By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Anyone who wants to appreciate the depth of anger in the Bola Tinubu camp of the All Progressives Congress (APC) over the result of the National Assembly (NASS) leadership polls should first see the video clip of the aborted APC leaders’ meeting at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja.
The meeting was purportedly summoned at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari.
It is a picture of conspirators who were beside themselves with joy, having perfected what they thought was a done deal. I had never seen Tinubu in such buoyant mood. Ditto Lai Mohammed, APC National Publicity Secretary; John Oyegun, National Chairman; and even the ever-laughing Bisi Akande, former Interim National Chairman.
The meeting was called to enable Tinubu, self-acclaimed APC national leader, deliver a coup de grace against those who challenge his supposed supremacy by taking a shot at the leadership of the NASS against his wish.
The coup was actually executed on Saturday, June 6, when the APC leadership conducted a straw poll to elect candidates for the offices of Senate president and speaker, House of Representatives and Senator Ahmed Lawan and Representative Femi Gbajabiamila, both stooges of Tinubu, emerged winners.
However, the two main challengers, Senator Bukola Saraki and Representative Yakubu Dogara, who are also APC members, boycotted the straw poll and rejected the result, and vowed to seek their mandate on the floor of the NASS.
In a subtle act of blackmail and intimidation, APC National Secretary, Mai Buni, issued a statement on Sunday, June 7 urging Saraki and Dogara to abide by the decision of the party, a plea they ignored.
So, the 9am meeting at the ICC before the election of NASS principal officers was a final stunt by those who considered themselves masters in the art of political intrigues and power play.
The back slapping, hugs and the hearty laughs, were part of the celebrations that could have culminated in the coronation of Lawan as Senate President and Gbajabiamila as House Speaker. That was before Saraki and his co-conspirators pulled the rug from under the feet of Tinubu and his foot soldiers, including Mohammed and Oyegun.
While they were still “waiting for Buhari” at the ICC, eight APC senators-elect teamed up with 49 of their PDP collegues and that became the game changer. The hunter became the hunted. NASS Clerk, Salisu Maikasuwa, with 57 senators already seated quickly read Buhari’s proclamation inaugurating the eighth NASS and proceeded with the elections by calling for nominations. The rest, to borrow a cliche, is history. And the APC leadership is seething with rage.
Should Maikasuwa have delayed the inauguration by about one hour to enable the other 51 senators arrive the Chamber? Maybe!
Was Saraki’s sleight of the hand a political overkill? Maybe!
Considering what happened in the Green Chamber, would the result of the election have been different if the Red Chamber had the full compliment of senators before the election? The answer is ensconced in the womb of time.
Was the inauguration and subsequent election an illegality? The courts will decide if need be.
But what is obvious is that in our winner-takes-all variant of democracy, where politicians do not take prisoners, the end always justifies the means. Saraki, rather than Lawan, is now Senate President and until Tinubu conjures a more potent political talisman to upstage him, it will remain so. Simply put, something went dramatically awry for the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) wing of the APC on Tuesday. It was beaten to its own game, outfoxed by another tendency that has proved adroit at subterfuge. Saraki gave Tinubu a sucker punch.
And it will be good if all the noise being made now is seen from that perspective. Those crying blue murder are the garrison commanders in Tinubu’s Territorial Army. They have raised all manner of red herrings. Saraki is corrupt, they chorus. When did they realise that and who is less corrupt among his accusers? By Saraki emerging Senate President, the APC has derailed and will no longer pursue its manifesto, they chorus. How? What makes Saraki less APC than Tinubu? In any case, did the APC have any unifying ideology other than the quest to access power and send former President Goodluck Jonathan back to Otuoke?
It is instructive that while Tinubu is insisting he will never recognise Saraki’s Senate Presidency, Buhari has welcomed it, calling the process that threw him up constitutional. Buhari’s Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Femi Adesina, reminded Nigerians that his principal “had said in an earlier statement that he did not have any preferred candidate for the Senate and the House of Representatives, and that he was willing to work with whoever the lawmakers elected.”
The Buhari democracy creed should be the new political dogma if we desire to advance democracy. Political gladiators should imbibe the values and ethos of democracy, particularly its inclusiveness. The “people-element” of our democracy, which has been suppressed for too long, must be allowed to blossom. The era of one man, called the godfather, or a clique riding roughshod over everybody else is gone. Anyone who insists on treading the undemocratic path must be prepared for the Saraki-type revolt.
Politics is a game of interests. And while a political party is supreme and its interest ideally becomes the fulcrum around which every other interest within the fold revolves, such interest must be overarching and all-embracing. Party members must find accommodation in such interest. Saraki may well be accused of putting personal interest above party interest but the flip side of that argument is that his accusers didn’t come to equity with clean hands. If they were altruistic, they would have listened to Buhari’s gospel of non-interference. Or were they trying to prove a point in line with Mohammed’s brazen claim on television that “Buhari is not the leader of APC but a product of the party. Tinubu is our leader?”
Lastly, there is need to find out what actually happened. If Buhari said beforehand he was not going to interfere in the NASS poll, why would he summon a meeting of APC lawmakers-elect at the ICC at the 11th hour for the same purpose? Knowing Buhari as a leader who does not speak from both sides of the mouth, he may not have summoned the meeting. And if the meeting was not summoned at his instance, then who did? If that is true, is that not a bigger crime than what Saraki is accused of?
I am not one of those exhibiting self-righteous indignation at what happened at the NASS, particularly the Senate last Tuesday. On the contrary, it was, for me, one of the finest hours of our democracy since 1999 and Buhari must be commended for making it possible. One of the biggest problems in this democracy is the culture of imposition, which former President Olusegun Obasanjo perfected. Why must the president, the head of the executive arm of government, decide who the presiding officers of the NASS will be? And who said unless such presiding officers are lickspittles of the president, then they will never cooperate with him? Who knows? Buhari, the man derided as not capable of imbibing the tenets of democracy, may be the one showing us the way.
By Ikechukwu Amaechi