By ANIEBO NWAMU —
As I was driving past the International Conference Centre in Abuja, last Tuesday, the presence of security operatives at every corner suggested that a meeting of important dignitaries was going on there. Just then, I remembered an announcement I had heard the previous day on radio and television: that President Muhammadu Buhari would meet with all elected APC members of the National Assembly. When I turned on my car radio, however, I became confused. Inauguration of the 8th NASS was going on at the same time. I checked the time; it was 10:10am. There goes the Fourth Republic, I muttered in my office an hour later, as we watched the election of NASS leaders on television.
The events of Tuesday, June 9, were a thriller as they were a coup. Information I’ve pieced together since then shows that the coup makers all had their eyes on 2019. All those that gathered on the floor of the Senate that Tuesday – 57 senators-elect, the clerk of the National Assembly, the State Security Service officials and other security agents – were aware that the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, 51 senators-elect and leaders of the ruling APC were supposed to be meeting at the ICC, less than 1km from Three Arms Zone. Yet, they all agreed to go into the election of the Senate’s leaders without considering the threat to peace and other security implications involved. No iota of respect for the president. No concern about the “missing” 51 senators-elect. And the often-overzealous security agents looked away as a massive security threat was being orchestrated. What else is a coup?
I wonder who will save Nigeria from its politicians. And I’m referring to both civilian politicians and military politicians. Coup-plotting used to be the pastime of armed men in military uniform. Now, the worry is that civilian politicians have taken the art of coup-making to dangerous heights. I fear for our new president who would be inviting the beneficiaries of Tuesday’s coup to breakfast. He pledged to not interfere in the affairs of the legislature, but did he also pledge to eat whatever is prepared for him in the kitchen of the NASS? It was this kind of nonchalant attitude that led to the overthrow of his government almost 30 years ago. He knew that people were planning to topple him, yet he did nothing to stop them.
Clearly, President Buhari is not the typical Nigerian politician. He should quickly get, or start listening to, good political advisers. If he continued this way, then, it’s goodbye to change and to the anti-corruption war. The politicians are likely to frustrate him and perhaps force him to do one term only. Then, the coast would be clear for a grand battle for 2019.
The aim of those who led the thriller of Tuesday is clear: In 2019, one of them is likely to run for president either on the platform of the APC or the PDP. He could use the NASS to make Buhari unpopular and then challenge him at the APC primaries; and, if he failed to clinch the party’s ticket, he would move back to a “new” PDP and seek the ticket. Moreover, as the calculation goes, if Buhari declined to go for a second term, the party (APC) would be all his, because he would easily defeat the vice president or any other contestant from the south-west in the primaries. The leader of the other faction in the APC, I gathered, seeks to put the structure of the ruling party in his armpit, and then be in a position to determine Buhari’s successor in future. Ensuring good governance or the interest of suffering Nigerians appears to be the least of either person’s ambitions.
After the thriller of Tuesday, we should prepare to watch the politicians as they waste the next four years quarrelling. In the next few days, the leadership of the APC could do battle with the other camp whose members have been congratulating the winners of the Senate and House positions. Restoration of party supremacy could take the form of suspension of the eight APC senators who took part in the “unanimous” election of the Senate president and traded off the deputy Senate president (DSP) position to the opposition PDP while 51 of their colleagues were not present. The civil servants in the NASS should lose their jobs, as should some security agents, for disrespecting the office of president and undermining democracy.
Those who argue that the APC has been paid in its own coin (for allowing former speaker Tambuwal to remain in office after defecting from the PDP to the APC in December) miss the point. The PDP senators at the time did not attempt to stop Tambuwal nor did the APC go to court to counter any such move. Besides, two wrongs do not make a right.
If the senators had done the right thing on Tuesday (by waiting for the 51 APC senators before electing their leaders), likely Bukola Saraki would have still won by 57 votes to 51 for Ahmad Lawan. A similar scenario played out in the House of Reps where Femi Gbajabiamila lost to Yakubu Dogara by 174 votes to 182. The eight APC renegades would have received a lighter punishment – perhaps a warning – for going against the party that had selected its candidates in a mock election three days earlier. But the nomination of Ike Ekweremadu of the PDP for DSP couldn’t have been tolerated. Was it not David Mark that swore beforehand that his party would not field any candidate for the Senate leadership? Didn’t the PDP state that it would respect the convention of letting the majority party occupy leadership positions in the legislature?
In this space last week, I opined that the south-east or south-south should produce the speaker of the House since there are three APC reps from Imo State. Taking the DSP position to the south-east – and to an opposition party member – has not solved the issue of marginalising the third tripod in the Nigerian project. Unless that wrong is redressed, it would be interesting to watch PMB (who belongs to everybody and to nobody) sit at table with Ekweremadu as he discussed (in advance) an important bill meant for the National Assembly. We are watching to see how PMB would strengthen the anti-graft agencies through an executive bill to be forwarded to the same people the agencies are supposed to go after.
Already, the character of the new Senate has started manifesting: One of the beneficiaries of the Tuesday coup was said to have avoided a meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo penultimate Thursday on the excuse that he (Prof. Osinbajo) was a commissioner when he was a governor. See the early signs of power drunkenness?
Nobody prays for the re-introduction of the banana peels seen in the Senate during the Obasanjo era. For the sake of peace, however, all the principal officers elected last Tuesday should step down for a proper election when the Senate resumes on June 23. Annulment of the elections – like what happened on that date in 1993 – is what will ensure peace in the legislature.
In the past 16 years, the legislature has guzzled incredible trillions of naira without achieving much at the federal, state or local level. But those the people have elected to lead them should work for the people. Nigerian taxpayers have been overfed with politics of bitterness.