It was a development foretold but it was equally an eloquent testimony to the veracity of that ageless axiom: history has a way of repeating itself.
Before appraising the emergence of Abubakar Bukola Saraki as senate president and the crowning of Yakubu Dogara as speaker of the house of representatives, you have to rewind to early June 2011. The then ruling PDP had zoned the speakership to the south-west.
But Aminu Tambuwal, now governor of Sokoto state, had other ideas. Relying on the opposition then, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which did not want the PDP to have any foothold in the south-west through any high ranking public figure, Tambuwal went against the directive of his party. He not only emerged speaker, he romanced the opposition throughout his reign.
That was the most audacious challenge to the PDP since its creation in 1998.
A Game of High Stakes
Fast-forward to 48 months later and the same scenario has played out itself. But this time around, the stakes are higher and the players are veterans in the game of political subterfuge. Bola Tinubu. Bukola Saraki. Ahmad Lawan. George Akume. The ruling APC had made it clear that the official candidate was Lawan. But Saraki would have none of that. A “primary” election had produced, expectedly, Lawan, but Saraki’s supporters under the aegis of Senators of Like Minds, kicked against it, claiming that the mock election was arranged to favour Lawan. They vowed that their man would contest nonetheless.
With the 51 senators pro-Lawan absent, Saraki emerged senate president with 57 votes. Since simple majority is needed to win, Saraki carried the day. The real issue here was not the emergence of Saraki but the seeming rebirth of the PDP and the decimation of Tinubu’s influence.
Ike Ekweremadu, the last deputy senate president, still a PDP member, was nominated as Saraki’s deputy and he was also returned.
Taming the Lion
The victories of Saraki and Dogara were a major blow to Tinubu whose influence in the APC is obviously rankling many leaders of the party and ruffling not a few feathers. Yemi Osinbajo, Tinubu’s choice, had emerged as Buhari’s running mate after Tinubu himself failed to clinch it last year.
Tinubu was also the man pushing the candidacy of Femi Gbajabiamila for speaker. He was the man behind the Lawan project for the senate presidency, although Buhari’s name was frequently mentioned as the prime mover. If Lawan and Gbajabiamila had won, Tinubu would have helped produce the vice-president, senate president as well as the speaker. That is: No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4. The turn of events means the Lion of Bourdillon has been tamed, at least for now.
The battle will now shift to the cabinet…
The PDP ‘coup de grace’…
The opposition PDP was instrumental to the emergence of Saraki and Dogara. And it might have marked the rebirth of the party as it has now tested its strength in the new dispensation. It is expected that APC will try to squeeze out Saraki and Dogara – given the statement issued by the party kicking against their election. But since at least two thirds majority is needed to impeach the senate president or speaker, it will always be difficult to achieve.
As long as the PDP lawmakers remain behind Saraki and Dogara, all they need to do is to preserve his own camp within the APC. If APC does not play the game better, they may end up pushing Saraki and Dogara and their camps out and that could give PDP back the majority in both chambers. The highlight of PDP’s rebirth is the against all odds, the party is retaining the senate deputy president slot through Ike Ekweremadu.
With the emergence of Saraki and Dogara, the rebuilding of PDP may have started. It was no coincidence that these two gentlemen were members of the PDP until the crisis. Dogara and Saraki were part of PDP that gave President Goodluck Jonathan a run for his political money before defecting to the APC. Now that the new PDP is in “charge” of the national assembly, many will not be surprised if these men are back in PDP before the end of their tenures.
President Buhari is learning the realities of Nigerian politics the hard way. He had always insisted that he would not interfere in the choice of the leadership of the two chambers of the national assembly. But upon return from Germany earlier Tuesday, he had to call an emergency meeting of the APC senators-elect to counter the moves by PDP. The Saraki camp did not attend the meeting. But even the president himself did not attend, raising questions about how much he knew about the invitations sent to APC lawmakers.
In a statement issued by his spokesman after the events of Tuesday, Buhari expressed regrets that the APC members did not follow the process put in place by the party. He notably refused to congratulate the winners but promised to work with them. Again, he maintained that he did not have any preferred candidates. But he appears genuinely baffled by the turn of events.
The Tuesday Thriller could just be the beginning of plenty drama in this new dispensation.