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Thursday, 11 June 2015

How Saraki, Dogara Snookered APC with the Help of PDP.


090615F-Saraki-and-Dogara.jpg - 090615F-Saraki-and-Dogara.jpg
R-L, Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara

  • Lawan's group vows to fight on, may head to court
  • Na’Abba, others urge reconciliation with Dogara
  • Former Kwara gov says he remains APC member
  • PDP insists ruling party is not ready for governance
Olusegun Adeniyi, Chuks Okocha, Omololu Ogunmade, Muhammad Bello in Abuja and Anayo Okoli in Lagos

More facts have emerged on what transpired on the eve of the National Assembly polls, which threw up Senator Bukola Saraki as the Senate president, Senator Ike Eweremadu as his deputy, Hon. Yakubu Dogara as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Hon. Suleiman Yusuf Lasun as the deputy speaker.

Saraki, Dogara, Ekweremadu and Lasun had beaten all the anointed candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on Tuesday, in a high-stakes contest that was preceded by political horse-trading, deception and subterfuge on both sides of the divide.

Based on first hand accounts by some of the dramatis personae involved in the late night meetings and machinations before the inauguration of the National Assembly, THISDAY gathered, was that APC chieftains made the mistake of using the police to shut down the National Assembly as early as 5 am on Tuesday to prevent members from gaining entry into the complex and delaying the legislature’s inauguration by an hour or two.

The plan by the ruling party, according to a source, was to use President Muhammadu Buhari’s name to convene a meeting at 9am at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja, of all APC legislators-elect.

The intention was for the party’s leaders to prevail on Saraki and Dogara to step down for Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, the favoured candidates of the party for Senate presidency and the post of speaker, respectively.

But this turned out to be a major mistake on the part of APC, as it was not the police it needed to delay proceedings at the National Assembly, but the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, as by virtue of his office, it was he who had been notified in writing by Buhari of the legislature’s inauguration by 10 am on Tuesday.

The source said that without another letter or notification by the president to the clerk informing him that the time of the inauguration had been shifted by a few hours, he had no option than to stick to the original time of 10 am.

According to a source, “To imagine that the person you need to truncate a legally convened legislative session is the police rather than the Clerk of the National Assembly was naive.”

However, it was what transpired on Monday night during a meeting held by senators elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the opposition party at the residence of the former Senate President, David Mark, that sounded the death knell on APC’s plan for the federal legislature.

Giving details of what transpired, a PDP senator, who was in attendance, said: “The night before the election, 47 PDP senators had gathered at the Apo Legislative Quarters residence of the immediate past Senate President David Mark to present to him three options.

“Option one: Exploit the division within the ranks of the APC by sponsoring Mark to contest for the office of Senate president. The argument was that by the Senate rule, all that a winner needed was a simple majority and since neither of the two APC contenders – Lawan and Saraki – would likely step down for the other, Mark would get more votes.

“The reasoning was that once that happened, Mark could take the gavel. The only thing the APC could do in such situation would be to go to court. But Mark declined the offer.

“Option two: Conduct a poll among themselves (the PDP senators in attendance) on who between the two APC candidates (Lawan and Saraki) they should back but with the proviso that PDP would produce the Deputy Senate President. That was something they were not
prepared to negotiate.

“Option three: Nominate another senator in APC and give him their bloc vote in what would amount to divide and rule.”

He said since everyone in attendance zeroed in on the second option, a disagreement arose on which of the two senators the PDP should support.

“But with 32 out of the 49 PDP senators coming from the South-east and South-south, there were strong sentiments expressed at the meeting that Lawan, most favoured by Mark, holds extreme views when it comes to the issue of North and South.

“He is, in fact, seen as a northern irredentist. From the PIB debate to confirmation of appointments, to the state of emergency and insurgency debates, Lawan employs hurtful, arrogant, and clearly divisive dictions,” said the returning senator. Based on this argument, this gave Saraki a huge advantage.

In order to reach an accord on who to back, the PDP senators then decided to conduct a poll, THISDAY was informed.

However, the major snag with Saraki, THISDAY learnt, was that there was no love lost between the former Kwara governor and Mark, who considered him arrogant and disrespectful.

Another bone of contention was that supporting Saraki by PDP would have amounted to rewarding bad behaviour since he was one of the people who brought the party down.

However, the senator said Ekweremadu made a strong case for Saraki, arguing that he was more cosmopolitan and nationalistic in his approach to issues.

“A PDP senator also told Mark that even if Saraki was a prodigal son, he was at least once a member of the family, hence it would be easier to work with him than with Lawan who had never been a member of PDP in 16 years of his membership of the National Assembly – eight years in the House and eight in the Senate,” said the senator.

“So even before the PDP senators began to cast their mock ballots, it had been concluded that with Lawan being the choice of the APC, it was more pragmatic to go with Saraki who had been sounded out and had agreed to run with a PDP senator for the office of Deputy Senate President.

“The choice of Ekweremadu was also strategic because, being very close to Mark, that helped to douse whatever ill-feeling the former Senate president may habour against Saraki,” the senator said.

He added that many at the meeting were also galvanised by a strong anti-Bola Tinubu sentiment, as many of the senators had argued that a vote for Lawan would be a vote for the APC National Leader.

He said: “It was the same sentiment that was employed against Gbajabiamila in the House of Representatives,” he explained.

With the mock poll conducted among the PDP senators while Mark and Ekweremadu abstained, Saraki polled 28 votes and Lawan secured 17 votes.

“By this time, the acting PDP National Chairman, Chief Uche Secondus and Metuh, who were practically in Mark’s house throughout Monday, had entered the fray to seal the decision of the senators as that of the party. And Saraki was brought into the meeting where he agreed to offer the position of Deputy Senate President to the PDP, specifically to Ekweremadu,” he added.

Another source said that it was the outcome of the PDP meeting and its announcement in the wee hours of Tuesday morning enjoining its members in the National Assembly to vote en masse for Saraki and Dogara that prompted the APC to convene a meeting at the ICC on Tuesday.

“The name of the president was used to convene the meeting, even though nobody can say with any degree of certainty that he gave such directive, especially considering that he only arrived the country from Germany at about 2 that morning,” the source said.

However, since the president had already transmitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly the proclamation order and did not withdraw it, Mark and Ekweremadu, who are experienced in such matters and wield sufficient clout to put pressure on the clerk, knew the APC senators were misreading the rules of the game by staying away from their inaugural session on the pretext of holding a party meeting elsewhere, said the source.

“To worsen matters, attempts were made to use the police to prevent the National Assembly members from entering the premises. Who gave the directive is still a matter of speculation.

“But it only infuriated the PDP senators who rallied behind Saraki and who had also got some of his APC senate colleagues to attend the session. By 6am, Saraki was already inside the National Assembly premises.

“So by 10 am on the dot, the Clerk of the National Assembly commenced the session for the election of principal officers in the Senate. With Lawan and several of his APC colleagues still marooned at the ICC, Saraki was nominated for the post of Senate president and since he was unopposed, and there were enough senators to make a simple majority, there was no contest.

“By the time the APC leaders and the senators who were still expecting the president to arrive the ICC realised the futility of their action, it was all over. Many rushed back to the National Assembly only to meet Saraki holding the gavel as the Senate president,” the source said.

He said the outcome of what had happened in the Senate had a bandwagon effect on the election in the House as Gbajabiamila, who actually had a slight edge over Dogara prior to the content, failed to clinch the post of speaker by a whisker.

But in spite of the emergence of Saraki as Senate president, the Senate Unity Forum, a group of senators who supported the aspiration of Lawan for the top post, on Wednesday held the view that the election of presiding officers of the parliament on Tuesday was illegitimate and unconstitutional.

They threatened to fight it through legal and constitutional means.
This happened even as Saraki, swore in Lawan, Senator George Akume and other members of his group who were not present at the inauguration of the Eighth Senate on Tuesday.

Lawan and his men said their privileges had been breached by the election of presiding officers while they were away for a scheduled meeting with the president at the ICC. The meeting never took place.
At the commencement of the plenary yesterday, members of the group, notably Senators Kabir Marafa (Zamfara Central) and Barnabas Gemade (Benue North-east) raised points of order in protest of Saraki's emergence, saying their privileges had been breached.

Marafa cited Orders 15 and 43 to express the alleged breach of his privileges. But he was ruled out of order by the Senate president who said he should have briefed him before raising Order 43.

Marafa claimed that they were shut out of the election while they were away to honour the invitation of Buhari to a meeting.

However, Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central), who is one of the staunch supporters of Saraki, countered the claim through a constitutional point of order, citing Section 64(3) of the constitution on the president's power to proclaim the Senate into existence.

According to him, the claim that the senators went to attend a scheduled meeting with the president was untenable, recalling that the Clerk of the National Assembly had read the proclamation letter from the president in accordance with provisions of the constitution.

Goje said inasmuch as the president had ordered the inauguration of the Eighth Senate, “whoever decided to go for another meeting had himself to blame”. His point of order was sustained by Saraki.

Dissatisfied, Gemade who is the spokesman for Senate Unity Forum again cited Order 15 of the Senate Rules, emphasising that his privilege along with his colleagues’ were breached by the election conducted in their absence.

Gemade argued that the previous leaderships of the parliament had always forged a united Senate, which according to him, had provided the platform for senators to care for one another.

He stated that the president had called APC senators to a meeting and simultaneously asked the clerk to delay the proclamation while the meeting lasted.

He said it was unfortunate that the clerk chose to exhibit a measure of disrespect for the president by ignoring such a plea and instead, went ahead to proclaim the Eighth National Assembly into existence.

“In the seventh Senate, the need to foster a united Senate was found to be vital. There were no intricacies about the desire to care for one another. We were requested to be at a meeting with the president who also gave a letter of proclamation.

“We were told in clear terms that the clerk was approached to give a reasonable delay of the proclamation. We have always cooperated with the president of this nation. The president sought a slight delay to be able to meet with senators. Respect begets respect.

“We expected the clerk to be reasonable. Unfortunately, this was not done. While we were at the meeting, the television was showing the exercise going on. This was a breach of our privileges,” he maintained.
Gemade then pointed out that the unity of the Senate should be sacrosanct for both the leadership of the chamber as well as the nation, threatening that if pursued otherwise, Saraki should be prepared to lead a divided Senate.

“Driving the unity of the Senate is in the interest of this country. But if you want to use power maximally, then you should know that you are heading for a divided Senate that will not be good for your leadership; that will not also be good for this country,” he warned.

Responding, Saraki cited Order 53 of the Senate Rules, which according to him, provides that any matter that has been concluded cannot be reopened.

He said the matter that Gemade referred to had already been concluded and hence should be a forgone conclusion, adding: "Unfortunately, I have to rule you out of order.”

In apparent indifference to ongoing controversies in the chamber, Ekweremadu moved a motion that following the election of the presiding officers of the Senate on Tuesday, a letter should be sent to the president informing him of the development.

He also said messages should be sent to other affected individuals and groups such as the African Union (AU), Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU), ECOWAS Parliament and Pan-African Union about the situation. The motion was adopted and consequently passed.

Thereafter, senators under the Senate Unity Forum walked out of the chamber and assembled in Hearing Room One to address the press. At the briefing, Gemade denied the speculations that Tuesday’s inauguration was boycotted, describing such reports as unfounded.

He stated that as loyal party members, they would explore political and legal means to strengthen democracy.

He reiterated that the inauguration was done while they were away, implying that the process which threw up the Senate president was unconstitutional and illegitimate.

He also said with only 57 senators in attendance, the Senate did not possess the required quorum of two-thirds majority for the election of presiding officers when Saraki was elected.

“This process which remains unconstitutional cannot confer legitimacy to the elected Senate president. Our right to participate in the election of the Senate president is a constitutional right which cannot be taken by any person or group of persons.

“The clerk of the National Assembly knowing fully well that the quorum for the election of the Senate president had not been met, went ahead to conduct an election that shuts the door to about 53 other senators which would remain unacceptable until what would meet democratic parameters is done,” Gemade said.

But in a counter-press briefing, the convener of Senators of Like Mind, the group, which worked for Saraki’s emergence, Senator Dino Melaye, said the Senate under Saraki's leadership would reach out to the aggrieved senators.

Giving reasons why his group would reach out to them, Melaye said: “You cannot beat a child and expect him not to cry.”

He also faulted the claim by the unity forum that a meeting was called by Buhari, arguing that the president could not have issued a proclamation letter and simultaneously called for a meeting.

He also said if the meeting had been called by the president, it would have been scheduled to hold either at the Presidential Villa or Defence House and not at the ICC.

He further alleged that a similar kite was flown on Monday when it was said that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had invited them to a meeting in ICC, only to get there to discover that he was not available.

He said they ignored the call for Tuesday’s meeting having been once deceived.

He also faulted the claim that two-thirds majority were required to elect presiding officers, disclosing that Order 10(1) of Senate Standing Rules makes it clear that only one-third of 109 senators constitute the quorum for any meeting and not two-thirds.

In the House, nonetheless, past presiding and principal officers of the House yesterday appealed to the APC not to rock the boat by maintaining the status quo.

This was as the House Wednesday held its first sitting after Tuesday's inauguration under the Speaker Yakubu Dogara. Afterwards it adjourned till June 23.

The call for reconciliation was made by Hon. Ghali Umar Na’Abba on behalf of other former Speakers of the House, who led the group on a courtesy call to Dogara.

Among the former Speakers in attendance were Hon. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, Hon. Agunwa Anaekwe, and Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. Also present were former deputy speakers: Babangida Nguroje and Emeka Ihedioha.

Other former principal officers in attendance included the immediate past Leader of the House, Mulikat Akande-Adeola and her deputy, Leo Okuweh Ogor, immediate past Chief Whip, Mohammed Ishaka Bawa, his deputy, Hon. Muhammed Mukhtar, and the immediate past Deputy Minority Leader, Suleiman Abdulrahman Kawu, among others.

Na'aba called on APC to view the election of Dogara from the prism that the legislature all over the world is at its optimum best when it is independent.

He said: “Lawmakers yesterday (Tuesday) achieved another democratic revolution against the imposition of leaders by political parties.
“This has happened not to spite our party but that the legislature under a democratic setting must be independent.

“What happened yesterday was an effort by lawmakers of both the APC and the PDP to ensure their independence as lawmakers.

“Whatever must have happened, the new leadership must not be castigated and scorned but should be seen as a means of charting a new legislative course for the benefit of all Nigerians.”

The ex-speaker, who is also a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the APC, admonished Dogara to reach out with his team to the party and his aggrieved colleagues with a view to mending fences.
He urged the speaker to imbibe the spirit of tolerance, consideration and acceptance as his watchword.

In his response, Dogara expressed appreciation to the delegation, saying that he felt humbled and honoured to receive them.

He assured them of his commitment to work for the peace and stability of the House with a view to attaining set legislative agenda that would complement the efforts of the executive in trying the bring about the change Nigerians voted for.

During plenary, Dogara had read two messages listed on the Order Paper to his colleagues.

The first was a letter to be conveyed to the Senate informing it that he and Lasun had been elected as speaker and deputy speaker respectively.

The second message was a similar letter to be sent to Buhari that they were ready to receive any message he may wish to transmit to them.
Meanwhile, Saraki yesterday commended Buhari for the role he played before and after the National Assembly elections, saying it was a great mark of leadership and a demonstration of the president's commitment to democracy.

In a statement issued by his media office, Saraki commended the president for remaining steadfast in his commitment to the principle of non-interference in National Assembly politics even in the face of great pressure on him to act otherwise.

“This shows that Mr. President is a man of great conviction who, in his own words, belongs to everyone and belongs to no one," he said.
Saraki also denied the speculations that he had plans to rejoin the PDP, describing the insinuation as “absurd and laughable”.

“It is just cheap blackmail by political adversaries who want to call a dog a bad name in order to hang it. And those making such desperate allegations should remember that I willingly left the PDP on matters of principles when the party was in power.

“Is it now that the party is out of government and in opposition that I will now return, having worked so hard for my party in the last general election?” he queried.

He stressed his commitment to the APC, saying he remained a loyal party member and a leader of the party, committed to contributing his quota to building the party and helping it to deliver its promise of change to the Nigerian people.

He urged all members of the National Assembly to put politicking behind them and settle down for the proper business of legislating.

The Senate president also promised to embrace every member of the Senate regardless of their political leanings in the leadership election.
But as Saraki reached out to those unhappy about his emergence as the Senate president, the PDP yesterday continued to take a dig at APC and dismissed its threats against the new leaders of the National Assembly as empty boasts aimed at covering its “naivety, inexperience and unpreparedness for governance”.

The PDP also admonished the APC to shed its arrogance, eat the humble pie and get more organised for governance, adding that it lacked the capacity, capability and means to sanction duly elected leaders of the National Assembly.

PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, in a statement, said the crass inexperience so far displayed by the APC was a pointer that “it is not adequately equipped to handle the affairs of government at the centre”, noting that events would continue to prove the PDP right in this regard.

“Nothing can be more astonishing than the whining by the APC that the PDP, at the last minute, expressed its preference for Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, after it had earlier stated that it was not interested in the positions.

“This calls to question the capacity, experience and skills of APC leaders on political matters and we have no apology whatsoever for their naivety.

“The APC is merely suffering the consequences of the greed, lust for power and inordinate ambitions of their leaders. They should note that Nigerians have since moved ahead with the new leaders in the National Assembly and should stop wasting their energy on propaganda and blackmails to heat up the polity,” the opposition party said.

The PDP further condemned Tuesday’s botched attempts by the APC to close the National Assembly and stop lawmakers from carrying out their constitutional duties, as well as the threats to the newly elected leaders, describing the acts as “totally against the tenets of democracy, the principles of separation of powers and independence of the legislature as enshrined in the constitution”.

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