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Saraki's Triumph: A Coup or Political Sagacity?
By Sly Edaghese

Published June 23rd, 2015


The moment we began to hear some discordant strange tunes from the leadership of the APC on whether or not to zone the two top positions of the National Assembly, we all knew right away that something sinister was in the offing; that a few people out there were angling to see how they could eat their cake and have it! Monkey wan eat banana!

Agreed that the Nigerian constitution does not recognize zoning per se, but it does make provision for 'federal character'. You see, the spirit that informs federal character is the same that informs zoning. Federal character ensures the equitable distribution of political offices(like the ministerial office) among the country's federating units.The idea is to foster unity by making every unit feels a sense of belonging. This is what has galvanised us, at least to a certain extent, since the birth of our nascent democracy.

Now let's talk about the present setting in the Presidency. Here we have the President coming from the northern part of the country and his vice hailing from the south. This was hardly a chance occurrence but a carefully arranged choice to reflect zonal balancing. Not only that. Religion too, as you can see, also had a big role to play here. In Nigeria we have two dominant religions: Islam and Christianity. More than any other consideration, it was religion that threw up Pastor Yemi Osibajo as a running mate to Buhari, a Muslim. Come to think of it, before his choice, Pastor Osinbaja, I'm not saying this to slight the eminent law professor, was someone you could rightly refer to as a political midget. He was an unknown face among those that matter in politics in the south-west! If the choice of who to pick to run with Buhari had nothing to do with religion, there were one thousand and one politicians in the south-west who could readily have trounced the foremost law professor in the race. Fortunately or unfortunately these all practice the same Islamic religion as the President. So by virtue of their religion they were bypassed in preference to Osinbaja, a Pastor. So far so good!


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Now, coming to electing officers for the Senate Presidency as well as for the office of the Speaker of the House, why should there arise any conflict of opinion on zoning? In fact, why should anyone ever think it up in his mind to want to jettison an old-held tradition(zoning)that has worked well to keep all of us together?  

Good enough the President, either wittily or unwittily, had let it be known right from the word go that he had no personal interest in who became either the Senate President or the Speaker of the House. In other words, the President by this, just as section 50 of the constitution has it, was washing off his hands from influencing the outcome of the election in the National Assembly. He wants the law makers themselves to be exclusively responsible for electing their own leaders. In fact, unlike what holds in America, there's nothing in our law that says the Senate President or the Speaker of the House must come from the ruling party.  

As it were, the leaders of the ruling party were never on the same page with the President on this issue. They wanted 'yes men' for the two top positions of National Assembly! They wanted those they could boss around to do their biding! And to ensure that, the party's hierarchy decided to raise the stake by including some conditions they knew certain candidates could never meet. Some of these qualifying conditions included the following: one, that the candidates must not have any pending issues with the EFCC; two, that apart from the North West zone where the President hails from, the zone that would produce the Senate President must have voted massively for the APC more than did any other zones in the last Presidential election or something like that, etc, etc.

Now those who scaled these rules and thus 'qualified' to occupy the two top positions at stake were Senator Ahmed Lawan (an APC member from the North-East zone) and Senator George Akume( an APC member from the North-Central zone), for Senate President and Deputy Senate President, respectively;  and Femi Gbajabiamila(an APC member from South-West zone) and Mohammed Mungono (an APC member from North-East zone) for Speaker and Deputy Speaker, respectively.

The leadership of the APC, with their party controlling the two arms of the legislative assembly, took it as a foregone conclusion that they could ram their will roughshod down the throat of the national assembly without resistance. In other words, they were cork sure that those they had picked (through 'straw' election) to stand for the real election in the larger House would have a groundswell of support. For the record, out of the 109 membership of the Senate, the APC has 60 Senators as against the PDP, which has 49 Senators.

For the Lower House, that is, the House of Reps, out of the 360 law makers that constitute the house, the APC has 225 as against the PDP, which has 125 members.

Three other political parties, Labour Party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance and Accord Party, share the balance of 10 seats, bringing the total to 360.

As I have already shown, to stop unauthorised APC members from contesting the positions of either the Senate President or the House Speaker, especially the seat of the Senate President, the APC leadership came up with rules that were obviously self-serving. Foremost among the rules was the one forbidding candidates with pending cases with the EFCC from running.

Senator Bukola Saraki knew he was the prime target in this well rehearsed  intrigue. In fact, even long before this time, the former chairman of the Governors' Forum, knew there are some influential people within the hierarchy of the APC who didn't want to see his face not to talk of allowing him assumed the leadership of the Senate. These people saw him as "arrogant" - too independent-minded to take dictation from anybody! Seeing that, Saraki knew the time had come for him to take his fate in his own hand. He went to his old party(they say in politics there is no permanent enemy but permanent interests) to trade ideas. The PDP, as it turned out, had been on the lookout for their erstwhile key member to come to them so they could form an alliance (call it an 'unholy' alliance if you like) to fight for the number 3 position in the land. They were not demanding too much from their runaway member, they told Saraki so. But if he would agree to accept their man, Ike Ekweremadu, the out-going Deputy Senate President, to run with him as his deputy, they promised Saraki, he would get the block votes of all the 49 PDP members in the Senate! It was an offer too sweet to reject. Senator Saraki smiled. Why not? It's a deal, he replied exuberantly. Quickly the Senator raced back to his 'recalcitrant' APC bedfellows in the Senate and broke the good news to them. The Senators were about 20 or thereabout. Meanwhile the rest APC Senators along with their colleagues in the lower chamber were in a meeting somewhere awaiting the President to come and address them on the need to present a sole candidate for the top Senate seat!

While that was going on the Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa along side his deputy, Ben Effeturi, and the Deputy Clerk of the Senate, Adedotun Durojaiye, had walked into the Senate chamber and announced that he had the order of  President Buhari, through a letter, to inaugurate the Eighth Senate. Time was 9.52am. At exactly 10am Durojaiye, with only 57 Senators in attendance, commenced the process of voting. Before anyone could say Jack Robinson, the President of the 8th Senate had emerged. He is Bukola Saraki, the APC Senator representing Kwara Central. He was returned unopposed, being the sole contender for the post. His running mate, Ike Ekweremadu, the PDP Senator representing  Enugu-West, trounced Ali Ndume of the ruling party to retain his position as Deputy Senate President.

You call this a coup? Nay! I call it political sagacity. Politics in Nigeria has never been played by the rules, and Senator Bukola Saraki would not be the first to start it. So why blame him for being a Nigerian?   

 Memo to the leadership of the APC: It is quite unfortunate that things didn't work out the way you planned it. Yes, life is a chance game. You lose some; you gain some! But, please, don't because of that go for broke and take the risk of trying to impeach Saraki or the new Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, for acting contrary to party instructions. If you do, I'm afraid, you would be paving the way for the emergence of another Tambuwal in the Senate as well as in the House. Leave these gentlemen alone. Let bygone be bygone. More importantly, forget about what many people are saying about them: that they have acted against the interest of the party and so should be estranged or punished for anti-party activities. I ask such people to mention which politicians in Nigeria would see a chance to feather their nest the way Saraki and Yakubu Dogara saw one and would let it slip away?     

Sly Edaghese, a political analyst, is based in Lagos.


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