By Jude Ndukwe
Political events of recent days have been both telling and defining. With the gale of defections particularly as it affects the two leading parties in the country, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the 2019 general elections will no doubt be as interesting and as intriguing as never before.
From the Senate President, Dr Olubukola Saraki, the governors of Benue, Kwara and Sokoto States Senators and members of House of Representatives, a majority of the members of affected State Houses of Assembly, federal government appointees and other elected office holders at the State and local government levels including national and state officers of the party, defected from the ruling APC to the opposition PDP, pulling their crowd of supporters along with them.
Since then, leading members of the ruling party have been making frantic efforts at stemming the tide while restrategising on ensuring that they do not lose any further political capital as a result of the exit of the defectors even though they sometimes go overboard by resorting to unnecessary and futile threats and name calling.
No doubt, Saraki’s departure is the one that seems to worry leaders and members of the APC most as they believe that he made way for the easy passage of other power brokers to the PDP. Since then, they have embarked on a series of scurrilous attacks on the senate president accusing him of sundry offences ranging from the ridiculous to the comical. They have therefore asked him to relinquish his position as senate president because, according to them, he has used his position to frustrate the “Change” agenda of the Buhari-led APC government over its three years of existence.
The truth is that Saraki is one man who has actually put his office to noble use in stabilizing the nation in her tumultuous moments and galvanized the senate in particular and the national assembly in general in giving vent to the agenda of the Buhari administration. He is one man who has gone as far as dousing rising tension among national assembly members for the numerous periods they raised critical issues against the executive. He used his office to placate raging members every time they had genuine cause and good grounds to ground government.
On several occasions when issues came to a head, he was always invited by the executive to give soft landing to the president and his appointees sometimes even against the wish of senators and other national assembly members. He has successfully managed the diverse interests of senators and tailored them towards cooperating with the executive in the pursuit of its duties.
All these he has done despite the relentless attack on his person by agents of the executive including several puerile and brutal needless court cases he was dragged into just to embarrass, intimidate and harass him into relinquishing the presidency of the senate which he contested and won within the purview of his rights but against the wish and devious machinations of power brokers within the fold of the APC. That is not to talk of the massive campaign of calumny, propaganda and outright falsehood launched against him as a person and the national assembly as an institution in the media.
Added to this is the vindictive harassment including physical assault of senators perceived to align themselves with him and his leadership in the Upper Chamber using state security agents to achieve this sinister agenda of attempting, albeit futilely, to silence the legislature and emasculate its members for the purpose of creating a leeway for President Muhammadu Buhari to operate without checks to his powers and functions, a scenario too dangerous for a complex nation like ours whose corporate existence lies in the fragility of our diversity.
As if to confirm its insatiable desire to turn Nigeria to a fiefdom that is ruled according to the whims and caprices of the president against all known principles of democratic attributes, the judiciary was also not spared the ruthless onslaught of the executive and its agents as judges were routinely maligned, humiliated, harassed and embarrassed just to get them intimidated and restrained from dispensing justice to the victims of all these executive recklessness as court orders are also disobeyed as a matter of routine.
In all these, Saraki maintained his calm and took it all with equanimity while discharging his duties without allowing his harrowing experiences in the hands of the executive affect his functions as senate president as he put the nation first at all times. For example, but for his meek mien which he brought to bear on his office, others in his shoes would have wielded the enormous powers at his disposal as senate president against the executive. For the many appointees of government that neglected, failed and or deliberately refused to answer summons of the senate to give explanations to issues of critical national importance arising from their office, the senate could have withheld their budgets or refuse to attend to executive bills brought its way. But despite all the shenanigans of the executive, Saraki has always risen above personal pains, humiliation and discomfort to put the nation first on a regular basis.
It is not every senate president that will tolerate a situation where government appointees not confirmed by the senate as required by our laws continue to defy the legislature with the tacit support of the president by remaining in office thereafter. The EFCC chairman failed screening processes of the senate more than once and the president was told in no unmistaken terms to replace him as he was not fit to hold public office particularly on the strength of a damning report of alleged severe corrupt against him in a document submitted by a sister security agency, the Directorate of State Services, DSS. In spite of this, Ibrahim Magu the unconfirmed EFCC chairman has continued to remain in office against public good and constitutional processes, yet, the Senate president, in order not to slow down the job of the EFCC because of the shortcomings of one man, has continued to convince senators not to hold the executive to ransom.
It is the same with the Customs boss, the police boss and several other government appointees who have demeaned the senate by refusing to answer its summons or obey its resolutions or motions.
Even the delay usually experienced in the passage of our budgets is always the fault of the executive who send in their budget proposals so late into the year but expect the legislature to rush over it without proper scrutiny and legislative processes that would straighten out grey areas in the document. It is instructive to note that the legislature while scrutinizing these budgets have almost always found questionable figures inserted into the budgets by members of the executive, some without the knowledge of even the president himself. A noteworthy point however, is the Senate is now pushing new legislation to bring an end to this yearly debacle.
Furthermore, it has become commonplace for heads of MDAs to refuse to go to the senate to defend their budgets even after several requests by the senate for them to do so. For example, despite this blatant undermining of the legislative arm by the executive particularly the MDAs in this case, the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and his House of Representatives counterpart, Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara, still bent over backwards and led a delegation of national assembly members to Aso Villa to appeal to the president to order concerned ministers and MDAs to go to the national assembly and defend their budgets as part of standard “legislative review process” world over. This was as late as March this year, four months after the president laid the budget before the national assembly.
The implication of this fact is that effective work of the legislature on the budget did not take place until after the president gave the marching orders to his ministers and MDAs to go to the national assembly and do the needful. This is in addition to the fact that, according to the national assembly, members of the executive were still bringing in new items for the budget even as late as April, yet, the Senate President still accommodated them in order for the legislature not to be seen as forming a cog in the wheel of the progress of the executive. Saraki did all these not because he could not wield the senate’s big stick against the recalcitrant MDAs but because he put national interest above every other factor.
It is therefore most heartwarming to know that despite the recklessness of the executive who have severally and severely demeaned and desecrated every of our democratic institutions, and continued to provoke citizens through its tyrannical actions, Saraki has proved himself a rare nationalist, at a time like this, who has risen above the persecution brought his way, in order to protect our democracy and stabilise a nation being driven to the precipice by an executive arm that has terribly overreached itself in its quest to create an atmosphere of fear in the polity and have a democratically elected president of the nation act with without regards for the rule of law. Political actors like Saraki, who are politically refined, highly educated and exposed, cannot afford to remain in the same party with such an executive arm. They might have flocked together for so short a whilethey are certainly not of the same plumage.
As we approach the 2019 general elections, it is believed that the executive might become more ruthless in its dealings with the people, and it is only honourable for the Sarakis of our nation to put themselves in the line of fire in the defence of our democracy by pulling out from an APC that has largely lost the goodwill that brought it to power only just three years ago. To discerning minds, Saraki’s move from the APC to the PDP is a big sacrifice made for the nation with little or no benefit for himself as he could have gained more by pretending to like the current dire state of the nation and remain in the APC especially with reports rife that some mouth-watering and irresistible juicy offers were made to him by senior members of the executive and APC leaders to remain in their party before he eventually chose the path of honour and jettisoned both them and their offers. And despite knowing full well that the already desperate APC would unleash even greater and more furious terror on him if he jumped ship, he still took the risk of doing so in order to join forces with an alternative party, the PDP, which has remained a foremost political party after its rebranding and reform processes, true democrats and citizens of goodwill, to save our country and democracy from the grip of those determined to continue to ride roughshod over all of us.
No doubt, when the time comes to count those who refused to use their exalted office to settle personal scores, and joined forces with well meaning Nigerians to save our land, Saraki’s name will surely be given its appropriate place of prominence in such a record even as history beckons.