By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Some have described what happened in the National Assembly on Tuesday, June 9, 2015, with the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki and Honourable Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, as the demystification of the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, by some of the elements who once worshipped and adored him. They called him the emancipator of Nigeria from the clutches of ultra-conservative hegemonists who had, in the noxious garb of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), maintained a vicious grip on the polity since 1999.
The easily irritating, yet vociferous voice of Dino Melaye (now senator representing Kogi West) as he chanted the praise of Tinubu: “the Jagaban of Africa” in his capacity as MC on a number of APC occasions televised live, keeps ricocheting in my ears. It is unbelievable that it is the same man, acclaimed as their leader, the promoter of “common sense revolution” that dislodged PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan from power, who has been undercut and worsted by bi-partisan political intrigues and subterfuge, orchestrated by Melaye’s group of Like-minds Senators, which promoted and supported Saraki’s senate presidency.
The group had been commonsensical (more than Tinubu) in its bid to clinch the plum position. Members of the group had proved to be good students of our recent history, wonderful emulators of the ways of the Jagaban himself.
It was in 2011 that Tinubu deployed his strategy of disrupting the PDP zoning plan in the House of Representatives that would have produced Mulikat Akande Adeola from the southwest zone as speaker. Tinubu had lined all Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) legislators in the House to support the candidature of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal from the northwest as speaker in defiance of the PDP decision. Tambuwal won along with Emeka Ihedioha as deputy speaker.
The rest is now history.
Tinubu succeeded in planting the seed, nay wind of treachery, watered and nurtured by disloyalty and disdain for party discipline in the House of Representatives, just four years ago. He did not care about anything as long as his interest was not threatened or injured. He was propelled by selfish agenda to bolster his political and pecuniary interests after the decimation of the PDP and dislodgement of Jonathan. That seed rapidly geminated and was ripe for harvest on June 9, this year; and as fate would have it, Tinubu was primed to become the greatest beneficiary of the whirlwind that was produced as typified by the defeat of his candidates, nay the APC decisions, in the race for the positions of presiding officers in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Senator Ahmad Lawan was the party’s choice for the senate presidency while Femi Gbajabiamila was the choice for speakership. Both had emerged at different straw polls conducted by the party prelude to the inauguration of the National Assembly. The APC had even gone as far as choosing through the straw polls George Akume (Benue State) as deputy senate president and Tahir Mongunu (Borno State) as deputy speaker. Both Saraki and Dogara boycotted the processes. They had their own counter-plans, with their eyes fixed on the PDP legislators to produce some jokers.
In the senate, the number is quite significant for the PDP which has 49 of the 109 Senators. The APC has 59 (one of its members had died shortly before inauguration). In the House of Representatives, out of the 360 members, the APC has 210 (minus one that died shortly before inauguration) as against the PDP’s 150 members; the stakes were quite high.
Saraki and Dogara decided to reenact Tinubu’s sordid stratagem in 2011 by shunning their party decision and reaching out to the PDP lawmakers for strategic alliance in the Senate and solid support in the House of Representatives. The PDP was game. The leadership asked Saraki what was in the alliance for the party. Apparently determined to rubbish any obstacle on his way to the senate presidency, he readily accepted the proposal by the PDP to cede the deputy senate president to it (PDP). What that meant was a solid PDP bloc vote for him. That left the APC in disarray. The APC knew that with the number of senators behind him, there was no way it could stop him; which was why he (Saraki) spurned all entreaties and invitations for meetings with leaders of APC.
Gloatingly, the PDP sealed the deal with Saraki, who was once in its fold. The party did not also hesitate to perfect the Dogara deal in the House. Dogara was, also, once upon a time, in the PDP. He, in fact, belonged to the Adamu Mu’azu faction of the PDP in Bauchi state. While the PDP settled for the deputy senate president, it allowed Dogara to pick a deputy speaker from APC and from any state in the southwest, provided that the candidate was not a stooge of Tinubu. In a way, the PDP was mindful of geo-political zone balancing in its counter plots to the APC’s plot.
Indeed, the APC, according to some PDP leaders, got it wrong with the coupling of Lawan-Akume ticket, both of them coming from the north. Saraki, on that score, outwitted them by settling for an alliance with a southeast senator of the PDP in the person of Ike Ekweremadu, which effectively took care of the south in the arrangement.
And for Dogara, his being a Christian from Bauchi combined pretty well with the choice of Lasun Yusuf, a Muslim, from Osun state. Dogara’s religious background also balances out the Muslim religious background of President Muhammadu Buhari (executive head) and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed (head of the Judiciary) and Saraki (Head of the Legislature). Had Gbajabiamila emerged as speaker, all the heads of arms of government plus the speaker would have been Muslims. Unfortunately, the APC leadership had ignored the concerns expressed by some Nigerians that their choices showed insensitivity to another religion.
Back to the man-Tinubu-who, in 2011,sowed the wind of treachery, nurtured by the water of disloyalty and indiscipline to party supremacy in the election of National Assembly leadership. It was learnt that he tried his best possible to avert the tragedy that befell him and his party. He actually put last minutes call to some PDP leaders to see how they could be of help to his interest. One of them reportedly told him that there was no way the Lawan-Akume ticket would be acceptable to the South. True, there is no way, according to top insiders in the PDP who were privy to the Saraki-Ekweremadu deal, the Lawan-Akume ticket would be overlooked for any other promise. Tinubu was said to have promised that there would be adjustment after the National Assembly inauguration, but he was advised to make the adjustment before the inauguration. His reach-out to the PDP was on the eve of the inauguration, which was pretty late to effect any adjustment. And, the Jagaban could not do anything to save his subsequent humiliation and demystification.
All the theatrics that went into the mix have become history. Tinubu, wherever he may be today, must be ruing his defeat. If the loss in the senate was monumental, a Gbajabiamila victory in the House would have mitigated, to some extent, his loss of the senate presidency. But with the defeat of Gbajabiamila, his political son from Lagos, Tinubu can be safely said to have almost suffered a collateral damage. His saving grace is that he had already produced a candidate for the vice presidential slot in the person of Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Regardless, the Jagaban has been swept up in the whirlwind of politicking in the National Assembly, where it matters most in a democracy. His imprimatur is missing in the Legislature. Perhaps, if he had succeeded in installing his candidates in the National Assembly, he might have been in a pole position pile subtle pressure on some power centres in furtherance of some selfish agenda and demands put together in the confines of his Bourdilon home in Lagos.
Meanwhile, I am waiting to see how Asiwaju would be able to recover from this set-back and forcefully reinvent himself between now and 2019, especially now that Saraki has grabbed the senate presidency, which he (Tinubu) had wanted to frustrate in order to ensure that the Ilorin-born politician’s presidential aspiration in 2019 is not bolstered. If Saraki is able to keep his seat, it will certainly be salutary to whatever his aspiration is for 2019. Gbam!
Ojeifo is Editor-in-Chief of The Congresswatch magazine in Abuja.