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The war against Saraki is bad for APC and Nigeria

By The Citizen
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By Samuel T. Adakole
Soon after he emerged Senate President against the preferences of the APC party establishment, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki – two term Governor of Kwara State and two term Senator representing Kwara Central Senatorial zone – suddenly became a man of interest to the anti-corruption agencies in the country.

On 11th September 2015, the Code of Conduct Tribunal accused Saraki of anticipatory declaration of assets and other financial misdeeds. On 4th July 2016 Saraki and the deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu were arraigned at the Federal High Court Abuja for alleged forgery of Senate Standing Rules 2015 that proclaimed the 8th Parliament. Last week, Justice Gabriel Kolawole held that the forgery charge against Saraki, Ekweremadu and others was done in a 'desperate haste that was not in the public interest.'

The ongoing public 'lynching' of the Senate President by powerful elements who were his comrades just a year ago is one of the strangest developments in our contemporary politics. From being a party financier, mass mobilizer during the run up to the 2015 presidential elections, darling of the APC and new government after victory at the polls who leveraged his international network to sell the change vision and candidate to the world, Saraki became the foe, an outcast to be trimmed and cut to size for daring to yield to the expressed wishes of his colleagues to lead the new senate.

Critics of Saraki in response to these issues have asserted that Saraki should follow through the legal challenges, defend himself against all accusations and face the law if found guilty. But anyone familiar with Nigerian politics and the specific variety that is on display in Abuja at the moment knows that Saraki's alleged guilt or crime is not the issue.

By virtue of his position as the Senate President, strong political background, influence and stature in the polity, Saraki is undoubtedly the most high profile victim of an all-out assault on every institution, every person or interest group that is defined as an immediate or remote threat to the perceived interest of a powerful cabal within the ruling party and the government. President Buhari himself may not be fully aware of the extent of this conspiracy and the desperation of these elements. But it is clear that their interests are, in the final analysis, not compatible with those of his government.

Of course, one does not have to be a fan or supporter of Saraki to appreciate this fundamental fact. It goes beyond Saraki and is reflective of what is fast becoming the defining characteristic of dangerous, nation destroying politics that is being played by some persons in the APC led Government.

The persecution of Saraki is being carried out under the imprimatur of the anti-corruption campaign of the government, but discerning Nigerians can see that his principal crime is that his colleagues in the Senate freely exercised their right to choose him as their leader against the wishes of the cabal.

For instance, it is widely known that within the upper reaches of government and inner sancta of the APC are people whose alleged crimes are even more egregious than those that Saraki is being accused of. The recent report by Telegraph newspaper of London report that the press has dubbed Amaechi the Transport Minister as ATM – the American term for cash machine - because of his ability to produce vast sums of money at short notice.

The widely read UK paper also mentioned that Amaechi was indicted by an investigative commission on the sale of Rivers State assets for misappropriating £338million. Despite these allegations and the publicity – local and international – that they have generated, the anti-corruption agencies are not in the least interested in the piles of petitions against him.

The point must be made that the allegations against the former governor do not automatically translate to guilt. They are yet to be proven in a court of law. But it is interesting that the passion of the anti-Saraki cabal for fighting corruption has not extended to other similar cases in the public domain. Beyond Amaechi, there are also several other very well known cases of very powerful people within the APC who have been magically transformed from impecunious human right champions to billionaires since 1999.

So if Saraki's 'crime' is not the issue - what is? The answer is clear: the Senate President is being punished for being the choice of his colleagues as leader of the country's upper legislative arm.

Interestingly, Saraki's emergence as Senate President is not unprecedented in Nigeria's recent history. The governor of Sokoto state, Aminu Tambuwal during the last government led a similar 'coup' in the House of Representatives which led to his emergence along with Hon. Emeka Ihedioha as the heads of the lower chamber of the National Assembly. This was largely made possible by the active support and backdoor involvement of political leaders of parties that later merged to form the APC.

And as it is a well-known fact that Tambuwal during the last government, leveraged his position to the significant advantage of the APC as he did everything to distract, and weaken the PDP. At that time he was hailed as a champion of democracy and separation of powers. His reward for doing so is that of course, today he is the governor of Sokoto state and as some have said a future 2019 presidential candidate.

It needs to be stressed that contrary to the impression given by the anti-Saraki forces, the Saraki and Tambuwal coup are not anti-democratic upheavals but democratic expressions of a central plank of republicanism: separation of powers and the autonomy of institutions in a democracy. What could be more democratic than members of the national assembly choosing their own leaders? As vexed as the PDP leadership was in the case of Tambuwal, they were quick to accept the choice of the members and manage the friction without seeking to use the state apparatus to rock the entire boat to make their point.

Related to that, why should the decision of political parties be more important than a freely and transparently expressed will of representatives of the people in the national legislature? As creations of democracy, it is to be expected that parties will place greater premium on democratic ethos than a sadistic rein of dictatorship where the will of the majority is silenced for the few, where persuasion, tradeoffs and engagement based on political interests are sacrificed on the altar of preserving the interest of the few.

True, the importance of political parties as the central platforms of mobilization, aggregation of interest and legitimacy in a democracy cannot be over emphasized. But a political party's relevance is best expressed in its capacity to define, articulate and implement a vision to improve the welfare of the greatest number of citizens, not in its capacity to bully its national legislators into submission. The anti-Saraki cabal within the APC needs to have a rethink because the ongoing efforts to humiliate the Senate President in the pursuit of anti-democratic objectives is doing damage both to the party and democracy as a whole. It would be sad indeed if in their desperation to destroy Saraki, they end up doing fatal damage to the party and the promise of 'Change' that motivated Nigerians to vote in the opposition party after 16 years of PDP rule.

Unwittingly perhaps, the anti-Saraki elements in the party are sending out the message that the APC is not a party of ideas, engagement and consensus but an assemblage of intolerant, unforgiving people who only respect democracy when it produces the results they want. This unfortunate impression is a disservice to the vast majority of APC members who appreciate that democracy is all about agreement, respectful disagreement and consensus building within the context of an inclusive and responsive party. This regime of intolerance to dissenting views cannot be said to be the true expression of a democratic institution.

It is clear that the emergence of Saraki against the will of the party was not the real cause of the problem. If the party elders had done a better job of engaging APC senators in pursuit of the emergence of a leadership acceptable to the majority inside of a narrow minority, the current crisis would have been avoided. And rather than accept this fundamental failure and make peace so that the legislature can focus on its primary job of creating laws that can help the APC deliver on its promises to the Nigerian people, the cabal has opted for this destructive option of destroying Saraki.

But Nigerians are far from being deceived. They know it is a fluke, a smokescreen. It is quite clear that the vicious, sustained and excessive campaign to bring the senate president to heel and destroy him as a political force has absolutely nothing to do with the interest of Nigerians, but the vindictive interest of people who want to extract their political pound of flesh against Saraki.

Put simply, Saraki is being crucified because he is perceived as an impertinent obstacle in the way of power drunk overlords who obviously consider the APC and in fact the entire government as their property.

For the sake of the party, the Buhari government which carries its flag and the entire country, there is an urgent need for a rethink.

Samuel T. Adakole is a public analyst based in Lagos.