June 7, 2009

The plots and scandals of the Senate since 1999

By Emmanuel Aziken
THE last ten years of uninterrupted civilian rule have seen the longest stretch of participatory democracy in the country. During this period the country also witnessed what some now regard as the longest running political comedy in the nation’s history.

senatesealIt is the story of political intrigues, scandals, salacious romance and grief.

The fourth Senate of the federal republic was inaugurated at the commencement of the fourth republic by President Olusegun Obasanjo in June 1999. For a country just coming out of military rule with a former military dictator serving as President,  it was not totally surprising that President Obasanjo would seek to assert himself as a dictator on the upper legislative chamber.

The first mark of ill-wind for that Senate was the election of Senator Evan(s) Enwerem as its President. Enwerem was until just days to the general election of February 1999 a top chieftain of the then All Peoples Party (APP). His election as Senate President was masterminded by President Obasanjo using elements of the mainly Yoruba Alliance for Democracy (AD) against the popular choice of Senator Chuba Okadigbo from Anambra State.

Following the 1999 senatorial election and prior to the inauguration of the Senate, Senator_Elect Okadigbo had visited virtually all the Senators_Elect in their constituencies in a quiet campaign to achieve the office of Senate President. Obasanjo who was elected President after the senatorial election, however, had other plans.

Okadigbo who came to public renown in the second republic when he served as Political Adviser to President Shehu Shagari was considered too petulant to be left at the head of the National Assembly by Obasanjo and some of his close associates.

Though Okadigbo had the backing of the overwhelming majority of the Senators of the dominant Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he eventually lost out in the vote on the floor when AD Senators teamed up with a few renegade PDP Senators and APP Senators to foist Enwerem, a former governor of the old Imo State on the Senate as President.

It was alleged that money played a principal incentive for many of the Senators who turned against Okadigbo on Election Day in June 1999.

That election was to signpost the instability that was to characterize the Senate and nay, National Assembly for the eight years Obasanjo served as President.

Enwerem also did not help matters as he overtly demonstrated his allegiance to President Obasanjo before the Senators.

He made himself a visible presence in the public affairs of the President even when he was not required.

The first major scandal of the fourth republic was the controversy over the name of the Senate President. Tell Magazine in one of its August 1999 editions had alleged that the Senate President had altered his personal records or name in the very first certificate scandal to rock the Senate.

By November 1999 Senators were apparently fed up with their presiding officer who was hardly around to preside over the affairs of the Senate on account of his unquestioning devotions to President Obasanjo. One November afternoon as Enwerem followed the presidential entourage to the airport to see him off to yet another foreign trip, a group of Senators led by Senator Khairat Abdulrazaq (PDP, FCT) mobilized signatures to sack Enwerem.

As the presidential plane lifted up the deed was done and Obasanjo returned to the country to meet a new Senate President in the person of his foe, Okadigbo.

Okadigbo brought panache and dignity to the office of Senate President. His verbosity combined seamlessly with his Ibo cultural inclinations to give the office of Senate President the kind of elegance that was lacking in the Enwerem Senate. He was famously hailed as Oyi, after his traditional title of Oyi of Oyi in Anambra State.

In his stride, a sort of arrogance quietly sipped into Okadigbo and very soon, a sizeable number of the about 90 Senators who voted him into office began to express disquiet on the dictatorship in the chamber.

The anti_Okadigbo Senators met repeatedly in sometimes all night sessions at the NICON Hotel plotting strategies on how they would impeach the Oyi. Among the group’s principal coordinators was the former Niger State military governor and Communications Minister, Senator David Mark. Regular attendees at the meetings of the group otherwise referred to as the NICON group were Senator Anyim Pius Anyim who until a year or so before his ascent to the Senate was a middle level civil servant and the former “diplomat”, Senator Adolphus Wabara.

Okadigbo’s troubles in office were also fueled by agents of the President in the Senate chamber who were themselves interested in feathering their nests from his woes. Money in Ghana Must Go bags reportedly flowed in the support of the anti-Okadigbo cause.

Many other Senators were also inspired by their state governors who apparently were working to please Obasanjo.

South- East Senators who pitched tent against Okadigbo were, however, motivated more by the lure of office of Senate President.

Along the way real and imaginary allegations against the Okadigbo leadership began to erupt within the chambers and from there to the media.

In the end, it was the series of contracts entered into by his immediate predecessor, Senator Enwerem but executed during his stewardship that entangled him.

The Senate acting upon allegations of the wrongful award of 44 contracts constituted the Senator Idris Kuta led panel to investigate the allegations. The panel remarkably full of Senators known to have anti_Okadigbo inclinations commenced deliberations in late July 2000. At the end, it returned a damning verdict against Okadigbo.

Okadigbo’s wily deputy Senator Abubakar Haruna who also served as deputy to Enwerem tried to force Okadigbo out of office when he resigned from office on August 8, 2000. But Okadigbo was unrelenting and not even persuasions from some of his closest political allies who were abandoning him on the need to save the image of the institution could compel him to resign.

That night, August 8, 2000, Okadigbo was voted out during a session presided over by the Rivers born Senator, John Azuta Mbata who acted as President Pro Tempore during the deliberations on the report of the Kuta panel.

With Okadigbo out Senators now turned on the equally significant duty of electing a successor. Virtually all Senators of the PDP from the South-East to which the office was zoned under the PDP arrangement offered themselves for election.

Among the leading candidates were Senators Wabara, Anyim, Ifeanyi Ararume, Jim Nwobodo and Ike Nwachukwu.

After weighing the options the presidency was said to have chosen Wabara who went to the ballot against Anyim, Nwobodo and Nwachukwu.

With the PDP now under Obasanjo’s firm grip, it was resolved that the PDP caucus hold a shadow election to present one of its own to be confirmed on the floor of the Senate instead of an all comers affair that would have produced the likelihood of another Okadigbo emerging as Senate President.

In the vote of the party caucus on August 9, 2000 Anyim emerged top ahead of Wabara and Nwobodo and Nwachukwu,

It was humble pie for Nwachukwu who as a Military General of the old Imo State established the Imo State University where Anyim trained as a lawyer.

Anyim’s election was facilitated by the remnant of the Okadigbo group who even in defeat were the majority in the PDP caucus. The impetus of the group was to stop the election of Wabara who was seen then as a lackey of Obasanjo.

The 1999 Senate was undoubtedly the richest in terms of substance and political imaginations. Among that class was the late Senator Idris Abubakar,  the erudite and resourceful parliamentarian hailed by Senator Okadigbo as the Cicero of the Senate.

Senator Idris Abubakar who died in 2002 just after preparing the groundwork for a possible impeachment action against President Obasanjo is described by many parliamentarian observers as possibly the best legislator to have graced the Senate since 1999.

Other principal actors of the 1999 Senate included: Ike Nwachukwu who articulated one of the best bills to have been presented in his time, the budget impoundment bill which would have compelled the compulsory implementation of budgets as passed by the National Assembly. After praising the bill as a very good bill, the Senate however, killed it allegedly on the orders of the presidency.

JKN Waku – remembered for his bombastic declarations against Obasanjo allegedly telling a national magazine “We want coup now”.

Azuta Mbata- the master strategist remembered for his role in upstaging Okadigbo but subsequently fell out with Anyim. The insurance expert was humbled when he was made vice_chairman of the Senate committee on Insurance with Waku as chairman.

Late Mamman Ali- remembered for his unending schemes.

Late Idris Kuta: Headed the committee that sentenced Okadigbo.

Kassim Isa Oyofo: A powerful voice who headed the committee that reviewed the Idris Kuta report.

Professor Osehreinmen Osunbor: He is remembered for his erudite interpretation of the law. He was also known as Chief Anenih’s man in the Senate.

Roland Owie: He was not just Okadigbo’s man and an active player in the politics of the Senate, Owie was a man who conveyed the wealth of Bini culture through his abundance of Bini proverbs.

The trio of Oyofo, Osunbor and Owie (The three Os) gave Edo State its best representation in the Senate ever.

Femi Okurunmu: Was the technical adviser of the Afenifere lobby in the Senate.

Usman Albashir: The big grandee of the opposition whose wealth and patronage influenced the actions of several Senators.

Udoma Udo Udoma: Noted for lacing intellectual discipline with real politics.

The Wabara Senate

After four years of near continuous plotting Senator Wabara was unanimously elected as President of the Senate at the beginning of the fifth Senate in June 2003.

The majority of Senators elected into that Senate were obviously those who were in the good books of the President and the governors he allowed to come back. So, it was not difficult to believe that the Wabara Senate was crafted to fit Obasanjo’s image and desires.

It was instructive that Obasanjo in his first appearance before the National Assembly after the inauguration was to warn that he would not tolerate what he described as the excesses that characterized his dealings with the National Assembly in his first term.

While the Wabara Senate did not dare Obasanjo directly,  it, however, showed some remarkable knack in tackling some of his aides and notably the erstwhile Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir El_Rufai.

The Wabara Senate was tested by two crises. The first crisis in March 2004 arose from alleged disproportionate sharing of Senate allowances and alleged contract scams including some contract deals signed on Christmas day in 2003.

The crisis shook the Senate President who was in Mexico for the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference. Wabara believing that with Obasanjo’s support that nothing could happen to him was said to have first waved away the insurrection but rushed home on the confirmation that Senator David Mark who was leading the uprising had already mobilized 86 Senators into his camp.

Wabara was saved by the pleas of Chief Tony Anenih and Governor Peter Odili who stepped in to douse the tension. There were unconfirmed reports that the agitation was also suppressed by some hefty payments made to the agitating Senators.

The second attempt on Wabara, was, however, more ingeniously crafted by his political enemies.

Senators from the South-East interested in his position a year after the 2004 rebellion lured him into aspiring for the presidency during a meeting he hosted for them in his Ohambele, Abia State country home in February 2005.

At the end of the reception for the Senators, the Igbo Senators were said to have agreed that there was nobody better positioned than Wabara in the South-East to aspire for the presidency in 2007. An appreciative Wabara was said to have seen off the Senators with enough “fuel” and Nzeribe was said to have played a very crucial role in the meeting.

But it is still to be confirmed whether it was Nzeribe or one of the other ambitious Senators from the Southeast that revealed what was alleged to be “Wabara’s” 2007 plan to the presidential villa.

An enraged villa which was by then still working on the third term project quickly moved against Wabara with the live television broadcast of the N55 million education bribe for budget scam.

What the David Mark insurgency could not do in March 2004 became easily achievable as Wabara was forced to resign from office on April 5, 2005.

Senator Ken Nnamani stepped in and brought a stability to the Senate that was unheralded since the advent of the fourth republic. Senator Nnamani’s confidence was boosted by his famed adherence to the rules which came to national acclaim during the constitution review exercise.

The Senate and nay, the National Assembly was rocked by allegations of the inducement of each willing Senator to the tune of N50 million for supporting third term.

On May 16, 2006 after months of suspense and debate on the proposed constitution amendment the Senate killed the third term plans of the President.

Third term was the defining moment of the Nnamani Senate and positioned its presiding officer for a higher office. However, Nnamani in a Christmas dinner for journalists at the Apo Mansion in December, 2006 confessed that he had come to a bus_stop in his political adventure. Not only was he scorned by the PDP national leadership, he was also seen as a rebel by the Ebeano political machine upon whose platform he came to the Senate.

The Nnamani Senate also had its own probes. The Senate investigations into the affairs of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) is unarguably the most memorable. For the first time in the history of the fourth republic, a sitting Vice_President appeared before a Senate committee to give testimony on matters of corruption affecting the highest personalities in the executive branch of government. Atiku Abubakar was then involved in a mutual war of destruction with President Obasanjo. The president did not appear but forwarded a memo to the committee.

The Mark Senate

The sixth Senate was inaugurated on June 5, 2007. Days before the inauguration Obasanjo using his Man Friday, Tony Anenih had presented Senator David  Mark and Ike Ekweremadu as the party’s chosen candidates for Senate President and deputy Senate President.

But as Obasanjo exited office on May 29, 2007 loyalties changed easily and outgoing leaders of the fifth Senate, allegedly prevailed on President Yar‘Adua to alter the decisions.

Whether Yar‘Adua agreed to their submission or not cannot be confirmed but Anenih who presided over the meeting where Mark was anointed days earlier allegedly moved to oppose Mark and embraced the candidature of the immediate past governor of Benue State, Senator_Elect, George Akume.

A measure of the stability of the present Senate is seen by the reckless with abandon Senator Mark attends to his game of golf. While his predecessors would after every sitting day head to refresh strategies to keep adversaries away, Mark, however, takes his time off to play his golf.