How fear of removal forced Saraki to abort planned resumption of Senate sitting

Senate: Why Saraki aborted planned emergency plenary

Saraki

By Fred Itua, Abuja (fredo.itua@gmail.com)

He didn’t see it coming. Like a trap, he almost met his waterloo, but for the intervention of some senators who immediately intervened and saved his seat. When the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, hurriedly summoned senators to Abuja penultimate Saturday, ahead of an emergency plenary last Tuesday, he must have miscalculated.

On Monday morning, barely 24 hours to the aborted emergency plenary, slated for Tuesday, there was chaos in Saraki’s camp. His aides and allies, for several hours, were in limbo as to what to do next. They had been reliably informed that a major tsunami, which will consume Saraki was coming and may likely be the last straw that will break the camel’s back.

Calls were made and opinions of no-so-relevant people were tapped. After almost 10 hours, Saraki found a perfect alibi to escape the trap that had been set for him. In an unusual manner and first in its kind, Saraki’s media adviser, Mr Yusuf Olaniyonu, released a statement on behalf of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Customarily, the spokesman of the Senate, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, ought to have signed the statement, which was hurriedly packaged. Unfortunately, the Senate spokesman has joined the league of those asking for the head of Saraki. He has not signed any press statement in over six months or spoken in defence of the Senate. Ironically, he still enjoys the perks of office as chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, despite a clear case of dereliction of duty.

Prior to the abortion of the planned emergency plenary, a meeting of principal officers of the Senate had been scheduled for Sunday night. Saraki was expected to preside, although the venue of the meeting was not disclosed. Nine other senators who are principal officers were expected at the meeting.

However, Saraki was far away in Kwara State. At about 10:00p.m on Sunday night, Saraki was still not on ground in Abuja. In the end, the meeting didn’t hold. No official reason was offered. Some PDP senators who are still loyal to Saraki had some meetings. But the big fish was the meeting called by President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday night at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

That proposed meeting called by President Buhari sent shock waves to the camp of Saraki that something sinister was in the offing. Ahead of the meeting with APC senators, the national chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomhole met with the lawmakers. Although the details of the meeting were not made public, it was, however, gathered that plans were concluded on how to either sack Saraki or create a parallel leadership in the Senate.

Unfortunately for Saraki, his party, the PDP is still in the minority. Currently, the APC maintains a slim majority of 57 senators. PDP has 46, while other political parties make up the other seven. Two-third majority of 73 senators is needed to sack Saraki or his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu. With cracks within the PDP camp and alleged plans to splash hard currencies on senators, Saraki wasn’t ready to gamble with his coveted office.

The Supreme Court case

Saraki allegedly in connivance with PDP senators approached the Supreme Court on Monday to interpret certain clauses in the 1999 Constitution as amended, on whether or not the president could suspend the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). Whenever there is any issue between any arm of government, the Supreme Court becomes the court of first instance.

“Earlier today (Monday), the Senate filed a case in the apex court of the land, the Supreme Court, seeking its interpretation on whether President Buhari acted within the provision of the constitution in his suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Hon. Justice Walter Nkannu Onnoghen or whether the action of the President amounted to usurpation of the powers of the Senate as provided for in Section 292 of the constitution.

“Following the filing of the case, the matter of the suspension of the CJN which is the main issue for which the Senate had planned to reconvene tomorrow, has become subjudiced.

“Therefore, in line with the standing rules of the Senate not to debate issues that are already pending before the court, the reconvening of the Senate tomorrow has been put off. The previous adjournment of the Senate till February 19, 2019 stays,” a statement signed by Saraki media aide, Olaniyonu, read.

Expectedly, the APC caucus fired back. Leader of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, who doubles as head of APC caucus, in a statement, retorted: “It has come to the notice of the APC caucus that the Senate has approached the Supreme Court for the interpretation for the suspension of Justice Walter Onneghen by the President.

“For the records, the Senate never met to take such a resolution and at no time mandated anyone to approach the Supreme Court on this matter on its behalf.

“Consequently, the Senate APC caucus dissociated itself from the said request for the legal interpretation of the suspension.”

The dust from the bitter exchange between Saraki’s camp and APC senators was yet to settle down, when PDP lawmakers joined the fray. Biodun Olujimi, Minority Leader of the Senate, fired a shot.

She said: “I am surprised that a few of my colleagues in the APC Caucus are spreading disinformation that they were not party to the decision to file a case seeking interpretation of the provision of the constitution concerning the President’s decision to suspend the CJN.

“Those who are saying this are just being mischievous. They know such a decision is not meant for debate on the floor of the Senate. It is the prerogative of the presiding officer and in this particular case, majority of the people in Senate leadership suggested and supported the idea. There is no precedent of when decision on whether to resort to court is referred to the plenary. And there are several cases that the Senate has been and is still involved in.

“Incidentally, those our colleagues in the APC who are spreading this dis-information are those who have been in the Senate for many years and they know the rules, conventions and practices. That is why I consider their current position as mischievous.

“What do they stand to lose in our seeking judicial interpretation of the law? I believe as democrats and lawmakers, it should be our interest to strengthen the law and support the independence of the judiciary.

This recourse to the Supreme Court will only strengthen our understanding of the law and clear ambiguities about the provision of the constitution, which we all swore to protect.

“It has always been my position that Nigeria is greater than any person or party.

Therefore, as legislators, we should always take position in the interest of the country and not allow partisan, party, group or individual interest to push us into taking a stand that will be counter to national interest.

“As members of the 8th Senate, we have always agreed among ourselves to stand for Nigeria even when it is against the preference of our party. My colleagues in the APC caucus should return to this agreement. It is Onnoghen today, it may be somebody else tomorrow.”

The battle ahead

Saraki may have gotten a reprieve. But plans to sack him before the expiration of his tenure as President of the Senate are still alive. Since he was elected in 2015, Saraki and the Senate have not known peace. Several attempts had been made in the past to remove him.

Saraki’s emergence as Senate in 2015 altered what some pundits described as the skewed power sharing formula the ruling APC had proposed. With President Buhari from the Northwest, APC had wanted Lawan who hails from Yobe in Northeast as Senate President. Saraki, in a last minute deal with PDP senators clinched the seat. He hails from North Central. Ekweremadu, who hails from the Southeast was re-elected as Deputy President of the Senate.

Although unconfirmed, Oshiomhole-led APC has reportedly tipped Mohammed Ali Ndume from Borno State in Northeast to replace Saraki as Senate President and Hope Uzodinma from Imo State in Southeast as his deputy. The fresh move, it was learnt, is to clear the coast for President Buhari’s requests pending in the Senate to get smooth acceleration.

The Senate is yet to consider the 2019 budget proposal. There are some pending loan requests and confirmation of nominees still pending before the Senate, which Saraki has not given the nod to be considered.

Beside, there are apprehensions that the PDP may become bolder after the general elections and initiate moves to impeach President Buhari whether or not he secures another term. Although no one from any of the camps has confirmed it, no one has denied it either.

“When we resume, there will be serious fireworks. Tempers will rise as expected. Those who will lose elections will be bitter. People will switch camps and so many things may happen.

These things are normal in a democracy. For now, the PDP is still in charge in the Senate. When we get to the next bridge after the elections, we will cross it,” Senator Clifford Ordia, representing Edo Central Senatorial District and a member of the PDP, told Sunday Sun.

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