It is no longer a secret that since Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki was elected as the President of the 8th Senate on June 9, 2015, Predident Muhammadu Buhari has not officially engaged with him. Were Buhari to defer to precedent set by his predecessors, such interface between the Number One and Number Three would have taken place in the evening, on the day the National Assembly was inaugurated. Understandably, this did not happen because we are in a season of change. The Presidents produced by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the one produced by the All Progressives Congress (APC) are poles apart in terms of ideology, philosophy and above all, modus operandi. I shall dwell on the aforementioned differences in the near future. However, suffice it to say that even though politically incommodious, the path of the President and Saraki have crossed twice since June 9 – first at the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the APC and during the Eid-el-Fitri prayers in Abuja.
While these meetings are important, in that they have proved critics wrong who are wont to input hateful tendencies in the unfolding drama, they did not provide the much needed latitude for the two national leaders to robustly interface on how to direct the ship of state now firmly in the hands of the APC. I dare say that those currently encouraging the President not to officially meet the Senate President, are doing so devoid of patriotism and national interest. No matter how we look at events of 9th of June in the National Assembly which produced Saraki as Senate President and Senator Ike Ekweremadu as his deputy, nobody can blame Saraki for the absence of his main opponent in the race, Senator Ahmed Lawan and for the election of Ekweremadu made possible by the absence of majority of APC Senators in the chambers, during such one-event-in-any-session of the National Assembly. The National Assembly cannot be proclaimed twice in any republic. Though the election of Ekweremadu is painful as it deprived the APC of a homogeneous leadership in the Senate, the leadership of my great party, the APC must find a way around this stumbling block if all its lofty ideas, which enjoyed the people’s buy-in during the general election are not to be sacrificed so soon. God forbid!
Ever since the election of the Presiding Officers of the Red Chamber, it has been rumbling and grumbling, torrential expenditure of words, impeachment was contemplated, petition to the police was written, and even a court action has been instituted to challenge the event that democratically took place on the floor of the Senate as laid out by its rules of procedure. Thus, the Senate was unsettled until the historic Vote of Confidence on the Senate President, his deputy and already announced principal officers of the Senate. The new dawn of peace followed a motion sponsored by Senator Samuel Anyanwu and 81 other Senators spread across party lines in the Senate. The development was an indication that the 8th Senate was set to sail. To ensure an unencumbered sail, Saraki had ensured that even those on the other side of the divide were and the most vehement of his traducers were not side-tracked in the composition of adhoc committees. He announced the setting up of four ad-hoc Committees including Rules and Business, Services, Ethics and Privileges and Media and Publicity. It is worth noting that the committee on Rules and Business which is the engine room of any legislative body was ceded to a staunch member of the Senate a Unity Forum (SUF) loyal to Lawan, in the person of Senator Jide Omoworare. The spokesman of the SUF, Senator Kabiru Marafa, is also a member of this all powerful committee. Again the Chairman of the SUF, Senator Barnabas Gemade was named chair of another committee to review the state of our roads. The composition of these committees shows that the Senate has jettisoned politics to face the real business of legislation for which they were elected. Saraki has also shown broadmindedness and political sagacity in the concession of the committees to SUF members.
The vote of confidence by the Senate on Saraki and the appointment of SUF chair and members into critical committees by Saraki should signal to nay-sayers that the upper chamber has decided to put the rumpus that attended the June 9 inauguration and election of presiding officers behind it. Saraki has amply demonstrated by his words and more importantly, his actions that the Senate is not only set but has begun working out how to better the lot of Nigerians who voted to bring about the change revolution. This is why stakeholders still having an axe to grind as a result of the election of presiding officers and naming of principal officers of the Senate must urgently bury their ‘warmongering’ for now in the overall interest of our country – Nigeria.
To further demonstrate that the Senate is ready to pick on critical national assignments, an Ad-Hoc Committee led by Senator Adamu Aliero, has been mandated to look into the duty waiver policy of the Federal Government.This was even as the Senate urged the Federal Government to stop all waivers on imported rice and other Agricultural products and directed the Governor of the Central Bank (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, and the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Abdullahi Dikko to recover all illegally granted import duty waivers. The import of the motion moved by Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, (Kwara South), is to stop the continual hemorrhage of government’s revenue. The Federal Government is said to have lost N585billion to illegal waivers between 2011 and 2014. This collective resolve remains a sure indication that the interest of the country has overtaken personal or group political interest in the upper chamber. Already, Saraki has again made history as the first Senate President to lead Senators to visit the North-East since the dawn of Boko Haram insurgency in the country. The visit to troops, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, government and traditional institutions in the area according to Saraki was meant to afford the Senate real time experience on the magnitude of devastation in the area and what needs be done to again breath life into the region. What remains to be seen is the withdrawal of all matters from the Police and the Courts, to avoid any further unnecessary distraction from very crucial state matters which the Senate has to grapple with ahead.
Saraki, and indeed President Buhari are both spot on that the onerous business of governance would no longer be business as usual. This presupposes that they need one another to succeed. They have no choice but to collaborate to lift this country out of poverty, insecurity, joblessness, infrastructural decay and to build a better image for the country at the international frontier. Soon, the Senate will be screening the Service Chiefs and there may be need to revert to the President who nominated them to clear any grey areas. Again, the President has promised that he will name his ministers in September. Should this happen as promised, the Senate would have to screen the President’s nominees. What will it be like for the Senate to reject any of the ministerial nominees? This is possible because it happened in the past under ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. It took the fatherly intervention of Obasanjo then for some of the nominees who were earlier rejected by the Senate to be cleared. Presently, there are talks about drastic reduction in the number of ministers to serve in the current dispensation. The move, according to those reading the body language of Mr. President is aimed at cutting cost of governance which has already hit the roof. This can only happen if the relevant constitutional provisions are amended. The constitution cannot be amended without the approval of both chambers of the National Assembly for which the Senate is a leading arm. To go ahead with proposed changes without the express approval of the National Assembly would be anachronistic in our incumbent democratic milieu. There are also talks about the unbundling of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The National Assembly need to amend the relevant laws for this to happen. The earlier the President and the Senate President begin to relate as demanded by the Constitution, the better for all of us who voted for change.
Since assumption of office in May, Mr. President has visited the United States, Cameroon and Benin Republic, among others. The expected dividends from these trips cannot fruit in isolation as they require necessary legislations or amendment of extant laws to cement some of the multilateral and bilateral agreements that would guarantee increased Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) into the country, strengthen the nation’s fight against the Boko Haram insurgents and other myriad security concerns in the land.
Mr. President must not allow the present scenario to be construed as shying away from meeting Saraki because he emerged as the Senate President even though he had no preferred candidate for the position. I will never believe this conclusion because Buhari is a leader whose words are known to be his bond. The body language of Mr. President since the emergence of Saraki is unfortunately not in character with his avowed posture before the inauguration of the National Assembly. Mr. President and indeed the APC cannot afford to squander the goodwill of Nigerians on the altar of unnecessary internal squabbling. Buhari cannot do without the cooperation of the National Assembly in his efforts to defeat insurgency, revamp the economy, eliminate corruption and give Nigerians a compact civil service that will be alive to its responsibility. This Cold War as of necessity must stop now!