Published On: Sun, Aug 5th, 2018

Saraki’ defection deepens NASS-APC logjam

…as impeachment plot thickens and lawyers sing discordant tunes

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Last week, Nigeria’s Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, capped what has been days of the ruling All Progressives Congress’s (APC) unraveling when he finally and formally quit the party for the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), taking with him the governor of his home state of Kwara, Abdulfatah Ahmed as well as the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi.

But APC’s bad week soon got worse. On Wednesday, while its leadership was still meeting, in closed doors, with President Muhammadu Buhari to rap their heads around the loss of the Senate helmsman and his men in Kwara, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal brought its nightmare scenario to reality when he also announced his decision to join the PDP; it was a decision that meant the ruling party’s joy in adding an additional state to it ranks with its victory in Ekiti has turned to sorrow with the loss of three governors.

Senate President Bukola Saraki with deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu:

However, of all the defectors, Saraki by virtue of his holding the office of Senate President, a post traditionally reserved for, and has consistently been held by the ruling party, has caught the most attention as debates rage with regards to whether he should vacate his seat as the head of the second arm of government and third citizen in the country.

APC’s Wednesday meeting with President Buhari apparently dwelt on him. After the said meeting, the party’s tough-talking National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole addressed the press and insisted that the Senate President should resign his position as a matter of honour and return the crown to the family it belongs.

“Whatever is the reason, we can defect from the party but we can’t defect from Nigeria. The only thing is that there are other consequential issues that every man or woman of honour who had taken such decisions would be expected to follow through,” Oshiomhole said.

“I mean you should not collect a crown that belongs to a family and wear it on behalf of the family if for your personal reasons which he has enumerated that he has gone to another family.

“It is just a matter of honour to leave the crown in the house that the crown belongs to.

He argued that, “As it stands even now, the APC is still the largest party in the Senate. We have 53 senators, that is much more than what the PDP has, or APGA has.”

The party’s senators led by the Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan are said to be plotting Saraki removal and are seeking to cut short the chamber’s long recess for same purpose. Lawan who, alongside other APC senators, was part of the meeting with Buhari, came out to call on his colleagues to reconvene from their vacation to pass the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) presented by the President.

He noted that the legislators had pledged their commitment and loyalty to the party and the President and would remain true representatives of their people.

President Muhammadu Buhari and All Progressives Congress (APC) national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Photo Credit: www.heraldnigeria.com

“I am calling on my colleagues in the Senate and House of Representatives to come back and consider the requests of Mr. President for the virement and supplementary budget for INEC for the 2019 elections,” he said.

Nonetheless, some say it’s likely that the idea is to use the opportunity to oust the Senate President using executive influence, the possibility of which has vastly divided opinions of lawyers and activists alike. While some insist that the Senate President should be left alone, others say he must respect the law and quit his position.

In his remarks, legal practitioner and public affairs analyst, Chief Ziggy Azike argued that the APC has no right to complain or to ask Saraki to leave his job as president of the Senate since they welcomed the same thing when Tambuwal, now Sokoto governor, defected from PDP to APC as Speaker of the House of Reps.

“Tambuwal did it when he was speaker, APC were the beneficiary and they enjoyed it. So, why would they now complain because Saraki did it as Senate President?,” he queried. “What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I’m not in either APC or PDP, but the fact is that what Saraki has done is not without precedence. So, if you had done the same that resolves it.

“Anybody who is complaining about what Saraki did was a beneficiary of the Tambuwal precedent. That’s why, if you must go to equity, you must go with clean hands.”

On whether the Senate President is legally compelled to leave his seat, Chef Azike noted: “I don’t think he has breached any constitutional provision. The point is that the only people who can decide his fate are his colleagues who are senators. If they don’t want him to continue as Senate President, they can change the leadership. But if they want him there can be no problem.

“This 8th Senate is a very interesting Senate. This is where you have members of different political parties as leaders of the Senate. You had a Senate President from APC and the Deputy Senate President from the PDP. So, it depends on what is their rule.”

In his own assessment, senior lawyer and president emeritus of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, insisted that neither the APC nor President Buhari has a right to interfere as it concerns Saraki’s position, as according to him, it is the sole business of those who elected him as Senate President.

“He is the president of the Senate for one reason, and one reason only; he was elected by the senators. That’s all; that’s the only reason why he is senate president,” Uwazurike said.

“He is not the Senate President because he is a member of APC, no. Somebody nominated him and he won unopposed. So, if the senators do not want him as the Senate President, they will impeach him. They need two-third of the members to impeach him.

File photo

“So, it’s definitely not the business of anybody outside the Senate to dictate to the Senate who will be the Senate President or who will not be. When the nomination came up, it was a mistake by the leadership of the APC who tried to scuttle the election. Now, they are reaping the fruits of that their immaturity.

“Let me just put it simply, a senate president is a senator who was elected by his colleagues to lead them. So, anything he does on the floor of the Senate is their business, pure and simple.”

Chief Uwazurike maintained that freedom of association is a key tenet of democracy, hence, it is within the rights of Saraki or anyone, to freely associate with any political platform.

“There is freedom of association,” he noted. When there is freedom of association, a person who is a member of one party can decide he is no longer a member of that party anymore, and he is free to go. He has exercised his freedom of association.”

He expressed concern over what he called a slide into dictatorship under the current administration.

“Four years ago, people defected from PDP to APC, they were not harassed by EFCC; they were not harassed by DSS. Tambuwal continued to preside over the House of Reps. The only restriction that took place at the time was when some House of Reps members were prevented from entering the National Assembly, but within an hour, it was over.

“So for this government to unleash suddenly, the instruments of the state on those who have defected points to some dictatorial tendencies. In other words, they want to dictate to everybody who is defecting that you have committed an offence solely because you have defected.

“Definitely it goes contrary to the tenets of democracy. The truth is that our democratic experiment is in danger. The democracy we have nurtured for 29 years, we are about to scuttle all because we have a president who is still using his military background.

“As you know in Nigeria today, we have the President, we have the vice president and we have the presidency. Those are the three voices we hear from Aso Rock. We know who the president is, we know who the vice president is, but who is the presidency? They are the ones deciding what is going on. But if the president is not satisfied with what is going on, he would rise up to the occasion.

“The governor of Benue has cried out that Fulani herdsmen are camping and destroying many things in his state. But what is the reaction from the presidency, from the vice president and from the president? Silence! Let’s us hope that the present holders of power do not truncate our democracy,” he concluded.

Similarly, Aremo (Barr) Oladotun Hassan, president, Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide (YCYW), while insisting that the right to freely associate remained sacrosanct, decried the Buhari government’s onslaught against perceived opposition, describing the use of EFCC to “harass” Saraki and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu as “an embarrassing display of might and crudity”

“The leadership of the Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide frowns at the despicable and jaundiced attempt to overrun the National Assembly’s upper chamber through the back door,” he said.

“We find it rather absurd, provocative and insulting to the ethics of democracy, the threats and brazen display of naked power by the Executive, through the office of the IGP, in a Gestapo manner.

“The recent FSARS and police invasion of the both the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President’s homes is highly condemnable and dangerous, especially in an already polarized and fragile polity like ours.

“The rule of force has blazingly eclipsed the rule of law; this is an embarrassing display of might and crudity. With this display, the President must be held accountable and should be ready to take full responsibility for the consequences,” he cautioned.

However, lawyer and rights activist, Mr. Wale Ogunade argued that the law was very clear on the Senate President’s situation, and that the simple thing for him to do is to step aside.

“Section 129 is clear, if you change political party, you even automatically vacate your seat,” he said. “We look at the law. What does the law say? The law says that if you change political party for one reason or the other, what will happen is that you lose your seat. So there is no need for too much grammar.

“Even on moral grounds, he came on board as Senate President because he was a member of a political party that has a majority in the Senate, if not for APC, he wouldn’t have been there. Although we knew he was PDP in mind, APC in body, but he was being tolerated because he was still a member of the APC. However, now that he has officially joined the PDP, there is no need for him to still enjoy the spoils of office now that he is in another party,” he argued.

Ogunade who is also the founder, Voters Awareness Initiative (VAI) regretted that politicians like Saraki are only exploiting the loopholes in the country’s legal system to pursue their selfish agendas.

“He is just lucky because Nigeria’s legal system is fraught with rooms for technicalities. He never said that he didn’t declare false asset for instance. And if anything, what he is doing now shoes that he is not an honest person.

“Let’s assume you were occupying an office as a general manager or a production manager of a company, which entitled you to an official car or house, if you are no longer in that office, would you continue to use the official car or house?” he inquired.

“No, you can’t enjoy it. There is a reason the office was created. Whoever will be the Senate President must be from the ruling party, or a party that has the majority, that’s why he got there. If you now leave, and even if the PDP now have a majority, you have to step down and let there be an election, simple.

When reminded of the Tambuwal precedence, Ogunade maintained that wrong cannot be condoned on the basis that it has been done before, noting that it was a mistake not to have spoken up against the Sokoto governor when he did.

“Some of us did not look at that issue very well when we supported Tambuwal based on sentiments and politics when he left the PDP. But now that the reality has dawned, we need to speak against it before it becomes the norm,” he said.

“Tambuwal did it, that’s why people are referring to him now that the Senate President has done it. So, tomorrow another person will do it and people will say it has been done, so it becomes the norm. But it should not be. We should not keep doing the wrong thing. Let’s stop it.

“Tambuwal did it and went away with it because there was a massive alliance against PDP, so anything that was against PDP, people didn’t want to hear, all they did was to support it. It’s the same thing now; people don’t want to hear anything about the APC. So, we have to look at it and say yes, Tambuwal did it before, but is it the right thing to do? No.

“It’s like when you catch a married woman in infidelity and she begins to say it’s because Mama Nkechi or Mama Bumi did it last year. No, that cannot be an excuse, whoever is caught in adultery should be made to face the consequences,” he concluded.

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