Like Achilles’ heel, Senate President Saraki may have become the weak point of a strong coalition of political forces that brought Buhari to power in 2015

Majeed Dahiru

Achilles, a mythical Greek figure and a man of many battles most famous for his heroic exploits in the Trojan wars, as written in Homer’s Iliad, was fortified from birth against all worldly vulnerabilities that may lead to his early death by Thetis, his sea goddess mother, who dipped him into the powerful River Styx holding him by his heel. The whole of Achilles’ body was fortified with impregnable strength of iron save for his heel by which his mother held him that wasn’t immersed in the waters of the River Styx. Achilles’ heel became the weak part of his strong body that would be vulnerable to a poisoned arrow, which led to his death.

Like Achilles’ heel, Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki may have become the weak point of a strong coalition of political forces that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015, through which the emerging opposition coalition forces may democratically oust the current All Progressives Congress (APC) government at the centre. In its bid to punish Saraki for emerging as Senate President against the wish of the APC top echelon, the Buhari administration has demonstrated clear leadership weakness in the way it has deployed state power to fight a purely personal matter of clash of bloated egos. Rather than fortify his strong winning coalition completely by skillfully managing the crisis emanating from Saraki’s emergence as Senate President by neutral and conciliatory approach, Buhari went on a series of offensives that alienated a critical component of his winning coalition, making it vulnerable to succumbing to the poisonous arrow of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

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From the trumped-up charges of forging Senate rules against the leadership of the Saraki-led Senate to the hurriedly-packaged charges of code of conduct violation in asset declaration and a phoney link to a deadly armed robbery incident in his home state of Kwara, Saraki’s persecution has vividly exposed the hypocrisy, double standards and corrupt war on corruption of the Buhari administration.

In an attempt to diminish Saraki’s image, the Buhari administration has only succeeded in greatly diminishing the image of the institution of the National Assembly, the cornerstone of Nigeria’s democracy. And when Saraki resolved to assert the traditional independence of the legislature in line with the principles of separation of powers for the purposes of checks and balance, Buhari’s reaction was that of scornful disdain. For a man apparently imbued with a messianic complex and an inflated sense of self-righteousness, Buhari considers himself infallible, hence above questioning, checks and balances. He expects his correspondences to the National Assembly to be treated dogmatically as believers do divinely revealed scriptures. Heads of MDAs and the police chief often treat National Assembly summons with sluggish disdain because the executive now regards the legislature as an unwelcome irritant.

For attempting to override Buhari’s veto on an the election sequence re-ordering clause in the Electoral Act, thugs, in company of a suspended member of the Senate, gate-crashed the hallowed Red Chamber and took away the mace during plenary with all federal security agencies present standing down to allow for a successful operation. That unprecedented dare-devil assault on the National Assembly, which was calculated to intimidate the legislature, sent shock waves down the entire political spectrum.

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The consequences of these acts of hypocrisy, double standards and impunity that have characterized the relationship between the Buhari executive and the Saraki-led legislature has robbed off negatively on the quality of the overall governance of the Nigerian state. In addition to a largely distracted Buhari administration being unable to deliver on its three-pronged campaign promises of fixing the economy, security and corruption, Buhari has also failed to uphold the leadership principles of fairness, equity and justice among all coalition partners in the APC. Buhari’s failure of leadership has led to widespread discontent among

the people towards the APC federal government as seen in the wave of defection from the ruling party to the opposition PDP. Saraki’s defection from the APC back to the PDP, despite last-minute attempts to placate him and other defectors, may be the last straw for the APC.

In what many have described as an attempted coup, the National Assembly Complex was cordoned off on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, by armed masked men of the Department of Secret Services (DSS) ostensibly acting on “oders from above.” This development further fuelled the already rife speculation about an imminent forceful change of leadership of the Senate with or without the required constitutional threshold. Apprehensions heightened when PDP members of the National Assembly who, working on a tip-off from some of their colleagues in the APC caucus about a possible change of leadership, converged in sufficient numbers to counter any attempt to remove Saraki, were prevented from gaining entrance into the complex. The possibility of a less than two-third membership of the Senate to sit and effect a change in the leadership of the Senate triggered outrage across the Nigerian nation and beyond. The successful removal of Saraki as Senate president by less the constitutional requirement of two-thirds majority would have amounted to a civilian coup as that would have paved way for a democratically elected civilian dictator whose actions, programmes and policies would neither be checked nor balanced. This latest development was condemned as the worse form of impunity the Buhari administration could ever contemplate. With immense pressure from Nigerians from across party lines and the international community, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo fired the director-general of the DSS, Lawal Daura, while also condemning the actions of his men as unlawful and denied any form of authorisation of the unfortunate incident.

READ ALSO: APC UK backs Osinbajo over removal of Daura

This unprecedented and prompt punitive action by the Presidency against the head of a security agency has been welcomed as a clear departure from the complacent approval of impunity that has defined the Buhari administration. However, one critical question is left unanswered. Who authorised the deployment of security agents with instructions to prevent lawmakers from gaining access into the National Assembly complex? Any discernable mind that has followed the acts of impunity of the current administration using the apparatus of the DSS would come to the conclusion that Osinbajo’s swift action was a cosmetic face-saving measure for an administration that has lost credibility considerably. Osinbajo’s denial of knowledge of this unfortunate incident begs further questions. Is Osinbajo also not aware of similar acts of impunity that aimed to cow other arms of government such as the storming of the residences of senior members of the bench in a most brutal manner a little over a year into the Buhari administration in October 2016 under the guise of a sting operation by men of the DSS? Is he not aware that DSS has continued to detain Sambo Dasuki, the former NSA, and Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the leader of IMN, in disregard of several court rulings ordering their release on bail? How about gross violations of fundamental human rights of Nigerians to freedom and liberty such as the case of citizen Jones Abiri, who was detained for two years without charge in DSS detention facilities? For a government that has become notorious for half-truths and outright lies, it is apparent that Daura was simply a fall guy to cover up a failed grand scheme to carry out a civilian coup by illegally removing an elected Senate President and installing a willing stooge to pave the way for an unchallenged civilian dictatorship. It is doubtful if Daura would have on his own deployed his men to garrison the National Assembly without clear instructions from the highest authority in the land.

The three-year dirty fight with Saraki has soiled the Buhari administration and exposed its weaknesses with the concomitant effect of a highly diminished image. This fight with Saraki has brought out the failure of Buhari’s integrity. Saraki has emerged from his travails as the rallying point of the opposition coalition in Nigeria. As a victim of Buhari’s bullish impunity, Saraki is beginning to attract immense sympathy from a Nigerian public that has become used the freedom of a liberal democracy, which they are ready to pay the ultimate price for its sustenance at times like this. In a dramatic switching of roles, Saraki is fast emerging as the hero of democracy while Buhari is fast diminishing as the villain of democracy. The majority of Nigerians that cherish freedom and relish the sweet nectar of liberal democracy are beginning to see Saraki’s political battle as a struggle against Buhari’s undemocratic tendencies. As the leader of the new opposition coalition, Saraki will no doubt be Buhari’s Achilles’ heel in 2019.