President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent meeting with Senate President Bukola Saraki – the main leader of the new Peoples Democratic Party – might have come rather late, writes Olawale Olaleye
If indeed the current effort to unite all members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was genuine, then, the Thursday night meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President Bukola Saraki, leader of the new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) in the APC should have held months before now.
What is currently at stake as the nation journeys towards 2019 requires the best of political thinking, constant engagement and consensus building even if not all out altruistic, which is most probably not in many instances. But it could prove the political sagacity of the actors as well as locate their understanding of the bits and pieces.
Although President Muhammadu Buhari has consistently given the impression that he was not interested in the archetypal ‘high wire politics’ or that he abhors the underhand intrigues that often typify the lot of the many engagements, such a position cannot be correct outright anymore especially given his recent brazen interference in some of the party affairs.
This is why his latest disposition to the plight of the aggrieved members of the party particularly those from the new Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is best seen as either an egoistic dismissal of their relevance or better still a naïve reading of the equation as it currently stands.
That the nation is heading towards 2019 and is traveling almost the same route as it did in 2015 and events are being allowed to run on auto-pilot shows that the political leadership has failed to appreciate the misfortune of the PDP that brought it to power and deliberately refused to learn from them.
It is therefore important to understand the context in which the Thursday meeting between Saraki and Buhari was made possible and why the outcome may not just be a ‘walk-in’ for the undiscerning. Truth is, a majority of them had been allowed to ‘cross the Rubicon’ in negotiating their survival with the opposition and therefore, to force them back now is rather unrealistic.
First, know this for what it is. The governors of the ruling party, APC, had met Wednesday night and after analysing the state of play, they saw clearly the danger that lurks in the corner should they let Saraki and his people join forces with the opposition.
The governors, THISDAY learnt, then, resolved to meet with Saraki and some of his company with the sole aim of persuading them not to leave the party, more or less pleading with him to suspend discussions with the PDP and other parties, who are already planning coalition in the lead up to 2019.
But for one who understands politicking, sources said Saraki immediately told the governors they had only deployed their discretion to approach him and not that they acted with a mandate in their hands. That, of course, meant there was nothing to buy into. He was said to have told them any meeting with them was needless, because they didn’t have the instruction ‘from the top’ to do so.
His being able to situate the governors’ initiative in apt context was believed to have compelled them (the governors) to quickly meet with the president and painted to him the picture of the future they could see in the countdown to 2019.
Expectedly, the president, this time saw reasons with them and allegedly gave the mandate to schedule a meeting Saraki, more so that he was able to recall some of the circumstances that made it possible for him to become the president in 2015, when PDP and former President Goodluck Jonathan failed to deliver leadership to the PDP in time of crisis.
Those engagements, of course, gave rise to the celebrated Thursday night meeting between the two leaders. Details of the meeting was though not made available to the media, THISDAY however gathered that the president had further asked those who made the meeting possible to continue to engage Saraki and his supporters, with another meeting already slated for today, Sunday 22, 2018.
Curiously, as good as the development signposted, it has raised even more impossible questions about the possibility of a ‘genuine truce’ at the eleventh hour especially that the president had to wait till matters degenerated to this point and forced to see reasons with his own allies before stepping in.
This is why observers have argued that the meeting coming up at the late hour clearly exposed the reluctance of the president to want to genuinely sit with the aggrieved nPDP members and resolve some of the pending differences even when the buck stops at his table.
The fact that the president and some of his ‘henchmen’ are believed to not only despise those identified as aggrieved APC members or the nPDP extraction of the party in a sense, was the reason the meeting had not come up before now. That he is reconsidering this is also being interpreted to mean he had only given the idea a thought for election purposes and not openly interested in sharing space with the ‘infidels’.
What analysts see here is that the president may not honour any agreement with them even if the pressure succeeds in getting them to stay back. This is not because he would by himself go all out to disrespect some of the understanding reached at the end of the day, but because he would look away and pretend not to know by the time his ‘henchmen’ start to implement the ‘alternative plan’. Thus, the element of ‘mutual mistrust’ that is already present might be difficult to eliminate at this material stage.
Of course, it is not difficult for these other guys to recall the brutal fate that befell former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar immediately he reconciled with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, following the attempt to upstage him in 2003. Obasanjo’s fate in 2003 rested solely on where Atiku stood and Atiku at the time had indicated interest in the presidency, with the bunch of the governors on his side.
However, after so much pressure and persuasion, Atiku yielded, making it possible for Obasanjo to return in 2003. But Obasanjo, who was allegedly said to have ‘prostrated for Atiku’ before letting go did not forget the humiliation he went through to make it back and had since sworn to have his pound of flesh. It is the reason he had stood in the way of Atiku’s presidential bid, including de-marketing the former vice-president as corrupt.
Thus, it is the belief of the political class that Atiku’s sincere but erroneous resolve to reconcile with Obasanjo has remained his albatross as Obasanjo has been forced to stand in his way for suffering humiliation from someone younger and under him.
However, ahead of today’s meeting, it is yet to be seen how much of gap-closing the presidential team, led by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo could do. Already, the aggrieved members have just a week from today to leave the APC, a move largely dependent on how much of horse-trading the president’s team could deal.
On both sides, however, time is helplessly unfriendly. While Buhari needs to close the deal and take off his way a major threat to his re-election, the Saraki group too has about a week to make up its mind, by either agreeing to whatever is put on the table for them (knowing full well there might be consequences) or choose to take their chances and be ready to go for broke. Whichever way, they are both running against time over a decision that is solely central to their political survival.
In all, this new development has brought to fore, a certain reality that would ultimately define the run up to 2019 and it is the fact that Saraki has become both the beautiful bride and game-changer, however, for the two main political parties. His choice of which to pitch tent with is certainly going to be determined by the gamut of all the factors identified above.