drawn out war. The matter, according to those who are close to the party hierarchy, is deeper than what it appears to be. Some factors seem to be at play. One, there is the suspicion that Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, because of his support for the preferred candidates, were actually sponsored by him in order to control the National Assembly. But another school of thought says that the fight was actually that of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, one of the four political parties that fused to form the current APC.
The others were the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, the Congress of Progressive Change, CPC, and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance. The APC was later joined by a group of disgruntled members of the PDP known as the ‘New PDP.’ The group led by five governors joined the newly formed APC. The then governors were Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State; Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto State; Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State; Rabiu Kwankwanso of Kano State and Abdulfatah Ahmed, Kwara State.
Saraki, as a senator, provided the needed leadership during the time of the defection and ranked among the leading light of the party.
When it came to the sharing formula for political offices, President Buhari was picked from the defunct CPC/ANPP, while his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, emerged from the ACN, which came to the merger with six governors. The APGA faction, as represented by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, is expected to nominate the secretary to the government of the federation.
The arrangement seems to have left the defunct ‘New PDP’ faction in the cold because none of them was considered for any political office. This was said to have been the argument of some members of the former PDP members in the party who said their sacrifices and contributions were being undermined by the APC leadership. As luck would have it, President Buhari and the national leadership of the APC initially said the positions at the National Assembly would not be zoned and that they would be ready to work with the candidates that emerged as the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives.
Emboldened by that mindset, the former PDP members in the APC reached out to their colleagues in the now opposition to hatch out a plan to put their own at the helms of eighth National Assembly. To ensure his victory, Saraki approached the PDP hierarchy for support and in return, he offered to make Ike Ekweremadu, a former deputy Senate president to return to the post. It was an unexpected political masterstroke, no doubt. This is because Ekweremadu being of the PDP is also from the South-East, a section which would have been left out of the scheme of things if Lawan had been elected. Lawan, a senator from Yobe State, North-East, had picked George Akume, a senator from Benue State, North-Central, as his deputy.
In any case, Ali Ndume, an APC senator from North-East, contested against Ekweremadu but lost. Ekweremadu polled 54 votes to defeat Ndume, who scored 20 votes.
There were 57 Senators in the chamber when the election was conducted but the number increased to 76 when the clerk of the National Assembly was about to superintendent the conduct of the election of the deputy president of the Senate.
The emergence of Ekweremadu as deputy Senate president, a school of thought has it, could also be part of the plan to balance the tripod on which the nation stands. This, it was argued, would prove to the nation that the Buhari administration would run an inclusive government.
But Chris Ngige, a senator and member of the APC, said it was not part of the plan and that the development was happenstance that an Igbo man has been elected as deputy Senate president. “For some of us, it’s like strengthening the PDP through backdoor. The APC is not talking about it because our people followed in the making of the deputy Senate president,” he said.
Besides, since there is no APC senator from the South-East, the party has zeroed in on appointing the secretary to the federal government from the zone. Among those being touted to hold the position is Ngige and Ogbonaya Onu, former Abia State governor and chairman of the defunct ANPP.
That notwithstanding, available information has shown that the party is in a precarious position based on the dangerous path it is treading. More so, because of alleged disrespect for the president shown by the Saraki group in apparent desperation to get elected.
Speaking in an interview, Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to President Buhari on media and publicity, said Saraki, and Salisu Maikasuwa, clerk of the National Assembly, were aware that president was to meet with the leadership of the APC before the Senate was inaugurated. Shehu said both Saraki and the clerk should have extended that respect to Buhari by postponing the inauguration but they failed to do so.
He said Buhari did not bother attending the meeting with the 51 APC senators at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, scheduled for 9:00 am because Saraki had emerged Senate president before the meeting could even hold. He said: “President Buhari had planned to be there (at the meeting) to show support for the party but once the process had begun, the point had been lost. Senator Saraki directly or indirectly and the clerk of the National Assembly were reached directly or indirectly and they would have shown that respect to Mr. President, but the process went ahead. And that is it.”
Shehu denied allegation that Buhari lured the 51 senators to the ICC so that Saraki could emerge the Senate president. He said the meeting was not secret as it had been announced by the party the previous day.
But it appears that the APC senators are culpable in what eventually happened. While the meeting was to hold with the president at 9:00, they were supposed to have been seated much earlier ahead of the time, but most of them did not turn up on time. Even those who were there at the ICC, should have known better that there was something in the offing when Saraki and his group were not at the centre for the meeting.
Nevertheless, President Buhari is pressing ahead with his earlier decision to work with anybody who emerges as the leader in the National Assembly to insulated himself from the intrigues playing out. In a statement issued by Femi Adesina, his special adviser on media and publicity, Buhari maintained that he stood by his earlier position that he would work with whoever the lawmakers elected as their leaders.
He, however, noted that he would have loved that “the process of electing the leaders as initiated and concluded by the APC had been followed,” he, nevertheless, “took the view that a constitutional process has somewhat occurred.”
Adesina stressed that “the stability of our constitutional order and overall interest of the common man were uppermost on the president’s mind, as far as the National Assembly elections were concerned.”
The president, therefore, urged all the elected representatives of the people to focus on the enormous task of bringing enduring positive change to the lives of Nigerians.
The presidential spokesman said the APC leadership, not Buhari, convened the botched meeting at the ICC, Abuja. Mohammed also confirmed that it was the party that invited its lawmakers to the meeting.
That aside, observers said there was lack of seriousness on the part of the APC leadership that called for the meeting. Reports said that while the meeting was to hold at 9:00 am, the likes of Bola Tinubu, a national leader of the party, did not arrive at the venue of the meeting until about 10:30 am.
The odds were supposed to favour Gbajabiamila to win the poll until the tables were turned on him.
Dogara polled 182 votes out of the 358 total cast ballots to beat the former minority leader in the keenly-contested poll. Gbajabiamila got 174 votes.
Yusuf Lasun, an APC member of the House from Osun State and running mate of Dogara, was also elected as deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. He polled 203 to defeat Mohammed Monguno from Borno State, who got 153 votes.
Reports indicated that many of the PDP members, who had initially assured Gbajabiamila of their support, suddenly changed their minds and shifted their loyalty to Dogara.
Nevertheless, Gbajabiamila congratulated the new speaker moments after the results were announced by embracing him and shaking hands with him.
Since the election, the emergence of the new Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives, a lot of Nigerians from different walks of life have been congratulating them. Some of those who have that are in the APC, however, appear to be courting the wrath of the party. There were indications in the week that the leadership of the APC might sanction former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State and others for their roles in the outcome of the polls.
It was believed that Abubakar had a hand in the election of Saraki while Tambuwal was said to have supported Dogara who emerged as speaker. The suspicion of the APC leadership was reinforced by the fact that Saraki visited the former vice-president shortly after emerging as Senate president.
Whatever happens hereafter, the victory of Saraki and Dogara, as Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, is regarded in different ways by analysts. The likes of Olisa Metuh, national publicity of the PDP, saw the development as a “victory for democracy.” He, therefore, urged the APC leadership to accept the independence of the legislature and go on with the act of governance. His statement said in part: “What is paramount to the PDP is the sustenance of our democracy and the wellbeing of our people, irrespective of creed, class or ethnicity.”
Similarly, Samuel Akinloye, a professor of political science, University of Lagos, said what happened in the National Assembly showed clearly that the APC lacked internal democracy. “It was a bad omen. The party had not fully prepared and the PDP would have hijacked the whole process. The lawmakers should have been allowed to decide their leaders. In any case the president has agreed to work with the new leaders; so there should be no problem,” Akinloye said.
That notwithstanding, Bode George, a former national deputy of the PDP, would like to see it as failure of an ambition of a man who would want to pocket the National Assembly. “You know I predicted weeks ago that the APC is just a congregation of strange bedfellows. The most beautiful thing about what has happened is that Bola Tinubu’s political influence in Nigeria is coming to a sunset … He brought in the APC national chairman and the vice-president and he thinks Nigeria belongs to him. So, he thought what he did in Lagos was what he could replicate at the national level and they have shown him that he cannot continue to be the lord of the manor,” George said.
Yet, another would want to see it as a payback time for the APC, which supported Tambuwal when the former PDP renegade went against his party to contest the position of speakership which was preserved for Mulikat Akande-Adeola, a PDP House member from Oyo State, South-West, on June 4, 2011. Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch, Lagos, warned that the revolt by the Tambuwal group even though was calmly handled by the PDP, signalled the beginning of the end of the party at the national level. “I think the leaders of the APC need to be careful how they handle the matter otherwise it would boomerang on their faces,” Ubani said. According to him, threatening the erring party members with sanctions would not serve any good at this time. “They should agree that what has happened has happened; they should be thinking about the nation and not about the self-interest of a person or a section of the society. There are lots of work for this government to do and expectations are very high. They should get on with work for which they were elected to do. Nigerians are anxious for the change they have promised us. So, this is not the time for disagreement but for the party to unite. The president has agreed to work with the leadership of the National Assembly so there is no problem there,” he said.
In the same vein, Niran Adedokun, a columnist wrote in The Punch edition of Thursday, June 11, to warn the party hierarchy of being overboard about its threat to discipline Saraki and his supporters. “Let us hope that the threat will not go beyond the paper on which it was printed and that leaders of the APC would bury the hatchet and not allow their egos to overrun them. Evidently, the party will now want to preach the importance of party supremacy and discipline, but the truth is that enforcing such principles also demands a measure of impartiality from those who have the responsibility of leading the party. Without clean hands, the leadership of the APC cannot demand equity,” Adedokun wrote, adding: “The power tussle which will result from those threats will deepen the gulf of distrust in the party, push these gentlemen farther away and set the tone for the failure of an administration on which Nigerians have placed all their hopes. It will also be the seal on the coffin of the APC and the ultimate tragedy, the kind which will make a child’s play of the confusion that visited the PDP after the March 28 elections. Let the APC save itself from this looming disaster.”
Even if the party would want to take a path of reconciliation that appears not be on the card for now as the SUF and some leaders of the party continue to threaten legal action.
Itse Sagay, a professor of law, said Buhari shouldn’t have recognised the newly elected Senate president because of the manner in which he emerged. He said it was immoral for Saraki, a member of the APC, to collude with members of the PDP and hold election in the absence of 51 APC members. Sagay said: “In my view, it is not only an act of gross impunity which Senator Saraki has brought from the PDP but has now demonstrated it in the Senate. It is an illegal act because there is no way a Senate can be formally inaugurated without all the members being present – provided they can be present…. For Saraki and other PDP senators to have gone ahead to do that election in their absence was an act of illegality and criminality. It was an attempted coup in the first arm of government in Nigeria and it is very serious assault on democracy in this country and if I was the president I would refuse to recognise the result of such as illegal exercise and insist that a proper Senate is convened to elect its officials.”
But Olisa Agbakoba, SAN and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, said in an interview that there was nothing illegal about the election of Saraki. He noted that the APC did not complain when Tambuwal defected to the APC from the PDP and refused to relinquish his position as speaker of the House of Representatives. He said all members of the Senate were not obliged to be present for election to hold in the Senate. Agbakoba said all that was needed for an election to take place was a simple majority of the senators and this condition was met. He said: “The election of principal officers in the National Assembly should not be confused with a political process. This is different from American system which says that the ruling party must produce the key officers.”
Ubani warned those threatening to go to court not to waste their time and money in doing so. “If you hire all the SANs in Nigeria for this case you are not going to win, because the elections were properly conducted,” he said.
If, however, the party is going to take the path of reconciliation as disclosed by Ngige, the rancour being witnessed over the elections may soon be a thing of the past. “What has happened with the APC is that we are all from one family. A house divide against itself will not stand. We will come out more united and stronger. It is a family dispute that outsiders cashed on and score some pyrrhic victory. What has happened has happened. There must be peace; we have to reconcile. The president needs peace; everybody needs peace for us to move forward,” Ngige said.
In any case, there appears to be some moves to end the crisis rocking the party. John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the APC, disclosed this on Friday, June 12, that the party had accepted the election of Saraki as the president of the Senate and Dogara as speaker of the House of Representatives.
When asked specifically whether the party would accept Saraki as the president of the Senate, Odigie-Oyegun said: “Of course! He has been duly elected by his colleagues. We have a reality and we must live with it.”
The APC chairman who spoke with State House correspondents shortly after joining members of the transition committee set up by President Buhari to present their report to him at the Defence House, Abuja, said the crisis rocking the party would soon be overcome. He said: “It is not the first or second time we have passed through this kind of scenario and we came out strong. This may not even be the last time, we come out every time stronger and more determined,” he said.
The party chairman said what happened was within the APC family and they were sorting it out within the family. He added that aggrieved persons who threatened to go to court were doing so within their rights.
“People say they are going to court which is their right, but as a party, we are looking at everything and we are coming out strong,” he said.
Well said, but whether peace will be allowed to reign with the flexing of muscles among the leaders of the party is another keg of fish. But whatever they decide, Nigerians are becoming anxious to experience the kind of change they voted for in the May 28 and April 11 general elections.