The Sun News

National Assembly changes gear

The shift in the politics of the National Assembly is familiar. It rhymes and resonates with the way we are. For those who really know Nigeria, the present rapprochement between the Executive and the Legislature has been in the works. It was being expected. The president and the leadership of the National Assembly ought to have found a common ground long before now. It was long in coming. But the yawning gap has finally been closed. The delayed consensus has been achieved. The new soundbite that Nigerians are being entertained with is that President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly led by Senator Bukola Saraki are now one and the same thing. They are attitudinising with each other. The cat and mouse relationship has been blown away by the winds.

Before now, there was a bone of contention. Bukola, a scion of the Saraki political dynasty in Kwara State, had emerged as the President of the Senate. His emergence was not in line with what the supposed owners of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) wanted. The national leader of the party and former governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, was stoutly opposed to Saraki’s emergence as the President of the Senate. The APC leadership headed by President Buhari wanted a certain Ahmed Lawan for the job. But they were outsmarted by a power bloc in the Senate sympathetic to Saraki’s cause. The APC leadership was still carousing when the Saraki army delivered an upper cut. The party reeled with discomfort. But then, a leadership had emerged. Saraki was the head of the National Assembly. The opposite and dominant bloc saw the Saraki effrontery as an affront. It was a slap on the face of the APC leadership. The situation was made worse by the fact that the Saraki coup produced a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party as the Deputy President of the Senate. It was a strange power-sharing formula in a non-coalition government, such as the APC’s.

Saraki and his cohorts had their way. But they would not get an easy ride. Saraki’s pathway was strewn with land mines. He was primed for a fall. The major plot against him was executed through the Code of Conduct Tribunal.  Saraki was put on trial for alleged false declaration of assets. The objective was to discredit him and make him look unfit for the office he occupies. It has been a long-drawn battle. So far, Saraki has weathered the storm. His detractors have not been able to pull him down. But then, he has always slept with only one eye closed.

Indeed, it has been a long walk for the warring parties within the APC since the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly in June 2015. However, since no condition is permanent, a new song is being sung. The frosty relationship between the executive and the legislature under the present dispensation is giving way. What is playing out appears rosy for the contending parties. It is a new form of understanding.

The prelude to this was the recent seamless change of the Senate Leader from Ali Ndume to Ahmed Lawan. It was almost spontaneous. Ndume  just saw himself in the wilderness. The senate treated it as a non-event. An Ahmed Lawan, who was not part of the power equation in the senate, had suddenly gained prominence. But it did not just happen. It was negotiated. The game was one of give and take. Saraki had to accommodate Lawan in order to be accommodated himself. At moment, the opposing tendencies have found an ally in each other. That was why Buhari got away with the illegality called troops deployment to The Gambia, an action taken without the concurrence of the Senate. It was unconstitutional for the president to have done that. A section of the senate saw through the wrongdoing and protested vehemently. They wanted to stop the president in his tracks. They did not want the president to get away with the infraction. But Saraki, in line with the new understanding between him and Buhari, saved the situation. Buhari got away with the illegality.

The new understanding is waxing stronger and that has given rise to the mother of all compromises. Buhari, apparently with the support and encouragement of Saraki, has decided to re-submit the name of Ibrahim Magu to the senate for confirmation, as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Magu had earlier been rejected by the senate for the job, following a damning report about him by the Department of State Service (DSS). The president’s letter to the senate renominating Magu for the job was read on the floor of the senate two days ago by Saraki. There was no uproar. There were no objections. The senate did not remind itself that it was going back to its vomit. The letter was well received. Consequently, the senate is now ready to invite Magu over for screening and possible confirmation.

So, what has changed? Following Magu’s rejection by the senate last December, President Buhari had mandated the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to investigate the allegations leveled against Magu by the DSS. The assignment has been carried out and Malami has given Magu a clean bill of health. We are told that the president based his renomination of Magu on Malami’s clearance of the Acting chairman of the EFCC of any wrongdoing.

But the contradiction in this matter is not lost on the watching world. Why will the DSS, an agency of government, be seen to be working at cross-purposes with another agency of government, in this case, the EFCC? And if Malami’s verdict is anything to go by, how do we reconcile the contrary positions of the DSS and that of the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation on the same subject matter? If the president believes Malami as he has done, what then does he do with the report of the DSS on Magu? These are some of the questions that agitate the mind in this matter. In fact, the logic of the situation dictates that  if the president believes Malami, it goes without saying that he (the president) did not believe the DSS. And if the president did not believe the DSS, it would also mean that the DSS set out to deceive him. Can the president likely turn a blind eye to an agency of government that willfully tries to pull the wool over his eyes? That is not likely. And if the president does, it will mean that the DSS was right but was politically incorrect.

But no matter what the president does or fails to do, the fact of the matter is that the game is on. The ongoing rapprochement between Buhari and Saraki is about political realignment. It has to do with the politics to come. It is a game for the possession or repossession of the APC. The game plan is to have the president and the head of the National Assembly work together in order to be in a good position to stave off any opposition or distraction within the ruling party. Therefore, Magu’s confirmation is no longer going to be about his integrity. It will longer matter that the man who is trying others for corruption should not be corrupt himself. It is about political survival. With the return of Magu, the anti-corruption battle has been tainted. Those sent to the court of equity are not going there with clean hands. This is just one of the many outcomes, which the change of gear by the National Assembly will produce. The race has just begun.


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April 2018
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