Addressing the Senate, Presidency Crisis


An inclusive leadership is all it takes to contain the current crisis of confidence between the Senate and the presidency, writes Adams Abonu

There comes a time in the life of a nation when it takes the auspiciousness of statesmen to rise to the occasion of salvaging the drift in her national life. Though there is no specific point at which this becomes imperative, the true test of statesmanship is the ability to stand up for one’s country when the chips are down.

With the Nigerian ship of state embattled from several fronts, from the wantonness and avarice of the not-so-distant past – with the National Assembly of Nigeria, a strategic arm of government riddled with many leadership crises arising from a flagrant breach of confidence by the actions of a few individuals and an executive perceived through its actions as a government on a vindictive mission – there couldn’t be a more auspicious occasion for patriotic intervention from concerned parties.

This is where the recent crisis that has engulfed the upper legislative chambers of the Senate comes into view. This is one crisis with the potential of taking a serious toll on the democratic evolution of Nigeria and a cross-section of Nigerians are of the opinion that every avenue to an amicable resolution should be exploited by the parties involved.

“We have too many problems in Nigeria today not to afford another political crisis and every perspective should be considered in seeing that the development at the National Assembly does not degenerate into a full blown crisis.

“The executive should let the legislature conduct their affairs as a separate arm of government and not be seen as one meddling with another arm of government. Meanwhile, it behooves the leaders of the senate to also conduct themselves with decorum as expected of them and should not be seen as an institution that seeks to protect does, who breach the very laws they were elected to make. If any of the actors in the drama would necessarily step aside to avert the coming debacle, that would be encouraging,” Mamman Adeka, a legal practitioner told THISDAY in Lafia, Nasarawa State.

An attempt at placing the crisis that has pitted the lawmakers against executive in proper perspectives, the public perception of the needless wrangles and a suggestion for one of the senators, who commands considerable influence with a penchant for building bridges across political divides to step in and unify his colleagues in the interest of the nation form the thrust of this intervention.

When the 8th Senate was inaugurated on June 9, 2015, expectations were high among Nigerians as to the prospects of the new senate under the majority of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which has just acquired national powers.

The days preceding the inauguration were marked by permutations and innuendoes that saw the leadership of the new ruling party preferring that the new senate be led by Senator Ahmed Lawan, a veteran lawmaker from Yobe and George Akume (Benue) as Senate President and Deputy Senate President in that order.

Then a rebellion led by a pack of senators from the majority APC in collusion with Peoples Democratic Party members under the auspices of “Senators of Like Minds” which saw the election of Senator Bukola Saraki as President of the Senate and Ike Ekweremadu from the opposition PDP, as his deputy in a most controversial manner stirred the hornet’s nest and murdered the sleep of the Senate.

Since then, there has been no love lost between Senator Saraki’s leadership of the Senate and the leadership of the ruling party, which felt short-changed by this development. The ensuing conundrum saw the Senate Unity Forum made up of more than 40 of the 58 APC senators trying albeit unsuccessfully to reassert the choice of their party’s leadership but this was met by the recalcitrance of their “rebellious” colleagues to the utter bewilderment of political observers.

Various attempts to resolve the logjam and allow for a smooth lawmaking process was made even though futile including an olive branch extended to the embattled senate president by allowing a list of party members to fill the remaining principal posts of the Senate Majority Leader, Deputy Leader, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip in the aftermath of his “political coup”.

Saraki declined to read a letter from the party leadership to this regard and instead, went ahead to fill the positions with senators loyal to the rebellion.
During the heat of the controversies, Dino Melaye, an APC senator from Kogi State and an arrowhead of the “Like Minds” senators was reported by a national daily as saying, “We cannot allow anybody in whatever guise to dictate to us what we should do in the senate. We were elected to serve Nigerians and not to serve the interest of any political party or any political godfather.”

Senator Melaye’s view resonated with a section of the Nigerian public but a wilder perception was that the ruling party should have been allowed a say in the affairs of a legislature, where it has a defining majority. While the need to allow peace reign in the hallowed chambers was emphasised by senators like Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa West); Sola Adeyeye (APC, Osun West) and a handful others, a semblance of sanity prevailed.

But it was peace of the graveyard, as the Code of Conduct Tribunal preferred a 14-count charge for false assets declaration on Saraki, when he held sway as governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011. All hell was let loose as many senators saw the CCT charges as politically motivated. “A deliberate ploy by the APC leadership to tarnish the public image of the Senate President,” according to a source close to Senator Saraki.

THISDAY had reported a senator as saying: “The CCT trial of the Senate President is a clear witch-hunt capable of truncating our democratic experience. We in the senate have seen the hand behind the present confusion and we are ready to ensure that this witch-hunt fails as the entire senate is being dragged through another needless crisis.”

Public opinion has been divided over the issue with a section of the public defending the embattled senate president on the grounds that his ongoing trials at the CCT is a fallout of his estrangement with the APC mainstream led by Senator Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State. Another view in the public is that Senator Saraki should account for his deeds as a public servant if found wanting in any capacity.

“Where was the CCT all these while when Senator Saraki became senator after serving as governor of Kwara State? Why should the CCT suddenly wake up to its responsibility on this issue now?” the senator asked.

“We should be careful not to allow draconian measures to prevail in our present dispensation. The CCT trial of Senator Saraki is indicative of the high-handedness of the executive led by President Buhari and if they succeed in their dubious intentions, a dangerous precedent would have been set.

“The executive should allow the National Assembly conduct its affairs and save Nigerians from this needless crisis,” a senior editor with a major national daily told this correspondent.
The CCT trial of the senate president continues with dozens of senators “escorting” their leader to the trial venue though the number dwindled significantly recently. The hard-stance of the CCT chairman, Danjuma Umar, notwithstanding, this is one trial that has the potential to topple the leadership of Senator Saraki from the exalted seat of the Senate President.

Another recent development that seems to be making a joke of the peace in the Senate was the decision by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to charge the duo of Saraki and Ekweremadu for criminal forgery of the Senate Standing Rules to pave the way for their controversial election last year. An Abuja High Court had earlier adjudicated on the matter brought before it by Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi (APC, Kaduna) and declared the matter “an internal affair of the Senate” and declined jurisdiction.

The AGF’s action stirred the ire of PDP senators, who through their whip, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, had resolved to withdraw cooperation for the executive. Though the joint caucus of the APC and Labour Party (LP) passed a vote of confidence on President Buhari before the senate proceeded on a recess last Thursday, the senators appear to have been back to their trenches.

THISDAY sampled a cross-section of opinions in Nasarawa State and beyond with majority in the consensus view that Senator Abdullahi Adamu deploy his tact and influence to return peace to the chambers again.

Senator Adamu, presently the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and a prominent member of the strategic Senate Judiciary and Human Rights Committee is viewed across board as an accomplished democrat and a lawmaker per excellence. Apart from basking in the respect and reverence of his colleagues, the former governor of Nasarawa State is seen as a “Bridge Builder” with the capacity to lead in troubled times.

“For us in the senate, Senator Adamu is a major rallying point especially in these times of acrimony and his influence cuts across political divides and this is what the senate needs at the moment. He commands a lot of influence in his party and as the party with the majority as of today in the senate, he could rise to the occasion.

“A lot of us are not comfortable with the developments in the senate and regardless of how anyone perceives the forgery charge against our leaders, the need for peace in the senate cannot be overemphasised,” a PDP senator from Nasarawa State told THISDAY in Akwanga last weekend.

While many Nigerians see the recent reawakening of the forgery case against the two most principal officers of the Senate as another ploy to see them stand down from their positions, the fact remains that a case of forgery is a criminal one if established and the courts should be allowed to determine this rather than the prevailing sentiments.
However, in what appears a respite for the duo of Saraki and Ekweremadu, a Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, last week, described the forgery case filed against its presiding officers as “an abuse of court process” and a “decision taken against public interest”.

Against this background, the Senate at the weekend said it had been vindicated by the ruling. The parliament in a statement by its spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, said the ruling further confirmed that the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami, by charging Saraki and Ekweremadu for forgery, was only acting a personal and partisan script and also abusing his position as the nation’s chief law officer.

With the Nigerian ship of state embattled by several plagues from the wantonness and avarice of the not-so-distant past – with the National Assembly of Nigeria, a strategic arm of government riddled with many leadership crisis arising from a flagrant breach of confidence by the actions of a few individuals and an executive perceived through its actions as a government on a vindictive mission – there couldn’t be a more auspicious occasion for patriotic intervention from concerned parties