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AFTER MEETING WITH BUHARI: Saraki weighs options!

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•Senate President under pressure to leave APC
•He won’t defect – Ruling party spokesman

President Muhammadu Buhari (right), welcome Senate President Bukola Saraki during the meeting between President Buhari and the Leadership of the National Assembly at the State House, Presidential Villa Abuja . Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Features Editor

Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty, nor safety – Benjamin Franklin, US Founding Father.

Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, is presently facing a two-way pressure on his political future as the Presidency and his loyalists and supporters are tugging him with a view to swaying him in their directions.

And as Benjamin Franklin stated, Saraki, perhaps, is torn between giving up essential principle with a view to purchasing little temporary safety.

But if contemporary political history of Nigeria is anything to go by, he may find himself deserving neither liberty nor safety.

That is the dilemma that confronts Saraki today and it is made worse by the sudden interest being shown by the Presidency to make him stay back in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Sunday Vanguard has discovered that whereas President Muhammadu Buhari, once indifferent to the threat posed by Saraki and his supporters on account of a possible defection from APC, has mandated the leadership of the party, as well as some prominent politicians with sympathy for the party, to prevail on the senator to remain.

Simultaneously, friends and supporters of the Senate President,  including but not limited to some state governors of APC extraction, senators across party lines, House of Representatives members across party lines, as well as some prominent  politicians and associates are also piling their pressure.

PRESIDENT BUHARI LEADS THE CHARGE

In fact, last Thursday’s parley between Saraki, four governors elected on the platform of the APC and  Buhari needed to hold in the light of the suggestion that a mass exodus is set to hit the ruling party this week.

At that meeting, details of which remain sketchy, Sunday Vanguard has been made to understand that certain offers were made to Saraki.

Although the offers are said not to be out of the ordinary,  Aso Rock insiders said that  “the meeting between the President and the Senate President is just one of the necessary moves to further strengthen and stabilise the party.”

But the  only thing they shared in common at the meeting was the desire for political survival and relevance.

It would be recalled that similar meetings had been held between Saraki and other cadre of leadership of the APC, one of which was first, with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and later with the new National Chairman, Adams  Oshiomhole.

Regarded as a deft move from the Presidency, there are doubts if the overtures came with sincerity of purpose capable of altering any calculation in favour of the President and his party.

At the moment, many observers suspect it could lead to the presentation of a poisoned chalice to the Senate President, who is the beautiful bride in the unfolding scenario.Part of Oshiomhole’s brief today is that mass defection would not happen under his watch, therefore, he is also deploying his negotiation skills as a unionist to hold down some aggrieved members of the party.

But a possible success story beckons in Benue State, where Governor Samuel Ortom is being assured of total participation in the activities of the APC in the wake of the seizure of the party machinery in the state from him, and his declaration that he has  “been given a red card”.

PRESSURE  ON SARAKI

Believed to be the arrowhead of the impending mass movement out of the APC,  Saraki, who had been at the receiving end of executive/legislature brinkmanship, is being pressured into leaving by his associates because of the plethora of attacks he was subjected to in the party and from the executive arm.

Irrespective of the Senate President’s famed reputation as a deft politician, the unfolding permutation is unpredictable, just as it comes with both tantalising and possibly bitter consequences.

Either he likes it or not, a difficult choice has to be made between two alternatives. This is where the quality of being politically clairvoyant matters most.

Apart from the capability of defining the 2019 conversation, the end result could as well upend many factors for or against Saraki himself.

Sunday Vanguard found such a   situation a peculiar dilemma given that a number of principles had informed Saraki’s disagreement with the executive.

The values at the centre of the dispute that have characterised his relationship with the executive include separation of powers, inclusiveness and need for constant engagement of all stakeholders.

Till date, Sunday Vanguard can state that they still define the interface between the legislative arm and  the executive in a way that continuously fail to produce the synergy needed to stimulate governance.

As far as many are concerned, because of these principles, the executive designed and effectuated measures to humiliate him, destroy his reputation and political career, expose him to public ridicule, and even deny him of his dues as the number three citizen. Yet, he stood unshaken and unfazed.

Although, there was never a time when it was established that  Buhari personally directed the attacks on Saraki, there are strong indications that he was either indifferent and, therefore,   did not move to stop them until now – the eve of re-election.

Meanwhile, the Senate President garnered sympathy and some supporters who have stood by him. In fact, the way   some of the executive-orchestrated plots against Saraki were often executed, easily attracted sympathy for him across the country – although there were some who still believed and, therefore, insisted that there was nothing out of the ordinary or that it served him right.

Interestingly, the same Presidency, believed to be responsible for the many trials he had endured, is wooing him.

The likes of Senator Nayako,  Speaker Yakubu Dogara,  Barnabas Gemade,  Sen. Danjuma Goje ,  Sen. Suleiman Hunkuyi,  Sen. Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso,  Sen. Adamu Ailero and  Governor Aminu Tambuwal appear set to dump the APC in collaboration with Saraki.

However, the tug from both the Presidency and associates is what has placed Saraki in a near-Cahtch22 situation.

THE DILEMMA

Would Saraki yield to the request of resisting the pressure to quit APC?

This question is fundamental as it summarises the feelings trailing his last meeting with  Buhari.

Multiple sources told Sunday Vanguard that a lot of incentives had been mapped out for the Senate President whose likely defection could lead a critical mass of members out of the APC.

One of the spurs is a pledge of picking the legal cost incurred while his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, lasted.

It will be recalled that Saraki had, in 2016, hired a 66-lawyer defence team led by Kanu Agabi, SAN.   At some point, he was represented by over 100 lawyers.

There are also talks of promises that he will automatically get the Senate Presidency back.

In addition is the promise   that nobody will try to tamper with his dominance of Kwara State politics.

In this kind of political environment where survival comes above any other consideration, the incentives are fabulously tempting.

Now, should he accept?

The decision is his to make, but before doing that, responses are needed to these questions: What has changed?

Has the executive now changed from the one seen to have contempt for the legislature and seeking to emasculate the judiciary?

Is it no longer being seen as not playing inclusive politics?

Has the perception of being antagonistic towards the leadership of the National Assembly changed?

Aso Rock sources said, yesterday, that just as Saraki’s will is being tested,  “those who say the President is merely playing politics to get re-elected fail to understand that the only thing that stands for Mr. President is his integrity”, saying: “He would do as he is promising”.

Truly, only responses to these germane questions can justify any eventual acceptance of the carrot being dangled.

However, Saraki’s supporters   in Kwara State, NASS and across the country, who seem to be fed up with the APC, are not in sync with the development.

To them, it is just a move that seeks to promote the interest of a party that had largely opposed Saraki since 2015.

As far as they are concerned, remaining in APC at the behest of Buhari could end up becoming counterproductive for the Senate President.

Therefore, any last-minute change of mind to stay in the APC would only amount to a political harakiri.

It would also mean that Saraki has ditched many who stood by him through thick and thin. A near-similar situation had played out in the build-up to the 2003 presidential election, when then Vice President Abubakar Atiku accepted not to contest for the presidency because of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s ambition.

That decision, which left supporters like Chief James Ibori and other governors in the lurch, turned out to be a fatal one. And it still haunts Atiku till date despite repeatedly saying that he had no regrets.

In the light of this, the imperativeness of a careful consideration of available options can’t be overemphasised

 

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