The Senate reconvenes today after a six-week recess. Expectedly, a number of issues will dominate procedures and discussions in the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
No doubt, the ongoing trial of the Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) will take the centre stage. Saraki is standing trial for alleged false assets declaration while he was governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011. The trial has continued to generate controversy within and outside the Senate.
Some senators have identified with Saraki. They have vowed to stand by him through thick and thin. But, the trial has far-reaching implications on the turbulent tenure and indeed the political career of the Dr. Saraki. The development has further widened the gulf between the polarised senators, especially, on the appropriate steps to take on resumption.
The various camps have been holding secret meetings and coming up with various positions on the way forward. Some of them argue that as a matter honour, Saraki ought to step down as Senate President for the period his trial will last. Those bringing up this suggestion base their argument on morality and the need to save the image of the upper legislative body.
According to them, legislative proceedings and actions taken by the Senate under Saraki’s leadership may be adversely affected.
“The resolutions or decisions arising from proceedings on the floor of the Senate presided over by Saraki may not pass the credibility and integrity test,” one of them said.
Such resolutions or decisions, he went on, would not get the deserved acceptance and respect from members of the public and even the international community. “No doubt, the trial has to a large extent debased the National Assembly,” the senator said.
Apart from being the Senate President, Saraki doubles as the chairman of the National Assembly, a nomenclature invented for the office since the Sixth Senate. His trial cannot but rub off on the image of the entire legislative arm of government.
It’s Unity Forum
versus Like Minds
Hence, some senators, especially those in the Unity Forum group, are insisting that Saraki should do the needful to save the Senate and indeed the National Assembly the odious implication of harbouring a tainted leader. Those championing the Saraki-must-resign cause reason that the weight of the moral burden of his trial has the inclination to impede legislative business.
They posit that since he who goes to equity must come with clean hands, Saraki’s image has been dented by his arraignment and ongoing corruption trail. To them, Saraki must step down honourably to give the Senate fresh breath to begin afresh.
Observers are of the view that the trial may halt the stream of government institutions and corporate bodies that have been paying courtesy visits on the President of the Senate. There has been a plethora of visits and courtesy calls on the Senate President since the inauguration of the Eighth National Assembly on June 9. Many of such calls were said to have been at the instance of Saraki’s office.
But senators loyal to the Senate President, under the auspices of the Like Minds, insist that the is no bais for the call on Saraki to step aside. According to them, the trial should not in any way stop Saraki from presiding over the affairs of the Senate.
Their argument is that the accused person is deemed innocent until proven otherwise by a competent court of law. They added that asking him to step down would be tantamount to pronouncing him guilty before trial.
Saraki may be lucky to weather through the storm either by some judicial wizardry by his counsel, or through a political solution that may entail a great deal of compromise on the part of the Saraki camp. However, losing the trial portends dire consequences for the tenure and political career of the Senate President. If he loses and bags a conviction, either in form of a jail term or fines, or both, he automatically loses his seat as President of the Senate and senator representing his Kwara Central Senatorial District.
In the event of the latter scenario playing out, the lawmakers would have to shop for a replacement amongst the body of senators.
Speculations are rife that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), with its 49-member strength, is angling to cash in on the cracks within the ranks of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which has a simple majority in the upper chamber, pick the plum job for one of its members. The APC has 59 members in the 109-member Senate.
Feelers from the PDP caucus indicate that the immediate past Senate President David Mark; his erstwhile deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and the incumbent Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, are being primed to succeed Saraki. But, the trio of Mark, Ekweremadu and Akpabio, have enough political battles on their hands. Mark is battling to save his political career at the Benue election petition tribunal, where he locked in a battle with Daniel Onjeh of the APC. Onjeh contested the Benue South senatorial seat with Mark at the March 28 National Assembly election. The pendulum may swing in favour of either Mark or his opponent. Until that matter is dispensed with, the former Senate President may distance himself from another round of political struggle.
On the other hand, Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu, who is being projected as a possible replacement, is also facing a criminal case in court. His alleged involvement in tinkering with the Senate Standing Rules, on the plank of which he emerged Saraki’s deputy may his albatross. Like Saraki, if the court finds him culpable, he would be losing his position as well as his Enugu West senatorial seat. Akpabio may not be the right choice for the job. In the first place, the immediate past Akwa Ibom State governor is a first-time senator and therefore not qualified to lead ranking senators. He may have pulled through as Minority Leader with his PDP, but, becoming the Senate President as anon-ranking member time member is a different kettle of fish. Besides, there are unconfirmed reports indicating that hard currency and arms were found in a section of the Akwa Ibom Government House recently raided by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS). The former governor was said to be the tenant in section raided by the operatives. The last may not have been heard of the raids as more facts in the days ahead.
There are also speculations that Saraki could get as many senators to stall the clearance of ministerial nominees. The list of the nominees from President Muhammadu Buhari will be forwarded any moment for the screening and approval of the Senate.
Political analysts argue that there are no indications whatsoever within or outside the Senate to suggest that the ministerial list will suffer any delay.
According to them, if anything, the Saraki camp may use the expeditious screening and approval of the nominees as a bargaining chip. This, they say, may be in the form of wooing the Presidency and other stakeholders in the APC. The pundits argue that the Saraki camp and the APC leadership may use the list to strike a balance that could be symbiotically beneficial to both parties.
It is however left to be seen how the parties would pull through such knotty compromise. Others insist that the Senate, as presently constituted, lacked the strength, character and moral force to hold down the President’s ministerial list. Going by the mood of the public and the eagerness on the part of the citizenry to see a federal cabinet in place, any attempt to delay the approval of the nominees may complicate matters for the lawmakers.
Already, there is high-level of political awareness across the land and the various constituents appear to be in a hurry to see the Buhari administration marching on with full complements of cabinet ministers. Any wrong move by the lawmakers may backfire and attract public uproar and resentment against the Senate.
A statement issued on Monday by the Chairman, Senate ad-hoc committee on media and publicity, Senator Dino Melaye appears to give an insight into the mood of the lawmakers. Melaye, a die-hard supporter of Saraki, said the Senate is fully prepared and waiting to receive communications from Mr. President, including the ministerial list.
So, in the actual sense of it, there is no pound of flesh for the senators to extract from the Buhari Presidency. Many of the senators believe that in line with the change mantra sweeping across the country, the course of justice should not be blocked, no matter who is involved. The likely inference from this is that, with or without Saraki’s trial, the Senate must be seen to be doing its job unhindered.
Opinions are sharply divided as to how long the embattled Senate President can continue to push on. Some believe that with the weight of criminal charges against him, Saraki may not come out unscathed, morally and politically. They see his political future hanging precariously in the balance if the government decides to pursue the case to its logical conclusion.
Others, however, observed that in saner societies and civilised democracies, someone in Saraki’s position would have been asked by his colleagues to voluntarily resign or be impeached. It is believed that a good number of the lawmakers, mainly of the ruling APC, are working towards this option. But, it is unclear if they could get enough members to push through their position.
As the senators prepared for their resumption, it was gathered yesterday that the Unity Forum and the Like Minds are favourably disposed to finding a political solution to the logjam problem. They are said to have expressed optimism that the matter could be resolved amicably before the October 21 adjourned date for hearing in the case before the CCT.
Senator Aliyu Wamako, who belongs to the Like Mind group, has predicted an early end to the string of crises rocking the Senate after today’s resumption.
He said at the weekend: “I see Mr. President, Saraki and senators holding a meeting very soon on how to salvage democracy, which certain elements have been trying to subvert. They will find time to meet to stop our opponents from progressing with acts to sabotage our democracy.
“Once the President and the Senate leadership sit on a round-table with a resolve to re-oil the wheels of democracy for national progress, the cynics, the political rabble-rousers and those who never mean well for the APC government will go to sleep.”