by Sahara Reporters, New York Apr 22, 2016
Several senators and politicians, speaking to SaharaReporters on condition of anonymity, have revealed how Senate President Bukola Saraki manages to maintain control over the upper legislative chamber and to keep many senators loyal to his leadership in the face of mounting evidence of his corruption at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Mr. Saraki is currently facing charges of false asset declaration and corruption at the CCT. But the sources explained that some senators may be resisting Mr. Saraki’s intrigues.
One of our sources revealed that a growing number of senators were becoming alarmed about the extent to which their colleagues had gone to serve Mr. Saraki’s personal interests. “In Senator Saraki’s absence we have held three days of closed-door sessions and discussed how to ward off public outrage against us,” the source said. He added: “It was decided that the Senate should drop some of its unpopular attempts to protect Dr. Saraki.” According to him, one of the resolutions was to back down from the Senate’s decision to summon Justice Danladi Umar, who is handling Mr. Saraki’s trial, to appear before senators to be questioned on allegations of corruption against him. The charges against the judge were dismissed in the House of Representatives when the men who made them failed to show up to back them up.
“We decided it doesn’t make sense to continue harassing Justice Umar when the charges against him were never authenticated. In the same vein, we decided it is counterproductive to pursue amendments of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. The public reaction against the amendment was very fierce,” said the senator.
The amendment would have made it harder for the CCT to prosecute public officials for corruption.
Another senator disclosed that tempers often flared up during the closed-door meetings. According to him, at one point Senator Dino Melaye, one of Mr. Saraki’s staunchest allies, threatened to beat up Senator James Manager from Delta South senatorial district. The source said Mr. Melaye became incensed after Senator Manager stated that Mr. Saraki’s maneuvers to use senators to scuttle his trial had caused great public anger against the Senate.
“Senator Manager did not mince words that the trial of the Senate President was now creating huge problems for us,” our source said, adding that several other senators spoke in the same vein during the closed-door session.
Despite efforts by Senator Melaye and other pro-Saraki hawks, the majority of senators decided it was time to de-escalate the tension between the Senate and the CCT. “Nigerians now perceive us as a group committed to the protection of one man who happens to be the Senate President. It is time we restore[d] public confidence and support,” one of our sources said. He added: “In the process, we decided to drop [the] Ethics Committee investigation of Senator Kabir Marafa, an outspoken opponent to Dr. Saraki.”
Several sources told SaharaReporters that the decision to end the targeting of Mr. Marafa infuriated Senator Sani Yerima, a former Governor of Zamfara State. Mr. Yerima is a controversial political figure who introduced Sharia law in his state in his first tenure as governor. Shortly after leaving Government House in 2007, Senator Yerima triggered national and international outrage when he married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl.
Speaking about Mr. Saraki’s manipulation of senators, two sources disclosed that the embattled Senate President recently distributed 36 new Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs to his closest allies in the Senate. One source stated that Senator Manager had received a car prior to his protests about Mr. Saraki’s image and its effect on the Senate as a whole.
In a bid to stem the growing dissension against Mr. Saraki, Senate Deputy President, Ike Ekweremadu, and a few senators organized a 12-member committee with two representatives from each of the six geopolitical zones to reconcile members. Among other things, the Senate resolved that all members involved in litigation against the leadership of the Senate should withdraw such lawsuit. SaharaReporters learnt that a group of senators led by Senator Ahmed Lawan immediately rejected the proposal, which would have had them withdrawing a forgery lawsuit they filed against the Deputy Senate President and the outgoing clerk at the Senate who assisted him in forging Senate rules that enabled Mr. Saraki to get elected as President.
Over the course of these three days, the senators also discussed the controversial issue of budget padding, which led President Muhammadu Buhari, when he found suspicious allocations, to reject the budget and call for talks with the Senate leadership.
Senatorial sources disclosed that Senator Danjuma Goje, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, did not show up at the meetings, adding that Mr. Goje was behind the diversion of funds from the Lagos—Calabar Railway to other areas of the budget.
One senator alleged that pro-Saraki senators also used the budgetary padding to garner political support for the embattled Senate President. One source explained that almost every member of the Senate was either a chair or vice-chair of a committee as Mr. Saraki had intentionally increased the number of Senate standing committees from 57 to 70. “The budget was padded in a way that each Committee chairman and vice-chair would receive at least N2 billion in ‘special projects’ while the Senate leadership would get at least N4 billion each in such projects,” one source stated. He added that new Senators who are neither chair or vice chair of committees were each allocated N400 million in special projects.
Our source revealed that many senators were reluctant to dump Mr. Saraki for a new Senate President because such a change would entail the dissolution of committee assignments and the loss of perks as committee chairs.
A civil rights source in Abuja told SaharaReporters that Mr. Saraki had also corrupted some players in the non-government organizations (NGOs). “Many NGOs that campaigned for openness at the National Assembly were themselves co-opted into his [Mr. Saraki’s] inner circle,” the source said. “That’s why several of them have been unable to realize their objective of getting the public to see the details of the opaque budget of the National Assembly. And yet Senator Saraki had pledged to collaborate with these NGOs to bring matters of governance to the public domain.”
Our correspondent learned that, during the final closed-door session, the deputy chair of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Sonni Ugbuoji from Ebonyi South senatorial district, shocked his colleagues by declaring that he was not aware of the details of the budget that his chairperson, Senator Goje, sent to President Buhari for assent. Senator Ekweremadu also disclosed he had not seen the budget breakdown till now. His admission infuriated some Senators, but he hurriedly appealed to them to stay united, pointing to those he called the enemies of the Senate from outside. He then declared the session open and closed to enable some members to join Mr. Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.