Light after Tunnel

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Last Wednesday’s meeting between the Senate leadership and the National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress opens a new vista for a more stable and focused legislature. Omololu Ogunmade writes

One and a half years after the inauguration of the eighth Senate, peace and stability have gradually returned to the upper chamber. The turbulence and anger which accompanied the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki on June 9, 2015, against the wish of his party, the All Progressives Congress, are giving way for a renewed relationship.

For the first time since June 9, the party leadership led by its National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, met with Saraki and some APC senators at the secretariat of APC in Abuja on Wednesday to lay the foundation for a fresh relationship.

Wednesday’s meeting which had earlier been scheduled for Monday, December 5, before its eventual postponement to Wednesday, was a follow-up to recent meetings between President Muhammadu Buhari and Saraki. Buhari and Saraki had held secret meetings in the Presidential Villa three times within a week, a development which stimulated public interest bearing in mind that both the presidency and APC had treated Saraki like an outcast since his emergence as Senate President in June 2015.

The meeting which was held at the instance of Odigie-Oyegun was therefore meant to strengthen the renewed relationship between the executive and the legislature on one part and the leadership of the party and the leadership of the National Assembly on the other part.

Both the Presidency and the party had recently realised the need to court Saraki and his perceived estranged co-travellers in the Senate following seeming protracted unfruitful moves to remove him through different court proceedings. The aftermath of such moves was a rejection of notable requests from the Presidency especially the $30 billion loan request which the Senate threw out and another attempt to reject the second list of ambassadorial nominees sent by the president.

The developments appeared to have woken up the ruling party’s consciousness to the belief that continuous hostility towards the Senate leadership might be counter-productive and costly Buhari’s presidency to bear. Earlier, the chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum and Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, had visited Saraki in his office where he emphasised the need to put the past behind them and chart a new course within the party.

Okorocha had harped on the need to ensure unity of purpose among stakeholders in the party and forge a new relationship capable of overshadowing the hitherto estranged relationship between the party and Senate leadership.

As a result of the cold war between the ruling party and Senate leadership, the National Working Committee of the party had never attempted to meet with the Senate leadership as well as the APC caucus as the case should be.

Hence, at Wednesday’s meeting, the party pledged to strengthen executive-legislative relationship. THISDAY learnt that the National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, apologised to senators for failing to call a meeting between the party and lawmakers since 2015 and assured that the party was now ready more than ever before to play its part in strengthening executive-legislative relations.

Odigie-Oyegun, it was further learnt, told Saraki and his colleagues that the party recognised the legislature as the single largest body of elected officials and hence, the party would no longer fold its arms and watch their relations going sour.

Odigie-Oyegun was said to have further said the legislature was key to consolidating the party’s gains at the centre as he expressed happiness about the recent romance between the legislature and the executive in recent times.

“We are impressed about the activities and cooperation extended to the government by the lawmakers in recent times and we believe that the party will play its role to consolidate on this,” Odigie-Oyegun was quoted as saying in the meeting.

He added that the essence of the meeting was to ensure unity of purpose among members of the party.

Responding, Saraki was said to have told Odigie-Oyegun about the preparedness of senators to promote a united and strong APC in the National Assembly.

However, the party is not done yet with Wednesday’s meeting as it has further planned a more elaborate meeting with the APC caucus in the National Assembly. It was also learnt that Okorocha is yet planning to lead another frontier for peace between the executive and the legislature.

Before now, the APC caucus in the Senate had more or less been a shadow of itself as the caucus, unlike its PDP counterpart, had been fragmented with crisis arising from anger over Saraki’s emergence. It had virtually been non-existent and lost the beauty and flavour of a parliamentary value.

In normal circumstances, party caucuses meet regularly where they take a common decision meant to champion the progress and affairs of the party in the parliament. The decision of the caucus over important issues is usually communicated to the party for implementation.

In some other circumstances, parliamentary caucus can serve as the voice of the party in public domain by defending the interest of the party. It is a formidable tool for the resistance of opposition’s moves in both the parliament and the polity.

Party caucus also serves as a forum for the formulation of detailed policies on issues affecting the nation as well as the party at the national and parliamentary levels. Some scholars have described it as a strategy for parliamentary action. It sometimes serves as the gate keeper between the party and the electorate.

If there’s a crisis within the government of the ruling party or the party itself, the caucus will quickly move to arrest it by rising from a meeting with useful decisions which it will communicate to the executive and the party leadership for swift application. The party or the government will also from time to time consult the caucus whenever it is deemed fit.

But following the emergence of Saraki on June 9 against the wishes of his party and presidency, the caucus was factionalised and hence, could not forge a united front.

An APC senator who had spoken with THISDAY in confidence over the matter, said it had become impossible for the caucus to meet following the episode of June 9 when Saraki emerged while members of unity forum were marooned on International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja. According to him, the trend would continue to haunt APC caucus throughout the eighth Senate.

“Your observation is very correct. It is true that we don’t hold meetings as a result of the events of June 9. The event of June 9 will continue to haunt Senate until the end of eighth National Assembly. Even the party has never called us for a meeting since then,” he had said earlier in the year.

Thus senators from the party continued their cat and mouse game as enmity among the senators festered. Since the caucus lost the ground for unity of purpose, the need for a caucus meeting became unnecessary. Saraki, realising that his position was not threatened with PDP senators at his beck and call, also did not find any need to call a caucus meeting which might further aggravate the crisis.

However, another APC senator lamented the trend in a chat with THISDAY as he outlined the adverse effects of not holding caucus meetings on the party. The senator who did not want to be named accused the leadership of Saraki of trading away the interest of the caucus in pursuit of its own security.

According to him, Saraki in his bid to secure his office, gave the offices which he said ought to be the exclusive preserve of APC caucus to the opposition PDP as he likened the trend to a biblical expression, “giving what is meant for the child to the dog.” He listed such committees handed to PDP senators to include: downstream petroleum, power, finance, aviation, among others.

He said the only time the APC caucus met was when they found the need to fight a common enemy during the screening of ministerial nominees when PDP senators were vehemently determined to stop a former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, from being confirmed as a minister.

After the confirmation of Amaechi, both factions in APC caucus returned to their shells, acting like two parallel lines that would never meet. However, on September 19, the jinx was broken as APC senators for the first time held a full caucus meeting comprising members of both the Senate Unity Forum and Senators of Like Mind.

At the meeting, the senators resolved to put their differences behind them and unite over issues affecting the nation, the federal legislature and the fortune of their party.

The two-hour meeting held in the private residence of Saraki, was attended by 50 senators from both factions of the caucus.

The meeting was held same time PDP senators were also holding their own caucus meeting at another venue. The PDP meeting was presided over by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. For the first time, APC senators in the meeting freely discussed issues and thereafter exchanged jokes and and back-slapping.

Since the September caucus meeting was held, the prevalent hostility among APC senators had given way for a robust relationship especially with arrowheads of animosity in the caucus – Senators Kabiru Marafa, Suleiman Hunkuyi and Oluremi Tinubu pacified with chairmanships of committees of their choices.

Now, with olive branch being stretched to Saraki and his allies by hitherto foes in the ruling party, the distractions which have characterised legislative activities in the Senate is expected to give way for a more focused and peaceful legislature especially with barely little or no difference between PDP and APC senators which has made opposition to be more or less non-existent in the Senate.