By Olawale Olaleye
Following the nomination of Mr. Babatunde Fowler by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the stage has been set for a leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to contend with the leadership of the Senate with whom he has been at loggerheads since its emergence last June.
As required by law, Fowler would have to be confirmed by the Senate before he can head the FIRS. Should his nomination be rejected by the Senate, Buhari would either have to submit another name to replace him or allow the current acting chairman Samuel Olugbesan to continue in the acting capacity.
But with the nomination of Fowler, a well known associate and protégé of Tinubu who served for nine years as the Chairman of the Lagos Board of Inland Revenue (LBIR), the former Lagos State governor would have to come face-to-face with Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu.
There has been no love lost between the Senate President and Tinubu since the former defied the dictates of the ruling party by contesting and clinching the Senate Presidency.
Tinubu had backed Senator Ahmed Lawan for the post but lost out when a meeting was set up at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, between several APC senators and Buhari, to coincide with the inauguration of the Eighth Senate.
Their absence from the Senate chamber on the day of the inauguration paved the way for Saraki and Ekweremadu to win the election unchallenged.
Ever since, the Senate has been polarised between Saraki’s loyalists under the auspices of Senators of Like Minds and Ahmed’s supporters known as the Unity Forum.
Ahead of the submission of Fowler’s name for Senate screening, THISDAY learnt that Tinubu has started reaching out to senators, particularly those in the Senators of Like Minds group loyal to Saraki and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Until Fowler’s nomination, the position was vacant because the last nominee whose name was sent to the Senate by former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mrs. Mfon Akpan from Akwa Ibom State following a recruitment exercise, was rejected by the lawmakers.
Concerns that Fowler may suffer the same fate as Akpan has galvanised Tinubu and compelled him to reach out to key senators who are close to Saraki with a view to both resolving the crisis in the Senate in which he is believed to be the sponsor of the Lawan group, and to ensure that the long-drawn out feud in the Senate does not affect other close associates who may be sent to the upper chamber for confirmation for top executive positions.
A source said depending on how Tinubu plays his cards, his overture to the senators could either help to resolve the contending issues between the two groups or deepen the division in the Senate.
But many pro-Saraki senators, particularly the 81 who signed the vote of confidence on the Senate President on July 28 are already spoiling for a fight.
“This is payback time for Asiwaju for all his machinations against the Senate since he could not get his candidate to become Senate President. This is an opportunity to force Tinubu to the table and mend bridges or break them further,” said a senator close to Saraki.
The pro-Saraki senators are also angling to move against Fowler because they believe Tinubu is scheming to take control of the country’s finances under the Buhari administration without the president realising the game plan.
According to a senator from Bauchi State, the plot by the former governor of Lagos State is to get Fowler into FIRS and also make another of his protégés, Mr. Olawale Edun, who served as his Commissioner for Economic Development, to become the Minister of Finance, thereby seizing control of the economic machinery of the government.
Edun, according to the senator who preferred not to be named, will be presented as the ministerial nominee from Ogun State, a development which has pitted Tinubu against Governor Ibikunle Amosun.
Amosun is said to have insisted that Edun has never associated with Ogun State and could not be expected to take the biggest federal appointment due to the state.
Many of the senators close to Saraki are said to be getting ready to ensure they use the rejection of Fowler’s nomination as a clear signal that the crisis in the Senate has not been due to the protection of any party supremacy but the political interest of Tinubu.
Sources also disclosed that one other reason that compelled the former Lagos governor to reach out to Saraki’s loyalists is the Babatunde Fashola issue.
While Tinubu does not want his successor to be nominated as minister, Buhari’s body language indicates that he is still not convinced by the ongoing campaign to denigrate Fashola and project him as one who is not good enough for the administration.
Tinubu’s plan, alleged a source, is to stop Fashola during the Senate confirmation hearing in the event Buhari nominates the immediate past governor of Lagos by getting the three senators from the state – Oluremi Tinubu, Gbenga Ashafa and Olamilekan Adeola – to oppose his candidacy.
“He is however afraid that that plan will only work if the Senate President buys into the plan, as Saraki can overrule the objection of the three senators and get majority of the senators to clear Fashola like they did a few months ago for Musiliu Obanikoro when Senator David Mark was Senate President.
“Tinubu particularly believes that Saraki has a soft spot for Fashola and that the two men are associates. The fact that though the Senate President is abroad, he sent his deputy chief of staff, Gbenga Makanjuola, to attend last week’s book launch in honour of Fashola also lends credence to the fear that no plan to stop Fashola will succeed in the Senate except Saraki and his loyalists buy into it,” a senator from Zamfara said.
“There must be a trade-off as we get to the period of ministerial nominations and confirmation hearings. What we do not like is this idea of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.
“Those who need us for their own interests, different from the interest of President Buhari are now making it look like we need them. They have continued to create enmity between the Senate and the presidency. Now, they are playing a different game,” a senator from Delta State said.