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How defection drama exposed threats to Nigeria’s democracy

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President Buhari

What happened at the federal legislative complex in Abuja last Tuesday exposed the weak underbelly of Nigeria’s democracy. The major business at plenary of the two chambers of the National Assembly was the change of political platforms by some lawmakers.

However, as the federal legislature proceeded on a two-month recess, observers noted that beyond the defections, vote buying and other forms of schemes for electoral advantages, a recessive Presidency poses some existential threats to the country’s democracy and particularly, the 2019 polls.

At the height of the botched attempt to effect leadership change in the Senate, some security agents, who seemed to be working in cahoots with some senators, allegedly tried to get Senate President Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, out of the way for the mutineers to perfect their plot.

But as the conspiracy flopped, it became obvious that either an illegal operation was embarked by the policemen that blocked Saraki’s empty convoy and those that placed Ekweremadu under house arrest or that the top security echelon were involved in partisan politics.

Not long ago, some rights groups had frowned at a pro-Buhari campaign pinup on the suit collar of acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu.

Again during the recent Ekiti gubernatorial election, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) alleged that policemen provided cover for one of the political parties to perpetrate brazen acts of vote buying tagged ‘see and buy’.

Last year, some operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) invaded the residences of some judicial officers at unholy hours of the night in search incriminating evidences of corruption against some judges.

Most commentators that cried out against that invasion regretted the negative impact and psychological trauma the onslaught could leave in the administration of justice in the country.

Deregulation of command

INSPECTOR General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotum Idris, disclosed that the force did not send officers to block the convoy of the Senate president or those involved in restricting Ekweremadu in his official residence.

Although the IGP has “ordered a thorough investigation into allegation of siege to residences” of the two Senate leaders, the fact that a detachment of the police could carry out such action leaves much to the imagination.

But the response of the Presidency that it allows the security agencies unfettered freedom to do their job raises concerns about the chain of command in the country’s security architecture.

Does it mean that there are many commanders-in-chief?

Aso Rock’s response against a similar disclosure by President Muhammadu Buhari that the IGP disobeyed his order to relocate to Benue State, without censure or any consequences, gives the impression of a recessive Presidency, which could be very dangerous to the 2019 poll.

These developments in the polity engender concerns as nobody takes responsibility for the Gestapo tactics of security operatives, which many observers have likened to a creeping fascism.

Defection drama, aftermath

THE intrigues, horse trading, political manoeuvers and wit games that resulted in the defection of some erstwhile APC members to the PDP and other political groupings last Tuesday, left in its trail fresh crisis over the position of Senate leader in the upper legislative chamber.

As soon as Saraki read out names of 15 senators that defected from the ruling party, the floor of the chamber became charged as celebrations took over with congratulatory messages poured on Senate Minority leader, Godswill Akpabio, by his fellow PDP colleagues chanting “Majority Leader!”

Senator Dino Melaye and a host of others held Akpabio’s hands high and loudly declared him the new Senate leader.

But when the Senate resumed business, the incumbent Senate leader, Ahmed Lawal, was called upon to lead the chamber to take the next item on the Order Paper.
Subdued voices were heard calling him minority leader!

That claim set the stage for serious contentions over the position of Senate leader, because, threatened by such remarks from PDP lawmakers, Lawal quickly convened an emergency meeting of the APC caucus.

Rising from the meeting two hours later, Lawal, who addressed a press conference, announced that APC still holds majority seats in the Senate.

He reeled out some figures, claiming that they represented the numerical strength of all political parties in the chamber.

He declared that while APC has 52 senators, PDP has 50, stressing that both African Democratic Congress (ADC) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) had three and two senators respectively, just as there were two vacant seats.

But, intriguingly, Lawal listed Senator Joshua Dariye, who is serving a jail term at the moment, among the APC senators.

Yet, going by the rule and convention of the Senate, only senators who have announced their defection on the floor of the Senate are confirmed as having changed parties.

This category of senators would then move from their seats to new ones at the area occupied by their new party.

At the end of Tuesday’s defections and re-allocation of seats, the PDP camp had 57 senators, while APC had 49 and APGA one.

It was gathered that PDP senators began immediately to get Lawal removed as Senate leader to allow Akpabio take over.

If the scheme succeeds, the Senate leadership will merely acknowledge a communication to that effect from the PDP caucus and the deal is done.

A lawmaker said that the replacement would not necessarily need to wait to the end of September when Senate reconvenes.

Police angle

The melodrama that preceded the defections helped to heighten tension in the legislative complex.

Perhaps, on learning about the planned defection, the police had the day before extended a fresh invitation to Saraki to appear in their office to clear some issues regarding the armed robbery in Offa.

But, before that could happen, a detachment of policemen had moved to block the Senate president’s in Abuja, a move that was later seen as a ploy to guide Saraki to their station.

However, finding out that Saraki was not in his house, the policemen left few minutes later, just as EFCC officers at the residence of the Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu succeeded in blocking the gate to his house.

While these were playing out, uncertainty hovered as to who would preside over the day’s affairs in the Senate plenary since the two presiding officers were not available.

Not long after, words started making the rounds that Saraki was already in the National Assembly waiting to preside.

How he left his house and gained access to the National Assembly became a mystery.

When he sat, the Senate President expressed revulsion at the entire episode, saying: “As we speak, the Deputy Senate President cannot get out of his house. He is under siege.

This morning, I could not also leave my street as well, all, due to efforts by some people that believe that today’s sitting must not hold, because some members want to move or defect.

It is not something that has started today; it will not end today; people have gone, they’ve come back.”

Sources alleged that some senators loyal to President Buhari sold the idea of taking over the Senate leadership to federal government officials that were well disposed to the plot, who contrived the plan to create artificial vacuum in the presiding officer’s seat by displacing the two presiding officers on the same day.

The police invitation to Saraki to appear at 8.00 am that same Tuesday was believed to be part of the plot to have him detained at the Police station pending the execution of the leadership change.

The same reason informed the siege on the Deputy Senate President in a sort of house arrest.

Saraki’s response

SMELLING a rat, the Senate president reacted to the late night invitation by the Police in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu: “I have been reliably informed that the police invitation was planned by IG as a ploy to stop an alleged plan by some senators and House of Representatives members from defecting from the APC.

It was also said that if I was detained between Tuesday and Wednesday, that will abort the so-called defection plan.

“While I continue to maintain that the issue of my position on the 2019 elections is not a personal decision for me alone, it should be noted that all these concoctions and evil plots cannot deter me. Those behind this fresh assault will fail as I have nothing to do with the robbery incident or any criminal matter for that matter.”

He disclosed that following “a request made by the police on June 13, 2018, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) of the Federation had written a legal advice dated June 22, 2018, in which he stated on page 5, paragraph (f) that ‘For the Senate President and the Kwara State Governor, this office is unable to establish from the evidence in the interim report a nexus between the alleged office and the suspects.”

While lamenting that the “police have obviously corrupted and politicized their investigations into the Offa robbery incident,” Saraki said they turned it into an instrument for the party in power to suppress perceived opponents, a witch-hunt issue for blackmailing people from freely choosing which platform on which they want to pursue their ambition and a matter for harassing the people whose exit from APC would harm the chances of the party in the forthcoming elections.”

The Senate president reiterated his innocence, saying the police “in their haste to embarrass me sent the invitation to me at 8.00 pm and requested that I report to the station by 8.00 am tomorrow morning.

This obviously demonstrated their desperation.”

Against the background of the foregoing, how impartial will the security agencies be in the forthcoming 2019 general elections, especially recalling that Buhari retained security chiefs after their tenures elapsed?

As politicians plot for advantages towards next year’s crucial polls, the question Nigerians continue to ask is: how safe is the nation’s democracy?


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