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Senate Presidency: Is Yari Out to Play ‘Saraki’ 2.0?, By Ogochukwu Isioma

Despite the reported endorsement of Senator Godswill Akpabio, former Akwa-Ibom governor, for Senate President by President-elect Bola Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator-elect Abdul’Aziz Yari, ex-Zamfara governor, is reported to be forging ahead with his aspiration of becoming the next Senate President, a move that stakeholders and observers say could lead to another political upset and a repeat of the events of June 9, 2015 which produced former Kwara State Governor, Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate President and Hon Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 9th National Assembly, against the choice of the then Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan from Yobe State, and Lagos lawmaker, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila as Senate President and Reps’ Speaker respectively.

In 2015, after toppling the then President Goodluck Jonathan’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from power at the central level with Muhammadu Buhari’s emergence and inauguration as President, and equally emerging the biggest political party at the National Assembly (NASS) with the highest number of lawmakers-elect, the APC became “relaxed” when it came to deciding who would lead the federal legislature. Although President Buhari and top APC leaders did not hide their preference for Lawan and Gbajabiamila as Senate President and Reps’ Speaker respectively. But Buhari was not particularly concerned with what happens during the NASS contest, as the president had probably thought his preferred candidates would just stroll into the roles of the nation’s number three and four coveted offices. After all, as the majority party in NASS, the APC ordinarily should rule the legislative chamber. They had the number — simple as ABC! Buhari and the APC were definitely not prepared for the stunning bloodless ‘coup’ which Saraki and Dogara had plotted.

Saraki would not back down; he defied his party (when the APC formally endorsed Lawan as its preferred candidate for the Senate Presidency and directed all its members-elect in the Senate to support his candidature) by courting opposition PDP members of the Senate who now joined his chariot. Against the wishes of his party, Saraki was in the morning of 9th June, 2015 elected as President of the Senate after garnering the block support of the PDP and some APC senators who broke rank with their party. In a similar development, PDP members of the House of Reps threw their block votes behind Dogara, electing him as Speaker over the APC-endorsed Gbajabiamila. Saraki’s takeover of the leadership of the 8th Senate against the wishes of his party was not lacking in “treachery”. It was also replete with the element of surprise, which in military terms would qualify for a “blitzkrieg”. The completely stunned APC in a statement issued after the Kwara-born politician’s emergence as the country’s number three citizen dubbed it the highest “level of treachery, disloyalty and insincerity within any party.”

Reports said that President Buhari had called for a meeting with all APC members in the Senate on that fateful morning to smooth out the contours ahead of inauguration, but Saraki and his “gang” who boycotted the meeting, had other plans, unknowingly to the President and the party. Precisely, Saraki and his loyalists were at the national assembly complex. And minutes before 10am, when the inauguration was expected to start, they were seated in the red chamber. But Lawan and his “gang” were absent. They had gone for the meeting at the International Conference Centre (ICC). The inauguration commenced even after news had rippled that it would not take place. Saraki was nominated, there was no challenger. He afterwards assumed the position of Senate President unopposed. It was in the closing of the event that some of Lawan’s supporters thronged in, in bewilderment and confusion. But the “did” had been done.

Meanwhile, President Buhari had in his immediate reaction to the emergence of the two National Assembly leaders noted that while he would have wished that those chosen by the party were the ones elected, he did not have any preferred candidates for the Senate and the House of Reps’ leadership. The President who noted that a constitutional process has ‘somewhat occurred’ with the emergence of Saraki and Dogara added that he was willing to work with whoever the lawmakers chose as their leaders. This was a departure from the old order where the executive influenced the emergence of the leaders of the legislature.

Fast-forward to 2023 with a President-elect (Bola Tinubu) from the South and a Vice President-elect (Kashim Shettima) from the North — both of same faith — Tinubu and top party leaders have reportedly endorsed the Senator representing Akwa-Ibom North-West, Godswill Akpabio for Senate President. But, what should have been a “done deal” or “consensus” with the withdrawal of the hitherto frontrunners in the race including Senators Ali Ndume (Borno), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi) and Barau Jibrin (Kano) backing Akpabio, is becoming a tough nut to crack with Abdul’Aziz Yari refusing to step down. Yari, a ranking Senator and former Zamfara Governor, has insisted to run the whole race. He said Akpabio’s reported endorsement by the President-elect would not stop him from the contest. “What is going to happen that day, it is going to happen based on the instructions of the Constitution and not for anyone. The election of the President of National Assembly is the Senate’s business and not based on anyone’s instruction”, the Zamfara-West Senator reportedly told journalists.

In “endorsing” Akpabio, Tinubu reportedly backed the Southern Senator out of concern for the religious and regional balancing of the personalities in the next government. Tinubu, his deputy, Shettima are Muslims. Besides, it was expected that the President-elect, who has been a governor, senator, and king-maker, will be very much interested in who becomes the Senate President to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2015. The case of Saraki in the 8th Senate will still be fresh in his (Tinubu’s) mind. In 2015, the failure of President Buhari to take a stand timely on who to choose led to the emergence of Saraki and the frosty relationship between the Executive and Legislature. Tinubu, who is believed to be a good strategist, is probably trying not make such mistakes. However, with Yari who is believed to have gotten the endorsement of influential Senators-elect from the North, according to reports, vowing to take the battle to the Senate floor, the development could prove dicey for the authority of the incoming president.
The APC currently controls the impending 10th Senate with 59 seats, PDP, 36; Labour Party, 8; New Nigeria Peoples Party, 2; All Progressives Grand Alliance, 1; Social Democratic Party, 2; and Young Peoples Party, 1.

Does Yari have the “political will” and “force” to stage a ‘Saraki 2.0’, or he is just another Ndume or Goje in the making?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ogochukwu, a Developmental Activist, Socio-political Analyst, Media and Brand Influencer, Communications Expert and a Journalist, writes from Abuja.

He can be reached via ogochukwuisioma@gmail.com

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