In the heat of the screening and confirmation of ministerial nominees by the Senate penultimate week, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, outmanouvered the minority PDP Senate caucus led by Godswill Akpabio. In spite of the stiff opposition mounted by the PDP senators, he supervised the confirmation of their bitter political foe, ex-Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, as a minister.
The development, coming few days after most of the PDP senators had accompanied Saraki to appear at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, (CCT) in continuation of his trial for alleged false declaration of assets, left the trust of many of the opposition senators in Saraki’s leadership severely shaken.
Consequently, some of them made statements that hinted of a serious crack in the political marriage between Saraki and his main support base in the National Assembly – the PDP caucus.
“At the end of the confirmation of ministerial nominees earlier screened by the Senate with the President on October 30, with Senate President Bukola Saraki presiding, very few PDP senators were still in doubt that they had been taken on a ride by Saraki and and his caucus in the senate. It dawned on them that they may have been used and dumped, especially with the way Amaechi was confirmed in spite of their objection.
“Don’t forget that Saraki managed to emerge head of the 8th National Assembly last June and also hold on to the position with the support of the PDP and its senators – and all these were not without prior discussions and agreements. His decision to ignore the wishes of his erstwhile strongest support base will definitely not be without consequences,” a National Assembly source told The Nation.
Days before the final confirmation exercise commenced, PDP senators left nobody in doubt that they were ready for a showdown over the confirmation of two nominees namely Rotimi Amaechi and the nominee from Cross River State, Usani Uguru. The twosome had been caught up in a grudge war with some hurting PDP senators from their home states.
While Amaechi is held in contempt by the PDP Senate caucus for both his role in the defeat of the former ruling party in the last round of elections and his ongoing political battle with the party in Rivers State, Uguru angered the PDP Senate caucus when, during his screening, he said “God forbid” to a question as to his membership of the PDP.
It was, however, learnt that the majority All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus led by the Senate President, was determined to weigh in on behalf of the two nominees, especially Amaechi, an age-long political ally of Saraki’s. Information emanating from the opposing political camps indicated a looming face-off during the confirmation exercise and that was exactly what happened.
The PDP Senate caucus held a meeting where they reportedly took a position against the confirmation of Amaechi. The senators were said to have resolved not to consider Amaechi’s nomination unless the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges on the petitions filed against the former Rivers State governor was brought forward for consideration first.
More significantly, a decision was reportedly taken to inform the Senate President that should he ensure the confirmation of Amaechi, the PDP caucus will have no choice but to withdraw their support for him forthwith. No doubt, the PDP caucus made a good job of making their position known to Saraki and his allies. While it cannot be confirmed if it was officially or personally communicated to him, the media was awash with stories about the decision of the senators to fight Saraki over Amaechi.
The PDP senators’ plot against Amaechi rested mainly on the report by a senate committee opposing his screening in the first place. The ethics committee of the Senate headed by a PDP Senator, Samuel Anyanwu, advised that Amaechi’s screening and confirmation be left till the end of the cases of alleged corruption he has in court.
“During our caucus meeting, Chairman of the Ethics Committee, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, briefed us on the report of his committee. He made it clear that the committee recommended that since the issue regarding Amaechi’s petition was in court, the Senate should suspend action on his screening, pending the resolution of the court issues.
“So, we were surprised that he was even screened at all. It is on the strength of this that we resolved to insist on the committee report being discussed before any talk of confirming him or not. We were so sure that with such a recommendation by the committee, it would be difficult for the APC senators to rail road his confirmation.”
So, with the caucus so sure that it had something strong against the confirmation of Amaechi, it proceeded with plans to stop him at all cost, and this included wielding the big stick against Saraki by threatening to dump him should he come to the aid of their ‘cornered’ victim, Amaechi, in any way during the confirmation exercise. Aside these, the PDP caucus reportedly lobbied some APC senators perceived to be opposed to Amaechi, to join in the move to prevent his emergence as a Minister.
But the ruling APC caucus took up the challenge and dared their PDP colleagues to do their worst. Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, went to town and lampooned senators elected on the platform of his former party, the PDP, saying that the 8th Senate belonged to the APC, the party with the majority lawmakers in both the upper and lower houses.
He reminded the PDP that it had become a minority – meaning the majority would always have its way. He equally warned that opposition could not disqualify Amaechi based on what he described as triviality instead of the constitution. He added that Amaechi had not been convicted by any court of law.
Ndume boasted that the senators would determine the fate of Amaechi and not the report of Senator Samuel Anyanwu-led Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions. Ndume’s utterances confirmed fears that PDP and APC senators would flex muscles over Amaechi. With bated breadth Nigerians waited for the confirmation screening.
In all the verbal exchanges between the APC and the PDP senators, the voice of the Senate President was not heard. His media office neither responded to the threat by PDP senators nor to the counter position by APC caucus. Mum was the word from the senate’s seat of power. Consequently, nothing could be deciphered from the body language of the number one senator until the very moment when Amaechi’s fate was to be decided.
When it eventually commenced, the confirmation exercise had the trappings of a chess game with the atmosphere tense as the resolve of the two camps to have their way over the Amaechi issue could nearly be felt physically. After over an hour closed door executive session, the senators were ready to debate the confirmation of the man from Rivers State.
From the onset, the two camps could not agree. Aware that all eyes were on him, the Senate President meandered though the two enemy lines safely for about two hours as tension gathered. Finally, despite efforts to resolve the issue, the PDP senators, led by the Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, staged a walkout when Amaechi was to be eventually confirmed as the APC senators snubbed the recommendations of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions.
The committee recommended thus: “That since the ministerial nominee had gone to the Court of Appeal , to challenge the content of the petition and the white paper of the judicial commission of inquiry, the Senate is unable to recommend the consideration of his confirmation. “That the Senate do consider and adopt the recommendation as proposed by the committee”.
But the Senate through a motion moved by the Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume ( APC Borno South), moved in the direction of killing the report without any debate which ignited uproar from the PDP senators.
Ndume who predicated his motion on one of the findings/ observations made in the report, said since all allegations levelled against Amaechi are before a competent court of jurisdiction, the senate should in line with its own rule ( Order 41(7) , ignore the report but confirm Amaechi as Minister like the 17 others earlier confirmed.
Thus, Amaechi became a Minister designate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Saraki failed the loyalty test posed to him by the PDP caucus in the senate. To many observers, that development may have signaled the possible collapse of the political alliance that has sustained the Senate President in office since last June.
A crack in the wall?
Giving the first indication of a possible crack in the wall, the angry PDP senators, once outside the chambers, shocked Nigerians by saying they never supported the emergence of Saraki as Senate President, contrary to what was widely believed. They said the luck Saraki had was that he was returned unopposed as Senate President.
The Senate Minority Leader, Senator Akpabio, made the statement while explaining what transpired at the confirmation exercise. He also accused Saraki of presiding over illegalities in the hallowed chamber. Akpabio said the PDP caucus staged a walk-out during the confirmation of Amaechi, and 17 others because they did not want to participate in illegality.
He added that PDP senators decided not to participate i?n a charade. “We never supported Saraki during the election because he was returned unopposed. We staged a walk-out because we felt that there is total breach in the law. You will notice that our colleagues never wanted to hear our views.”
For an alliance that was so solid that it had seen Saraki enjoying the total support of PDP senators all the while in forms of votes of confidence and being escorted by to the law courts, the outburst by Akpabio and his colleagues came with more meaning than could be deciphered immediately. Expectedly, political analysts have set about digging deeper into that and many other utterances of the angry PDP senators ever since.
According to former secretary of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) in Kwara State, Alhaji Saka Bio, “Akpabio and his men left the chamber disappointed after hours of appealing to Saraki’s judgement, sentiment and emotion to tow their line in the argument against Amaechi. As a caucus that had supported him whole heartedly since he came on board, they were hoping he will repay their loyalty with similar acts during that all important test of wills. But he didn’t and they were badly bruised.
“No doubt, the development will affect then political alliance between Saraki and the PDP caucus. Forget what some of the PDP senators have been saying on the matter. It is politically convenient for them to profess personal loyalty to the Senate President especially at a time when the Senate committee list was being awaited. But when the caucus calls on them to stand up and be counted, they will tow party line as usual.”
“Trust politicians, they wasted no time in sending messages to Saraki and his camp that it may no longer be business as usual. Imagine Akpabio saying they didn’t make Saraki Senate President. All this while, the PDP caucus left no one in doubt that they relish their role in Saraki’s emergence against the wishes of his party. Now, they are quick to disown him. This is just a sign of things to come.”
Confirming the soured relationship between the PDP caucus and the Saraki camp, a senator from Enugu State told The Nation that the Senate President’s brazen disregard for the feelings and position of the PDP senators on the Amaechi issue was unfortunate. According to him, “the development is definitely capable of altering the political equations in the senate.
“We are all politicians and alliances are formed for political bargaining powers. If we are giving the impression that we were wrong in taking some decisions in the past, either individually or collectively, we are bound to retrace our steps. It is obvious that what happened smacks of political let down and disappointment. But it is also expected in politics and we are bound to address issues as they come,” he said.
The senator also added that before the confirmation exercise, the Senate President has made several efforts to get the PDP senators to back down on their agitation against Amaechi. According to him and some other sources Saraki made spirited attempts ahead of the Thursday plenary to get the Senate minority leader, Godswill Akpabio and other PDP senators to his side on the Amaechi issues, but the opposition senators refused to give in ahead of that day’s sitting.
“Sincerely, we were hoping that Saraki would sustain the provisions of Senate Standing orders 41(7) as well as Order 53(5) which prohibit the Senate from debating on issues on which are in court. But we were taken aback when the Senate leader sided with the ruling party when the chips were down, thus making us PDP senators to express our disappointment,” he added.
Told that the press conference held by PDP senators after walking out of the chamber sounded as if their friendship with Saraki was over, our source said: “I’m sure you were not there when the so called alliance was formed, so I am also certain you wouldn’t be there when it will be dissolved or strengthened as the case may be. It is too early to talk about that. One thing that is certain is that we were disappointed by what happened and we said so openly.”
Attempted truce, more troubles
Conscious of the effect of the development on his relationship with the PDP caucus in the Senate and willing to prevent the collapse of an alliance that has profited him immensely, Saraki, according to sources, tried to broker a truce with opposition senators following the acrimonious confirmation of Amaechi as a minister.
The Nation learnt that reconciliation effort commenced almost immediately and that the Senate president had reached out to the PDP legislators to sustain their friendship. According to sources, the statement made by Akpabio at the press conference same day left the Saraki camp in no doubt that all was not well. “And that informed the immediate effort by the Senate President to reach out to our aggrieved colleagues,” a Senator close to Saraki said.
Another source added that: “It is obvious that there is need for the Senate President to reach out to the PDP caucus after that rancorous exercise. As the leader of the senate, he owes the National Assembly that. Saraki is not unmindful of the friendship between him and the PDP senators and he is not taking that for granted. He has immediately reached out to the senators and assured them that party loyalty was responsible for his actions. I think they are resolving the grievances.”
It was also gathered that although talks were still ongoing between the two camps, the PDP senators had expected that Saraki would “make up for the lapses” in the distribution of the chairmanship of senate standing committees which was yet to be announced as at then.
But the announcement of the committees, according to insiders may have added to the anger of the PDP senators if their reactions are anything to go by. It was learnt that Saraki allegedly reneged on an earlier agreement to share the committee chairmanship nearly equally between the ruling APC and the minority PDP caucuses in the assembly.
But when the Senate President announced the much-expected standing committees and named their chairmen, the expectation of the PDP senators were again dashed. According to the list released during the week, Sixty-five senators in the 109-member chamber were named as chairmen. APC senators got 41 chairmanship positions and 24 slots went to their colleagues from the opposition PDP.
With the inauguration of Senator Kaka Garbai (Borno Central) during the week, the ruling APC now has 60 senators against PDP’s 49. The North Central geo-political zone, with 13 chairmanship positions, got the highest portfolios. The South West, North West and North East got 11 slots each and the South East and South South got 10 positions each.
Although no condemnation of the sharing formula has been heard from the PDP caucus, sources within the National Assembly insist there is disquiet over the number given to the PDP. “The decision of the senate leadership to give less than the agreed 40% of the chairmanship positions to the PDP is a breach of an earlier agreement and this is unacceptable to the party caucus in the senate.
“Aside the alliance you are talking about, you must not forget that PDP has 41 senators out of 109 members of the assembly. That is about 40%. So how could that amount to just 21 seats out of 65? While the PDP senators are silent about it now, I can assure you the last is yet to be heard of the matter. For now, the relationship between Saraki and the caucus is further strained,” our source claimed.
PDP’s loss, APC’s gain?
With the strained relationship between Saraki and the PDP senators and perceived efforts by the Senate President to protect the interests of his party this time in both the confirmation exercise and the sharing of committee positions, many analysts are of the opinion that he may have bought himself goodwill and possibly secured an opening for potential forgiveness of his past misdeeds against the APC.
In the same vein, many are certain that his action is capable of putting him into trouble should he fail to secure the forgiveness and subsequent support of his party while also losing the backing of the PDP caucus with which he has sustained his position for so long.
“You can imagine what will happen if he has no support of the PDP caucus and his fight against APC persists. Who will pass votes of confidence on him? Who will escort him to the tribunal? Who will speak on his behalf when his party men drag his image in the mud? It is a tight one for the Senate President indeed. But one can only hope he doesn’t lose on both sides,” Bio explained.
However, another observer, Comrade Bayo Agbokiki of the Saraki Vanguard, said he is certain the Senate President will come out of the current confusion stronger than ever. According to him, Saraki is a smart political strategist and he has realized the need to garner the support of his party as the leader of the National Assembly.
“The Senate President is a politician of note who is always conscious of the implications of his actions. He is very much aware of all the confusion currently in the senate and he is working seriously towards allaying all fears. He is not just an APC senator, he is the Senate President and he has the responsibility of carrying everybody along irrespective of party affiliations.
“Now, it is obvious that he is a party man and he respects his party’s wishes contrary to what some mischief makers want us to believe. However, given his position, there is need to balance all interests and expectations within and outside the senate. That is what has to be done and that is exactly what he is trying hard to do in the interest of a peaceful and all inclusive senate,” he said.
And as if to further strengthen his ties with the APC while risking his relationship with PDP, Saraki again debunked speculations about his alleged plan to return to PDP as “absurd and laughable”. The Senate President said it would be abnormal for him to go back to a party he left while it was the ruling party now that it is an opposition party.
“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 principles 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?”
This is just as some of chieftains of the ruling party continue to urge him to end his dalliance with the opposition party and concentrate on ensuring that the senate supports the change agenda of the APC.
Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, while urging Saraki to work for his party always, said his alliance with the PDP was dangerous for President Muhammadu Buhari. In his view, the political romance will create inhibitions for the Buhari administration. Kwankwaso feared the PDP will use the opportunity of the alliance with Saraki to create hurdles for Buhari.
He said: “You see, first of all, the President will face a lot of irritations in the sense that these people must be very angry with themselves, they must be very angry with Nigerians and, therefore, will do everything possible to put all sorts of hurdles on the way of Mr. President. That is obvious.
“I can always read their mind. I was one of them, I was part of them, I was part of the party but we had to leave the party because of this attitude. So, in some of the books that I read, especially Islamic books, there are things that we call Sadaqatuljariya (doing charitable deeds like building schools, hospital, throughout your life) and you will be getting reward and even after you die.
“These sorts of mistakes are what we call Musibatuljariya. It is so bad and it is a bad thing that will continue to occur until the system goes to end because they have their own agenda to tackle the APC, to tackle the APC government, they are angry with themselves, they are angry with the people and Nigeria because they feel Nigeria belongs to them and they wanted to take everything and Nigerians rejected them.”
As things stand, many questions remained unanswered and only time will tell what will become of the alliance between Saraki and his colleagues in his former party, the opposition PDP.