By Rotimi Fasan
THE ongoing struggle for the control of the National Assembly and by extension Nigeria’s political space by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is not about ending even when the 2019 elections are still many months away. At present, the battle between the two leading parties is playing out mostly among the country’s legislators in the national and state assemblies. Things took a dramatic turn last week when operatives of the Department of State Security, DSS, took over entrance to the National Assembly in a move the PDP and especially, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, has interpreted as an attempt to unseat him as the leader of the Nigerian senate.
Even while the blockade by the DSS affected both chambers of the National Assembly and PDP legislators were the only people around at the National Assembly while their APC counterparts were nowhere to be found, Saraki and his supporters were still able to sell their side of the yet- unfolding story to Nigerians that the President of the Senate was the target of the botched attempt at legislative coup.
The actual origin of the order to prevent legislators, who had in fact been on recess, from accessing the National Assembly, is still a matter of speculation. The only thing clear is that Lawal Daura, until last week Director General of the DSS, who had become notorious for taking series of highly controversial actions that bordered on misuse of power ordered the blockade. For this he was made to bite the dust and summarily given the booth by the Acting Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who issued a strong statement condemning the action of the DSS. But many Nigerians still believe that the order to take over control of the National Assembly must have come from someone or a group higher up than the office of the erstwhile DG of the DSS. This is where fingers are being pointed at Saraki who is supposedly very close to Daura and seems a past master of intrigues.
Saraki in recent times indeed seems to have become very adept at dictating the direction of information flow, a skill that allows him to preempt and keep a few steps ahead of his adversaries. One could look farther back to see how Saraki has employed this skill to the utter embarrassment of his adversaries. Witness the manner he outsmarted his own father in the family struggle to control Kwara politics that played out as a face-off between the older man and his son with regards to whose camp the governor of the state emerged from. Bukola cashiered his father from politics and ensured his younger sister lost the battle for the governorship as he did for the leaders of the APC who in 2015 wanted different people as leaders of the National Assembly. While the APC leaders were elsewhere holding a meeting, Bukola was being installed as President of the Senate by his cohorts.
More recently he succeeded in sneaking into the Senate chamber while the whole world was made to believe that his house was under blockade by the police. How a man who was supposedly under house arrest was able to beat the security ring around him and eventually made it to the Senate where he read out a long list of defectors from the APC to the PDP is a mystery only he and his close supporters can explain. The escapades of Dino Melaye, a staunch supporter of the President of the Senate, would appear to be an amateurish copy taken from Saraki’s play book.
All said there appears to be a pattern to the way and manner Saraki has outsmarted his adversaries and manipulated information around his activities of late. He must be having many belly laughs at the expense of Nigerians. Adams Oshiomole may have seen through Saraki, understood his strategy and is determined to break it. This is why the fight between the APC and the PDP is fast turning out like a straight fight between Oshiomole and the Senate leader.
Oshiomole’s own strategy is to take Saraki headlong by calling out his every move after all attempts to make him remain in the APC failed. He is making it clear that as the new sheriff in town he would brook no challenge from any quarter among party members who fall out of line including those who decided to leave the party while holding on to positions they held as members of the APC. Insisting on APC’s numerical superiority in the National Assembly, he wants all party positions returned to members of the party. As a former labour union man, Oshiomole is bringing the ruggedness that came from many years of fighting in the pit into party politics and is proving a formidable opponent. More than Lai Muhammed or anybody else, he is for now the mouthpiece of the APC and he seeks to portray Saraki as a politician whose every action is motivated by self interest.
He attempted a roll-back of Saraki’s claims during the press conference the latter gave following the DSS action at the National Assembly. He countered Saraki, almost claim by claim, in his own press conference that was a clear response to the one addressed by the Senate leader. He is equally promising to take the battle to Saraki’s political base in Kwara where the hold of the Saraki family over Kwara politics would be broken. His claims are strong enough to elicit responses from Saraki’s camp where his remark that Buhari is more popular than Bukola Saraki going by statistics from the 2015 election has been countered.
In this era of fake news and alternative facts it is difficult to know who to believe. It’s not clear for example which party has the greater number of legislators in the National Assembly with both APC and PDP making self-serving claims. But APC has been increasing its tally following its victory in last weekend’s bye-election in Kogi, Katsina and Bauchi states. This means additional concern for the PDP as it compounds Saraki’s leadership claims.
Adams Oshiomole may be proving an effective opponent against Bukola Saraki but his position is somewhat flawed and made difficult given the position taken by the APC in past cases of defection from other parties to their fold. Then the defectors held on to their positions (Aminu Tambuwal is a case in point), were not forced to seek fresh mandates from their constituents nor is it totally unheard of that a member of a party in the minority held a position of leadership as the Saraki camp has shown with their example of Ume Ezeoke from the Second Republic. What this all tells us is that our politicians are not trustworthy and Nigerians must be vigilant.