The contest for the Senate Presidency yesterday, was billed to be one of the major fights of the current political dispensation. It was one between Senator Ahmad Lawan backed by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and his fellow party man, Senator Bukola Saraki who refused to step down despite losing the party’s endorsement. But it ended a no contest as the Saraki group, backed by the additional punching power of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) delivered a technical knockout.
It was a master stroke; while 51 Senatorselect of the APC were meeting outside the National Assembly confident that the inauguration of the Eighth Senate will be held up for them, the Saraki group and the PDP Senators constituting a majority 57, got the Senate inaugurated and in the absence of his rival and the majority APC Senators, Saraki was returned unopposed and sworn-in.
To worsen the day for the ruling party, another dissident law maker, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, riding on the crest of the Saraki victory in the Senate, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives with 182 votes, defeating the official party candidate, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila who scored 174 votes.
The Saraki group seemed to have also partly resolved a dilemma of the Buhari administration; how do you bring in the South East elites who seem completely left out of the country’s political hierarchy? It did that by getting the immediate past Senate Deputy President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu of the PDP re- elected. Saraki, two-term Governor of Kwara State is a master political player.
He had ridden to prominence on the back of his father, the late Senator Olusola Saraki, the grand master of Kwara politics. But when the duo had a clash, the younger Saraki triumphed and sent his father into political retirement. His sister, Senator Gbemi Saraki who had the backing of their father, was sent into political oblivion. He marched into the Senate from where he spear headed a revolt against the then ruling party, the PDP.
Saraki and his fellow dissidents split the PDP and carried their faction into the alliance that became the APC. Last week, in the Senate, he took a firm stand against his new party, and carried the day. While his father, was Senate Leader in the Second Republic, Saraki has surpassed that mark with his election as Senate President.
APC which had been caught napping, woke from its slumber after the elections in the National Assembly to state the obvious; that Saraki and Dogara were not its candidates. It is unclear what this caveat emptor will achieve. Since being the official candidate of a political party is not part of the criteria to be elected an officer of the National Assembly, of what use is this declaration, more so when the party cannot annul the elections.
On the other hand, it has vowed to take disciplinary action against its dissident law makers. I doubt whether it will be wise for the party to suspend or expel holders of the third and fourth highest political offices in the country.
This can lead to crisis and serious problems for the APC which became the ruling party only eleven days ago. If Saraki and his supporters were to be expelled, or are pushed out, they are likely to team up with the PDP which would become the majority party, at least in the Senate.
The APC is in a self-afflicted dilemma; how can a ruling party claim it has no interest in who leads the National Assembly? On the eve of the NASS elections, the cerebral National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed told the press that “Contrary to the negative information being passed to the public, the leadership of the APC did not endorse anyone neither does it back anybody” So why is the party crying foul? With its performance yesterday, it seems that either the APC is just settling down or is unraveling.
The ‘PDP’ part of the APC alliance seems intact. All it did when it faced challenges, was to return home like prodigal children seeking some forgiveness and support. Like a good father, the PDP admonished them, and gave them the necessary backing.
In the NASS elections, the PDP became the king makers and presented itself as a conscious and focused party. It will not be in the interest of the APC or the country for the NASS to be bogged down with in-fighting over these elections. The APC needs to rethink its strategy; this is its first real test as the ruling party. By the way, does anybody know where President Muhammadu Buhari stand in all these? Just curious.
Lakemfa is Secretary-General of Organisation of African Trade Union Unity, OATUU