President Muhammadu Buhari had long indicated that he would not interfere in the election of principal officers of the National Assembly in order to avoid the mistake of some past governments in the country. But when the election eventually came, many fingered the president’s hand in the pie. Just what role did President Buhari play in it all? IBIDAPO BALOGUN attempts an answer to the political jigsaw…
President Muhammadu Buhari is not your run-of-the-mill politician. He says what he means and means what he says. He does not talk from both sides of his mouth. Before the election of the principal officers of the National Assembly, he said he would not interfere in the election of Senate President or House of Representatives Speaker in order, according to him, to avoid the mistake of some past leaders. It was with that at the background that he issued a proclamation directing the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, to convene the 8th National Assembly at 10 am on June 9. That order was final for many had been speculating as to when the new parliament would be inaugurated.
Alleged Text Message…
But in the early hours of Tuesday, June 9 the Senators were said to have received a text message, inviting them for a meeting with President Buhari at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, about 3 kilometres away from National Assembly. That allegedly scheduled meeting was not without its background. Sensing that the Senator Abubakar Olusola Saraki group had succeeded in negotiating with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senators in a bid to thwart the election of Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe who had earlier emerged as the official candidate of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) for the position of Senate President, the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu group which was backing Senator Lawan first got the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to summon a meeting with all APC Senators for Monday night. That meeting was boycotted by the Saraki group of senators which styled themselves ‘Like Minds’. It was later, around late night till the early hours of Tuesday, that Tinubu and a few other leaders of the APC succeeded in convincing President Buhari who had just arrived then from the G7 meeting in Germany to agree to convene a meeting of the APC Senators. Text messages were quickly sent round to the senators for the meeting.
But shortly after Tinubu and other APC leaders left Buhari, triumphant that they had succeeded in convincing him to convene a meeting with the Senators where he would demand that the party’s position in respect of the election, the party’s candidate for Senate President (Lawan), be endorsed, WESTERN POST learnt that former Federal Capital Territory Minister, now Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, was said to have emerged at Aso Rock where he prevailed on President Buhari not to go for any meeting with Senators. He said going there to endorse a candidate would run counter to his earlier position that he would not influence the election of National Assembly principal officers. Buhari was successfully convinced. He resolved not to go to the ICC, Abuja.
That new development, the change of mind, was not communicated to the Tinubu/Lawan group, the Unity Group, but ostensibly the Saraki group got a wind of it and perfected a coup to go straight to the National Assembly complex for the inauguration. It was a coup which perhaps had the knowledge and backing of the Clerk of the National Assembly. The other group of Senators backing Lawan and APC leaders like Tinubu, the party’s National Chairman John Oyegun, former Interim National Chairman Bisi Akande and National Publicity Secretary Lai Mohammed headed for the ICC, grinning from ear to ear. About 51 Senators were with them, while the others numbering 57, which comprised 49 PDP Senators and 8 APC Senators headed for the assembly complex for the inauguration. When the Clerk called for the election of Senate President, Senator Saraki was nominated for the position and seconded and as there was no counter nomination, he was elected unopposed. Senator Saraki in securing the support of the PDP’s 49 Senators had reached an understanding with them that one of them, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, would be elected as Deputy Senate President, meaning that Ekweremadu would be retained in his office even in an APC-controlled Senate. And so Ekweremadu was nominated and another person, Senator Ali Ndume, an APC lawmaker, was also nominated as a decoy. In the ensuing election, Ekweremadu won convincingly. By the time the other Senators, the senators of the Unity Group, raced to the National Assembly complex after the President was nowhere to be found and the election of the Senate officers was underway, the deed had been fully done. That was how Saraki became Senate President and Ekweremadu his deputy.
The Blame Game
After all was said and done, the divided APC Senators then engaged in the blame game. The Tinubu/Lawan group of Senators alleged that they were merely out to obey President Buhari and accused the Saraki group of disrespect to the President. They alleged that Saraki and Clerk Maikasuwa moved to rebel against the President’s directive. The other group, the Saraki group, however, said they had respected the President’s directive that the parliament be convened at 10 am and that they were not aware of any other directive. They even queried if there was any other directive, saying the President who had asked the Clerk to convene the parliament by 10 am could not have asked that a text message be sent around inviting the lawmakers for another meeting at 9 am of the same day. But whether or not President Buhari was complicit in the way and manner Saraki emerged and whether he was comfortable or not with that election would be discerned from his response to the election. In his first reaction to the election, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, President Buhari noted that a “constitutional process had occurred” but added that he would have wished that the process that was initiated by the party was pulled through.
Did Buhari Prefer Lawan?
According to WESTERN POST sources, the truth of the matter is Senator Lawan was Buhari’s candidate and he wanted him for the job. Buhari and Lawan are no strangers to each other. Lawan was Buhari’s Coordinator in Yobe State in 2007 when he (Buhari) ran on the defunct All Nigeria Peoples’ Party platform. As a matter of fact, it was learnt that Buhari pointedly told Saraki not to contest, though WESTERN POST could not confirm this independently. Saraki was said to have made it clear since that he wanted to be Senate President. It was further learnt that Tinubu is at present receiving the flaks on behalf of the president. The former Minority Leader of the Senate, George Akume, was Tinubu’s original candidate. But when the former Lagos governor sensed that the President preferred Lawan, he backed down and prevailed on Akume to run for Deputy Senate President. “It was a tough decision for Tinubu but he had to bow to the wish of the president who wanted Lawan. So that was how he asked Senator Akume to stand down and run for Deputy,” a source close to the development confided in WP. “Akume felt flustered. But since that was the party decision and the decision of his leader he had to abide by it. That was how the Lawan/Akume ticket was birthed and was subsequently carried in a straw poll conducted by APC for its Senators”.
Where Does Buhari Stand?
But if anybody is in doubt where Buhari stood about the election but just that he elected to flow with the wind since Saraki’s election followed a constitutional process, the President’s reaction to the poll when he spoke with ARISE TV News on the sidelines of the AU Summit in South Africa said it all. Commenting on the election, President Buhari drew an analogy between the presidential primary of APC and last week’s election in the National Assembly. He said: “For example, when we came to our party’s primary for the presidential election, four of us stood (in the primary). There was no problem because it is part of the system. “I happened to win and they agreed there and then that we should all work for the party. But unfortunately, in this National Assembly, there was a division. So it’s up to them (legislators) to sort it out.
“There is a system in the National Assembly – the House of Representatives and the Senate – they have got their own criteria for choosing their leaders. “We had a meeting and I told the party’s caucus that I’m not going to interfere, because constitutionally, I have (sic) no role as president-elect to tell the party who to recommend or put (forward) as a candidate. “The party didn’t want to present two candidates because if they presented two candidates, what we heard occurred (would have) eventually happened.” “One of the candidates went and got the support of the former ruling party, and he divided our party. That was why the party was not pleased about it. The party ran a primary and the one (Senator Ahmad Lawan) who was competing with Saraki won to become APC’s candidate in the Senate. But then Saraki did not agree with that; he virtually divided the party and he got the support of the PDP and he allowed a PDP senator to become his deputy.”