Senate President Bukola Saraki has denied reports that he is nursing the ambition for presidency in 2019, saying he actually quit his presidential bid in the 2015 election for President Muhammadu Buhari.
Saraki stated that he contributed immensely to the emergence of Buhari as President and contributed greatly to his victory in the presidential election held on March 28, 2015.
The Senate President, who spoke to select journalists in an exclusive interview in Abuja on Saturday, also denied having plans to dump the All Progressives Congress due to the ongoing crisis in the party over his leadership of the Senate.
Rather, he said what remained paramount in his mind at the moment was how to support the Buhari-led administration to tackle the various social and economic problems confronting the country.
Saraki said: “I was the first person that stepped down his political ambition, once General Buhari announced that he was going to contest the presidential election. And since then, prior to the period of election, I worked tirelessly to support his emergence.
“Even some of my friends who are not supporting me now are doing so because I did not support them in their presidential ambition and that I supported President Buhari. That is why I find it funny that the same people are now claiming to love Buhari more than me. It is a very funny world.
“These are people that I was begging to leave the stage for Buhari to run since all of us are young. They are now the one going round to say that Saraki did not like Buhari but time will tell.”
The Presidency, however, faulted Saraki’s claim of stepping down for Buhari ahead of the presidential election. Saraki had on October 13, 2014, announced the suspension of his presidential bid in the interest of the country and his party.
He, however, did not state which of the other aspirants he was going to back.
Saraki’s statement then partly read, “I decided to step down my ambition because Nigeria’s political outlook for 2015 is very complicated and this is the time for every patriotic politician to situate his personal ambition in the context of the country’s overall interest.
“I don’t think our party can afford too much internal rancour going into next year’s election. I, therefore, think some of us need to make the sacrifice and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem of the party.”
This will be Saraki’s first personal response to the ongoing crisis that is trailing his controversial emergence as the President of the Senate on June 9. Saraki had led a faction of APC senators, under the auspices of the Like Minds Senators, to defy the party’s choice of Ahmad Lawan as the Senate President.
In what many have described as a ‘coup’, the pro-Saraki group had allied with the opposition lawmakers in the Peoples Democratic Party to make Saraki leader of the upper chamber of the legislature in the absence over 50 APC senators.
A similar scenario had also played out in the House of Representatives where Yakubu Dogara opposed Femi Gbajabiamila, the choice candidate of his party, to emerge Speaker of the House.
Explaining what happened on the National Assembly leadership election day, Saraki said he smuggled himself into the chamber on the day the 8th Assembly was inaugurated when he became aware of an alleged plan to abduct and prevent him from standing for the Senate presidential election.
The Senate President also defended his absence from the International Conference Centre venue of a proposed meeting between President Buhari and APC lawmakers on the day of the election. He insisted that he did not receive any invitation for the meeting.
Saraki said, “As regards the meeting, on the morning of the inauguration, I didn’t finish meeting until 4am of that day and I had got information that efforts would likely be made to make sure that I didn’t get access into the chambers.
He said the plan before was that senators-elect should go to the Transcorp Hilton Hotel around 8:00 am and 9:00 am to proceed to the National Assembly.
The Senate President said he was, however, advised against going to the chamber at the scheduled time as there were plans to stop him from being part of the day’s proceedings.
Saraki said he got into the National Assembly Complex as early as 6:00am and stayed in a car in the car park from then till quarter to 10:00am. He noted that all through the period, there was no communication to him.
“So, anybody who said they spoke to me to go the ICC was not true because I didn’t even know what was going on. All I was monitoring was how people were arriving at the complex. It was at quarter to 10:00am that I got information that the Clerk to the National Assembly had entered the chamber.”
The APC, however, described Saraki’s non-invitation claim as a lie, saying all senators-elect were invited to the said meeting.
Saraki, a two-term ex-Governor of Kwara State and former Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, said it was at that point that he got down from the “small car” in which he was hiding and entered the chamber.
“Even when I was in the chambers, I didn’t know what had transpired earlier on. The only thing I observed was that it appeared that some of our senators were not in the chamber. But for the fact that my colleagues arrived in batches, I had the opinion that they were on their way. And by 10:00am, the programme started. “Before I knew it, my election had come and gone. Even, my people were worried. It was only when I got into the chambers that they were relieved,” Saraki added.
The Senate President also dismissed his alleged pact with the PDP to elect Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President. Ekweremadu of the PDP, who occupied same position in the last Senate, had been re-elected as Saraki’s deputy in the Senate that has the APC as majority.
The Senate President, however, insisted that that it was the absence of the APC Senators from the chamber that caused the emergence of Ekweremadu as his deputy.
Culled from Punch