By Johnson Babatope
The on-going trial of Dr. Bukola Saraki, President of the Nigerian Senate has sharply caused a division in the All Progressives Congress (APC) as some leaders of the party and federal lawmakers who were earlier bent on his prosecution are prevailing on the party leadership and the federal government to soft pedal on the matter.
Saraki is being prosecuted before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on 13 counts of false asset declaration which he allegedly made while serving as Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
Newsherald learnt that when Saraki’s trouble started in September 2015, majority of the leaders in APC were in full support of the trial given the way the former Kwara state governor allegedly betrayed his party and teamed up with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators alongside some APC senators to emerge President of the Senate. The arrangement also produced a PDP senator, Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President. But today, some of the party leaders are singing a different tune.
The Presidency under the command of President Muhamamadu Buhari has not hidden its dislike for Saraki since his emergence on June 9, 2015. The All Progressives Congress (APC) had objected strongly to Saraki contesting the position and also adopted Senator Ahmad Lawan as its preferred candidate. But Saraki shocked the party and the Presidency by emerging the Senate President against their desire.
President Buhari was particularly miffed by Saraki’s impudence because on the day of the inauguration, he had called for a meeting with APC federal lawmakers as a way of finding a lasting solution to the leadership logjam. But Saraki and his supporters boycotted the meeting and instead headed to the National Assembly where he was elected. That development necessitated a cat and mouse relationship between Saraki and the Buhari Presidency since June. It also informed the decision of the president to stop Saraki from entering the Presidential Villa until October 1, 2015, when by official protocol; the Senate President had to attend the independence anniversary celebrations.
Saraki, however warmed his way into the hearts of the party leadership during the screening and confirmation of Ministerial nominees forwarded to the Senate by President Buhari.
According to our source, given the fact that the trial was spearheaded by the federal government, many people had expected that the ministerial screening will be a face-off between Buhari and Saraki. They thought Saraki would use the opportunity to settle scores with the president and the APC chieftains who were believed to be behind his travails at the CCT. Though Saraki assured all that the screening process would be fair and just, not many believed he would live to those words.
Saraki however proved the bookmakers wrong. Many believed that it was his political dexterity that paved the way for Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers state and Alhaji Lai Mohammed, former National Publicity Secretary of the ruling APC to become Ministers today.
According to a report, “In handling the Amaechi saga, opinions are sharply divided. While those sympathetic to the APC would say that Saraki has displayed his loyalty to the party, sagacity, skill and understanding of the parliamentary intrigues in dispersing the matter in the favour of his party, the loyalists of the PDP would say that they felt betrayed. PDP chieftains on the floor had expected that Saraki would nail the clincher by stopping the confirmation of Amaechi based on the pending judicial interpretation. But while not frontally opposing the PDP position, he subtly ensured that APC’s position prevailed after encouraging a prolonged debate”.
“It was also Saraki’s determination that saved at least two nominees including Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Brigadier-General Mohammed M. Dan-Ali (retd) from Zamfara State during the confirmation process as the PDP’s ‘nay’ nearly dwarfed the ‘aye’ by the APC. But Saraki’s strategies of saving Amaechi were instructive. He ensured that the PDP had their say and delayed the confirmation when the matter was too hot to handle. Amaechi was made to wait at the Senate on three occasions without being screened, while the confirmation was further delayed till the very last moment”.
Following the confirmation, some of the party leaders, supporters and even the ministerial nominees who were initially opposed to Saraki’s emergence and were vocal in calls for his resignation suddenly made a dramatic u-turn by showing apathy to the ongoing trial at the CCT. However, those who are opposed to his continued stay in office said the federal government must pursue the trial to a logical conclusion.
According to a leader of the APC in Rivers state, who spoke to Independent on condition of anonymity, the presidency ought to be grateful to Saraki over the manner he handled the ministerial confirmation. He said “ As a party man, I didn’t support the below-the-belt tactics approach by Saraki in becoming the Senate president. No loyal party man will do that. I believe that singular action really dragged the Buhari administration back a mile. It is also responsible for the budget crisis we are having today”.
“Having said that, I believe Saraki has made up for that gaffe with his maturity while handling the ministerial confirmation. But for him, people like Lai Mohammed and Rotimi Amaechi will not be ministers today. I am particularly concerned about our man, Amaechi. Imagine the level of hostility shown to him, even by the Rivers senator. Saraki has clearly shown that he harboured no ill-feelings towads the presidency over his trial. I believe the federal government instigated the trial, if they want to stop it, they have all the powers to do that” he said.
Also speaking, another federal lawmaker from Kwara also confirmed that notable chieftains of the APC are singing discordant tunes over the continued trial of the embattled Senate president. According to him “ A lot of the party chieftains are no longer in support of the trial. We all know the case was brought up over the manner Saraki emerged. But the issue now is,most of these party leaders are trying to be careful so as not to be victimised and you can’t blame them for doing so. Take for instance, the national chairman of the party, John Odigie- Oyegun, whom a lot of people believe is on the side of Saraki. Look at the statement he made on the trial, which he just retracted. If the national chairman of a party chairman can do that, how much more ordinary party members?”
“A lot of them are not happy with the trial. You can see some people like Kawu Baraje and Timi Frank have summoned the courage and spoken out. Many of the leaders in APC believe that the trial is polarising the party. They know that when it comes to funding the party, majority of those who have been assisting the party are mostly in Saraki’s camp. Since the trial started, the party leadership cannot approach them for assistance and this has seriously left the party in dire straits” he said.
However, another lawmaker representing Lagos State in the House of Representatives said President Buhari should not allow sentiments get the better part of him in his anti-corruption crusade. He added that Nigerians who have been following the president’s anti-corruption crusade and giving him commendations will be highly disappointed if the ongoing trial is skewed in favour of the senate president.
“I am aware some leaders in APC have condemned the trial and have been prevailing on the President to do something about it. But we have a president who has time and again, restated his unalloyed commitment to rule of law. So, the law must take its course. The trial is ongoing and the senate president may be declared innocent at the end of the day. So, why are some people jittery and calling for a discontinuation of the trial” he asked?