Presidency, NASS reread three years of unruly ‘marriage’
Nigeria’s major opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yesterday, recorded another victory over the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). It was a day that reminded citizens of similar developments that took place at the National Assembly three years ago.
Just as it happened on June 9, 2015, some lawmakers loyal to the APC leadership congregated in Nicon Hilton preparatory to taking advantage of the absence of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.
While Saraki was expected to honour a police invitation for further discussions over the deadly Offa robbery that claimed many lives, it was also contrived that Ekweremadu should be talking to operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) concerning alleged abuse of office and money laundering.
In the anticipated chasm at the Senate plenary the loyal APC senators at Hilton were to arrive the upper legislative chamber and effect a change of leadership, declaring how nature abhors a vacuum. But that was not to be as Saraki, based on a tip-off, withdrew to the National Assembly complex, bided his time until time of plenary and took his seat.
On June 9, 2015 the Senate president had beaten the authorities to it by defying APC leaders’ plot to foist Senator Ahmed Lawan as the preferred candidate for the number one seat in the Red Chamber and as chairman of the bi-cameral National Assembly.
While the APC senators-elect convened at the International Conference Centre (ICC) for a meeting to hold a straw poll for the floor functionaries of the Senate and House of Representatives, Saraki, who had earlier driven himself to the Assembly complex, appropriated the goodwill of PDP lawmakers to emerge unopposed as the body’s president.
Since that fortuitous elevation, the Senate president, who is a former governor of Kwara State, had been up against one plot or the other from the Presidency, a development that contributed to the below average performance of the APC administration.
Harvest of blames
Given what played out at the National Assembly, which pushed the ruling political grouping, APC, from majority to minority, it is obvious that President Muhammadu Buhari, the leader of the party and government, has a bigger share of the blames.
Shortly after the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan, conceded victory in the 2015 election, attempts by a former governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, to sit down with the then President-elect, Buhari, could not fructify, mainly because of new power brokers that surrounded the new leader.
The first sign that Buhari has allowed himself as a hostage of new handlers, which were later to be identified by Nigerians as a cabal, was the botched meeting with legislators elected on the APC platform on June 9, 2015.
Despite purported oral assurances to Tinubu that he would make it back to Nigeria from London and be at the meeting with the legislators-elect, Buhari, who proclaimed the 8th National Assembly open for June 9, 2015 by 9.00 am; failed to show up at the all-important meeting.
Knowing the importance of the legislature in a democracy, Tinubu, who was once a senator, wanted to ensure that APC was in control of the Senate and House of Representatives to ensure smooth procurement of bills, motions and other concomitant legislations needed for executive action.
Buhari was later to dismiss the planned meeting for a straw poll, saying that he did not want to interfere with the legislature since he had already declared his readiness and willingness to work with whomever the lawmakers chose as Senate president and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively.
That naïve claim of non-interference reverberated during debates on the administration’s first annual budget. First, the budget was reported to be missing. Later the issue of padding came up. In all the back and forth arguments between the Presidency and National Assembly, the administration’s promise of adopting zero budgeting was observed in the breach.
At a point some civil servants were fingered for the padding of the budget, while no explanation was rendered for the administration’s decision to jettison zero budgeting for envelop system. By the time the 2016 appropriation was passed into law, six months had been lost in the financial year.
Discounting the six months it took the President to constitute his cabinet, albeit with his claims of undertaking rigorous background checks to ensure none of his ministers would be found wanting, the bickering between the Presidency and National Assembly, especially the Senate, had become well known.
Moreover, the perceived failure that became the lot of the APC administration made Nigerians despondent. During the ministerial screening, the executive did not specify portfolios of nominees as it promised during campaigns. In a bid to wash its hands and provide Nigerians with evidence that it was not the offending party in the battle with the Presidency, the Senate cleared all the cabinet nominees, including those with corruption hangovers.
Saraki as cat with nine lives
Such was the setting that in the past three years of a very frosty relationship between the executive and the legislature, the president of Senate Saraki could not go to sleep with his two eyes closed.
Suffering the indignity of being the first ever high ranking lawmaker to be docked, Saraki was dragged to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for some alleged discrepancies on asset declaration forms filled 12 years before, when he was governor.
While Saraki shuttled between the Senate chambers and courtrooms, Buhari maintained his aloof posture of non-interference. Yet, Saraki maintained the refrain that his trial was politically motivated and intended to punish his sagacity to mount the saddle as president of the Senate against the designs of APC leaders.
But all subterfuge and pretentions that Saraki was the target of very powerful forces were dispelled when a bold attempt was made to jail him and his deputy, Ekweremadu, for allegedly forging the Senate Rule book that moderated the election of principal officers of the Red Chamber on June 9, 2015.
When that gambit failed, Saraki’s allies, particularly Senator Dino Melaye, were marked. First, there was the claim that the vociferous senator did not graduate from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria as conveyed by his degree certificate.
Later, a recall process was orchestrated. Sensing that the recall process might not sail through, an attempt was made by the police to forcibly abduct and parade the Kogi West Senator in Lokoja for gun running.
However, digging in with the dexterity of one well heeled in the art of political brinkmanship, the Senate President, relying on the loyalty and support of majority senators fought back. That the chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, remains in an acting capacity could be traced to the endless supremacy battles and lack of synergy in the APC government of Buhari.
Saraki’s Senate utilized a damning report from the Department of State Services (DSS) against Magu, to withhold clearance. Not long after, the case of a grass-cutting contract by the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, came up for investigation in the Senate.
The Senate found the former SGF culpable and effectively punctured Buhari’s claim that his cabinet comprises angels and saints. At the height of that slam dunk, a further attempt by the Senate to address the perceived arrogance of the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd), over his refusal to ‘dress properly’ was vetoed by the Presidency, which intervened and achieved a détente.
Having literally escaped all political mines laid on his path thus far, the recent effort to rope the president of Senate into the Offa robbery became the defining moment in the ensuing dissolution proceedings initiated by the nPDP bloc in the ruling party.
What transpired at the National Assembly yesterday therefore, could be seen against the bold backcloth of the 2015 experience. The APC amalgam seems to have been served a dose of its medicine by the defecting lawmakers.
How the warp and woof, especially interplay of political forces, would pan out would be seen in the days ahead. But the polity definitely would quake with diverse implications.