By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Mohammed Ali Ndume, a senator from northeastern Nigeria, has had his faith tested lately. When he was removed as leader of the Nigerian Senate, the third highest ranking office in the upper legislative chamber, in favour of Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan, another senator from his part of the country, he was at the mosque for prayers. His subsequent suspension for raising a point of order – probably out of spite – over allegations of certificate forgery and importation of an expensive sports utility vehicle against Dino Melaye, a flashy and influential senator, and Bukola Saraki, president of the Senate, respectively, also happened when he went to perform his obligatory prayers. So as not to belabour the point unduly, let us say they were just a coincidence. For were he not so punctual with his spiritual exercises, his colleagues could likely have timed their actions for another reliable habit that would have necessitated his absence. True, he probably was a little hasty (irrational even) in latching on to the antics of the antagonists of his antagonists: the online publication that first raised the allegations was sufficiently motivated on the matter. Mr Ndume would have been better off just looking on. Still, the Senate may yet find suspending him to be unwise. With ample time now on his hands, he has an opportunity to reflect and perhaps scheme his revenge. Not that this is advised. But these are politicians. And he may yet be triumphant: his new enemies have troubles of their own.
Growing in visibility and influence, Mr Saraki – a potential presidential hopeful in the 2019 elections – has had to contend with one trouble after another. First, he was accused of false declaration of assets, a case which has evolved unusually with the political exigencies of the executive branch of government. At the beginning, you could almost sympathise with Mr Saraki for the supposed victimization of his person by an unforgiving ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party leadership, still bristling from being made to look stupid when he got elected to the highest echelon of the Senate against its wishes – Mr Lawan was the party’s choice. Incidentally, Mr Ndume’s intransigence when asked to give way for Mr Lawan to be made majority leader as compensation for his loss of the senate presidency has partly been responsible for Mr Saraki’s troubles. As the stakes are much too high now, however, the belated reconciliatory move towards the party leadership by Mr Saraki may yet prove futile.
It is almost a certainty now that Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, would likely not re-contest the presidency in 2019. Potential candidates, two or more in the Senate, might become increasingly reluctant to allow Mr Saraki garner more influence and political success. More fundamentally, by exercising his powers against Mr Ndume, Mr Saraki has also exposed his attitude towards power. Inevitably, his opponents probably now feel vindicated for being in his way. And are now likely even more determined to remain there. Because even as Mr Saraki is from the “official north”, the accommodation afforded him by the elite of the region can only be sustained with delicate handling. His move against Mr Ndume could easily be overlooked. But when that extends to blocking President Buhari’s nominations and requests, even though these actions were taken as a collective, northern senators potentially face a backlash from the masses in their constituencies, where Mr Buhari is exceptionally popular. There is already evidence of this. Just this past weekend, a senator from those parts was stoned by his constituents for supposedly taking sides with Mr Saraki against Mr Buhari. Does Nigeria even need a Senate, some muse now.
The anguish of the populace is understandable. The government’s budget would be passed late again for the second year running. With numerous important bills languishing at committees, not a few Nigerians find it a little disheartening that the Senate has chosen to priortize Ali Ndume, Mr Saraki’s purportedly extravagant bullet-proof jeep, and the authenticity or otherwise of Mr Melaye’s (an ally of Mr Saraki) certificate. Should Mr Buhari’s nominees for key institutitions be facing pushback at this time? Never mind that the appointments are arguably coming late from the executive, to the detriment of the institutions in question. The anti-corruption czar has been rejected for confirmation by the Senate for the second time. The long overdue confirmation of electoral commissioners has been deliberately delayed by the Senate simply to make a point to the executive about its powers. Mr Buhari may be a reformed democrat. But pushed beyond a point, he could choose to exercise his powers as well. Both sides would do well to carry their power ever so lightly.
Published in my Premium Times Nigeria column on 5 April 2017. See link viz. http://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2017/04/05/power-and-intrigue-by-rafiq-raji/