By Emmanuel Aziken
The Nigerian Senate is sometimes described as the country’s most exclusive club with strong solidarity often defying partisan and sectional considerations. When senators take a common position on issues concerning their personal interests, woe betide that senator who decides to break ranks.
For the Saraki Senate, no interests could be more important than the political survival of the members of the 8th Senate.
The urbane and strong-willed Senator Ovie Omo-Agege this week got a full dose of that lesson when in an unusual stance, he was forced to make a profuse apology on the Senate floor after breaking ranks.
Senator Omo-Agege had last week joined nine other senators led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu to protest the reorder of the sequence of elections in the Electoral Act. The revised order of elections inputted into the amendment of the Electoral Act had logically put the presidential election as the last to be contested for in a three-phase general election.
While it logically put the presidential election last, the amendment bill, however, illogically put the National Assembly elections as the first. Under the bill, the National Assembly elections are to be followed by the Governorship/State House of Assembly elections and then lastly the presidential election.
The federal legislators also provided for the same sequence for the party primaries.
The federal legislators had justified the amendment as a way of saving the country from the bandwagon effect that normally flows after one party would have won the presidential election. However, tongue in cheek, those supportive of the amendment also assert that it would also check whosoever is president from working against his foes after his election. The order would also put the federal lawmakers outside the control of their state governors.
Given the unfavourable rating of President Muhammadu Buhari in the Senate, it was not surprising for his supporters to see the move as another weapon directed against him. The same Senate has failed to consider the president’s nominations for several executive appointments, in part paralysing several governance actions; notably the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank.
So when the Senate penultimate Wednesday considered the report of the National Assembly Conference Committee on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, and ten senators walked out to protest what they alleged as a conspiracy against Buhari, it was expected that the Senate would respond.
That reaction was not long in coming. On Tuesday the Senate referred Omo-Agege to the Senate Ethics Committee upon claims by Senator Dino Melaye that he had breached his privilege by the claim that the Senate targeted the law against an individual, Buhari.
The following day, Wednesday that retort sharpened further, when the Northern Senators Forum, NSF summarily dismissed one of the ten pro-Buhari senators, Senator Adamu Abdullahi as its leader.
Senator Abdullahi, who served as governor of Nasarawa State between 1999 and 2007 had taken his pro-Buhari proclivities to the extent of lampooning President Olusegun Obasanjo over his call on Buhari to step aside in 2019.
Abdullahi’s stance on Obasanjo was shocking, especially in the degree of his ferocity. Not too long ago, Abdullahi was a regular and enthusiastic backup in the Obasanjo praise choir who fervently supported the third term plot. When Buhari first contested the presidential election in 2003 against Obasanjo, Abdullahi ably delivered Nasarawa to Obasanjo by as much as 65%.
He was conspicuously present when Nasarawa State senators took their position in support of Third Term in May 2006.
What could have been the departing point between Obasanjo and Abdullahi cannot readily be said, and the insinuation in some quarters is the unresolved corruption case leveled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. That, however, is an insinuation which may be true or false.
What is clear is that the Saraki Senate has gone for broke in its determination to make level paths for its members ahead of 2019. Anyone of the club members who breaks ranks would be dealt with irrespective of pedigree.
It is also instructive that on the day the bill was passed that only ten senators could stand with Buhari. With Omo-Agege’s apology and the other nine senators cowering in the face of intimidation, the political permutations for Buhari and his fans are indeed alarming.