By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
ON Monday this week, Bukola Saraki led a team of his closest senate collaborators on a visit to Maiduguri. Any rookie political analyst could have seen through the stage-managed trip, given the near-presidential halo around it, with hands pumping, photo ops with IDPs and a visit to the Shehu of Borno. On Tuesday morning, most newspapers carried a syndicated picture of the ‘august visitor’ waving to the IDPs. Never before in the history of Nigeria’s transition to civil rule since 1999, have we had a senate president determined to seize the public space like Bukola Saraki.
Soon after he controversially snubbed his party to emerge, he began to hold court, receiving visitors, issuing statements and for all intents and purposes, wrestling limelight with Muhammadu Buhari, elected as President, with the executive powers that go with it. But determined to defy the controversy around his emergence, Bukola Saraki is seizing political territory and desperately attempting to control the space of public perception as much as possible.
His ultimate goal remains presidency and he can’t even wait for 2019 before beginning to show his hands. The Maiduguri visit is the first attempt at testing the waters with a toe, and more such visits will come in the near future.
An opened Pandora’s box
But there are serious problems that Bukola Saraki continues confronting from the moment he opened the Pandora’s Box and in a manner of speaking, letting the genie out of the bottle, that morning of June 9th, 2015. He is fighting a battle against public perception because in many quarters in Nigeria, he has not been able to live down the feeling that he betrayed his party.
Bukola Saraki remains defiant and continues to ignore the APC and PMB’s openly expressed preference that APC senators bow to party supremacy; he fills positions with members of his own group, daring the party and PMB to do the worst!
Yet, he is deeply worried that so far, he has not been able to secure an audience with President Muhammadu Buhari. He took desperacy to a ridiculous height on Sallah day; refused to go for prayers in Ilorin, but rushed to Abuja Eid praying ground for a photo opportunity with PMB. He got a short shrift by being publicly ignored! The depth of his despair was made clear in an article published by many newspapers at the weekend, and written by Saraki’s Media Special Adviser, Yusuph Olaniyonu.
Titled “Let the lawmakers move on and work for Nigeria”, Olaniyonu expressing his principal’s troubled mind, stated that: “The President should maintain his earlier position not to get involved in legislative politics…
A way to send the right signal that he is ready to help the National Assembly build on the new found unity is for the President to now OPENLY MEET AND RELATE WITH THE LEADERSHIP OF BOTH CHAMBERS (my emphasis)”. So as is his wont, Bukola Saraki defied the APC, blatantly ignored PMB’s perspective but expects that this issue be resolved in his favour as a fait accompli.
And the fact that he was not allowed on the presidential entourage to the US visit also hurt him deeply and this was expressly stated by Olaniyonu: “We need to put behind us the past experience in which the President travelled to the United States for crucial bi-lateral discussion on several issues without any member of the legislature. That was an opportunity missed to give legislative backing to executive engagements”. But we know better. Angst was being directed at the fact that Bukola Saraki missed the photo-op with President Barack Obama.
It was therefore no surprise, when reports emerged this week that a very worried Bukola Saraki, unable to secure an audience with PMB, was corralling the Emir of Ilorin to service to find every opportunity for him to get to see the president.
There are also relatedly desperate efforts to press other traditional rulers into the same engagement. What should not be lost to Nigerians in all the developments is that while desperate to get a presidential audience, he nevertheless continues to defy the same president and party in respect of the extant problems arising from his demarche on June 9th.
The positions playing out are very complex but there is a consistent pattern. Firstly, for all intents and purposes, Bukola Saraki has finished with the APC. But he will stay in the party for as long as possible to suck into his camp as many members as he can before finally returning to the PDP, where he hopes to become the candidate for the 2019 presidential election. Does this sound farfetched? It does not! Last week, in the wake of the invitation issued to Toyin, Bukola Saraki’s wife by the EFCC, it was revealed that petition acted upon, had been filed by the PDP branch in Kwara state.
What followed next was that the national PDP leadership through Olisah Metuh directed Kwara PDP to disown the petition, because, according to Metuh, they were working for Bukola Saraki’s return to the PDP! It could not be any clearer. And the logic of Bukola Saraki’s defiance of APC and President Muhammadu Buhari, makes it impossible for him to stay inside the APC in the long run. Consumed by his presidential ambition, that logic will lead to a denouement that will eventually arrive, as political events unfold in the next couple of months and years in the country.
Chapter of a personal agenda
When he entered into the agreement that returned Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President, he consciously chose to trade away the Nigerian people’s desire for change on the platform of the APC. He had finished using SAK and the slogan of CHANGE and was now embarking on the next chapter of his own personal agenda for presidency, as early as in 2019. Bukola Saraki and his followers deliberately reduced calls for party supremacy, to Bola Tinubu’s ambition to control everything in the APC. So many of those who used that platform to win positions that they would ordinarily NEVER have, became foot soldiers of Bukola Saraki’s ambition within the APC, especially in the North.
So instead of working to further enhance the North-Southwest alliance, these shortsighted and opportunistic Northern politicians who bought into Bukola Saraki’s anti-Tinubu propaganda endanger PMB’s CHANGE Agenda and willy-nilly, have become as disruptive as Bukola Saraki and are working for his personal agenda NOT the interest of Northern Nigeria or those of our country, in the long run. The vicious propaganda onslaught against Bola Tinubu was actually an onslaught at the individual who played the most vital role in building an alliance with PMB and who together became the champions of a North-Southwest accord that won power for the first time in our nation’s political history.
In the long run, their agenda is really not against Bola Tinubu, but it is just the opening salvo in a targeted onslaught by Bukola Saraki and his political tendency within the APC, against President Muhammadu Buhari. That will come to the fore as we approach 2019!
By getting Ike Ekweremadu into the loop as Deputy Senate President, and contrary to the norms of Senate in respect of ranking, also making Godswill Akpabio Minority leader, Bukola Saraki will claim his political IOU in 2019.
He will posture as having given the Southeast and the South-South recognition and platforms of relevance, when they ordinarily would have lost out in 2015, for voting against the APC and PMB. Secondly, he would calculate that his chances are very bright as PDP’s presidential candidate in 2019, because given the current political reality, the PDP will most likely be obliged to present a Northern candidate to run against PMB.
Appointment of legislative aides
That is why Bukola Saraki has been appointing legislative aides from different parts of the North and beyond who would easily and seamlessly make the transition into becoming his campaign coordinators in different parts of the North and beyond! This is the most logical background that puts his various steps into context: defiance of the party to run against the party’s candidate; entering into an alliance with the PDP, and thus bringing it back into the loop of legislative leadership even when Nigerians had rejected the party at the polls and had expressly accepted the slogan of CHANGE; continuing to make appointments that suit his own personal agenda not those of the party; ignoring President Muhammadu Buhari and doing everything to contest the space of public visibility with PMB and carrying on as if he is an alternative president of Nigeria, based in the senate!
These steps are carefully thought out and that is the way he will continue to act in the lead to 2019! So when the APC leadership insists that the senate leadership toes the party line and PMB appeals to the morality and conscience of the Bukola Saraki group in senate, we can only wonder where their naivety comes from.
There is no moral suasion that will take Bukola Saraki’s eye off the ball of his personal agenda. For him, senate presidency is merely a stepping-stone to Nigeria’s presidency. If they doubt this, they should visit my hometown Ilorin, where this has been regularly drummed into the heads of the local people:”Bukola is not interested in the ‘Number Three’ position; he wants Presidency”! That is the propaganda in Ilorin. So when Bukola Saraki entered Maiduguri this week, he was taking the first tentative step into the very muddy and murky waters on the route to the 2019 presidential elections.
Humanitarian trip for succour
Of course, that was not the way that the trip was presented; on the contrary, it was supposedly a humanitarian trip to give succour to people displaced as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency.
He will lull his opponents to underestimating the essence of his scheming until it becomes too late for them to effectively respond. One of Bukola Saraki’s greatest strengths is a single-minded and ruthless devotion to anything that confers him advantage.
There are very few real politicians on the Nigerian political scene today, but in his total commitment to his personal agendas, no one can trump Bukola Saraki today in Nigerian politics. That is what makes him formidable and a danger at the same time! So when PMB and his advisers analyse the political space, they must reckon with Bukola Saraki’s unrelenting and formidable ambition to become president as soon as 2019.
If they treat that challenge with levity, they would certainly have another thing coming! They will become easy prey for a calculating and politically astute Bukola Saraki!