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Elephants, Please Stop Fighting

The planned charging to court tomorrow of Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki and three others for alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rules prior to…

The planned charging to court tomorrow of Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki and three others for alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rules prior to last year’s Senate leadership election is already shaping up to ignite a major confrontation between the Presidency and the National Assembly. Saraki, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, former Clerk to the National Assembly Abubakar Maikasuwa and Clerk to the Senate/Deputy Clerk to the National Assembly Benedict Efeture are to be charged before a Federal Capital Territory [FCT] High Court for the alleged offence. The case was filed by Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN.
Ordinarily, a case of forgery is a straight forward crime but this one is so steeped in politics and struggle for power within the ruling All Progressives Congress [APC] that Nigerians do not know who to believe among the contending parties. It is clearly a continuation of the intra-APC crisis that erupted last year when Saraki and Ekweremadu, with the backing of PDP senators and a minority faction of APC senators, clinched the Senate leadership, having outwitted the Senate Unity Group backed by the Presidency and APC National Leader Bola Tinubu.
Soon after that election, six Unity Forum members led by Senators Kabiru Marafa of Zamfara and Suleiman Hunkuyi of Kaduna alleged on the Senate floor that the standing rules used to conduct the leadership election were illegally amended without following the normal procedure. They were overruled and other senators expected the matter to end there. However, they sent a petition to the police, which sent Deputy Inspector General Dan’Azumi Job Doma to probe the allegation. After interviewing several persons, excluding Saraki, Doma wrote a report saying the rules used in the leadership election were substantially different from the Senate Standing Rules 2011 which were in use. His report did not recommend anyone for prosecution; he instead sent it to the Attorney General, for him to determine what to do with it. Though this report was made in July last year, Malami recently decided to prosecute the National Assembly Four of Saraki, Ekweremadu, Maikasuwa and Efeture for the alleged crime.
The Senate did not take kindly to this and saw it as another attempt by the Presidency to get at Saraki, who is being prosecuted before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged false assets declaration. Last week it issued a very strong statement. It urged President Muhammadu Buhari to rein in his Attorney General, who it said was using the courts to obtain what the Presidency failed to get in the Senate leadership election. It said its bending over backwards to accommodate the Presidency did not mean weakness on its part and that charging its leaders to court is an attempt to erode its independence and return Nigeria to full-scale dictatorship.
This was the harshest statement ever directed by the Senate at the Buhari Presidency. A day later, the more Presidency-friendly House of Representatives followed suit. Using less harsh words, it agreed with the Senate that this prosecution is an attempt to muzzle the National Assembly and warned the Presidency to back off. Saraki too issued a statement, the most belligerent in his year-old battle with the Buhari/Tinubu power axis. Saying he knew nothing of the alleged forgery, Saraki said it was “just another phase in the orchestrated persecution he has faced since he emerged as Senate President a little over a year ago.” He said he was never invited by the police to testify since he was not a principal officer of the last Senate and that his name was only “smuggled” into the charge sheet.
Last week, signs of impending trouble were everywhere. The Senate PDP Caucus said it has withdrawn its support for Buhari’s government, a curious stance for an opposition party. APC senators then countered by pledging continued support for Buhari. It is noteworthy however that the “Senate APC Caucus” that made this pledge was made up of only 15 senators out of 58, a very dangerous signal to Buhari and APC leaders. More than that, there were reports that the National Assembly intends to escalate the confrontation in the weeks ahead by refusing to approve nominees sent by the president for confirmation. Among those awaiting confirmation are ambassadors and Acting EFCC chairman Ibrahim Magu. Buhari is also likely to submit a budget amendment bill soon, which could sail into stormy waters.
Needless to say, a roforofo fight between these constitutional elephants is the last thing that Nigerians want at this time. All Nigerians are looking forward to a breather after the bruising passage of the 2016 Federal budget. We expect by now to see the government roll out and aggressively pursue policies and projects that will relieve the crushing poverty in the land, the high unemployment rate, galloping inflation, higher fuel prices, steep fall of the naira and delayed salary payments in many states. Even with the best cooperation between all arms of government, this will be a Herculean task. It will become next to impossible if these two arms of government decide to engage in a protracted battle for political supremacy.
We must warn the Presidency that its case is no longer looking good in the eyes of dispassionate observers. For long it has capitalised on the institutional unpopularity of the National Assembly as well as on President Buhari’s famed popularity and moral high ground to railroad its way through the legislature. It is difficult to see, for example, why Saraki rather than leaders of the 7th Senate is being charged to court on this matter. Nigerians do not want any fight over egos and political turfs. What we want now is food, roads, petrol, light and salaries.
 

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