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Published On: Sun, Mar 25th, 2018

2019: Saraki’s fight for survival

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki is a political force of no mean pedigree. His meteoric rise to national prominence in a relatively short time has left even his most ardent critics envious of his achievements. His emergence on the national platform took a lot of patience and skill for the former Kwara State governor who received tutelage from his father to survive intrigues weaved against him by forces in both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and now the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

A student of power, he learnt the ropes well from his father, Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki, who dominated Kwara politics for more than 25 years. Unlike other dynasties in Nigeria, the Sarakis (both father and son) have not been challenged for over 36 years in Kwara State since the birth of the Saraki Dynasty in the 1970s.

Like a colossus, he has also bestridden the Senate where he rules largely unchallenged since its inauguration in June 2015. The presidency and the leadership of the APC had kicked against his ambition by presenting an anointed list of principal officers. But Saraki overcame all odds to become the President of the Nigerian Senate.

Buoyed by his absolute control of the upper legislative house, he has become the most effective opposition to the executive arm of government, and in the process attracted series of backlashes which he had been able to withstand. Apart from a corruption trial which seems to be leading nowhere, he had also escaped several impeachment plots.

However, what could be the most outstanding battle of his life is gradually unfolding as the number three citizen, backed by troops in and outside the upper chamber of the National Assembly battles President Muhammadu Buhari and other foes for dominance ahead the 2019 general elections.

How the senate president will ensure he survives the onslaught from his enemy’s camps and remain politically relevant beyond 2019 is indeed an uphill task. Two major political tests await him in the coming days, namely the planned to override the president’s veto  of the Electoral Act on the order of election and the Peace corps bill.

Business Hallmark reliably gathered that as part of the plot to clear the road for the re-election of President Buhari, his strategists, led by former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, have identified Senator Saraki as one of those who should be closely watched and neutralized as soon as possible.

According to a source close to the anti-Saraki plot, plans have been hatched to neutralize him before the 2019 presidential primary elections begin.

“There is a general consensus that Saraki’s hold on the Senate is too strong and that it provides a strong platform for him to mobilize against President Buhari or even sell him out to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party,” the source said.

Some of the strategies already agreed on to undermine Saraki is a plot to remove him as the Senate president and the restoration of the corruption charges against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

Saraki

The plot to impeach Saraki, it was learn, started in December 2017 and is been led by some sitting governors and ministers. BH however, gathered that the impeachment plot was more a clever move to distract the senate president from his anti-Buhari stance and keep him busy fighting for his political life before the 2019 polls.

“It is very clear, even to the hawks in the president’s cabinet, that Saraki has the numbers to defeat any impeachment motion. So, it is obvious that there is more to the plot to impeach him.

“I think their (Presidency) aim is to destabilize the Senate and distract Saraki and his loyalists from posing a threat to Buhari’s reelection bid”, said a senator loyal to the senate president.

Another way of keeping Saraki busy, as marshaled out by his enemies in the presidency, is the reintroduction of his corruption trial before the CCT despite that his appeal against standing another trial is currently pending before the Supreme Court.

It was also learnt that the recent sudden announcement by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to retry Saraki following the Court of Appeal decision that it should retry three of the 18-count charge against Saraki, is said to be part of the plan to deal with Saraki.

“The two parties had actually filed appeal and cross-appeal at the Supreme Court and it is commonplace law that when a matter is before the apex court, all other courts will have no jurisdiction on the matter. However, the Presidency simply used the CCT announcement to score three points – embarrass the Senate President, remind him and the general public that have forgotten about the case that the matter is still alive and to remind Saraki that they still have a hold on him and further pressurize him to back down on his perceived antagonism,” the lawmaker loyal to Saraki alleged.

The presidency, it is alleged, was behind the recent move to factionalise the PDP in Kwara Sate, using the embattled chairman of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), Professor Abdulraheem Oba. The overall aim, it was gathered, is to deny Saraki the party’s senatorial ticket in 2019.

If the presidency and his foes succeed, Saraki could be on his way out of relevance in the nation’s power loop. However, Saraki is a formidable enemy to take on, even by the president. His innocent facade belies the enormous political strength he carries, and does not in any way reflect his true capacity to move issues along lines that suit his interest. His harmless looks are an effective decoy that he has repeatedly used to the eternal regret of his political rivals.

The younger Saraki is in fact a ruthless political strategist. As a result of his calm and unperturbed demeanour, many unsuspecting political adversaries had, to their own peril, seen him as one to be ignored. However, many who have ignored him have done so at huge political costs. He had battered and crushed all opposition that came his way like a hot knife inside margarine.

As a governor, he manipulated the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) to drive his ambition. Under his watch as chairman, the NGF, with a fully resourced secretariat, a technical and administrative division became a veritable political instrument.

As an ardent tactician, the younger Saraki built a machine that allowed him move from governor to senator, taking over the position left by his sister, Gbemisola Saraki in May 2011. This birthed an unleashing of his political abilities and his social wiliness.

In 2008, he led the NGF to institute a lawsuit at the Supreme Court against the President Umaru Yar’adua led PDP government. Though he was elected a governor on the PDP platform, he mobilized all governors across party lines to confront the Presidency on the sharing of the $15billion Excess Crude Account.

President Yar’adua in 2009 opted for out of court settlement. By then, Saraki has emerged as a power broker. Under his leadership, the NGF actively became an efficient, independent-minded political pressure group.

WikiLeaks had reported that former governor James Onanefe Ibori and Governor Bukola Saraki had chosen then Governor Umar Musa Yar’Adua as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and recruited Mr. Andy Uba, their friend and presidential adviser to sell the plan to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

From left: President Alpha Conde of Guinea Conakry; President Muhammadu Buhari; Senate President Bukola Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara; Chief Bisi Akande; and National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu,

According to WikiLeaks, they allegedly recruited Andy Uba who teamed up with them to sell the plan to Obasanjo. The deal, according to security sources, was for Ibori and Bukola to fund the presidential election of Umar Musa Yar’Adua. In return, Ibori and Bukola were guaranteed that Ribadu would be removed as EFCC chairman and that any prosecution involving Saraki and Ibori would be quashed.

A top intelligence officer in one of the nation’s security outfit, Danladi Yusuf (not real names), told BH that both Bukola Saraki and James Ibori subsequently hijacked the government of Musa Yar’Adua.

“It is a well-known secret within the security and intelligence community that some hawks, led by Saraki and Ibori hijacked power from the terminally ill Yar’Adua. They were effectively in control of his government and frustrated the war against corruption at that time. Saraki’s residence in Abuja effectively became an Aso Rock extension where powerful Nigerians visited to discuss affairs of state”, he said.

Knowing the importance of money in grasping power, Saraki, according to sources, amassed massive wealth to oil his political machine. The senate president is said to be among the five richest politicians in Nigeria.

According to Saraki himself, he acquired 95 per cent of his wealth before he joined the country’s political terrain.

“I came from a blessed family. I come from a family where my parents were opportune and after that I worked hard in the private sector and I think I have worked hard for everything that I have. I made 95% of my asset before I joined government,” Saraki had told the BBC.

According to an EFCC charge file obtained by BH, Saraki and his father were responsible for the collapse of Societe General Bank Nigeria, which they allegedly looted through transactions worth billions of dollars without collaterals spanning periods from 1999 to 2003.

Apart from the wealth allegedly made from the failed bank, it was also gathered that Saraki is also a big government contractor. He is also said to be in control of Kwara State resources.

“With the stupendous wealth at his disposal, Saraki is in a position to buy whatever he wants. In fact, the president realizes the danger of having him and other young men whose net worth run into billions of dollars. With so much money at their disposal, Saraki and his likes portend grave danger not just to President Buhari but to his opponents”, says Dr. Danladi Yusuf.

Like Don Corleone in the famed novel, The Godfather, Bukola Saraki is quite clever about how to influence people and get things done. While he rewards good deed to him, he never forgets any wrong or affront, no matter how small.

For example, he compensated Ahmed Abdulfatah with governorship position of his home state for being absolutely loyal to him. While former Sport Minister, Bolaji Abdulahi, was made the current APC national spokesperson and a minister during Jonathan’s administration, Senator Dino Melaye, despite his garrulousness, is a key player in the Senate.

On the other side, he made sure that Ibrahim Magu did not get senate’s confirmation as the EFCC boss for taking him and his family head on. He also used the Senates to disgrace the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir David Lawal.

The Senate under his leadership has stood up against the President Muhammadu Buhari-led executive on several occasions and seems to be getting away with it. The Senate, allegedly buoyed by Saraki, among other showdown with the executive had on two occasions refused to confirm the nomination of the embattled EFCC acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, using a DSS report as justification.

He also used the senate to fight close members of the president’s kitchen cabinet to a standstill. It was a report presented by the senate that nailed the suspended Secretary to the Government of the federation, Babachir Lawal.

The Senate had also tried to fight and ridicule the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali and Prof. Itse Sagay, who chairs the Presidential Advisory Council on anti corruption, all close allies of President Buhari.

Business Hallmark reliably gathered that the war against the executive has the approval of Bukola Saraki, who sees the instruments of the assembly as a major weapon to checkmate the executive and their onslaught against him.

The crafty strategist does not allow any rebellion to fester within his domain. Fearing a revolt from senators belonging to the Unity Forum (SUF), he led the APC members of the Senate to remove Ali Ndume as their leader and appointed Senator Ahmed Lawan as the substantive Senate Leader.

BH reliably gathered that the move was also meant by Saraki to pacify the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who had initially nominated Lawan as their leader. With this singular move, Saraki, it was learnt, won over lawmakers from the South West and other lawmakers from the North East who had consistently worked against his leadership.

The removal of Ndume also brought its own headache. The angry Ndume on many occasions fought openly with the decisions of the leadership of the Senate. The opportunity to cut him to size presented itself when he was suspended for six months for bringing unproven allegations against Saraki and Dino Melaye.

The suspension was one of the recommendations of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges which probed the allegations of certificate forgery against Melaye and ownership of seized bulletproof Range Rover against Saraki.

The report, which was signed by two-thirds of the committee, cleared Saraki and Melaye of any wrongdoing but suspended Ndume for failing to conduct proper investigation before making the allegations.

There are also indications that Sarakiis getting set to fight against attempts to diminish his influence. He is said to be building alliances to influence the emergence of the next presidential candidate of APC or in the alternative support PDP’s candidate if APC decides to undermine his influence.

Most of the schemes and calculations would depend on what happens in the next few months as plans thicken to ensure President Buhari declare for the 2019 presidential race.

Whether Saraki’s charms and mystique will stand the test of time remains to be seen.

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