By Kemi Busari
It came a promising prospect. Eleven senators had decided to dump the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) based on what they perceived as ‘division and factionalisation’ within the party.
In 2015 Kwara Central Senator, Bukola Saraki, delivered the letter announcing the defection to the then Senate President, David Mark. Their destination, the All Progressives Congress (APC), was conceived by the aggrieved senators as a haven, an arbiter ground which will address their challenges. Mr Saraki, like his colleagues, never envisaged leaving the ‘new party.’
In fact, when, in June 2015, Mr Saraki was questioned on insinuations that he had a plan to defect to PDP, he described it as “absurd and laughable.”
“It is just cheap blackmail by political adversaries who want to call a dog a bad name in order to hang it. And those making such desperate allegations should remember that I willingly left the PDP on matters of principle when the party was in power. Is it now that the party is out of government and in opposition that I will now return, having worked so hard for my party in the last general elections,” he queried.
That notwithstanding, Mr Saraki on Tuesday announced his defection from the APC back to PDP, citing similar reasons he left the latter in 2014.
Mr Saraki’s four and half years in the APC witnessed several unforgettable events; clashes between the executive and legislature, grudges between the Senate and political appointees, corruption trials, in-house dissent etc.
Captured below are some of the memorable events APC will never forget Mr Saraki for.
The twists that greeted the election of the senate president in 2015 first sent waves of what influence Mr Saraki would wield in the APC. The party had adopted Ahmed Lawan to become the senate president but Mr Saraki had other plans. He made an agreement with PDP senators to support him in his bid to lead the senate and in return, ensured that a PDP member, Ike Ekweremadu, emerges his deputy.
Thus, on the day the formal election for senate president was to be held, while majority of APC senators, about 50, were waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari who had invited them to a meeting with him at the International Conference Centre, Mr. Saraki and other “rebel” senators of the APC moved into the National Assembly complex, where the police had thrown a cordon to prevent workers and reporters from entering, for the “election” of principal officers.
The APC was furious with Mr. Saraki’s emergence. Leaders like Bola Tinubu, ex-Lagos governor and an influential member of the party, worked to ensure he was removed and a fresh election held. Mr. Saraki would have none of it. Perhaps to further spite the party or ensure his loyalists were properly rewarded, Mr. Saraki also ensured that juicy committees of the Senate were reserved for either his APC loyalists or PDP senators who backed him.
FACE-OFF WITH MAGU, ALI, IDRIS
The Senate had several confrontations with top political appointees despite the fact that the ruling party holds the majority at the Senate. It started with the nomination of Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Mr Magu was rejected thrice by the Senate on the strength of a report from the State Security Service which claimed Mr Magu ‘failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti-corruption stand of the current government.’ Such appointees are at the discretion of the president, and with the president’s party in the majority in the Senate, many Nigerians were surprised. This was more so because the anti-corruption stance was one of Mr Buhari’s key campaign promises. The rejection, coupled with the Senate’s decision not to consider Mr Buhari’s nominations until Mr Magu is replaced, set the mood for what till today is perceived as discord between the executive and legislature led by Mr Saraki.
Next was the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, who pitched Mr Saraki’s Senate against the executive over his insistence not to wear customs uniform to appear before the plenary. Mr Ali, a retired army colonel, said he was not appointed to wear Customs uniform and so he didn’t.
Like the other two, Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector-General of Police, also had a face-off with the Senate under Mr Saraki. The police boss was first summoned on April 25 but he failed to appear. The lawmakers then summoned Mr Idris to appear on May 2. Again, he did not show up. The last invitation was issued for Mr Idris to appear on May 9. He ignored it.
The development made the Senate designate him as an “enemy of democracy” unfit for public office.
However, while all these went on, the executive did little or nothing to caution its appointees. When Mr Idris failed to show up the second time, the Senate sent a delegation to meet Mr Buhari to salvage the situation, yet Mr Idris did not honour invitation the third time.
FALSE ASSET DECLARATION
One of the leverages the APC administration knew they had over Mr. Saraki was his false asset declaration trial. Although the trial was being conducted at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), most of the evidence being used came from the anti-graft agency, EFCC. And the man who made that possible was Mr Magu, who the executive retained as acting chairman of EFCC despite Senate rejection. Many of Mr Saraki’s loyalists believed that the charges raised by the federal government against him was a witch-hunt, perhaps a betrayal by a party he worked hard for in 2015, for his deliberate ‘confrontations’ at the Senate.
A Danladi Umar-led CCT, ruled that the evidences tendered by the prosecution were insufficient to substantiate its charges against Mr Saraki. But the federal government headed to the Court of Appeal with a request that it sets aside the decision of the tribunal.
In a judgement delivered on December 12, the appellate court affirmed all except three of the 18 counts brought against Mr Saraki. Mr Saraki rejected the verdict and filed an appeal at the Supreme Court seeking to quash the remaining three charges. He was eventually acquitted on July 6 by the Supreme Court.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Mr Saraki and two others were at the centre of a forgery case initiated against them by some senators.
The two, including a former Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, and his deputy, Benedict Efeturi, were accused of illegally altering the Senate’s Standing Rule used in electing them into office in June 2015.
The federal government, however, dropped the two-count charge against them in 2016.
Again, this was perceived as a deliberate action to tame Mr Saraki by the executive.
STRIFE WITH OTHER SENATORS
At least three senators, all of APC, had a direct confrontations with Mr Saraki. All three are now arrow heads of the opposition to Mr Saraki in the Senate. It started with Ali Ndume, one of those who strongly supported Mr Saraki’s emergence as senate president. When Mr. Magu was nominated for the EFCC chair, Mr Ndume deemed it a responsibility to support him having hailed from his home state; but this put him in direct confrontation with Mr Saraki.
The events that followed saw Mr Ndume removed as Senate Leader and replaced by Ahmed Lawan. The Senate initially claimed it did that to accommodate the original interest of the APC, but many Nigerians including Mr. Ndume did not buy that. Two months later, Mr. Ndume, now an ordinary member of the Senate, did the ‘unthinkable.’ He asked his colleagues to investigate media reports of alleged illegality by Mr. Saraki and another by the senate president’s key ally, Dino Melaye. Although Mr Ndume did not make the allegations himself, nor authored the media reports, he was suspended from the Senate for six months based on the recommendations of its ethics committee for daring to raise such issues. His suspension was later voided by the court.
Two months after Mr Ndume’s return, Mr Saraki was at loggerheads with another APC senator, Ovie Omo-Agege. The lawmaker had joined other lawmakers to protest the Senate’s adoption of amendment to section 25 of the electoral act, which re-ordered the sequence of election.
He was suspended for 90 days and if not for a court order which overruled the decision, he would have served the days outside the chamber.
Another senator who fought ‘dirty’ with Mr Saraki is Abdullahi Adamu, a two-time governor of Nasarawa State. Mr Adamu led other dissenting senators out of the chamber to protest the re-order of election sequence, a move that set him parallel to Mr Saraki. Mr Adamu, through the senate president’s allies, was removed as chairman northern senators’ forum after the confrontation.
Mr Adamu’s bitter confrontation with the senate president has continued till date. On Monday, Mr Saraki referred to Mr Adamu as a deceptive, manipulative and desperate liar over the latter’s previous attacks on the senate president.
Despite the various challenges Mr Saraki had with the Executive and some of his APC colleagues, the Senate under him can, however, be said to have achieved better than previous ones; particularly in terms of number of bills passed and the relevance of some of those bills.
Some of the bills that have become law but emanated from lawmakers include the increased funding for the health sector through the inclusion of the one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the 2018 budget as well as the recently signed amendment to the Nigeria Financial Intelligence agency.
However, the Senate under Mr Saraki continued as those of his predecessors in distributing huge illegal allowances for lawmakers.
As Mr Saraki leaves the APC, he can look back at his sojourn in the party and feel some of its leaders never really wanted him, rightly so from when he was elected senate president; but perhaps he should also review his actions while in office.
“The experience of my people and associates in the past three years is that they have suffered alienation and have been treated as outsiders in their own party,” Mr Saraki said on Tuesday in announcing his reasons for leaving the APC.