The Nation - Hours after the refusal of the fundamental rights application by Senate President Bukola Saraki to stop his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) by a Federal High Court in Abuja, there were signs at the weekend that some of his prominent loyalists within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may be retracing their steps.
There were strong indications that they may be opting to support an ongoing move by the leadership of the party to unite the party’s caucus in the national assembly.
Reliable national assembly sources told The Nation yesterday that prior to the judgment delivered by Justice Abdul Kafarati on Friday, some frontline supporters of the embattled Senate President have resolved to withdraw their support for Saraki in his bid to remain in office as Senate President while his trial at the CCT lasts.
In the meantime, the National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, has ruled out the possibility of the party losing the senate presidency to the opposition. In an interview with an online medium, The Premium Times, he said, “We don’t take anything for granted. As they are planning, we are also planning. The situation is under control.”
He insisted that the party is not likely to lose the position to the opposition, but noted that should this happen, it will have to be the ‘price’ for the desired ‘change’.
It was also learnt that some members of the Senate President’s camp in the national assembly are now of the view that the incessant face-off between the legislature and the presidency allegedly being generated by Saraki’s trial at the CCT, is needless and avoidable.
“Hence, some of them are ready to support a change in the leadership of the senate to save the ruling party from further crises and at the same time represent the yearnings of their constituents for good governance by ensuring strict adherence to the provisions of the laws of the country,” our source, a Senator from Lagos State, said.
“Mr. Senate President is currently facing charges that borders on false declaration of assets … The issue has gone beyond mere accusations as he has already gone down in history as the first serving Senate President in the country to be docked in a competent court.
“Sadly, one recalls that there is a way these things have been handled in the past to save the national assembly, and by extension, the government, from unnecessary embarrassment. All former presiding officers of the National Assembly, who were faced with similar charges, first resigned their positions in order to protect the integrity and sanctity of the country’s hallowed chambers.”
The senator regrets that what has been happening in the last few months “were blatant display of disregard for the sanctity of the senate by some misled and confused senators whose loyalty is not to the country, but to an individual or group.”
The senator added, “But one is happy today, to tell you that things are changing for better. For one, I can tell you the APC caucus in the senate is working towards uniting all. We are healing the divide imposed on us by self serving individuals. We are all returning our loyalty to the party and the government.”
The Nation gathered that attendance at the regular and emergency meetings of the ‘Like Minds Senators’, the group of senators loyal to the President of Senate, has plummeted in recent times, giving credence to talks about serious cracks in the ranks of Saraki loyalists.
Senate sources put the reduction in attendance to the activities of a committee instituted by the APC caucus in the national assembly to unite the legislators elected on the platform of the ruling party. According to reliable sources, the committee, that has core Saraki allies in the likes of Senators Aliyu Wammako, Danjuma Goje, Kabiru Gaya, Ahmed Yerima and Adamu Aliero, as members, is championing a united APC caucus that is loyal to the party and government as against the current arrangement of a divided caucus.
For instance, a meeting called yesterday at the residence of Saraki in continuation of the one held earlier in the week recorded abysmal attendance in spite of the fact that it was scheduled early enough and a text message was sent few hours before the kick off to remind senators.
Not only was the attendance low, the discussion, we learnt, was unimpressive. Those who attended, it was said, were downcast and disturbed. The meeting, unlike the one a few days earlier where the decision to review the laws establishing the CCT was taken, was devoid of the usual vibrancy, our source added.
The Nation also gathered that the text message reminding Like Minds Senators of the meeting was, unlike the previous ones, sent by an aide of the Senate President. A prominent Senator from Kogi State is known to have sent invites to such meeting before now.
“What we heard was that the Senator who used to do the invite tactically avoided doing same for the last meeting. To further cause anxiety in the Senate President’s camp, he was absent at the meeting where he was scheduled to brief the Senators on certain steps taken to advance the cause of the group. His action and absence formed the chunk of the discussion at the unimpressive meeting,” our source added.
It was also gathered that the APC caucus in the lower chamber recently met to discuss the crises in the national assembly and resolved that members of the caucus must desist from taking side in the Saraki saga.
“The House caucus took a decision that none of us should drag the lower chamber into the senate crisis by making inflammatory statements. Specifically, we are to henceforth toe the party’s line in all matters. The meeting also resolved that there should be no division within the caucus.”
Another member of the lower chamber from Kogi State told our correspondent that effort to unite the APC caucus in the national assembly is yielding fruit to the detriment of the camp of pro-Saraki hardliners. According to him, it is only a matter of time before a final position on the various bones of contention in the national assembly is announced.
The Nation also gathered that the dwindling fortunes of the Saraki camp is responsible for its inability to push through the suspension plot allegedly instituted against the Senator representing Zamfara Central, Kabir Marafa, an unrepentant critic of the Senate President.
Weeks after the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, submitted its report on its investigation on Marafa, the Senate has failed to deliberate on the panel’s recommendations. Marafa was accused of granting a press interview to allegedly mislead the public about the senate.
Marafa, a second-timer at the upper chamber of the National Assembly, served as the mouthpiece of the Unity Forum, an umbrella of senators that worked for Senator Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North), the preferred candidate of the APC for the plum job.
Following the Supreme Court verdict on the appeal of Saraki on his CCT trial, Marafa demanded the resignation of Saraki. He had said, “What is happening in the CCT is personal to Saraki and has nothing to do with his position as the Senate President. It has now reached the time when Saraki should take a bow to enable him concentrate on his case at the CCT. I don’t have anything against him as a person.”
Expectedly, pro-Saraki Senators made a huge show of the interview and demanded the immediate suspension of the Zamfara senator. But following an unexpected show of support for Marafa by other senators across party lines, Saraki referred the matter to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions. He asked the committee to report back a week later.
According to senate sources, the Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East)-led committee has recommended Marafa’s suspension but the development has failed to receive the blessing of majority of the members of the senate as many feel Marafa has not done anything wrong that would warrant any punishment.
Our source also attributed the new thinking in the national assembly to both the effort of some party leaders in senate and the failure of Saraki to stop his trial at the CCT in spite of several efforts to get competent law courts to declare that he shouldn’t be docked.
Kafarati’s judgement on Friday put paid to earlier optimism that the Senate President will get a reprieve. The judge held that the reliefs prayed for by Saraki “are not cognisable under Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution”, which lists the fundamental rights of citizens.
Saraki had, for the umpteenth time through his counsel, Ajibola Oluyede, filed the application challenging the trial at the CCT for falling short of Article 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution. He argued that the prosecution wants to achieve the political objective of the All Progressives Congress (APC)
Saraki’s counsel, Oluyede has indicated intention to appeal the verdict of the court before the Court of Appeal.
The APC chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun has declared that a political solution may not be in sight for the ongoing Senate President’s trial at the CCT.
According to him, a purported political solution as is being bandied by a section of the political class will negate the change philosophy upon which the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government was voted into power last year.
He said “The President is certainly not the type who will interfere in a judicial matter,” as that would also negate his straight personality.
“Things must be done normally. And that is part of the change mantra that we must play by the rule so we don’t truncate the processes.”
Odigie-Oyegun explained that “People don’t seem to internalize what change is. If the President says “court, free that man”, the same president can say “court, imprison that man.” Is that the Nigeria you want? No! Change means allowing the law to take the proper course. I can tell you the President won’t interfere. The President is straight definite, straight and firm in all facets.”
On the possibility of the party losing the senate president position to opposition PDP, Oyegun said, “We don’t take anything for granted. As they are planning, we are also planning. The situation is under control.”
He said, “I don’t think we will lose that position. But sometimes, for change to take place there is price you have to pay. So losing the position may be sacrifice for change.”
On speculations of in-fighting in the party, Oyegun said this is normal as there are always different views. “Interests differ. Some feel they are not sufficiently rewarded or consulted. So, it happens. We are just barely one year in power.”
On complaints that Nigerians have yet to feel the much-touted change, the APC chairman said change is a ‘process’ and a ‘progressive’ phenomenon. “When the process fully completes, we will have a totally new Nigeria.”