Friday, 9 June 2017

FLASHBACK: On this day in 2015, Saraki ‘dribbled’ APC to become senate president

FLASHBACK: On this day in 2015, Saraki ‘dribbled’ APC to become senate president

On this day, two ripe years ago Bukola Saraki became the president of the eighth senate in a mesmeric but charged atmosphere.

The road to Saraki’s emergence as senate president was treacherous. Intrigues and subterranean plots coalesced in the weeks before his “coronation”.

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After the results of the national assembly election were announced in April 2015, it became lucid that the All Progressives Congress (APC) had wrestled the majority seats in the senate from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – the first time in 16 years that a fledging party would deracinate a ruling party in the federal legislature.

But the APC soon confronted existential problems that threatened its fibre and core. Ahead of the inauguration of the eighth assembly on June 9, two divergent groups emerged – Senate Unity Forum, led by Barnabas Gemade; a senator from Benue state, and – Likeminded Senators, led by Dino Melaye, a senator from Kogi state.

The Gemade group was Ahmed Lawan’s bulwark while the Melaye group was Saraki’s. Both groups schemed in a political gladiatorial combat to outwit each other.

Things became “combustible” when the APC endorsed Lawan as its preferred candidate for the position and directed all its members in the senate to support his candidature. But Saraki would not back down; he defied his party. He then courted PDP members of the senate who now joined his chariot.

The APC in the senate became bipolarised, and the party had a first taste of crimson crisis.

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari remained aloof from the entire circus, and he publicly said that he would work with whoever emerged as the senate president. This was a departure from the old order where the executive influenced the emergence of the leaders of the legislature.

On the ‘D-Day, Saraki, Ike Ekweremadu and a host of his loyalists were at the national assembly complex. And minutes before 10am, when the inauguration was expected to start, they were seated in the red chamber. But Lawan and his group were absent.

They had gone for a meeting at the International Conference Centre (ICC) on the most important day in the life of any lawmaker.

The inauguration commenced even after news had rippled that it would not take place. Saraki was nominated, but there was no challenger. The clerk of the national assembly, who officiated, asked repeatedly if there was a challenger, but there was none.

Saraki afterwards assumed the position of senate president unchallenged. It was in the closing of the event that some of Lawan’s supporters thronged in, in bewilderment and confusion. But the “did” had been done.

Reports later said that the APC leadership had called for a meeting with all its members in the senate to smooth out the contours ahead of the inauguration, but that Saraki and his “gang” boycotted it.

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THE BATTLES AFTER

After Saraki breasted easy victory, the senate was thrown into a whirlpool of higgledy- piggledy. Lawan, the APC preferred candidate, and his allies formed a band of opposition against the senate president. They filed charges of forgery against Saraki and Ekweremadu, his deputy, alleging that they altered the senate rule book to legitimise their election.

As the cauldron boiled, the senate president was slammed with charges of false asset declaration at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). He is still wriggling to get out of this one.

Ahmed Marafa, a senator from Zamfara, and a strong ally of Lawan, became a piranha in the Saraki senate. He challenged every action taken by the leadership, and he often revved into verbal brawls with his colleagues who are Saraki’s loyalists.

Remi Tinubu, wife of Bola Tinubu, national leader of the APC, was also a strong voice of opposition against Saraki in the senate. She once publicly declined to shake hands with him.

The APC, at the time, was also reluctant to recognise the senate leadership.  However, after trade-offs and pacification – Lawan became senate leader – there was a detente.

The “troubled” senate is now two years old under Saraki.
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