Bukola Saraki

It was indeed a game of intrigues,  high wire conspiracy and power play at the two chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday, June 9 when against all odds, Senator Bukola Saraki, former governor of Kwara State emerged as the new Senate President while Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi State emerged as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The emergence of Saraki and Dogara as Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives respectively has been described as a ‘legislative coup’ because the duo were not the preferred candidates of the governing party at the centre – the All Progressives Congress (APC). The preferred candidates of the APC were Ahmed Lawan and George Akume for the Office of the Senate Presidency and  Deputy Senate Presidency and Femi Gbajabiamila and Tahir Monguno for the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively. Indeed, prior to the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly the APC leadership had in its bid to impose its preferred candidates on the legislators held mock elections on Saturday, June 6 during which it anointed them for the top jobs.

However, the outcome of the shadow elections created rift within the party as Saraki and Dogara threatened to defy the APC leadership.  In reaction to the threat by Saraki and Dogara, the APC National Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun, urged “APC members of the National Assembly, both Senate and the House of Representatives, to please respect the party, the views of the party and the decision that they themselves took in selecting the persons that will be presented to the National Assembly as presiding officers.”

Saraki’s new romance with PDP

As astute politicians, Saraki and Dogara quickly mapped out their strategies on how to ensure that they emerged victorious when the chips were down. It was gathered that when they realised that the party hierarchy was determined to foist its preferred candidates on the National Assembly, they decided to reach out to the leaders of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to seek their support.

This strategy paid off as the PDP leadership was willing to work with them. Consequently, the two ambitious legislators struck a deal with the PDP leadership. It was gathered the deal was sealed at the residence of the former Senate President David Mark in Abuja. Present at the meeting held Sunday night June 7, were PDP Senators and governors. The meeting lasted till the wee hours of Monday, June 8.

It was further gathered that during the meeting some PDP governors, especially Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State prevailed on PDP senators-elect and members-elect to support Saraki and Dogara as a way of clipping the wings of Bola Tinubu, APC national leader whom he alleged was sponsoring Lawan and Dogara.

At the end of the meeting, majority of the PDP senators opted to elect Saraki as Senate President and Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President. To reaffirm the decision of the PDP senators, the National Publicity Secretary, of the party, Olisa Metuh, sent out a statement that “the PDP has adopted Senator Bukola Saraki for the position of Senate President. In the same vein, the PDP adopted Hon. Yakubu Dogara for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The party therefore urged its senators and members-elect in the National Assembly to act accordingly.”

TheEconomy learnt that Ekweremadu was put forward for the post of Deputy Senate President as a way to drawing the support of the South East geo-political zone for Saraki. As a result, Saraki was ‘forced’ to sacrifice his favourite for the Office of the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume, who was the arrowhead of his campaign in the North.

Yakubu Dogara

APC’s botched last minute moves

When the APC got wind of the plan of the PDP to work with Saraki and Dogara, APC National Publicity Secretary Lai Mohammed quickly invited the Senators and members-elect for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari by 9am on Tuesday, June 9 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. The meeting was to be addressed by President Buhari who was prevailed upon to appeal to the APC federal lawmakers to vote massively for the party’s preferred candidates. It was supposed to be the President’s last-minute intervention to save the APC’s preferred candidates.

While 51 pro-Lawan Senators went to the ICC, Abuja for an emergency audience with the President, 57 Senators (mostly PDP) left for the Senate Chamber for the inauguration of the 8th Senate. The case of the Pro-Lawan senator was compounded when they waited in vain for Buhari to come and address them. It was learnt that Buhari could not come because there was no communication between his office and the 51 APC Senators who heeded his invitation.  Another sources in the Presidency told TheEconomy that President Buhari was prevailed on by his aides not to dabble in the selection of the Assembly leadership because he will portray himself as an inconsistent leader having promised not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Legislature.

While they were waiting for Buhari, the PDP senators-elect and pro-Saraki senators were already in the Senate Chamber ready for the election. When the Clerk of the National Assembly, Abubakar Salisu Maikasuwa, called for nominations after Saraki had been nominated, nobody could nominate Lawan because he was still at the International Conference Centre with many other APC senators. When the 51 APC Senators realised that the election was about to commence, they quickly tried to drive down to the Assembly Complex. Before they could arrive the Senate Chamber, Saraki had emerged Senate President unopposed. He was elected by 57 out of the 109 senators who make up the upper chamber of the National Assembly. The Clerk of the National Assembly proceeded with the election with only 57 senators present based on the fact that the quorum for the 109-member Senate is 37.

In line with the terms of the deal between PDP and Saraki, Ekweremadu was re-elected as the Deputy Senate President for the third term after defeating APC’s Senator Ali Ndume by 54 votes to 20. With a configuration of 59 All Progressives Congress (APC) senators to PDP’s 49, the development gave the PDP a reprieve from the devastating defeat it suffered in the hand of the rival APC on March 28 and April 11 elections. PDP traded off their support to gain the position of the Deputy Senate President and appease the people of the South East geo-political zone who have been marginalised in the current political equation based on their support for the PDP.

Saraki’s quest for independence legislature

In his inaugural speech, Saraki promised to work hard to protect the independence of the legislature in the interest of the democracy and the citizenry. He, however, cautioned that the quest to assert the independence of the parliament must be carefully handled in such a way that it must not lead the legislature pursuing adverse relations with other arms of government. He said the Senate under his leadership would carry out its constitutional responsibilities, anchored on the principles of accountability, equity and fairness. According to him, the change, which the people of Nigeria voted for in the 2015 general elections, is a change that will take people away from a life of poverty and misery to a life of prosperity, happiness, security comfort, accountability and respect for democracy.

He was elated that irrespective of differences in political party affiliations and other diversities in the polity, the senators were able to unite and vote as one family for public interest and advancement of the nation’s democracy. He also commended President Buhari for remaining steadfast in his defence of the right of the National Assembly to choose its own leaders, which he said had laid a solid foundation for the stability of the new National Assembly.

After concluding his assignment in the Senate, the Clerk of the National Assembly proceeded to the Chamber of the House of Representatives where election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker were conducted.  Again Gbajabiamila, the preferred candidate of the APC was defeated by Dogara who was adopted by the PDP. Dogara clinched the speakership position with 182 votes as opposed to 174 votes received by Gbajabiamila.

Yusuf Suleiman Lasun (APC, Osun) who was also adopted by the PDP was elected as deputy speaker having defeated Mohammed Monguno (APC, Borno) by 203 to 153 votes. Lasun represents Osogbo/ Olorunda / Orolu / Irepodun Federal Constituency of Osun State and was first elected to the House in 2011.

In his acceptance speech, Dogara described his election as a demonstration of “the resolve of members of the House to assert the independence of the legislature as a co-equal arm of government.” He said his election was a sign that the legislature had come of age. “By electing me as speaker, you have demonstrated to the world that our legislature is living up to the dreams and aspirations of our founding fathers,” he said.

“You are leaving a legacy of an accountable, autonomous, focused, progressive and united House capable of playing its role as the stabilising force in our polity. We have shown once again that this is a House of the Nigerian people,” he stated. He commended President Buhari for his exemplary leadership in providing a level playing field that enabled him and Lasun to emerge as speaker and deputy. He also praised Gbajabiamila for his spirit of sportsmanship and promised to reach out to his opponent to run a united House. He promised to collaborate with the executive to fight corruption and insecurity in the country.

Buhari’s non-interference stance

Reacting to the outcome of the election of the principal officers of the National Assembly, President Buhari expressed his readiness to work with the new leadership of the legislature as he did not have preferred candidates. In a statement issued by Femi Adesina, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, the President recalled that in his earlier statement he had said he did not have any preferred candidate for the Senate and the House of Representatives, and that he was willing to work with whoever the lawmakers elected. According to the president, he believes in and still stands on his earlier position not to interfere with the outcome of election and emergence of the National Assembly leadership.  “The president would rather that the process of electing the leaders as initiated and concluded by the APC had been followed. Nonetheless the president took the view that a constitutional process has somewhat occurred.”

The statement added that the stability of 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 called on all the elected representatives to focus on the enormous task of bringing enduring positive change to the lives of Nigerians.

APC’s tough stance

But the APC leadership viewed the election of Saraki and Dogara with disdain. APC in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, described their purported elections as unacceptable and the highest level of indiscipline and treachery. “Senator Bukola and Hon. Dogara are not the candidates of the APC and a majority of its National Assembly members-elect for the positions of Senate President and House Speaker,” he declared.

He went further to clarify: “The party duly met and conducted a straw poll and clear candidates emerged for the posts of Senate President, Deputy Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, supported by a majority of all Senators-elect and members-elect of the House of Representatives. All National Assembly members-elect who emerged on the platform of the party are bound by that decision. The party is supreme and its interest is superior to that of its individual members.”

The governing  party also announced that its leadership was meeting in a bid to “re-establish discipline in the party and to mete out the necessary sanctions to all those involved in what is nothing but a monumental act of indiscipline and betrayal to subject the party to ridicule and create obstacles for the new administration.”

As the APC leaders ponder on the legislative coup which made it impossible for their preferred candidate to emerge victorious, some Nigerians have faulted the process that produced the new leadership of the Senate. Robert Clarke, a seasoned lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) said that what the senators did amounted to disenfranchising 51 other members at a time they were not sworn in. He noted that the rule of the Senate that the senators quoted to support their claim on quorum formation was equally wrong. He called on the leadership of the APC to challenge the matter in court.

Professor Auwalu Yadudu, a former Special Adviser on Legal Matters to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, said the election of Saraki was illegal and unconstitutional.  The Clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, however, said “37 Senators were needed to form a quorum.” The Constitution says any member of the National Assembly can lead any of the chambers with votes from one-third of members.

Will the APC challenge the election of Saraki in court or will it let the sleeping dog lie? That is the big question. Political observers believe that unless the APC handles this matter with maturity, it could ignite crisis within the party and impact negatively on the Buhari administration.

By Olisemeka Obeche


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