Senate defiance: Challenge before President Muhammadu, by Financial Times

President Muhammadu Buhari, faced the first political storm since his inauguration on May 29 when both the Senate and House of Representatives elected leaders on Tuesday in defiance of the ruling All Progressives Congress’ (APC) choice candidates.

The vote for the nation’s number three and four positions followed weeks of festering division among newly elected legislators and officials within the APC and came as politicians jostle for influence over appointments to the new government.

The 72-year-old former military ruler became the first opposition candidate in Nigeria’s history to unseat a sitting president in March 28 election, after pledging to stamp out corruption, spread wealth more evenly and defeat Boko Haram insurgents.

Since his inauguration, he has been under pressure to take decisive action in his first weeks in office to head off the effects of the oil shock.

 The fall in the prices of crude at the international market  has left state coffers depleted, fuel in short supply and the incoming government facing up to $20 billion of short-term liabilities, including salary arrears, according to a draft action plan for the president’s first months in office seen by the Financial Times.

President Buhari must quickly determine whether to maintain multibillion-dollar fuel subsidies that the state can no longer sustain, or remove them and potentially stir popular unrest, the document advises.

But tension between newly elected legislators and APC officials have raised concern within the business community of a drawn-out process for approving cabinet appointments, which could in turn, delay action on the fiscal front.

Bukola Saraki, a former Kwara State governor, flamboyant and at times a controversial force in the Nigerian politics, was elected as Senate President by just over half the chamber, with the majority of his support coming from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), from which he defected only 18 months ago.

The APC’s preferred candidates for the Senate presidency Ahmed Lawan and Deputy Senate presidency, George Akume, were not even presented for the vote because they were at a party meeting summoned at the International Conference Centre (ICC) by the APC leadership.

APC officials and advisers to President Buhari were still trying to make sense of the setback late on Tuesday. However, they played down its significance, pointing out that the President had remained studiously neutral and had pledged to work with whoever came out on top.

“The Senate has chosen their own person. That doesn’t mean they will oppose everything. It is something to celebrate. We are coming of age — we have proved we can change a sitting government, we can also allow the Senate to make its own choices. This is the separation of powers at work,” a close adviser to the president told the Financial Times.

Other political insiders pointed out that President Buhari’s ability to press forward with reform will be determined in part by his relations with members of the Senate and House of Assembly, where voting also went against the APC hierarchy’s choice.

The action plan for the president’s first months in office was drafted by an APC transition team with the help of consultants KPMG, and makes priorities of short-term remedies for electricity blackouts, fuel shortages and salary arrears.

 It also suggests that a new government will move quickly to plug leakages at the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

Under former President Goodluck Jonathan, these allegedly cost the treasury billions of dollars in potential savings against an eventual fall in the price of oil, on which the state depends for about two-thirds of earnings.

President Buhari returned from meeting G7 leaders in Germany on Monday, having won international commitments to support his government in the fight against insurgents who stepped up a campaign of suicide bombings in his first days in office.

The post Senate defiance: Challenge before President Muhammadu, by Financial Times appeared first on The Nation.

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