Emergence of Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President painful – Saraki
In this interview with BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE, Senate President Bukola Saraki disclosed some of the intrigues that heralded his emergence, which he described as “an act of fate”. Excerpts:
The build-up to the nomination
THE truth is that I have not spoken before since all this time to tell you what exactly happened. First, as regards the meeting, I did not stop meeting till around 4 am on Tuesday and I got the information that efforts were likely being put in place to make sure I did not get access into the chambers. So, as early as 5 am, I had a contingent plan that I must have my way because the plan before was that we should go to the Transcorp Hilton between 8 and 9 am to proceed to the National Assembly. But I was advised that it would not be safe or secure for me to do that because there were some who were making sure that if I do not get to the chamber, it will not be possible for anybody to nominate or second me. So, I had to find my own way. I can tell you today that I was in the National Assembly Complex as early as 6 in the morning. I stayed in the car park, inside the car from that 6 am to 9.45 am. This is the truth. I was there and there was no communication. So, anybody that said they spoke to me or they called me was lying. I did not know what was going on. All I did was to monitor how people were arriving. It was at 9.45 I got information that the Clerk had entered the chambers. I got out of my car, put on my Babariga and walked from the Car Park into the chambers. That was the reason some of you would have noticed I looked very tired that morning. Even when I was in the chambers, the only thing I observed was that some of our Senators were not present but for the fact that people were arriving in batches, I was of the opinion that they will come in subsequent batches. Then, by 10 am, the event started and before we knew it, my election had come and gone. That was what happened with regards to it. Even some of my members were worried that they did not see me and they were relieved when they saw me in the chambers.
No deal with Ekweremadu
Honesty, nobody in his wildest calculation ever thought that Senators would not be present on the day of inauguration. In my own view, some of those who worked closely with us would not have been surprised with the outcome of the election because I worked hard. I had direct contact with every single Senator. I was not relying on anybody. Even within our party, I worked hard and was in touch with everybody, seeing them, talking to them and we began to build confidence. Also on the other side, the Peoples Democratic Party, I was talking to them.
That was the reason I laughed when people said that I had a deal in the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu. I did not make any deal for Ekweremadu to win. I penetrated; I did not need a deal because as I said, I worked hard. Everybody who was a Senator, I was canvassing and campaigning for their votes and some of you will remember the meeting we held at the Transcorp whereby former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio co-chaired with Senator Gobir. If you heard most of them there, the position they were taking was that ‘this is the Senate President we want’. This was not on any party line. Those who came from PDP, their view was that this is the Senate President we believe in and we believe can lead us. So, when I heard that there was deal, it was because one was able to convince a lot of our colleagues and they accepted that this is the person that was going to lead and as such, the outcome of Senate Presidency election was positive. But the fact was that we worked hard for it. We campaigned and won the confidence of our colleagues even within the APC itself. I believed that the way the events turned out was some evidence of fate and destiny because sometimes, I sit down and wonder how some of our colleagues found themselves in the International Conference Centre. I mean, if there had been a situation where the Clerk announced that the event has been postponed, it would have been a different thing. I am sure if you ask some of my colleagues what actually happened, they will not find an answer to it other than that there must be a hand of fate and destiny.
What I am saying is that PDP Senators had announced to the public that they were supporting me without me meeting with them. PDP as a party told the public at about 10 pm Monday, June 8 that because in their own meeting, majority of their Senators have told the party that ‘this is who they were going to vote for’, they decided to agree with them.
So, even in their own interest strategically, they decided that since
30 of their Senators were going to vote for me anyway, the remaining had better join and concur. It was not until 2 am that they called us to tell us that this was what they have decided and when they said that they had a candidate, we also told them we had a candidate in the name of Ali Ndume. After our meeting, it was our own thinking that after we finish the Senate President election; the two groups in APC would meet and agree on a candidate. We never in our own team thought the other group would not turn up and by the time we got there, we were 25 or there about and they were over 40 PDP members. So, there was no way they would not have defeated us and that was what happened.
And when people said it was a deal, I said to them that if the Clerk had started the procedure in the House of Representatives first before proceeding to the Senate, it is the House of Reps, I am sure, that would have had a Deputy Speaker from PDP. It was the two hours the Clerk of the National Assembly spent with us that gave the time to House members to return to the House of Reps and have enough number to prevent that kind of event. For any APC member, it is unfortunate that we have a PDP man as a Deputy Senate President. It is painful for any APC member. That was not what we signed for when we went through all the struggles. It is unfortunate it has happened but it should be unfair to put all these blames on one side because it was a combination of luck and miscalculations that led us to have what happened that morning – that some Senators were in another place instead of being at the National Assembly. So, to suggest that it was out of desperate act to emerge, is the fact that I reject completely and those who had followed the event knew that I did not need that kind of deal to emerge. As I said, if we had had Senate elections second, Ekweremadu would not have emerged Deputy Senate President. The problem would have been in the House of Reps. My view is that we will see how to work with it and how we would be able to move on as a party and still push in through our agenda.
The position of the APC
We have it on record that at no time did the Party say it has zoned this position to a particular zone. Soon after the election, the party held a meeting at the caucus level. At the caucus level, there was a working document that the party presented, which showed that it has zoned the Senate President to North Central but at the meeting, it was objected and thus, the party needed to go back and work on the paper. We waited for the party but there was no follow up. Then, we started hearing rumour that the party was thinking that it might consider not holding on to that proposal from the National Working Committee of North Central and may be, go to the North East. Then, the governors got involved, did their own meeting and also recommended North Central. All we were waiting for was for the party to announce North Central but all of a sudden, the leaders of the party categorically came and said there was no zoning. If the party had said it has zoned this position to the North East, Abubakar Bukola Saraki would never have contested this issue. But the party said there was no zoning and that it would use merit and all that. It also said anybody from the two zones can contest. That was the point number one.
On the issue of procedure of the emergence of the leaders of the party, it is true that the party did send a letter but as you all know, we are guided by the Constitution and the Standing Order of the Senate. These are two documents that I have taken an oath to ensure that whatever I do as the Senate President, I will abide by their rules. And also by parliamentary practices and procedures and things that are done in convention, you know that that letter clearly was not a norm or what they practice in that place. It generally has been the convention that majority of these positions go to the different caucuses of the party and from there, the party meet and recommend.