By Emeka Ekpunobi
Certainly all is not well with the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and its ‘agent of change’. Despite party Chairman, Chief John Oyegun’s declaration at the weekend that the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate President is a reality the party had to live with, there are still moves afoot by the aggrieved 28 Senator Ahmed Lawan led group to reclaim some relevance. Sources say after Saraki’s aborted visit to the APC secretariat at the weekend, the aggrieved Senators are demanding for the removal of hid deputy, Senator Ike Ekwerenmadu.
The UNION has gathered that pressure is pilling on Saraki to dump the deputy senate president to stave off the heat on him. A source said that the party chieftains may have asked Saraki to renege on any other deal he may have entered into with the PDP .The senate president was alleged to have agreed to give certain number of committee chairmanship position to PDP senators as party of the deal. Source also alleged that some of the Lawan supporters is joining the Saraki camp to push for the removal of the deputy senate president. Senator Shehu Sani and others who spoke last week insisted that it was absurd for a PDP senator to emerge the deputy senate president.
The Senator who was earlier an ardent supporter of Saraki said that the election of Saraki may be pardonable since he is of APC but that it wrong for the PDP which is a minority party to take the job of Deputy Senate President. The controversial election of the presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly is fast polarizing the ruling party. Analysts warned that unless the warring gladiators and their foot soldiers move in a determined manner to end the rift, the ruling party may be heading for a self made doom. Unfortunately for the party, both sides in the battle for the soul of the National Assembly still talk tough and none is ready for any compromise. But whichever side wins at the end of the whole drama, the fact still remains that the APC leadership and indeed their self-acclaimed agents of change may have failed their first major litmus test.
The PDP has 49 senators in the current and the APC 59 senators. Analysts said it may be difficult for APC muster two third majority which is about 74 senators to impeach either Saraki or Ekweremadu. The election of Saraki was a planned deal orchestrated by PDP Senators. The price of it on APC was to cede the post deputy senate president to PDP. The PDP senators are beginning to assemble their arsenals in the event the APC decide to move against the deputy senate president. Sources say that the PDP senators met in a five star hotel Thursday night during which members vowed to secure the job of the deputy senate president.
Ekweremadu scored 54 votes to stop his ranking colleague from northeast senator Ali Ndume who scored 20 votes. About 75 senators participated in the election, which some critics described as parliamentary coup. Senator Ndume had since congratulated Ekweremadu. It was an upbeat Ekwerenmadu that flew into a crowd of party supporters and admirers who thronged the Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu on Saturday to receive him during his homecoming after his re-election as Senate President.
Telling everyone present that Southeast zone has no reason to regret voting massively for the PDP in the recent polls, he however urged the current administration to run and inclusive government, while reiterating that he entered the Deputy Senate race to represent his zone and give them a sense of belonging, adding, in what may be a reaction to his enemies in the Senate, that “we have finished with politics, now is time for governance”
However Saraki’s rivalry Senator Ahmed Lawan was not however sighted any where around the National Assembly before and after the election. Lawan and his men however showed up on Wednesday on the floor where the senate president administered the oath of them.
Since their inauguration on that day, they have been meeting with party officials to fight their loss from two fronts: The legal angle which the Senators are to go on with separate from the party and the plan to form a formidable unity among colleagues in the Upper Chamber to see how they could remove Ekwerenmadu.
Some Nigerians saw the crisis as the price the APC have to pay for its inability to put its house in order before the inauguration. Others insist that the controversy suggest the beginning of more troubles on the way of the ruling APC. The war drum sound very loud and some people said that the alleged conspiracy of silence in the presidency may be pregnant with several meaning.
Some Senators are insisting that the President speak out now on the issues plaguing the party. Source alleged that the presidency may have accepted in a hurry , the celebrated ‘political tsunami’ which pulled the rug off the anointed candidate of the party senator Ahmed Lawan. The presidency had since congratulated Saraki and Dogara . Though President Buhari had in his said congratulatory message to Saraki said that he would have preferred the emergency of the anointed APC candidates for the senate president and speaker of the House, he however reiterated his earlier resolve not to interfere in the election of the presiding officers of the National Assembly.
The new posture of president Buhari may have dampened the fighting spirit of Tinubu Loyalists in the senate. The puzzle is on why the same president who had earlier fix 10 am Tuesday for the inauguration of the 8th senate turned around to schedule another important meeting with the APC senators 9am the same day without a communication either shifting the inauguration or cancel the event that Tuesday. Clerk of the National Assembly Salisu Maikasuwa who performed the inauguration ceremony as required by law told the new senators before the commencement of the election that he was going ahead with the main business of the day on the strength of the memo from Buhari.
Though the APC leaders insisted that the controversial meeting, which kept most of them away from thenchamber as at the time of the election, was duly convened, the party chieftains are yet to confirm the level of Buhari’s involvement in the aborted meeting. It is also worrisome that the said president who they claimed was privy to the aborted meeting did not show up at the meeting.
The question is who actually convened the meeting and for what purpose? Source alleged that the conveners of the meeting including Tinubu wanted to use the president to cow the Saraki loyalists and forced them to support Lawan. Another source however alleged that the meeting was to remove the eyes of the anti- Saraki senators from the election. Alhaji Maikasuwa who stepped into the red chamber at about 9.15 am had told the lawmakers that he had earlier received a communication from President Buhari proclaiming the 8th National Assembly. He told the lawmakers that with one-third seated law to go ahead with the election covered him. About 54 senators were initially seated for the only business of the day. Maikasuwa quickly invited for nomination for candidates for the office of the senate president and his Deputy.
Former governor of Zamfara state, Senator Sani Yarima who nominated Senator Bukola Saraki from the north central quickly did this. Senator Dino Melaye, APC Kogi, seconded the nomination. There was no second nomination for the job even when the Clerk called for more nomination. This paved the way for Saraki to emerged unopposed as the senate president. The first nomination of candidates for the deputy senate president came from Senator George Seikibo, Rivers PDP who nominated senator Ekweremadu as the deputy senate president. Senator Ali Ndume was however nominated for the same job . Ekweremadu was returned as the deputy senate president after he had polled 54 votes to beat Ndume who scored 20 votes.
The historical exercise competently performed by the Clerk ended at about 12 .11 pm yesterday. Meanwhile a few senators loyal to president Buhari saw the election of Saraki as the only best way to clip the wing of former Lagos Governor Senator Ahmed Tinubu whose perceived over bearing influence on the party is beginning to worry some northern leaders . Some of the northern senators argued that it would be too much for the same Tinubu of the old ACN who produced the Vice- Presidential candidate , and APC governors in the south west to produce the candidate for the senate president and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Former Vice-Presdient Atiku Abubakar is said to be spearheading this opposition, relying on his old, well publicized view that Tinubu is too greedy when it comes to sharing of spoils of office. He appears to have been vindicated by the recent showing in the NASS, which is giving the party official grey hairs. Now that has a listening voice up North coupled with his now know hnad in Sarakai’s emergence, it may be hard for the APC Senators to unseat Ekwerenmadu.
It is believed among Senators now that that the emergence of the NASS leadership was in tune with the sharing of offices among the factions that merged to form APC: Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria got the Vice-Presidency, the Congress for Progressive Change got the Presidency, while the G5 defected governors from the PDP along with Atiku got the NASS leadership. Saraki and Dogara were members of this group. Howvere, Tinubu had told journalists that he would never recognize Saraki as the senate president. Only last week, the wife of the former Lagos governor Senator Oluremi Tinubu refused the traditional hand shake with senate after taken oath on the floor of the senate.
Though the leadership of the party had threatened to whip the erring lawmakers back to line, nothing however suggest that the election of former Kwara state governor Senator Bukola Saraki as senate president may be reversed for now. The dust is however beginning to settle in the House of Representatives as the defeated anointed candidate of the party for speaker Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and his loyalists had since resolved to work with.
Though Gbajabiamila had said that he was not averse to any disciplinary action that the party leadership may want to slam on the erring lawmakers , he however told journalist that he was not ready to challenged Dogara election in court. Dogara had in the said controversial election on Tuesday scored 182 votes to cut short the dream of Gbajabiamila of becoming the number four man in the land.
The Lagos state politician scored 174 votes in the said election, which was characterized by high-level intrigues and tension. Ironically the same Dogara who scored only 3 votes in the mock election earlier organized by the party leadership, defeated Gbajabiamila with 8 votes on the floor of the House . And like the Biblical rejected stone, Dogara is now number four man in the land.
A position which has today placed him far above the so called political god fathers in the party who never wanted him for the job. All these does not in any way suggest trouble free for Dogara in the lower House. The way and manner he distributes committee chairmanship positions in a near time may open the old wound in the House. The good thing for now is that the Bauchi state born speaker had extended a hand of fellowship to all.
He has also pledged to be fair to all lawmakers in his handling of the house. However this is not the case in the senate where the senator Lawan group had threatened to go to court to challenge the election of Dr Saraki as the president of the 8th senate. Leaders of the Unity Forum , the campaign organization of Lawan had told journalists last week that the election of Saraki can never stand.
According to them the election of Saraki by about 57 senators present as on the floor of the senate as at the time of the inauguration was in clear violation of senate standing rules on quorum. The rule according to the leader of the group senator Gemade is one third of the 109 senators. The group vowed to challenge the election in court. But the group loyal to Saraki in a swift reaction last weekend dismissed the claim of Gemade and his group as untrue.
The group spokesman Senator Dino Maleye told journalists that one third of the senate as required by the senate rule is 38 senators and that it was wrong for the Gemade group to challenge the decision of over 75 senators who were present on the day of inauguration. While the party is yet to restore sanity in the APC caucus in the senate, source alleged at the weekend that the APC lawmakers may have resolved to take the war to the door steps of the PDP senator who some of them alleged masterminded the ‘said parliamentary coup ‘ last week.
Some of them are now calling for the head of the deputy senate president senator Ike Ekweremadu. ssssss Some pundits saw the emergence of Saraki in the senate and Dogara in the House as a repeat of the Tambuwal –Ihedioha episode in 2011. Tambuwal in the celebrated political fire works in 2011 floored the then PDP anointed candidate for the number four job in the land Hon. Muniat Akande, Oyo PDP. Hon Akanda was seen then by many lawmakers as a close political associate of former president Olusegun Obasanjo .
The emergence of Tambuwal as speaker did not go down well with the party leaders. This accounted for the seemingly unhealthy relationship, which characterized the 7th House and the PDP. Until Tambuwal defected to APC , the PDP leadership never saw him as one their own to be trusted. And so when he formally crossed over to APC late last year , some dismissed it as good radiance to bad rubbish; It may be too early to say the Saraki and Dogora may go the way of Tambuwal, but the emergence of Ekweremadu as deputy may neutralize the controlling powers of the APC of the National Assembly.
Though the Saraki –Ekweremadu ticket was first muted by some supporters of the former governor of Kwara state, the arrangement for some political calculation was played down to divert the attention of the APC leadership . But the said arrangement, which was midwifed by former Senate President, senator David Mark, was however revisited by late last Monday night by the PDP senators as bargaining power. Saraki like the Biblical prodigal son was alleged to have gone to the PDP caucus to beg for forgiveness.
The Monday meeting of the PDP senators at the official resident of Mark offered Saraki a good opportunity to beg for pardon from his former PDP colleagues who quickly welcomed him back as part of the PDP family. Saraki who was not quick to name his deputy, at the said meeting accepted the request of the PDP to take Ekweremadu as his deputy. The Kwara state born politician also made other promises to seal his deal with the PDP caucus. A number of juicy committee chairmanship positions were also offered to the PDP lawmakers.
Saraki who was first PDP governor in 2003 spearheaded the implosion that rocked PDP last year and was to later join in former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to lead other five PDP Governors to APC. Some of the PDP saw the election as a pay back time for Sraki until the intervention Mark and others Monday night. Saraki and Mark were not best of friend before now. Last week Saraki described the 7th senate as a failure. Source said he U-turn on Monday changed the game and brewing bitterness, otherwise Mark was already silently canvassing Lawan / Akume ticket among his PDP colleagues. The said arrangement did not only receive the blessing of the PDP leadership but was welcomed as a last joker by the Saraki’s supporters.