The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, had been having a running battle with the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress since he showed interest in the plum job against the position of the party that picked his colleague, Ahmed Lawan, as its anointed candidate. After his emergence, the ruling party also handed him a list of those it felt should hold principal offices in the upper chamber. He again jettisoned that list.
With the sour relationship, Saraki and his sympathisers (or supporters) hold the belief that his ongoing trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged false declaration of assets is politically-motivated. They have been seeking political solution to the case. No doubt, Saraki believed that the prompt confirmation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 36 ministerial nominees by the Senate would endear him to the President, and by extension, the party leadership. He therefore carried out that task dutifully.
At exactly 2.55pm, Saraki’s convoy drove into the forecourt through the Service Chiefs’ Gate. As he stepped down from his official car, he was baptised with flashes from cameras as photojournalists jostled to get good shots.
He was led upstairs by the President’s two Senior Special Assistants on Legislative Matters, Ita Enang (Senate) and Suleiman Kawu (House of Representatives) with a few of his aides coming behind him. They were ushered into one of the small halls inside the President’s office.
At 3.01pm, the President walked into the hall. On arrival, he did not shake hands with Saraki to the surprise of photojournalists who were waiting to take that shot. The President only said “Good afternoon” to nobody in particular and took his seat. He waited patiently for somebody to coordinate the meeting as he looked towards his aides. Only a few aides like the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari; the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina; and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, were there.
The Permanent Secretary of the State House who normally coordinates such meetings by introducing the President’s guests and their purpose of visit was not at that event. After waiting for a few seconds, Buhari put on his microphone and said something to the effect that nobody was talking. At that point, Saraki put on his microphone and attempted to talk but he kept looking at journalists without making his speech. Some presidential aides got the hints and told journalists to leave.
We left and sat inside an adjoining hall. Before we could settle in, words came that the President had asked us to come back. I think he asked us to return to the hall when it became clear that the issue on the agenda was the list of ministers-designate.
In his speech, Saraki alluded to the fact that the list of first batch of 18 ministers-designate had already been sent to the Present while he decided to personally bring the list of the last 18. He took time to blow his trumpet by rubbing it in on the President that the Senators did a good job in screening the nominees in record time.
With the presentation over, all security and political aides as well as journalists were asked to excuse them as Buhari and Saraki met behind closed-doors for about 20 minutes. I guess that was the main purpose of bringing the list personally: to be able to meet with the President one-on-one.
Why didn’t he send the list of the final batch through the same channel he used for the first batch? During an interview with reporters after the presentation, I put this question to Saraki and he confessed that he decided to bring the list personally so as to also discuss other issues. He said, “Because there were other things we discussed. As you can see, after you (journalists left), we discussed for about 20 minutes on some major issues as well. So it wasn’t just about the letter.”
Not convinced, I probed him further. This time, I asked the President of the Senate whether he did not think that Nigerians should know those issues discussed behind closed doors if indeed they (the issues) were about them (Nigerians). He paused and said, “I think at the right time, they will get to know. I have a constituency which is the Senate which I must first engage and I am sure with time…..The major issue has to do with moving Nigeria forward.”
Not satisfied, I fired another salvo. This time, I asked Saraki whether his ongoing trial by the CCT was one of the other “major issues” which he said he discussed with the President. Initially, he was hesitant. He faced me directly as if he wanted to identify the person who had the audacity to ask him such questions. As television cameramen politely asked him to face the cameras while answering me, he managed a smile and said, “Did you think that will come up in this kind of situation? No, it did not come up” as he found his way to his waiting official car.
To be fair to Saraki, he did not start the razzmatazz. He actually took a cue from the President who had to ask his Chief of Staff to lead Enang and Kawu to the Senate to submit the two lists. They made a show of the presentations and took photographs that were published in newspapers. During previous administrations, the only time one got to know that the President had transmitted the list of ministerial nominees was at the point when the letters were being read on the floor of the Senate.
Ministers-designate go to ‘school’
The 36 Nigerians assembled by Buhari to form his much-awaited cabinet have gone back to school. They were assembled inside the Villa on Thursday and Friday for a presidential retreat organised by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
The programme was meant to expose them to the things that are required of them as they become ministers either with or without portfolios. Different facilitators addressed them on issues ranging from their relationships with their co-cabinet members, permanent secretaries and others as well as issues bordering on the nation’s economy and security among others.
Unlike Buhari’s portfolios that may not go round the 36, the organisers ensured that all ministers-designate got portfolio-like black leather conference bags as well as conference documents.
Beyond the papers delivered however, I hope that the ministers-designate learnt one or more other hidden lessons. For instance, those of them who are very observant would have noted that Buhari arrived the venue of the event on Thursday at exactly 9am scheduled take-off time. I am sure he had passed a message to them with that behaviour.
My unsolicited advice for them is that they must sit up because I am convinced that this President that I have watched closely in the last few months will never hesitate to wield the big stick when and if necessary. My lens will definitely be on the 36 wise men and women and I will be reporting back to you shortly. Enjoy your weekend.