For many pundits on the Nigerian political scene – especially the legislature, signs of an anti-climactic end-game for the current Eighth National Assembly, had set in long ago, leaving only the final chapter largely unscripted. However, the country may not need to wait for long as even that phase is now taking shape, courtesy of the politician who usually refers to his initiatives as ‘uncommon’ ventures – Senator Godswill Akpabio. That is if the course of events that took place in the Senate last week is anything to go by. Akpabio had for reasons best known to him, tried to address the Senate from a seat that was not designated for him and was promptly denied recognition to speak by the Senate President Bukola Saraki. Saraki had relied on the Senate Standing Rules to deny Akpabio permission to speak from a wrong seating position, as that would constitute a breach of the extant seating arrangement in the Senate.
The development led to a shouting match between Akpabio’s new found allies in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to which he had recently defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and his former colleagues in the PDP. He had in the course of the gale of defections that hit the Senate before their resumption from their break of July 24th to October 9th 2018, defected from the PDP where he was the Deputy Senate Leader and the leader of the PDP caucus in the Red Chamber. In the process he had also lost his seat as one of the principal officers of the Senate. He had therefore returned from the break with his colleagues this time as a mere floor member, but apparently still bristling with the sense of privilege and airs of one of the ten principal officers of the Senate, as he was earlier.
Little wonder that Akpabio had considered Saraki’s action as an affront against him and followed up with a press conference same day, where he virtually declared a war aimed at unseating the former, in the days to come. At the press conference Akpabio had justified his call for a change of the Senate leadership, as he argued that “ten Senators” cannot “lead 80 other Senators”. Coupled with his earlier resolve to boycott all deliberations on the floor of the chamber until the Senate is ‘properly constituted’, Akpabio could not have put the agenda for Saraki’s sack as Senate President in more discerning words of subterfuge. This is especially so, given his well-honed penchant for deploying the hyperbole in much of his public expressions.
Just as well, he could also have been alluding to the fact that his new political platform the APC, was in the majority with the PDP in the minority. But many see that position as an untimely and presumptuous claim by him, as the relative strengths of the various parties represented in the Senate, remained undetermined as at then. Already the Clerk of the Senate Mr Nelson Ayewoh is working to ensure such dispensation by next week. However even his efforts will depend on information with respect to where each Senator’s loyalty now lies, following the mass criss-crossing of party lines by the Senators.
This column had in its last week’s edition titled “As National Assembly Resumes This Week” (Sunday October 14th 2018), submitted that the switching of political parties by Saraki and Akpabio being principal officers in the Senate, had altered the character of the chamber’s leadership and set in motion an eventual tussle for its restructure. With the new development, that dispensation is now an eventuality, with Akpabio assuming the role of its arrowhead. This is definitely another ‘uncommon’ mission, going by his terms.
It is easily recalled that the Senate of the Eighth National Assembly had for much of its three years in office remained a classic battle ground for the various factors contesting the control of the heartbeat of the nation’s politics. The cascade of twists and turns in the Senate culminated in the mass defections of Senators across party lines, just before and during the last recess, leading to the APC stemming the sweeping defections among its remaining Senators in the party, automatic primary election tickets, enroute their returning to the Senate in next year’s polls. However, the promise of automatic primary tickets was not only to compensate the non-defecting APC beneficiary-Senators, but also included their execution of a hatchet job of removing Saraki as Senate President, as championed by the party’s National Chairman Adams Oshiomole. Akpabio’s actions in the Senate and follow-up press conference easily qualify as the strategic starting point of that ‘Saraki must go’ agenda.
Meanwhile the PDP on its own cannot be expected to remain complacent while its strategic advantage of holding on to the leadership of the upper chamber remains threatened. Hence the least that can be expected from it is a stout response to whatever the APC agenda for the change of the Senate leadership will entail. With the expectation that the Senate chamber will be ‘properly structured’ and Senators seat according to party lines as from next Tuesday, that will also mark the actual kick off of Akpabio’s anticipated change in leadership of the chamber. But that will be if his party the APC gains a majority in numbers. For whichever party that enjoys majority, from that day will jostle for the leadership of the Senate. The battle in the Senate is therefore a game of numbers.
This is also why the submission of the piece of last Sunday earlier referred to, posits that the best days of meaningful legislative enterprise may as well be over for the Senate of the Eighth National Assembly. From now on the country will be fortunate to witness anything better than a vicious partisan contest for the soul of the National Assembly, and by implication the country’s political turf.
Seen in a wider perspective the ongoing face off in the Senate is a continuation of the earlier state of turbulence with which the present Senate was ushered into office as the APC even as a ruling party with majority in the two chambers of the National Assembly was virtually fighting itself, just to ensure that personal interests superseded the national interest. Hence the Senate started with the fight to prevent Bukola Saraki from becoming the President of the Senate. Now, even in its twilight days, the fight against Saraki’s presidency of the Senate is still raging and defining values and positions in the Senate. The only difference is the enlistment of new gladiators in the campaign.
Where this development will lead the country to cannot conduce to the promotion of national interest when the primary motive was to feather the nest of predatory potentates with deep pockets to be stuffed with loot from the public till.