Between Tinubu, Senate Unity Forum and National Interest By Ubong Etuk Akpan
Barring any last minute changes, the Senate is expected to resume plenary on 28 July, 2015. The shift in date according to reports is meant to give the two opposing All Progressives Congress (APC) Senators – the Senators of Like Minds (loyal to Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki) and the Senate Unity Forum (loyal to Senator Ahmad Lawan) – enough time to digest the terms of settlement recommended by the Governor Atiku Bagudu-led three man reconciliation committee. The Committee was floated by APC Governors’ Forum to broker a truce in the seeming intractable differences between the two contending groups for the post of Senate President of the 8th Senate which was won on June 9 by Saraki.
The emergence of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator, Ike Ekewremadu as Deputy Senate President, had also fanned the flame and still a source of discontent among the APC and its lawmakers in the upper chamber. Ditto the insistence by some leaders of the APC that their ‘handpicked candidates’ must occupy the post of Senate Leader and Deputy Senate Leader respectively. The section of party leaders routing for Lawan hinge their contention on the need to entrench party supremacy. However, the APC Senators have continued to clamour for legislative independence. Many analysts including Saraki had explained that the APC would not have lost the post of DSP to PDP had some of its leaders not called out about 51 of its members to an ill-advised meeting – purportedly summoned by the National Leader of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari – on the day of the inauguration. However, recent events have shown that Buhari was rather ‘invited’ to the parley by the self-acclaimed leader of the South-West, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to the assembly.
I know many a Unity Forum members who have continued to flaunt the doctrine of party supremacy just to achieve their quest for power. What is however amiss is whether Party Supremacy is a euphemism for Tinubu’s Supremacy as being used by those in the Tinubu faction of the APC or the Supremacy of the APC as a party. The distinction needs to be made because when Tinubu was backing Senator George Akume – a Christian from Benue – for Senate President, it was interpreted that he was the candidate of the party for the job. But when Tinubu made a volte face and latched on on to Senator Ahmad Lawan – a Muslim from Yobe – for the top job of the Senate, the Yobe North lawmaker was again paraded as the choice of the party. Haba! We all know that President Muhammadu Buhari had made it clear that he had no preferred candidate for job. He underscored his message by saying that he would work with anybody that emerges as President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Saraki and Yakubu Dogara have emerged. Buhari has not rescinded his promise.
Therefore, why are some members of the party being more papal than the pope by insisting that it’s preferred candidates must be allowed to occupy principal positions in the Senate? If the National Leader of the APC and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says he has no preferred candidate who is then higher than him in hierarchy to insist that Lawan and Akume be allowed to reap from where they did not sow? Granted that ‘party supremacy’ ought to be the norm, but what do you say of the APC national leadership who allowed the crises to ferment and fester in the first place by absolutely neglecting to act when the iron was hot? Where was the APC leadership – now hiding under the decoy of party supremo to reverse time and undo what has been done at the inception of the contest? Why did the party go to sleep in the morning only to wake up at midnight to start searching for a black goat? Nigerians expect the APC to honourably accept responsibility rather than trying to pin their political naivety on Saraki and the PDP for the outcome of the June 9 inauguration.
Let the current internal crisis of the APC and their Senators not be allowed to result in the proverb that when two elephants tango, it is the grasses that will suffer. The grasses unfortunately in this scenario are the long oppressed Nigerian masses. Have Nigerians not suffered enough in the last 16 years when the PDP stung and economically asphyxiated them with poverty, epileptic power, ill equipped health facilities, unemployment, social dislocation and above all imposition of unpopular candidates through rigging, electoral brigandage, ballot box snatching and outright allocation of results during past elections. I must say that it was in order to escape from the oppressive regime of the PDP that Nigerians voted for the APC during the 2015 elections, as the change agent to turn things around for the better. The Senate and the APC Senators in particular cannot afford to derail the people’s hope for a complete turnaround. To continue to bicker over spilled milk will not do a highly respected arm of government like the legislature any good. The election that led to the emergence of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, was not only transparent but was in tandem with the express provisions of the Constitution and the Senate Standing Orders. The Presiding and Principal Officers have emerged, save the position of the Chief Whip of the Senate which has not been announced. Be that as it may, Nigerians already know that Professors Sola Adeyeye from Osun State has been penciled down for the position.
If truth be told, APC Senators should realize that Nigerians now expect the Senate to as a matter of national interest quickly settle down and rally round the Senate President to begin to take out the filth that has so suffocated our people these past years. Nigerians expect the Senate President to as a matter of necessity and national importance to urgently name the 56 Standing Committees of the Senate. However in the absence of that, let him name essential committees to begin to carry out urgent and essential services pending when the entire standing committees would be unveiled. Again this should not take eternity.
It is time for Senators still branding themselves as the Senate Unity Forum rather than Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria not to continue to dash the people’s hopes through their war mongering. No body is happy to sow and another man reap. However the alleged forgery of Senate Rules and the emergence of a PDP Senator as the Deputy Senate President cannot be an excuse why the real issues that trouble the nation must be put in abeyance. I don’t think that there is any Nigerian that would wait for Senators of the APC to fight over positions already contested and won before having uninterrupted power supply in their homes for instance. Mr. President has been traveling to seek international cooperation and collaboration to end insurgency in the country, repatriate stolen funds, and seek needed investors, among others. The Senate ought to be ready to speak with one voice and queue behind Mr. President to ensure a final solution to the evil of insurgency in our country. I have mentioned this because the nation’s ability to deal with this evil will determine whether the APC has delivered on its mandate and thus eligible for reelection in 2019. Nigerians will most certainly not reckon with a scorecard of who threw the highest number of verbal or real punches on the floor of the Senate or those lawmakers who attempted to overpower the Sergeant-At-Arms and carry the mace to legitimize their planned illegality. I must say that any more day the Senate allows the ambition of a few lawmakers to disrupt it sittings would amount to an unpardonable disservice to Nigerians who voted for them in the first place.
Besides, Saraki has left nobody in doubt that he has what it takes to both intelligently and charismatically pilot the affairs of the Senate in such a way that Nigerians would maximally benefit. Within one month as Senate President, he has unveiled his agenda for the Senate but has taken practical steps to ensure the realization of his laudable vision for the Senate as an efficient, transparent, accountable arm of government that is alive to its responsibilities of making needed legislation for the good, order and progress of the country. I am in essence referring to the setting up of the Senate ad-hoc Committees on Legislative Agenda and Finance Review to ensure openness in the activities and finances of the Senate. The issue of constant and effective oversight remains key to be able to attain Saraki’s resolve that all revenue generating Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) remit these cash into the Federation Account fully. A situation where Senate Committees will summon the head of an agency and ask that head to give account of his stewardship especially in terms of capital allocation should be gone with the past. It would rather be better and more rewarding for committees to confront such agencies with facts and figures for either right or wrong doing and let such heads deny or accept responsibility for their actions or inactions. Again, Saraki recently directed the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to collaborate with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to recover N30billion illegal waivers granted to some rice and other importers as a way of shoring up the revenue of the Federal Government. The Senate must now unite to ensure that this is done for the benefit of the average Nigerian finding it difficult to survive from day to day. Thanks to Buhari for recently announcing a bailout to pay backlog of salaries but what happens when the over N700billion expected to be released as a relief package to states gets mismanaged or exhausted? Even though some party leaders who failed to realize their ambition to impose or install their protege’s as both presiding and principal officers of the Senate, and the House of Representatives, have vowed not to let Nigeria move forward until their wishes are realized, but they must be told that the country must first exist before any politician can realize his economic, social and political pursuits.
The Unity Forum and its backers should shed the toga of war and embrace reconciliation as begun by the leadership of the party – APC. They cannot afford to constitute themselves into the agents of destabilization in the 8th Senate. Politics as they say is about give-and-take. Like they say in pidgin English parlance ‘Na fight Nigerians go chop?’ Need we beg the Unity Forum to allow the wheels of progressive to roll freely. The task awaiting the 8th Senate cannot be abridged on that alter of personal ego and desperation displayed so far by some members of the Unity Forum. Or do we ask the poor widows and pensioners to wait for Senators Ahmad Lawan, George Akume, Kabiru Marafa and Mohammed Hunkuyi to be named principal officers before the desire of Nigerians for change and good governance begin to manifest. Plans by Marafa and his cohorts to cause mayhem in the Senate on resumption must not be taken lightly by the security agencies. Nigeria is far greater and bigger than any individual ambition!
Akpan, a public affairs analyst wrote in from, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.