For all he cares, the calculated shift of allegiance, to say the least, is the beginning of another battle of a titan.
TUESDAY’S defection of Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is an epoch of the moment, which is still reverberating in the polity, understandably because of his position as the number three citizen in the country. The long-awaited defection was an anti-climax of the power play intrigues that heralded his emergence as the leader of the hallowed chamber against the wish of his party.
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In a terse statement released following his reunion with the PDP, the overtly ambitious Senator cited irreconcilable differences with his former party as his reason for jumping ship, confirming the speculation of his nurtured aspiration to take a shot at the presidency in 2019.
This, of course, may not have come as a surprise to the APC, which has linked Saraki to a string of political maneuverings allegedly interpreted to be a deliberate plot to undermine the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Saraki, in his overt ambition to assume the leadership of the 8th National Assembly at its inauguration in June 2015 had taken precedence from the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, who had to defy the PDP to clinch the seat and thereafter shifted loyalty to the defunct ACN. But while the PDP humbly swallowed the pill of humiliation and accepted Tambuwal’s rebellion, Saraki on the other hand had been at loggerheads with the APC, as he was hounded, rundown, and humiliated in his celebrated trial for false asset declaration instituted against him by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
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In making the latest shift of allegiance, Saraki must have been emboldened by the recent judgment of the Supreme Court that gave him a clean bill of health after battle, which began on September 22, 2015. Reacting to the apex court judgment, he said: “The case was trumped up in the first instance because of my emergence as the President of the Senate against the wishes of certain forces. Ordinarily, I doubt anyone would be interested in the asset declaration form I filled over 15 years ago.
For all he cares, the calculated shift of allegiance, to say the least, is the beginning of another battle of a titan. What remains to be seen is whether allegations of corruption and complicity in the recent Offa robbery incident that have continued to dog his footsteps will undermine his new sojourn and ambition.
Although the apex court has cleared the pathway for him, the ugly public perception foisted on him by the corruption trial remains an albatross, which will continue to haunt him ahead of his campaigns for his new political tour for 2019.
His erstwhile party, APC, has also accused him of being instrumental to the friction between President Buhari and members of the legislature, a development the party claimed was largely responsible for the slow pace of governance in the country since it took over the reign of power in 2015. Pointedly, the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, while reacting to his defection after Wednesday’s cabinet meeting said: “Saraki has behaved all along as if he was a member of the opposition, deliberately slowing down the progress of the APC.”
Yet, the defecting lawmakers in an extraordinary joint statement had denounced Buhari for failing to tackle rising violence and using the security services to hound opponents. But as Saraki has now crossed over to the defensive, more of such onslaughts are likely to be launched against the president in the months ahead, particularly with the new balance of forces in the two chambers of the National Assembly. Last week, 16 lawmakers in the upper house left the APC for PDP, likewise 32 in the lower house.
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Hit by the gale of defections, the APC leadership has demanded that Saraki relinquish his position as Senate President since he rode on the back of the party to clinch it. Just last Thursday too, the PDP made him its national leader, as he is now holding the highest office in the party, thereby replacing the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who had hitherto held the position.
Born into one of Nigeria’s wealthiest and most politically prominent families on December 19, 1962, Saraki is treading a familiar terrain. His late father, Abubakar Olusola Saraki (aka Oloye), a Second Republic Senate Majority Leader, was a de facto kingmaker in his home state of Kwara. Since the younger Saraki stepped into his father’s shoes, he has left no one in doubt that he had been well groomed to take charge of the dynasty and sustain its survival.
He has been President of the Nigeria’s Senate since 2015. He was also the Kwara State governor from 2003 to 2011. He attended the Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry from 1982 to 1987. He is married with children.