Of Tambuwalism and Buhari’s Headaches By Olusegun Adeniyi
It was four days after I came back to Nigeria in June 2011, leaving my family behind in the United States, and a day to the inauguration of the 7th National Assembly, when I got a call from Mrs Ebere Ihedioha, asking me whether I was at home. When I replied that I was not, she pleaded with me to go home. It was a strange request that got me immediately worried. My first response was to ask whether there was any problem with her husband with whom I was earlier that day and she said there was none but the more I kept probing, the more insistent she was, “There is no problem with your friend, Segun; please, just go home and wait.”
Obeying Ebere’s directive, I went home to wait. Not long after, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha arrived carrying a hand luggage. What is the matter I asked? He said he and Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, (who was contesting to be Speaker with Ihedioha as his deputy) had been tipped off about a plan to arrest them that night so that they would not be in the House of Representatives the next day for the election of principal officers. I made some calls to people around the president and from their tone, it was evident that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan had taken the aspiration of Tambuwal and Ihedioha as an affront to his person and authority and some enforcers were ready to do anything to ensure the president was “not humiliated”.
With that, I knew I had “political contraband” on my hands so we considered it necessary to take certain precautions. By the next day when Ihedioha left my house for the National Assembly, dressed in an unusual “babanriga”, nobody was certain how the drama would play out. But he and Tambuwal (who also did not sleep in his house and was camouflaged with an Ijaw hat that morning) eventually made it to the House chambers on that fateful day of 6th June, 2011. The rest, as they say, is now history.
However, what happened at that period was for me a gross abuse of presidential powers. I did not see what crimes Tambuwal and Ihedioha committed to warrant being hunted, just because they nurtured ambition. Besides, I saw how the whole episode was mismanaged by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the president who refused to see reason with the majority of House members, especially within his party, that the results of the 2011 general election had made the PDP zoning formula untenable.
I have read so many reports about the “Tambuwal rebellion” in recent weeks even as the All Progressives Congress (APC) has continued to make the same mistakes that the PDP made in 2011. But the wrong parallels are being drawn. And because of that, President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling party’s leaders are compounding the problem for which they may pay very dearly if they do not make a course correction. As I said, it was the presidency and PDP that must take the blame for what happened in the House four years ago.
With the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) sweeping the 2011 polls in the South West, most of the prominent PDP members, including then sitting Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, were defeated. In fact, in the entire six states within the region, only five PDP members were elected. To worsen matters, even when the South-west PDP caucus had endorsed Hon Ajibola Sabauna Muraina (at a meeting attended by all key members at the residence of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was at the time the Board of Trustees Chairman), some people in Abuja decided to jettison that decision to anoint Hon Mulikat Akande-Adeola for the office of Speaker.
As it would happen, at that period, four of the zonal caucuses in the House had decided that they would not back Hon Akande-Adeola. With influential House members such as Bello Muttawali (Zamfara), John Enoh (Cross River), Leo Ogor (Delta), Ogbuefi Ozomgbanchi (Enugu), Samson Osagie (Edo), Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos), Abdulrahaman Kawu and Farouk Lawan (Kano), Ahman Pategi (Kwara), Emmanuel Jime (Benue) and Bashir Adamu (Jigawa) throwing their weight behind Tambuwal, it was evident that Hon Akande-Adeola (whose main supporter incidentally happened to be a certain Hon Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi) was fighting a lost battle. Even if the contest were restricted to the PDP members, Tambuwal was still going to win by a comfortable margin and that explained why he secured 252 votes as against 90 votes garnered by Akande-Adeola.
It is therefore incorrect to say that Tambuwal was elected speaker by the opposition. In the House in 2011, the PDP had 203 members followed by the defunct ACN with 69 members. The equally defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) came third with 38 members while the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) had 28 members. Other parties with members in the House were Labour Party, eight; All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), seven; Accord Party, five; Democratic Peoples Party, one; and Peoples Party of Nigeria, one member. Yet, despite all the bribery and intimidation from some presidential do-gooders, Tambuwal still won with 74 percent of the total votes cast, essentially because he had overwhelming support from PDP members.
Four years later, APC leaders have not learned any lesson from that experience. With the president saying publicly on the eve of the assembly inauguration that he had no dogs in the fights, the resolve of the party leaders who were using his “body language” to sell some candidates in the contest had been severely weakened. And it was no surprise that the PDP capitalized on that to produce the deputy senate president. But the real problem now is that with the elections of principal officers won and lost, what is happening in the National Assembly is a disgrace that does not in any way advance the interest of either the president or that of the APC. It is even more unfortunate that respected leaders like Chief Bisi Akande would be making ethnic imputations to what party leaders should ordinarily accept as a temporary setback and move on.
I fail to understand how ethnic conspiracy came into what is going on in the National Assembly.Pa Akande and his group wanted an Ahmed as Senate President and a George as his deputy as well as a Femi for Speaker and a Monguno as his deputy. Fair enough. At the end, they got a Bukola (married to a Toyin) as Senate President and an Ike as his deputy as well as a Yakubu for Speaker and a Lasunkanmi for deputy. Pray, how does such an arrangement work against the interest of Yoruba people just because their preferred candidates lost?
However, any discerning reader of events cannot but understand the nature and context of the power struggle going on within the APC against the background of the forces that combined to ensure the victory of President Buhari at the polls. But the way Pa Akande and his group seem to be framing issues, abusing and maligning those with whom they disagree is not only dangerous for the health of our polity, it is also counterproductive. Sometimes, it is strategic to concede a battle to win the war but some people believe they just must win every battle hence the current recourse to some self-serving politics of identity.
What the APC leaders must realize is that politics is about managing conflicts and as the new ruling party, they should take the National Assembly upheavals as part of their learning curve. With just one month in the saddle and one crisis, party leaders are already planning to pull down the house they sacrificed so much to build. Yet, if the APC leaders will be honest with themselves, the problem in the National Assembly stems from the attempt to sacrifice principle for expediency. From the United States where we borrowed the presidential system of government, the leadership of Congress is never an imposition from outside but rather a process of consensus built by the members themselves with the usual practice being that the Minority Leader becomes Speaker once his/her party wins a majority of seats at the next election cycle.
Ordinarily, the APC leaders would have been on solid ground if they had insisted on Senator George Akume as candidate for senate presidency and Femi Gbajabiamila for House Speaker. With both of them being Minority Leaders going into the election, the APC leaders could have used that to make a compelling argument about “party supremacy.” But the moment the election of presiding officers was made to look as if one all-powerful “maximalist” politician was trying to impose his own candidates on both the House and the Senate (which is not entirely true), the problem started.
Nothing describes the situation in the Senate today better than the Yoruba adage, “adie ba lokun, ara o rokun, ara o ro adie” for both the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the APC—the import of which is that there can be no peace for either until they come together to resolve their differences. But that will not happen until President Buhari begins to play the right politics. The message is simple: There is nowhere in the world where an elected president in a polity with such aggressive partisanship as ours can afford to be apolitical on matters that are tearing his party apart so early in the life of his administration.
For instance, if the president had intervened after Saraki became Senate President by calling all APC senators for a meeting and reiterating the need for Ahmed Lawan to be compensated with the position of Majority Leader (the way President Jonathan did in 2011 for Hon Akande-Adeola in the House), the outcome would have been different. Whatever the misgivings against Saraki’s emergence as Senate President, the fact remains that he could not have foisted Senator Lawan on his colleagues as Majority Leader without his hands being strengthened from Aso Rock. That did not happen.
Now, before I go further, I want to make something clear. The most common charge against Saraki is that he is “too ambitious”. It is ridiculous. Any politician who says he/she has no ambition is either a fool or a fraud. So having the ambition to be president of Nigeria in 2019 (if that is his desire) should not count against Saraki. For me, that is not an issue. What some people from my state, Kwara, hold against Saraki is not his ambition, which is legitimate but rather the exploitation of, and seeming disdain for, the ordinary people. That is where Saraki needs to look himself in the mirror again if he is to avoid hubris.
Because he is young, brilliant, politically savvy and self-assured with a network of friends across the country, Saraki has so much going for him. But there are legitimate concerns about what he stands for by both friends and foes alike and he has them in equal measure. Since I do not want to digress too much (I will come back to deal with the Saraki issue in future), what I will stress here is that Saraki will make a good Senate President only if he can bring himself to realize that power mongering for its own sake or for the promotion of personal interest would bring neither fulfillment nor enduring legacy. I hope he gets the message that material possession counts for little and begins to think of what he would be remembered for when the history of this era is written.
However, APC and the president should come to terms with the fact that Saraki is the Senate President now and relate with him. That was the mistake President Jonathan made when he and the people around him continued to undermine Tambuwal who was able to rally his colleagues. It was the inability of the presidency to accept that it could not dictate to the House who would be speaker that eventually “radicalized” Tambuwal and the PDP ultimately paid the price. Buhari cannot afford to make the same mistake with Saraki and Dogara who now head a separate but very important institution in any democracy. I am aware that the President has hosted the Speaker to a private audience in recent days. He should extend the same courtesy to the Senate President.
For sure, Saraki has fences to mend, beginning with the party’s National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. In the aftermath of the National Assembly elections, I have read several “political obituaries” of Tinubu by those who do not know what they are talking about. Fortunately, Saraki knows, or at least should know, that he cannot afford to take Tinubu on. It would be politically suicidal. The point here is that Saraki cannot be effective as a Senate President if he has to be constantly watching his back. Somehow, he must reconcile with Tinubu, once he settles with the president.
The situation in the House is a bit tricky but also fortuitous, in a way. Even if by default, that a Christian from Bauchi State would become the number four citizen is a plus for our democracy and Buhari should be happy for such a thing to happen under his watch. Besides, only few people come to the office as prepared as Dogara given his background and temperament so I don’t think the House made a mistake. In any case, there was a proper contest for the position of Speaker even though at the end the result was close.
Perhaps if the party leaders had not been so overbearing, they could have worked out an arrangement in which whoever between Dogara and Gbajabiamila won would pick the other as deputy. Now with a deputy speaker already elected from the South-west, it is difficult to have a Majority Leader come from the same zone. But I believe that there are several ways in which Gbajabiamila, with his legislative experience, exposure and intellect, can be useful to the House. The APC leadership should find a way to broker compromise between him and Dogara since they cannot force the issue.
Finally, the election of National Assembly presiding officers is not as important as the APC leaders are making it to be. There are serious challenges ahead and they should get serious. In fact, what the APC leaders are doing today reminds me of a famous refrain of Mrs Oby Ezekwesili whenever she describes people who do not take their responsibility seriously. She says such people major in minors. And at a time like this, the APC leaders should remember what Ezekwesili told them last year.
At an elaborate national summit in Abuja to launch its Road Map on 6th March last year (at a time the party was just building a coalition against the PDP), Ezekwesili, as the Keynote Speaker told them that seeking to wrest power from a sitting government is more about preparation to make the requisite sacrifice “so that the people may prosper and thrive” than merely dreaming of occupying some fanciful offices. I hope the APC leaders who are behaving as if they are still in opposition would go back and re-read the text of her presentation so they can understand the enormity of the challenges before them and stop messing around with inanity.
The National Economic Council was inaugurated on Monday with some startling but not surprising revelations about the management of our oil revenues in recent years. Now we hear of probes, which is not a bad idea. After all, according to Robert Coase, “if you torture the data long enough, it will confess”. However,the fact also remains that a fixation with oil money (which in any case is dwindling) will get us nowhere as a nation. And the earlier the APC leaders come to terms with that reality, the better for all of us.
This was the way Ezekwesili explained to them last year in case they have forgotten: “The trend of Nigeria’s population in poverty since 1980 to 2010 for example suggests that the more we earned from oil, the larger the population of poor citizens: 17.1 million in 1980; 34.5million in 1985; 39.2million in 1992; 67.1million in 1996; 68.7million in 2004 and 112.47 million in 2010! This sadly means that you are children of a nation blessed with abundance of ironies. Resource wealth has tragically reduced your nation- my nation- to a mere parable of prodigality. Nothing undignifies nations and their citizens like self-inflicted failure.”
I have deliberately brought that reminder because it would seem that to some APC leaders, the most important thing in the world right now is how to upstage some principal officers in the National Assembly. Whatis particularly galling about such disposition is the hypocrisy of it all. In the Benue State House of Assembly where PDP has majority of the members, the APC government in the State, by a sleight of hand, ensured the emergence of Hon. Terkimbi Ikyange (APC member) as Speaker with Hon. James Okefe Ejembi (PDP) as his deputy. The same thing happened in Plateau State where the APC (which won the governorship election) has produced the speaker despite the fact that the PDP has more members in the House of Assembly. I have not heard one word from my uncle, Alhaji Lai Mohammed about such “anomaly” and that is why I fail to understand the vicious campaign against Ike Ekweremadu being the deputy senate president.
Fortunately, there is an opening for the president and the APC leaders to work out an acceptable resolution of the problem they have vicariously created in the National Assembly by their collective tardiness. In a way, the audacity of Saraki and Dogara has helped the president to resolve some inherent geopolitical headaches that were waiting to haunt him. It has thrown up a Christian from the “Core North” as Speaker just as it has produced a Deputy Senate President from the South-east at a time when the APC should be worrying about how not to exclude the zone from the national ring. The challenge for the President is to have the sagacity to ‘own’ these advantages while using his party to encircle the leadership of the National Assembly.
If the APC is clever, the enlistment of PDP legislators by Saraki and Dogara to emerge as leaders of the National Assembly can be appropriated as a bi-partisan platform to forge a stronger cohesion on critical national issues. But it is also the responsibility of the president to massage some bruised egos. In the end, the way the hiccup in the National Assembly is resolved will determine whether or not the APC can navigate the disparate interests of political factions that coalesced to form what has now become the ruling party in Nigeria. That may also determine whether or not President Buhari succeeds with his agenda to reposition our country.