Tokunbo David
Nigeria's Senate President Bukola Saraki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Abuja, Nigeria May 8, 2018. Picture taken May 8, 2018.© REUTERS/Paul Carsten Nigeria’s Senate President Bukola Saraki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Abuja, Nigeria May 8, 2018. Picture taken May 8, 2018.The saying by Sun Tzu, the 6th Century Chinese military General and strategist, that “what is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations,” is apt in describing the appearance of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, at the National Assembly last Tuesday, at a time the police had laid siege to his residence to allegedly hold him hostage.

The plan, Sunday Sun learnt was to prevent Saraki from presiding over the Senate plenary on that day, where some All Progressives Congress (APC) senators had scheduled to dump their party for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

But sources close to the Senate leadership confided in Sunday Sun that the plot was beyond just preventing Saraki from presiding over the Senate that day.

According to sources, but for Saraki’s tact and deft move, the Senate president and his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, would have been impeached by some senators said to be loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Interestingly, Senator Abu Ibrahim, an ally of President Buhari, later appeared to have lent credence to the fact that the president’s camp indeed had plans to stage a “palace coup” in the Senate.

This stemmed from the vague reference he made to the fact that Buhari’s camp decision to move against Saraki was because Saraki and other federal lawmakers were also allegedly plotting to impeach Buhari.

Ibrahim, who is the chairman of Buhari Support Group, told journalists last Wednesday, barely 24 hours after the failed “coup” that “the impeachment of the president should have started on Thursday. Everybody was planning. We know they were planning. They realised and learnt that we know. They knew that if they had remained up till Wednesday a lot of things would have happened. We were planning. This is the National Assembly the only place political parties meet. We were planning.”

The events around the residence of Ekweremadu on the same day police laid siege to Saraki’s home was suggestive of the fact that the intention of whoever was behind the plot was to ensure that someone else other than the duo presided over the Senate on that day.

From June 2015, when Saraki and Ekweremadu emerged as President and Deputy President of the Senate respectively, they have been faced with series of trials.

Saraki was the first to be arraigned by the government at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for allegedly underdeclaring his assets.

During the trial, anytime Saraki was in court, Ekweremadu would preside. While that was on, the government again arraigned the two of them for allegedly forging the Senate’s Standing Rule.

Then anytime the two of them were to appear in court in the course of the trial, the Senate would be shut. That was the pattern until the case was struck out.

But by last Tuesday, from the way the security operatives who went to Ekweremadu’s residence behaved, Sunday Sun gathered that the intention was not to arrest him per se, but to allegedly hold him hostage and prevent him from presiding over the Senate, since those behind the plot were so sure that Saraki would be “captured.”

Unlike Saraki, Sunday Sun gathered that there was no prior invitation from anywhere to Ekweremadu. And even when they arrived on the morning with an invitation bearing the date of the day, July 24, to be precise, he was said to have showed willingness to honour the invitation, but the security operatives allegedly prevented him from stepping out of his residence.

Ekweremadu who spoke when some senators paid him a solidarity visit last Tuesday evening said: “This (Tuesday) morning, some people laid siege to my house. They left at about 12:20p.m after spending about six and half hours.

“We anticipated that a number of our colleagues in All Progressives Congress (APC) would defect and join Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) this morning. In anticipation of that, the APC leadership had tried to stop them. When that didn’t happen, the first thing they did was to invite the President of the Senate to come to the police this morning.

They believe that once the President of the Senate goes to the police, I would be the one to preside and probably give effect to the letter of defection.

“In anticipation of that, the police, EFCC, and other security agencies came together, about 200 of them, to stop me from going to the National Assembly. They said I should come to the EFCC to give explanation over the things I was accused of. I agreed to follow them even though there was no prior invitation, but they were not eager to let me answer the invitation.

“The plan was to stop me and the President of the Senate from going to the National Assembly. Unfortunately for them, the President of the Senate was already at the Senate to preside over the plenary. This is not good for our democracy. We must respect the law, respect institutions because that is the only way we can make progress as a nation. This is an embarrassment to our nation. I hope this will not happen again.

“I am very worried. This is a decline in our democracy. I want to call on the media and Nigerians to stand up for Nigeria and ensure we save our democracy. This is a dangerous development. The whole world expects Nigeria to lead in democracy in Africa. We need to make progress and show the world that Nigerians are indeed leaders in every aspect of life. “This is my official quarters. Invading my official quarters is like an invasion of an aspect of the National Assembly. When you invade the National Assembly, you are invading the temple of democracy. That is exactly what has happened. This is a major assault on democracy. This is not the type of attitude we should be encouraging. The principal things in a democracy are dialogue, discussion, and networking, not threats. We need to have a rethink.”

While Ekweremadu was prevented from leaving his house, Saraki appeared to be smarter. Sunday Sun gathered that the President of the Senate indeed slept in the house. But having been served a letter a day earlier and knowing the caliber of people he was dealing with, he was able to beat them to their game on Tuesday morning when they after him.

Reminiscent of the day of the National Assembly inauguration where President Buhari watched Saraki being sworn-in on a national television while he (Buhari) was getting set to attend a meeting at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, called by the party; a meeting that obviously would have put paid to Saraki’s emergence as Senate President had he (Saraki) attended, Saraki last Tuesday was again seen presiding over the Senate at a time those who plotted to keep him away from the Red Chamber thought they had succeeded in their plot.

How last minute efforts to stop the defection failed

President Buhari, Sunday Sun gathered had all along maintained a hard line posture over the plot by some members of his party to defect. But about a week ago, July 19, to be precise, he shifted ground and was said to be willing to “negotiate” with Saraki and others.

He met with Saraki first at the Villa on Thursday, July 19. Among those who attended the closed door meeting were: Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Governors Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun); Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi); Abdul’azziz Yari (Zamfara) and Aminu Masari (Katsina).

However, Buhari’s meeting with Saraki took place after Saraki, under the cover of attending the funeral of one of his associate’s late mother, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, met with some aggrieved APC stalwarts and PDP leaders.

Among those at the Ilorin funeral meeting were the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus; Benue governor, Samuel Ortom; Sokoto governor; Aminu Tambuwal; and Rivers governor, Nyesom Wike; former Jigawa governor, Sule Lamido; Senator Lawal Shuaibu; and Senator Barnabas Gemade, among several others.

One of those who was at the Ilorin event confided in Sunday Sun that the Ilorin meeting was a “huge success, psychologically.”

He nonetheless expressed worry why Nigerian leaders do not learn from past mistakes, adding that “you recall that was how we were losing prominent members of our party to the APC before the 2015 election and those around Jonathan said it didn’t matter. We were at the verge of losing five governors, they said it didn’t matter. Sadly, people around Buhari are singing the same song today. Well, we will see where it will lead them to.”

The most shocking of all the defections last Tuesday was that of former Kano governor and senator representing Kano Central, Rabiu Kwankwaso. He met with President Buhari late Monday night, giving Buhari and his men the assurance that they already have him on their side. But he was among those who bade Buhari’s party farewell last Tuesday on the floor of the Senate.

Senate and its leadership

Historically speaking, apart from 2003, and perhaps 2011, the PDP, which was the ruling party from 1999 to 2015, had never on its own produced the Senate leadership.

Sunday Sun recalled that in 1999, for instance, the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo preferred Senator Evan(s) Enwerem of blessed memory, while his deputy, then Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, preferred Senator Chuba Wilberforce Okadigbo, also of blessed memory. In the end, Obasanjo shifted the inauguration of the 4th National Assembly by a few days, mobilised all Alliance for Democracy (AD) senators led by Senator Mojisoluwa Akinfewa for Enwerem, and with the support of some PDP senators, Okadigbo, who was highly rated to beat Enwerem, was shockingly defeated.

Again, in 2007, after the PDP met and endorsed Senator David Mark as its preferred candidate, the North-central zone, with the support of Chief Tony Anenih, met and decided to challenge the position. In all, the group lined up three candidates to slug it out with Mark on the floor of the Senate.

In a well played out script, allegedly dictated by Chief Anenih, a development the late Godwin Daboh later confirmed in his petition to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, once nomination for the election was opened, Senators George Akume, Nuhu Aliyu and Gbemisola Saraki were all nominated one after the other, in that order, after Mark’s nomination.

As soon as the nominations were brought to a close, Senator Aliyu urged the then Clerk of the National Assembly, Nasir Ibrahim Arab, who presided over the session to interpret the Rule of the Senate regarding issue of ranking, vis-à-vis Senate leadership position, which ordinarily should have disqualified Akume from contesting the position, since he was coming to the Senate for the first time.

But the Clerk simply said: “We will not go into that, we have passed that stage and since there is no room for debate, we will not talk about that. The vote will be by simple majority.”

As soon as the Clerk concluded his remark, Senator Aliyu again got up to say, “in that case, I am withdrawing my nomination, I will support Akume.”

His action was greeted with applause from virtually all those who belonged to the same camp with him and Akume.

Again the Clerk said: “If you’re withdrawing from the race, say so and do so without saying I support so, so and so.”

He had hardly concluded his remark, when Senator Gbemisola Saraki too stood up to say she was equally withdrawing from the race.

In the end, all the senators from Niger, Edo, Kwara and the remaining two from Benue, including all the former governors of Jigawa, Kebbi, Zamfara, Yobe and Kaduna, were among the senators that voted against Mark, in support of Akume.

But in the end, Mark, with the support of some opposition senators, went ahead to floor Akume by 68 to 39 votes.

The only difference between what happened in the past and what played out in the 2015 Senate inauguration was the fact that President Buhari refused to show open sympathy and preference for any of the candidates for the position.

However, Sunday Sun can authoritatively reveal that some party leaders did take sides with former Lagos governor and a national leader of the APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, backing the Lawan/Akume ticket openly.

Interestingly, in 2011, the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) backed Waziri Tambuwal against the zoning arrangement of the PDP, to make him emerge as Speaker. Conversely, if the ACN had had the foresight then, it was further learnt, it could as well had produced Tambuwal’s deputy as the party had the capacity to do so.

Again when Tambuwal defected from the PDP to the APC in the build up to the 2015 election, Sunday Sun recalled that all the notable leaders of the party, including the Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, who was the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, stated clearly that there was nowhere in the constitution where it was stated that the Speaker of the House of Representatives must be produced by the majority party and that bi-partisan National Assembly leadership was good for the nation, saying it was a sign that the country’s democracy was growing.

Also, Femi Gbajabiamila, then minority leader and now majority leader of the House, defended this same position, at the slightest opportunity, saying it was constitutionally in synch with presidential democracy.

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