Saraki and APC’s seething cauldron

It was clear from the beginning that the All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders were deeply suspicious of Senator Bukola Saraki, and were unwilling to have him elected as the Senate President of the 8th Senate. He had been Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governor of Kwara State, a defector among many others, including five sitting governors, to the APC since 2013, and one-term senator. He worked hard for his new party, risked so much, and together with scores of APC leaders and bulwarks, secured sweet victory against the prematurely ageing and considerably conceited PDP. In a party of some 60 senators, 210 Representatives, and 22 governors, he had a following that could not be ignored, and a presence that transcended but unfortunately divided his new party. To many party faithful, leaders and the wider public, it was inconceivable that a few APC leaders, essentially ensconced in the party’s headquarters, could seek to elbow Senator Saraki out of the senate leadership race.

The distrust for him was, however, deep, though constricted. Without saying it, his opponents thought him excessively ambitious, unprincipled, amoral, ruthless, and without filial — whether of party or family — loyalty. Before and during his brief campaign for the senate presidency, he was accused of bringing every vice in his being into the service of that ruthless ambition. He disagreed. He believed he had a right to be ambitious, and in particular to aspire to the leadership of the senate. He saw nothing deeply offensive about being Machiavellian, for in his estimation, no one approaches the goals of power and office with the squeamish diffidence of a neophyte. As a veteran of many political wars with an eye permanently fixed for the main chance, he intuitively understands the need for strong-arm tactics. But in executing his plans for the senate leadership, he inadvertently but remorselessly justified the fears and suspicion of the party leadership.

The party had conducted a mock election to present consensus candidates for the National Assembly (NASS) leadership, to wit, Senator Ahmed Lawan and Representative Femi Gbajabiamila. That consensus, from which Senator Saraki and his counterpart in the lower chamber, Yakubu Dogara, from Bauchi State dissociated themselves, woefully failed to fly in the face of what many uncritical members of the public regarded as the APC’s distasteful attempt to circumscribe the tenets of democracy. The consensus, they said, was either undemocratic, unrepresentative, or that it dangerously impugned the virtues of fairness and equity. Senator Saraki represented a solid group of PDP defectors in the APC, and that group was in danger of being short-changed. Worse, they argued, rather than view the party consensus as a real consensus, it was in fact a consensus engineered by Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the party leader accused of being both a control freak and power monger.

Even though he and his group were invited to all APC meetings where the consensus was to be built, Senator Saraki was smart enough to recognise that the party leadership was suspicious of him. He rightly gauged that the leaders had no intention of giving him the ticket. He therefore took his destiny in his own hands and planned his war. He discountenanced his party’s change mantra and deployed all the old tactics the PDP was famous for to build a devastating coalition. He coaxed and cajoled legislators and reporters, and adopted scaremongering tactics.  No one could quote him directly on some of the stories that inundated mainstream and social media, but the suggestion came from his bivouac that Asiwaju Tinubu was deliberately and malevolently running rings round President Muhammadu Buhari, after virtually installing many other party leaders and popularly elected officials. No one in the party should have so much power concentrated in his hands, they concluded.

The consequences of these campaigns were that Senator Saraki upped the ante, played Senators Ali Ndume and Ike Ekweremadu against each other, negotiated his party’s clear victory away by supporting a PDP senator for the position of deputy senate president, and seized upon the APC’s momentary lapse of concentration to engineer an election in which more than 50 senators were away at a botched meeting with the president. There were indications he could still have won had he and his backers, most of them snickering PDP ranking senators, allowed polling to proceed honourably. But citing legalistic reasons, and feigning ignorance of the meeting called by the party with the president, Senator Saraki stole behind his opponents and dealt them a death blow. The style, not to say the motive, rankled against the new philosophy the APC sold to the electorate during electioneering. But Senator Saraki justified his methods as completely legal, and even moral, for his opponents also deployed underhand methods to disenfranchise him.

It is not certain what the APC can do to remedy the problem or assuage the deep public embarrassment and humiliation it faced with Senator Saraki’s election. The party’s leaders have, however, finally reconciled themselves to his victory. But, in a perverse way, given the style, method and the structure of Senator Saraki’s victory, the APC leaders’ opposition to him was comprehensively justified. It is not easy to defy your party, but he did it robustly. In addition, he struck a deal with the opposition PDP, undermined his own party, and vitiated its March and April polls victory. He underscored what APC leaders probably feared most: that Senator Saraki was definitely not sufficiently APC, and could not be trusted to lead the party’s policy and ideological charge in the senate or elsewhere, notwithstanding his contributions. There was no emotional commitment between him and his new party other than as a vehicle for achieving political goals, they insinuated. Though he scorned the idea of returning to the PDP, as some have speculated he might do soon, it is all but clear he remains indistinguishable from his former party. He may not defect; but he is not in love either. As every family knows, there is no marriage as sterile as one in which a spouse is emotionally indifferent.

Senator Saraki is not only capable, as he has shown, of brutally hurting party relationships over what he described as unjustifiable wrong done him, his election and the cohabitation he has consummated with the PDP will inordinately complicate the task of building the APC into a left-of-centre organisation with clear, progressive and enduring philosophy. His style is idiosyncratically PDP. He is, therefore, inured to the PDP’s vices, shenanigans and deplorable style. In any relationship he strikes, Senator Saraki will most probably insist on his own way, no matter the cost. But more humiliatingly for the APC, its failure to enthrone its candidates will considerably weaken it as a party, structurally and morally, and make it almost redundant. It is so weak now that rather than any of the coalition of victors in the NASS leadership contest defecting to another party, the possibility of seizing control of the party at a later date is even much more likely. To all intents and purposes, the APC is now either asphyxiating or already apoplectic.

The party will have to fight scrupulously and cleverly to reclaim respect and impose discipline. If they push too hard, they could self-destruct. And if they approach the grave challenges facing them so early in the day lackadaisically, the party could become inconsequential. It is even harder to understand why some notable party leaders were not sensitive to the deeply nuanced politics of the NASS elections. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, probably because of his ambition for 2019, has thrown in his lot unreflectively with Senator Saraki. He is himself not the most principled politician around, given his capriciousness and flighty political dalliances. He has built a reputation for unpredictability to the point that every scintilla of presidential character in him seems irretrievably lost. Surprisingly too, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, whom many, including this column, had touted as a future president, was disappointingly unable to appreciate the nuances and implications of the Saraki revolt, and had indeed even celebrated the comprehensiveness of his party’s humiliation in both legislative chambers, humiliations he regarded as triumphs.

President Buhari may have his misgivings about the role the party attempted to play in the NASS elections, especially in view of his conviction that the legislature should be completely independent. Nor, is it clear how much he is bothered by insinuations of the role and influence Asiwaju Tinubu is alleged to be amassing to himself. But so far, neither the president nor Alhaji Atiku, nor still Mallam Tambuwal, has demonstrated deep understanding of what their party should be, and how it should be run, not to talk of the power and influence it should command. If they understand that without the party, their positions and ambitions could suffer constant reverses, none of them has shown it. Indeed, it is not even clear where analysts got the impression that it is wrong for either the president or the party to show interest in who become NASS leaders. Nor is it clear where they adapted their theory of complete legislative independence. The president in particular has been misadvised on the legislature, especially the relationship between the presidency and the lawmakers. It is certainly not undemocratic for him to be interested in who lead NASS, or have friends and supporters in both chambers. More, he should be interested in NASS leaders whom he can described as passionate party men and loyalists, those who can help give a concrete feel to his ideas and visions of the country.

President Buhari may be seeking to burnish his suspect democratic credentials by bending over backwards to allow democracy to take root in all the branches of and arms of government. But the country still needs a strong president, one who has definite and visionary ideas of what to do, how to do them, and when. Those who have the president’s ears must nudge him to open up to edifying power groups across the country rather than inadvertently sequester himself in the captive hands of eloquent, sinister and capricious politicians and governors. He should have studied the implication of a Saraki senate before deciding on non-interference. Senator Saraki’s campaign style was so open, so disavowing of everything the APC stands for, and so pregnant with gloomy forebodings that they recommend themselves for the president’s determined, even if subtle, countervailing moves. His refusal to intervene, not to add his reluctance to inaugurate the 8th NASS, spoke more to his incomplete understanding of democratic precepts than his salutary regard for democratic norms and an independent legislature. Even his statement after the NASS elections neither captured the tragic undertones of those elections nor gave a clue as to just how forceful, prescient and powerful he hoped to be as president.

Senator Saraki’s campaign style and controversial election have given fillip to a weak and struggling PDP. He exhumed them, and gave them life. He also surrounded his campaign with men like Dino Melaye, a politician so enamoured of injustice and undemocratic practices that he poisons everything he touches. The PDP, which should strive to redefine itself, and especially the ideas it hopes to project in the next few years, has instead been given a soft landing and leeway to take a shot at the presidency in 2019. The APC has not really and fully defined itself. The PDP’s unprecedented involvement in the leadership of the NASS will complicate APC’s journey of discovery and definition. What is clear now in NASS is the triumph of a group dedicated to conservative approach to politics, society and economy. Because the NASS elections witnessed dangerous compromises, APC will be compelled to tread softly and slowly, if not emptied of its soul and inner core.

The NASS elections also indicate that the APC has not found the formula to grapple with the inchoate ideas, controversial standards and acute restiveness of the party’s Young Turks, many of whom resent party discipline and control, and don’t get along very well with party leaders. Senator Saraki’s election in particular has left a deep wound in the party that will be difficult to treat. APC leaders must therefore adopt more imaginative consensual and inclusive political tactics to cater to the needs of the many groups in the party. But perhaps the frictions and fractures displayed so early in the day will help the party to moderate its methods and find more ingenious ways of communicating its nuanced march into the future. If this is not done forcefully and soon, the PDP, which has found the APC’s fault lines, will exploit the situation desperately and ruthlessly.

Nigerian democracy lacks depth, direction and quality. The APC was expected to be the tool to recalibrate these standards. In view of what happened last Tuesday, especially how some analysts erroneously thought the results of the NASS leadership elections bode well both for democracy and diffusion of power, Nigeria still has a long way to go. That journey cannot be helped by Senator Saraki’s victory, let alone his style and ambition, which come at the expense of his party. Sadly for the APC, it seems that only a few of its members really appreciate what the country is up against and how it should transcend the self-inflicted problems of a poorly drafted constitution, national redefinition, and national rebirth. The problem is enormous. Given the fractious coalition that gave APC victory in the general elections, not to talk of the anticipated clash of egos in the party, that problem will be with us far longer than we fear.

The post Saraki and APC’s seething cauldron appeared first on The Nation.

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