By AUSTIN OWOICHO, Abuja
The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), H.E. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole addressed a press conference on Friday at the Party’s National Secretariat calling on the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki to immediately resign honorably or be impeached according to law and democratic norms.
The APC National Chairman spoke extempore.
We decided to call for this press conference basically to respond to issues raised by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki during his press conference. It is important that we respond to some of the issues he canvassed, so that the public is not misled into turning villains into heros and twisting the facts that are not hidden to the Nigerian public. It is important that we help the Nigerian public by refreshing their memories.
The Senate President raised the issues of the fact that he has always acted not on the basis of his own personal interest, but that he has always acted on the basis of national interest. The truth is that it is doubtful if the Senate President has ever acted either in the National interest or in the interest of his own political party before his defection recently. Without going back to ancient history, it is important to look at how Senator Bukola Saraki became the President of the Senate. He decided, clearly, against the party position to enter into a deal with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and got a faction of the PDP, taking advantage of the fact that majority of the APC senators were holding a meeting at the International Conference Centre to resolve the issue of leadership of the senate and other principal officers that are expected to be produced by the ruling party with majority senators. Because he has put his personal interest over and above the interest of the party, he went into alliance with the PDP and conceded the position of Deputy Senate President to the opposition in other to obtain their support for him to become the Senate President. So, for the first time in our democratic history in Nigeria, we had a situation whereby, whereas the APC had majority of Senators, it went on to elect a PDP person as Deputy Senate President. This action alone portray Senator Saraki for who he is and that his personal interest come before any other interest, including national interest and that of his political party.
Having gone into this unholy alliance with the opposition and mortgaging the rights of the ruling party, he appointed opposition senators to head sensitive and strategic committees whose activities can affect either for good or for bad, the working of government and the relationship between the government and the legislature. Senator Saraki did that in other to continue to protect himself against the wishes of his party as Senate President. That showed that the only thing that was constant in his mind was to cling on to the position of Senate President even if it is at the expense of his own party and the country.
Even the media has consistently drawn attention to how Senator Saraki is managing the Senate to the extent that questions have been raised as to whose interest the Senate was serving.
You do not have to be a partisan politician to appreciate that in an election year, every democratic government around the world would do everything possible to ensure that it is seen to be working for the people of the country. Like any other political party in government, Nigerians expected the APC government under President Muhammadu Buhari to do everything possible this year to make up for lost time in terms of budget implementation and addressing critical infrastructures without which sustainable development is impossible. The Senate under Senator Saraki chose to delay the budget up to the end of the first half of the year and to coincide with the period of the rainy season such that those aspects of infrastructure such as roads cannot be constructed during the rainy season. These were not errors under his leadership, but clearly designed to frustrate the capacity of the government to address critical infrastructural deficit without which the ordinary man cannot feel the impact of government.
Again on receipt of the budget, the President cried out that it was a clear distortion from the well thought proposal that he submitted to the National Assembly. He appreciated that while they can make alteration to the budget, he did not expect that it will be completely rewritten as to make far more provisions for recurrent expenditure with very little for capital projects. He said this budget will be difficult to implement.
So, when I said he has never put the interest of Nigeria first, I support this statement with reference to the deliberate delay of the budget and deliberate manipulation of the provisions in the budget in a way that will compromise the capacity of the government to address critical infrastructures.
It is no longer a secret that as Senate President, he tried to conspire with others to create a semblance of division within the ruling party having failed to truncate the National Convention, when they assembled a handful of people who were neither delegates nor contestants for any office at the National Convention. There is nothing for me to add to the illegality of this action and the false foundation that Senator Saraki tried to leave than to adopt the well thought out presentation of Femi Falana SAN.
Those things did not portray him as someone who is concerned about sustaining democracy because sustaining democracy also implies absolute commitment to the rule of law. If the rule of law is compromised and Nigeria is reduced to a banana republic where it will be survival of the fittest, he is probably not the strongest man in town to cling on to that office. So, each time he takes an action that constitute a breach of the constitution, he is, by his own action undermining the foundation and weakening the fabrics of our democracy.
However, upon his illegal defection, which he had to do hurriedly because the number of Senators he was playing on their fears that they will not be able to return to the Senate.
At a point, he had on his list, about 36 Senators who were about to defect. But consequent upon our election, we took pre-emptive steps to reassure some of those senators. The first meeting we held after our election was with Senator Saraki to try and listen to what I called negotiable and verifiable grievances and this I did in company of the Vice President and he acknowledged that those steps were taken when he was leaving. But however, his real grievances are not negotiable which is about ambition, value and his fundamental values and the values of the APC. When he defected, he went to Ilorin to tell the people part of the truth that he was leaving for two reasons. He alleged that President Buhari gave out over 200 juicy appointments without allocating some to him and he choose to speak for the Speaker of the House of Representatives that he was also not given. My question is, giving Saraki, the Senate President juicy position, does that coincide with the Nigerian project? Or the interest of the people of Kwara State of his Senatorial zone? At no time did he refer to the interest of the people of his constituency or the people of Nigeria.
The second reason he gave was that he was being persecuted. That is alleged persecution of his person and not his people. He never pretended that any of these actions had anything, to do with the people of Nigeria, but his person. I think the governor of Kwara State was more explicit in corroborating his claim when he said that he as governor and Saraki as Senate President were being linked to armed robbery cases. Again, that has nothing to do with the Nigerian project or the Kwara people. What is the truth? Who linked Senator Saraki to armed robbery? Was it the federal government t or arrested armed robbers? It is the armed robbers that alleged that the weapons with which they carried out the operation were procured for them by the Senate President. This is contained in the police report which is no longer a secret. He has not denied knowledge of these people. So If armed robbers linked the name of the Senate President, is the APC or the government to blame? A crime that led to the killing of about 35 persons cannot be dismissed with a wave of hand and in any jurisdiction, when your name is linked to such heinous crime, people don’t clap for you. It is the duty of the security agents to investigate and establish whether they are valid or invalid. So, if he was linked to armed robbery, that cannot be an offense of the government or the APC. The best defense I have heard is that the robbers said that he did not ask them to use the weapon for armed robbery.
In support of my thesis that Saraki has never acted in the national interest, my final submission is on the way he adjourned the Senate. The senate calendar is not secret to the presiding officer and the calendar that was known was that the senate was going to adjourn on a Thursday. But by Monday night, Saraki used his guest house, wrote out names of Senators with provision for them to sign for senators to decamp from the APC to the PDP, but some of the senators refused to sign. That is what frustrated his calculations to turn the APC to a minority party in the senate. Is it a coincidence that as he was reading the names of defectors in the senate, his counterpart in the House was also doing same? So there was coordination for defection day. But happily, the pre-emptive measures we have taken to address genuine grievances frustrated their number such that from 36, he could not get more than 14 senators to decamp including one that subsequently overcame the manipulation.
Between Tuesday and Thursday, the Senate was expected to discuss the supplementary budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). INEC requirements are not things that you buy from the shelf. You have to order them from the manufacturers and so, time is of the essence. But the senate under Saraki adjourned without considering the matters before it including the budget for INEC. So, if Saraki adjourned the Senate ahead of schedule to resume towards the end of nominations, can that act be said to coincide with national interest? If you decide to frustrate INEC by denying it the funds that it requires, can you be said to be a defender of democracy? If INEC don’t get their funds and therefore are unable to conduct t credible election, will that not lead to further consequences for our democracy?
So, I submit that Saraki’s actions were calculated to undermine democracy. Those who fought for democracy did not do it so that it can be at the mercies of a Senate President whose interest is clearly at variance with national interest. There was a request for virement which was also not considered.
A substantial part of the 2018 budget meant for capital project was supposed to be sourced through loans and under the constitution, you cannot borrow from foreign countries without the express endorsement of the National Assembly. Without those loans, the budget cannot be implemented. While this was pending, Senator Saraki put his personal interest above his office and choose to adjourn the Senate , leaving this huge national issues unattended to. So, for an officer that behaves like that, how can he argue that anything he did was not about himself? Everything he did has never been informed by national interest. There are also allegations of lack of transparency and we have seen Nigerians trying to demystify what they earn. We have an arm that is completely unaccountable because of the way he has presided.
Therefore, his attempt to use the incident at the National Assembly on Tuesday to portray himself as the conscience of the nation is to insult our collective intelligence as a people.
There is the futile attempt he has made to suggest that the Tuesday’s incidence was an attempt to carry out an illegal impeachment. How can a presiding office arrive at such a conclusion that there was a plan to carry out an illegal impeachment? Until an action takes place, you cannot determine the outcome, if impeachment itself is unlawful, then you can understand where he is coming from. It is lawful to impeach anyone, including the President the Senate and his deputy if the number required to do so is present. So, he cannot pre-empt that. From their own statement, they claimed to be aware that the Senate President was going to be illegally impeached and so mobilized thugs to the Senate. They told the world that they have adjourned till 25th September. But meanwhile, about 15 PDP Senators were in the Senate and imported thugs that molested two of our members they saw in the senate. If APC Senators were not in the Senate and it was PDP Senators that were there, what is the basis of the false claim that there was an attempt to carry out an illegal impeachment? In any case, Saraki is not going to be the first Senate President to be impeached and I doubt if he is going to be the last. But definitely, he will be impeached according to law and democratic norms. The only way he can avoid impeachment is for him to do what is honourable.
We saw Senator Godswill Akpabio who was the PDP leader in the Senate. Once he made up his mind to leave the PDP, he wrote to inform the PDP even before his defection that he was resigning. So, Senator Saraki has demonstrated neither character nor being a man of honour. I told him when we held a meeting that he came to join the APC as a Senator and it is on our platform that you became Senate President. Once you made up your mind to leave, the honourable thing to do is to resign as Senate President. If he does not resign, he will be impeached according to law and not by thuggery or by mob or anything that undemocratic. He cannot sustain a minority rule in the Senate and that is what is haunting him in the Senate.
When I say that the Senate President will be impeached, let me emphasise that he will be impeached properly according to law. The constitution is clear how a presiding officer can be impeached and because several impeachments has taken place, we are not about to witness what has not taken place before. We have enough precedent to fall back on. I have looked at the constitution which does not say that an impeachment is illegal. It is done, you cannot arrive at the conclusion that it is unlawful. How can we be accused of planning an illegal impeachment when it has not commenced. If he thinks that by saying that he will pre-empt the APC from having him impeached, he is deceiving himself. I think that the time of Saraki is over. The way he has manipulated the politics of Kwara state, he fails to understand that the Nigerian project is far more complicated than being at the mercy of his own dynasty. He will not only be impeached, we will work hard to have him defeated as a Senator in his own Senatorial zone come 2019 by the people of Kwara state who are fed up with SarakiI. Go and check the results of the elections that made him a Senator and you will find out that the President got more votes from Kwara Central than Saraki got for himself. So, he can’t claim that the vote the APC got from his Senatorial zone was because of him. That is why his leaving is of no political consequences as far as electoral issues are concerned. We tried to talk to him, not out of fear, but out of conviction that as a presiding officer, there are rules of engagement.