My last seminal book on the Senate titled Power and Politics in The Nigerian Senate was published eleven years ago in 2005 when Senator Ken Nnamani (2005-2007) became the senate president which he rounded off in 2007. History may be kind to Ken Nnamani for the singular act of stopping the third term dreams of President Olusegun Obasanjo when the former army general wanted to extend his presidential term limit of eight years to continue as President in line with other African dictators but was halted by the hit of Senate President Nnamani’s gavel on that tense afternoon of May 16, 2007.
Before Senator Nnamani as president was late Senators Enwerem (1999), Chuba Okadigbo (1999-2000); then Senators Anyim Pius Anyim (2000-2003), and Adolphus Wabara (2003-2005). The first eight years of the 4th and 5th Senate was a tortuous one but it helped the learning process of the legislature that was banished by the military for fifteen years. Today, there is apparent stability in the Three Arms Zone, thanks to the leadership excellence of the 6th and 7th Senate under Senator David Mark and now being cemented by the 8th Senate led by Senator Bukola Saraki (2015-) despite the war of attrition that has dogged his presidency.
Apart from David Mark (2007-2015), no Senate President ever got away lightly from the shenanigans of senate politics. It was always a fight for survival. Enwerem was caught in the web of misdemeanours that engulfed his name as Evan or Evans while Okadigbo was entangled with issues of anticipatory approvals. Anyim served out the 4th Senate in 2003 but President Obasanjo made sure that his return to the senate was impossible. Meanwhile Adolphus Wabara suffered persecution over unproven corruption allegations. It was Ken Nnamani that got away without a dent, even though he gave OBJ a run for his money in the dark art of political intrigues.
It was a great period for me chronicling the Senate because I witnessed the making of history working on lead debates for Leader, Senator Tafida, and senate presidential speeches for Okadigbo while in the legislative branch. I made an incursion into the Executive Branch in 2009 when I joined Senator Adamu Aliero to his posting by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. When I moved to the Executive branch, I had the opportunity to work on Cabinet papers such as Executive Council Memorandum, better known as FEC MEMOs for my Minister and seen at first-hand how decisions are made in government.
Coming back to my observation post at the National Assembly in the new change era of the present dispensation, I have now observed the performance of incumbent Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki from day one on June 9, 2015. This era of Sarakism is an interesting one, for having watched the severe test of nerves the latest senate president has been through and the serenity with which he has weathered the political thunderstorms on virtually daily basis, there is little doubt that Senator Saraki is a tough political nut to crack. His sagacity is obviously unequalled having to meander through the political minefield laid for him from the presidency to the party headquarters and from the irrepressible Jagaban of Bourdillon whose image loomed large in the hierarchy of the ruling party until a concerted effort was made unsuccessfully so far by his former lieutenants to diminish his standing.
Senator Chuba Okadigbo used to say that surviving a vote of confidence in a parliament is the highest test that a politician or leader can face in politics. Chuba should know better not only because he was a student and professor of politics but he has also witnessed many sandstorms and tsunamis in his time as a politician and senator. Senator Saraki has faced and is still facing much more problems in his political career. What amazes everyone is the comparative ease with which he swims through a sea infested by the most dangerous breed of political sharks. For the past two years or so, I have been engulfed with a study of the Theory and Practice of Sarakism, (subject of a forthcoming book) not necessarily from a philosophical perspective but essentially about how a comparatively inexperienced senator could steer a rancorous senate littered with banana skins through a period of political turmoil to a state of legislative bliss.
Few people gave Senator Saraki a chance in a situation where his own party, the APC, ranged a deadly arsenal against his ambition to become the Senate President of the 8th Senate. I recall when Senator Ahmed Tinubu went into a rage over the announcement of Saraki as Senate President, threatening not to recognize him as Senate President: “I will never recognize such a kangaroo arrangement that produced Bukola as the Senate President. Or how do you want me to recognize a man who deliberately defied his own party because of his personal interest? That will amount to recognizing impunity”. But Saraki, regardless of the heavy armoury facing him knew just how to avoid the pot holes of legislative and political intrigue.
He has virtually resolved all the issues causing constant friction in the APC senate caucus by handing his onetime nemesis, Senator Marafa the chairmanship of the juicy Petroleum Downstream, and sorted out Senator Ahmed Lawan into the position of Senate Leader in a surprise move after shuffling out the Borno-born Senator Ali Ndume out of the Senate leadership. A long range political strategist, Saraki knows just how to keep his senators closely knit. There is no senator he does not have close social relationship with. He attends every social event by both opposition and his party’s senators. He is said to have sponsored some of his less endowed colleagues and there is nowhere in the country that his political network has not reached.
Interestingly, the Senate President is cool and calm. At the dock in the CCT trial, he cuts the figure of an innocent lamb primed for slaughter while his tormentors are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. There is a sense that as the trial goes ahead, his political stature is growing in leaps and bounds. With 2019 rearing its head, Saraki is fast becoming the beautiful bride that every party is keen to tie the nuptial nuts with. His tormentors are even working on reassuring him that all will be well provided he jettisons the other suitors and the smart SP is taking another look at himself to enhance his beautiful bride status and ready for the high stakes contest ahead of him.
In the past year or so, he remained a persona non grata at the presidential villa but in recent weeks, he has become the most welcome politician in our own Oval office, hand in glove with President Buhari every inch of the way. At the party headquarters, Generalissimo Oyegun is keen to have lunch every day with the Senate President, seeking advice on every matter at hand as the party battles with potentially damaging crisis brewing in their pressure cooker.
The Senate President has faced the true test of a patriot. He has gone through two confidence motions in the 8th Senate and came out of it and is facing similar corruption related charges that Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo have faced in their time. Zik faced the colonial leadership inspired Foster Sutton Tribunal in Enugu in 1956 but rather than resign his premiership of Eastern Region as a consequence, he opted to face the people by calling for a fresh election in which he won by even bigger margin of votes. Similarly, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was jailed following the Justice G. B. Coker Inquiry of 1962, the same year Bukola Saraki was born, when Awolowo faced trial into his management of Western Nigeria Marketing Board and five others, but ended up with his military appointment as Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council, the equivalent of Prime Minister of Nigeria.
There is little doubt that the influence of his father, Olusola has much to do with his political sagacity, but even when the old man was alive, the junior Saraki has shown all the rudiments of a political grandmaster in his own right to the point of disagreeing with his father and getting away with it. At only 55 and already the number three citizen of Nigeria, signs are that he will make it to the number one position one day, if he continues to play his cards right.
Senator Saraki may well turn out to be the grand joker of the APC, PDP or any other party for that matter if only the political class can decode the hand writing on the wall.
Amadi is a veteran journalist based in Abuja