Tough times for Saraki, Dogara

Defectors from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are facing tough times ahead of next year’s polls. The euphoria that greeted the gale of defections has whittled down, leaving many of the defectors with a future that is anything but certain. The pertinent question is: what future awaits them in their new political abode, having repudiated the past?

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Many believe that many of the defectors, especially the returnees to the PDP, have predictable and inevitable hurdles to cross as they continue with their survival games. Judging by ongoing developments, they may have started realising that a huge gap exists between expectation and reality.

In their new port of call, some of the serial defectors have started paying the price. Their former party, the APC, is not sleeping on guard. Its national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, has not relented in turning the heat on the defectors, thereby putting them on the defensive. There is also caution in the PDP, owing to the antecedents of the defectors and their penchant for jumping ship.

According to observers, there are six major challenges confronting the gang of defectors. For the heavyweight defectors, it is a moment of emotional wrenching as they are leaving a formidable ruling party for an opposition platform whose image they had dented when they disowned the platform four years ago.

Despite their varied political experience, they are not insulated from miscalculation and summersault. The defectors, in the view of analysts, may have uncritically confused public yearning for more dividends of democracy under the Buhari administration with the desperate push for regime change by unpatriotic elements who have nostalgic feelings for ‘business as usual.’

The uncoordinated defection project may have created division among the defectors, based on their antagonistic ambitions. All the prominent defectors—Senate President Bukola Saraki, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal and Senator Rabiu Kwakwanso—harbour presidential ambition in the PDP. Yet, they seem to be ruling out consensus candidacy.

Although PDP National Chairman Prince Uche Secondus has assured the defectors of equal opportunities, those who waited behind in the party in 2015 and consequently became victims of their earlier defections are fighting back and resisting their integration, thereby compounding the challenge of harmonisation between old and new structures. To the old members, it is improper to reward those who crippled the PDP in the past with presidential ticket, to the detriment of loyal chieftains who have been labouring to rebuild the party.

Also, there is the burden of perception. Apart from suffering the indignity of being unfairly perceived as serial defectors, many Nigerians have continued to probe the motivation for the defection. The realisation that personal motive, and not national interest, is the driving force, may have made some of the defectors to lose public sympathy, goodwill and solidarity.

The outcome of by-elections, particularly in Katsina, Bauchi and Kano states, did not reflect any negative consequence of defection. The fact that APC won the by-elections with wide margins have increased the confidence of its leaders. Mocking the defectors, Presidential Senior Special Assistant Garba Sheu said while they claimed that APC was no more popular, it has continued to win elections.

For the most prominent defector, Senate President Saraki, these are not the best of times. Since 2015, he has been in the eye of the storm. Following his emergence as the Chairman of the National Assembly, the eminent politician, who succeeded his illustrious father, Second Republic Senate President Olusola Saraki, as Kwara kingpin, ran into turbulence. His career as the number three citizen has been full of tension. The tribulations of his predecessors—Evan Ewerem, Chuba Okadigbo and Adolphus Wabara—pale into insignificance in the face of multiple crises that have threatened his survival. Saraki has the right to vie for the Senate Presidency, but to the forces that opposed him, his emergence marked the collapse of party supremacy and the enthronement of indiscipline. To watchers of the National Assembly imbroglio, the logjam would have been averted if there was reconciliation between Saraki and aggrieved APC leaders who opposed his candidature after Gen. Muhammadu Buhari assumed the reins as President. The result has been uncanny mistrust and suspicion.

Saraki was arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged corruption. The protracted litigations that ensued further deepened the gulf between the legislature and the Presidency. After surviving the court case, crisis also brewed between him and the Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris over allegations of links with suspects in the Offa robbery. To many senators who sided with Saraki, the hand of the executive has been heavy on the Senate President.

Saraki’s trial was viewed with sentiments by partisan interest groups. As the face-off worsen the frosty relationship between the Senate and the Presidency, fear engulfed the National Assembly, with legislators agitating for constitutional amendment for personal protection through an inexplicable legislative immunity that will shield them from criminal trial like the President, his deputy, governors and their deputies. PDP senators alerted the President to an imminent war as they announced the withdrawal of support for his policies and programmes. Some APC senators also warned that the executive was playing with fire.

In Kwara State, APC chieftains are enraged. They poured venom on the President for allowing the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Shehu Malami, to drag Saraki to court. Saraki was combative. The former Kwara State governor cried foul, saying that the executive was victimising him because it had not overcome the shock of his emergence as the Senate President in spite of its hostility to the process that paved the way for his emergence. He attributed his ordeal to the antics of a cabal, a tiny executive within the broader executive, which had cowed others under the weight of its power and influence. He fired salvos at the Federal Government, saying that the executive has infringed on the fundamental principle of separation of powers in a presidential system. The Senate, he argued, was at liberty to conduct its affairs as an independent arm. Malami countered him, saying that the alleged forgery constituted a serious infraction. To many, the sheer trial amounted to political humiliation.

But the executive also have complaints against the Senate President. Information and Culture Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed accused him of deliberately slowing down the process of governance through delays in budgetary approval and the refusal of the Senate to confirm critical presidential nominees for appointments.

In the last one year, speculations have been rife that the Senate President and his co-travellers would defect from the ruling party. Thus, when the threat was carried out, it was not beyond expectation. Following his emergence as chairman, APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, rose swiftly to confront frontally the challenge of reconciliation in the party. Apart from holding peace meetings with Saraki, the President also met with the Senate President so that he could shelve the defection plot, but without success. Since he dumped the APC, the Senate President has not known peace. Oshiomhole, who earlier issued a query to him, has turned the heat on him. Party sources confided that the Senate President could not delay his defection again as Oshiomhole preempted him and challenged him to a duel. There is no end in sight to the crisis that has engulfed both the APC and the PDP. To Oshiomhole, Saraki lacks the moral and constitutional justification to preside over the National Assembly, having defected to the minority party. Although there is no provision in the 1999 Constitution suggesting that a Senate President should step aside from his hallowed position after defection, the APC chairman has insisted that Saraki should surrender the crown.

The crux of the matter, as Oshiomhole put it, is that Saraki, a senator from the PDP, which is a minority party, cannot preside over a Senate where the APC commands the majority. Oshiomhole has challenged Saraki to convene the Senate and risk the consequence. He said APC has 56 senators while the PDP has 49. The chairman is adamant that Saraki can be removed through impeachment and other constitutional means. “Minority has the right to have their say, but majority must have their way. If we have 56 senators and they have 49, I insist that 49 cannot preside,” Oshiomhole said.

Amid the parliamentary hide and seek game, the Senate has not been able to reconvene to consider the budget for electoral funding proposed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). When the Senate eventually reconvenes, there may be uproar as the battle line is drawn between pro and anti-impeachment forces.

Although Saraki is still the undisputed Kwara political leader, the unusual has been happening in recent times in his domain. Aggrieved Kwarans have protested against his defection, saying that they were still in love with President Buhari. His defection has also led to counter-defections. The Kwara PDP chairman, Iyiola Oyedepo, and some chieftains hurriedly left the party for the APC because, according to them, they loathed being in the same party with the kingpin. Erstwhile PDP Publicity Secretary Rex Olawoye said: “Saraki and his cronies have been in the saddle of leadership of the state in the past 15 years, with nothing to show for it.”

Saraki, who has indicated that he may join the presidential race, has intensified his consultations with prominent leaders across the country. He has visited former President Ibrahim Babangida in Minna, the Niger State capital. He has also gone to Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State, to confer with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Instructively, while receiving a delegation of youths, Obasanjo, who peeped into 2019, spoke with a benefit of hindsight. He said it will not be easy to take power from an incumbent who is interested in a second term.

Saraki is protective of Kwara, his stronghold. His structure remains formidable. If he vies for the Senate again in 2019, he will dwarf his opponents on poll day. He is poised to install the next Kwara governor, although he should be prepared for pockets of nomination crises in his camp.

But what is Saraki’s chance of securing the PDP presidential ticket at the primary? He is qualified to run for the highest office in the land. His ambition falls within the framework of fundamental human rights. But will his perception as a Yoruba northerner not be an obstacle? What is the assurance that he will beat other aspirants during the shadow poll? If he emerges as the PDP presidential flag bearer, can he beat President Buhari at the poll in February, next year?

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has not left the APC for the PDP. He has a decision to make. According to sources, he appears to be in a fix. Will the number four citizen still defect from the APC to the PDP as it is been speculated? Will he embrace reconciliation and keep his APC membership card? If he defects, what difference can he make? If he goes to the PDP, what future awaits him? This is the dilemma.

Judging by the results of the senatorial by-election in Bauchi South District, many believe that APC can survive without the Speaker. In his native Bogoro/Dass/Tafawa Balewa Constituency, the party won in two councils, namely Dass and Tafawa Balewa, and lost only in Bogoro where Dogara hails from. According to observers, the outcome of the by-election shows that APC is still in control of Bauchi. APC candidate, Lawan Gumau, won the Bauchi South by-election with 119,489 votes. According to the Returning Officer, Prof. Ahmed Sarkin-Pagam, he defeated eight other candidates, including the flag bearer of the PDP, Ladan Salihu, who polled 50,256. The margin is wide. Interestingly, former Governor Isa Yuguda, who ran on the platform of Green Party of Nigeria (GPN), also lost his deposit. He got 33,079 votes. If the votes of the PDP and GPN are combined, it will still be a far cry. The result affirmed that Bauchi is an APC stronghold.

Also, Bogoro/Dass/Tafawa Balewa Federal Constituency, which Dogara represents in the Lower Chamber, is now polarised. If he returns to the PDP, the Speaker will be in control of Bogoro. It is a potent but narrow base. If he waits behind in APC, analysts contend that Dogara would still need APC to win Bogoro in next year’s polls.

Before the election, APC had lost two senators—Isa Misau and Nazif Gamawa—to the PDP. Their defection did not create a band wagon effect during the poll. The result may be a signpost to next year’s election. Indeed, the Bauchi poll was full of drama. As women cast their votes, they also chanted the usual slogan of Sai Baba, echoing their nostalgic commitment to President Buhari and readiness to vote for him in February, next year. In 2015, during the governorship poll, APC won in 19 of the 20 local government areas in Bauchi State. Instructively, despite being a candidate, the local government voted for the PDP, meaning that the Speaker could not exert influence in Bogoro.

In the said election, Governor Mohammed Abubakar garnered 654,934 votes to emerge winner. His rival, Mohammed Jatau of the PDP polled 282,650 votes. At the presidential election, President Buhari got 931,598 votes. Former President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP got 86,085 votes. If Dogara defects and teams up with Misau and Gamawa in the PDP, can they alter the trend and pull the rug off the feet of the president and governor in Bauchi?

According to sources, there is no rift between the APC leadership and Dogara. Despite the circumstances surrounding his emergence as Speaker, he was conciliatory after the controversial House leadership election. He even wanted his rival, Femi Gbajabiamila from Surulere Constituency, to become his deputy. However, Dogara and the governor of Bauchi are not the best of friends. Abubakar refused to support Dogara when he vied for the Speaker. The governor said he wanted to toe the party line. They also have an axe to grind over some local matters at the home front. Efforts to resolve their differences in the last three and a half years have proved abortive.

Dogara has a governorship ambition. He is battling with his limitations and constraints. He is a Christian from a predominantly Muslim state. Governor Abubakar is interested in second term. Thus, the coast is not clear for the Speaker in the APC. But, if he defects to the PDP, can he also get the governorship ticket?

To analysts, Dogara also have narrow options. If he does not defect, he will be re-elected into the House of Representatives. If APC wins next year’s polls, there is no evidence that he will be re-elected as Speaker. If he vies for the Senate, the primary will be a bone of contention between him and the new senator, Gumau. If Dogara defects to the PDP and gets its governorship ticket, can he defeat Abubakar? If he gets the senatorial ticket, can he defeat Gumau or anybody that emerges the APC flag bearer? If he is the PDP House of Representatives candidate, can he defeat his APC counterpart? If he is re-elected as a PDP member of the House of Representatives, can he become the Speaker? If PDP wins the presidential election, the Senate President is likely to also come from the North and the Speaker from the South. Can the zoning formula be altered because of Dogara?

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