By Tunji Adegboyega
President Muhammadu Buhari became an issue in the last presidential election because of his antecedent in the anti-corruption war. The ‘Change’ slogan of the All Progressives Congress (APC) under which he contested itself became appealing to Nigerians as a result of this perception of Buhari as a man with zero tolerance for corruption. So, Buhari’s victory at the polls was Nigerians’ powerful statement of rejection of the Goodluck Jonathan administration and its romance with corruption which it glorified as ‘stealing’.
That was why many Nigerians were shocked by what transpired in the National Assembly last Tuesday, when Senator Bukola Saraki was elected Senate President. He was able to get 34 votes from senators of his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as 23 from the APC, a clear indication of the gulf in the party. This was at a time majority of the other APC senators were said to have gone to honour an invitation from President Buhari, probably in a last ditch effort to mediate in the crisis that had rocked the party before Tuesday and make the party speak with one voice in the election.
Although the APC does not have two-thirds of the membership of the Senate, it has a simple majority. With that, Nigerians went to sleep after the elections, thinking that they had done their bit to give the party the opportunity to dictate the policy thrust in the National Assembly, which is crucial in the fight against corruption.
The same situation applies to the House of Representatives where the APC also has simple majority. Speaker Yakubu Dogara who (alongside Senator Saraki) defied the party to contest the position of speaker defeated the party’s favoured candidate, Femi Gbajabiamila, by a slight margin of 182 votes to 174. Apparently, the development in the Senate influenced the voting pattern in the House because the south west (where Gbajabiamila comes from) alone could not have produced the vice president, Senate President as well as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Apparently too, the crisis reflected the party’s inability to reconcile the different tendencies in its fold, especially with regards to the legislature’s leadership, a thing that eventually led to the mock primary that it held on June 6, preparatory to the inauguration of the National Assembly on June 9. Regrettably, the mock primary was itself mocked by the Saraki group which rejected its outcome outright and decided to defy the party by standing for election into the National Assembly positions against the party’s directive. Senator Saraki and his group promptly reported in the National Assembly and went straight to business. The rest is history. It is instructive though that, in a Senate with 108 members (one is dead), the upper legislative house started on such a shaky note.
The APC initially threatened to deal with Senator Saraki and Co. even as some other senators also threatened to go to court to challenge the process of Saraki’s election. Unless the matter is amicably resolved, the eventual winner of the caucuses flexing muscles would depend on a lot of factors, including financial inducement, given the role that money was said to have played in the Senate even on Tuesday. This position is further strengthened by reports that some of the APC senators have been pledging to work with Senator Saraki. But the incident should not have caught anyone by surprise, unless we want to deceive ourselves. It was inevitable, whether in the long or the short run. The surprise element is that it came this early.
When you have political juggernauts and those who see themselves in that light in an alliance, there is bound to be problem. Remember too, the way and manner the APC was formed is another issue. It was not as if most of the people there are bound by any ideology; they just came together by happenstance. And that happenstance was the common enemy: former President Goodluck Jonathan.
So, the only consideration that brought the different people from different backgrounds into the APC was the need to ease out the former president, probably for different reasons, too. It is now that has been achieved that the centripetal tendency is now giving way to the centrifugal contradictions.
But let me leave politics to politicians. After all, some of the APC senators who earlier said they would not accept the result of the senate election are reported to have resolved to work with Senator Saraki. These politicians, they work in mysterious ways, and that is why it is difficult to stick out one’s neck for them! I hear the reason for the volte face is to enable them be in the good books of Senator Saraki for consideration for juicy committee appointments!
That, if true, is part of my fear for our politics. But my main worry is about Senator Saraki’s emergence as Senate President and the likely implications for the Buhari administration’s anti-corruption war. Even the uninitiated knows that President Buhari won the presidential elections because of his anti-corruption credentials. Indeed, I said in this column after the retired general emerged the presidential hopeful of the APC that the PDP was in trouble. Even the PDP knew; and that was why they resorted to hate campaign when they should be advertising their achievements. Mercifully, I am not alone in my fears that President Buhari’s anti-corruption war may soon enter into some troubled waters with the developments in the National Assembly; many other people share a similar sentiment. Indeed, some of them called on Tuesday as the event unfolded to ask how the war would be won with Senator Saraki as the Number Three Citizen.
Many of my colleagues received the same message either via personal calls or through text messages. Will Senator Saraki be comfortable when laws are to be made to make people who once grounded our banks pay for their crime? Will he be at home with laws or efforts to make those who exploited and are still exploiting Nigerians through fuel subsidy account for their actions?
Or will he be at ease when the powers that are keeping Nigerians in perpetual darkness despite the humongous amounts of dollars we have spent on power projects are asked to vomit the public funds that they had swallowed? These and many more other questions went on simultaneously in my mind and made me uncomfortable throughout last Tuesday and even for the better part of Wednesday. I am just recovering from the stupor. Again, many people who sent similar messages of depression wondered aloud if this would not be a mere continuation of the business as usual in the Senate. It should be understood that there is nothing personal about my fears and Senator Saraki.
It is just a matter of his antecedent and the antecedents of some of those behind him. I have no doubt Senator Saraki would be shocked if he conducts an independent opinion poll about what I am talking about. Of course I am not unaware that some people would want to ask whether some other people or persons are better than Senator Saraki when the issue is corruption. But that is beside the point.
Those people are not the country’s Number One or Number Two citizen or even Number Three; even if they were, they had served in different periods, including when the government did not see any need to deal the corruption cankerworm a serious blow that would make all other things fall in place, because corruption is at the root of almost all our problems in the country. I have said it before. And I am restating it; that corruption is not the easiest thing to fight because it would always fight back.
To put it bluntly, not a few persons saw Senator Saraki’s emergence as part of the plot by corruption to put a clog in the wheel of President Buhari’s anti-corruption battle, even if the ruling party itself contributed inadvertently or otherwise to the development. I can only hope this is a misplaced fear. I sincerely pray so.