By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, these are interesting times in our dear beloved country. High-wired politics is here again and there are many gladiators already queueing up for the biggest prize of all, the Presidency. The latest political figure to throw his hat into the ring is the President of the Nigerian Senate, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who declared his interest in dramatic fashion, two days ago, whilst addressing a gathering of some selected Nigerian youths.
As always, I have continued to follow developments on this latest declaration on social media. While many were jolted by Saraki’s decision, I was not surprised at all. I had written about his decision a few months ago. At that time, I was scorned at, as usual, by those who have no access to news or newsmakers but come online just to attack and disparage everyone. Anyone who understands the game of politics would have realised that the main reason Saraki has been under ceaseless attack and near annihilation is because of his long suspected Presidential ambition. I will explain further, very shortly. But before I do, let me say something for free. I know, many are likely to dismiss Saraki as a smaller fry to President Muhammadu Buhari. Let me plead with anyone who cares to listen that I don’t see Saraki as someone joking, or testing waters, as some people are suggesting. I have studied the man like a book and have come to discover some of the things that make him tick. Saraki’s biggest strength and threat to his adversaries is his calm mien. He is a man of few words. He is deep and calculating. He loves to be underrated. Then he strikes.
I was one of those who used to dismiss his rumoured Presidential ambition as totally impossible. Several times, I had omitted his name when writing about possible Presidential aspirants and he would ask why I thought he was not qualified to govern Nigeria. And my stock answer was usually that the geographical location of Kwara and his own cultural roots naturally and automatically disqualified him. I used to ask, almost rhetorically, where would he pick his running mate from since many Northerners may want to see him as a Yorubaman and thus a Southerner. He finally made his pitch on this vexed issue to me at great length and with strong conviction, when we met, last week in Ilorin. Let me now take you through the mind-set of this enigmatic politician who may yet spring another surprise on you and I, and cause an unexpected revolution in the political landscape and socio-cultural configuration of Nigeria.
I was privileged to sit with Dr Saraki as his guest during the Eid El Kabir festival, in Ilorin. My mission was to penetrate his mind and unravel his mythical essence. I have already met a few other formidable Presidential aspirants such as former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Kano State Governor, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, and former Cross River State Governor Mr Donald Duke. I have had brief telephone conversations with the Governor of Sokoto State, Waziri Aminu Tambuwal, the Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Comrade Omoyele Sowore, international motivational speaker Mr Fela Durotoye, BEN Television UK Chairman Mr Alistair Soyode, Finance expert, Mr Tope Fasua but have not had the opportunity of sitting down with them. My encounter with Saraki was extraordinary. He opened up like never before. I have known him a bit since our collaborative work on the Buhari project, but I have never seen him in this form or mood. He was turbocharged and seemed to speak from the heart.
Saraki’s roadmap to victory is simple. Buhari is going to play the usual ethnic card that only a candidate from North West can win a Presidential election in Nigeria. Saraki feels otherwise. He believes that the pro-restructuring crusaders now have an opportunity to make the Presidency available to other Nigerians. He concedes that it may be difficult for any candidate from North West and North East to compete or beat Buhari hands down, despite the fact that PDP parades more experienced politicians and competent aspirants. What is then needed is to keep North Central on lockdown with a popular candidate from that zone. With the support of PDP stalwarts from the other two Northern zones, Buhari’s votes would be whittled down to make up the requisite percentages in terms of spread but no more. He believes that it may be a waste of time and resources trying to compete in the President’s traditional enclave other than to strive to get up to 25%. PDP should instead focus on mobilising the forces from the opposite direction and lockdown four out of the six geo-political zones.
Saraki says he is well-positioned to make this happen. With one leg in the North and another in the South, especially the South West, the people would have a higher stake in the Presidency and this will galvanise more passionate voters. If the PDP presents just anyone, there may be voter apathy and Buhari would coast home to victory. As to where his deputy will come from, it would have to be from the South-East/South-south axis, since he has already covered the South West, technically. Theoretically, this would ignite enthusiasm in that region. He believes the APC has played into his hands somehow by this calculation.
According to Saraki, the only reason Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been fighting him is because he wants to take over from Buhari in 2023. “Where does that then leave the Igbo people who have not been able to produce any Vice President or President since Dr Alex Ekwueme in 1979-1983?” In simple Arithmetic “PDP needs a candidate who can block the South West and the South East simultaneously since Buhari will still run with Osinbajo…” This race is getting mathematically interesting and the Saraki option is looking feasible, I thought. However, Saraki said he was only just starting. He said those days are gone when an individual can instruct people to go out and vote as if they have no minds of their own.
He plans to challenge and tackle Buhari strictly on issues and not pettiness, which he sees to be the current order of the day. He said the world is driven today by knowledge and not by crude force. He said he is better informed on how to resurrect the comatose economy which collapsed because of the over-simplistic and myopic handling of affairs since Buhari took over. “Any student of elementary economics would know that a country can never develop in an atmosphere of obsession for scaremongering, instability, uncertainty, Stone Age policies… Nigeria urgently needs a unifier in deed and not in words… I’m one of the most cosmopolitan leaders around today with every sense of modesty…” Saraki is looking forward to a serious debate between him, Buhari and other candidates on every aspect of daily life in Nigeria. “If Buhari likes, he can stay at home and do the debate by Skype or whatever, but moving forward, we must discuss Nigeria publicly…Anyone wanting to lead a country as important as Nigeria in this century must be someone who can ably represent us in the comity of nations and has a grasp of modern ways of life.”
Saraki says he has matured with time in various offices and his cumulative executive and legislative experiences are almost second to none in the country… “You can see this in the way I have conducted the affairs of the Senate, and we are easily the best, but for the occasional and unfortunate distractions from people who see me as serious threat to their personal ambition. They had to feed the President with lies and destroy our relationship. I did all I could to support the government, but I was constantly harassed and treated like a pariah by those desperate to keep a firm grip on Nigeria…” But he continues to see the positive side of his travails. “Perhaps, I would not have declared interest in this race, but they kept pushing me away, demonising me for no reason, but ,inadvertently, they made me very popular by their action and some of those who never liked me started pitying me as a victim of oppression. They made it possible for me to clear my name and reputation at the highest level of justice, the Supreme Court… That is how God works… Today they’ve pushed me up to the level I never envisaged because the ways of God are very mysterious… Most people, including members of the international community, now see me as the authentic leader of opposition in Nigeria. I’m grateful to all those who have stood by us against dictatorship and tyranny… The more they attacked me, the higher God lifted me up. It was not a crime to aspire. We were co-joiners in the party, but some felt they were overlords, the owners of heaven and earth, and now God has humbled them…”
On how he hopes to tackle the youths many of who feel dead set against him, he replied: “That is my biggest task because they are my catchment group. I know many have been brainwashed and I don’t blame them. You know when you tell some lies repeatedly, it becomes the truth to some people. For example, they say I’m the most corrupt man on earth. I have looted Kwara State dry. All cheap but dangerous lies. What’s the worth of Kwara State that anyone would have billions to steal. I was born into business. I have been investing as a kid. In fact, as Governor, many contractors never saw me once. They said I was arrogant, but I empowered my cabinet and gave them the opportunity to use their initiatives in handling matters of State. There was no way I would have demeaned myself asking contractors for bribe. Insult, insult upon insults… What else did I want God to do for me?”
How come the perception of corruption against him every time? Saraki said: “You should understand their strategy, Buhari and his people have nothing else to market than to label opponents as looters and Buhari as the last saint standing. As petty as they are, they wrote letters to some foreign security agencies to probe me, and the worst of all to invade my home because they are sure they will find millions of raw cash in foreign currency… Just imagine how they’ve been dragging the office of the number three citizen of Nigeria in the mud because of power… Yet they know all their friends who came into power with nothing, those who never managed any business in their lives, but are billionaires today. That is why nobody outside Nigeria treats their so-called wars seriously. The shame of it is they’ve never rejected any of those they called looters before, whenever they decide to cross over to APC…” On the issue of the collapse of a bank, Societe Generale, under his watch, he expressed great regret and remorse but acknowledges no human being is infallible. He said, at the opportune time, he would lay the details bare for Nigerians to see the incredible effort he and others have put into seeking atonement and forgiveness.
He said the war against corruption would improve and succeed only when it is not subject to the whims of one man sitting on the throne in judgment against sinners and we must strengthen the relevant institutions and put in place genuine checks and balances that knows no sacred cows and treats all Nigerians equally in matters of crime and punishment. “The present style of grabbing and prosecuting Nigerians and convicting them on the pages of newspapers and social media is, to say least, cruel and unfortunate, in modern times.”
Saraki said he has a major blueprint for moving Nigeria forward in the 21st century and this would be offered to Nigerians for proper scrutiny. “They are concrete and cardinal steps towards our redemption not the empty rhetorics of APC that has yielded little in almost four years,” he said, with a tinge of regret and lamentation. He has promised to work with like minds at home and abroad. He is grateful to the members of PDP for the way him and his group were welcomed back so warmly. He said he would never take it for granted that the golden ticket of PDP would be easy to get, but he believes that if it is God’s wish, then he will get the it with gratitude. However, he also said that he is willing to cooperate fully with whosoever is chosen, if that is not his destiny. “Nigerians cannot afford another four years of this sluggish, directionless and vindictive government. It is our duty to work hard by the grace of God and rescue our great nation…” Saraki said with great faith and palpable confidence.
Now, to the clincher and grand finale. Why is APC seeking his impeachment by fire by force? Saraki was ready with a response: “APC knows the Constitution of Nigeria even if they pretend otherwise. They know there is no way they can remove me legally. That is why they were driven to the limit of desperation and feverishness by the invasion of the National Assembly, which is the only reason they are a bit sober right now, out of shame that the brazen invasion by DSS at their behest and instruction failed. The threat by their Chairman to remove me was nothing but empty noise. That aside, the main reason they want me out is they are not willing to take the risk whereby the number three citizen will tackle the number one in a Presidential election. When that happens, they know I will have substantial access to State apparatus like the President. They would rather face candidates who are like orphans and not mandatorily protected, or provided for by State power. But as President of the Senate, that is guaranteed…”
At the end of the interaction, I reviewed Saraki’s probabilities and came to the conclusion that although his chances may appear slim, for now, a PDP ticket may all be what he needs to break sound barriers, and underrating this cat with nine lives may well be the biggest mistake that his opponents can make.
Time will tell.