By SKC Ogbonnia
The scheme by the Nigerian Senate to undermine President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is as real as it is idiotic. The most annoying yet is the attitude of the senators in the ongoing trial of its principal officers for allegedly forging the Standing Rules used to usher them to power. Once the forgery case was referred to the courts, the Senate charged that prosecution of members of the legislature is a threat to democracy. The Deputy Senate President, Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, followed by peddling the bunkum all the way to the international community. The whole hoopla, of course, is a vicious scam to arm-twist Buhari to revert to the status quo prior to the current regime where Nigeria ’s lawmaking body was literally above the law.
This matter has aroused different shades of opinions. But before we begin to skew the history, as has become common with some pundits so soon, it is necessary to quickly recall how we got here. Nigeria before 2015 general elections was a hopeless case home and abroad. Despite generating unprecedented revenue from sustained oil windfall throughout the 16-year reign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the only changes the Nigerian masses could witness were different waves of poverty and despair due to an endemic corruption. The people yearned for positive change. Sum it up this way: Muhammadu Buhari was voted back to power because of his ageless fidelity to war against corruption.
However, upon assuming office, in an attempt to avoid evoking any choking nostalgia of his dictatorial military past, the Daura-born general naively assumed the posture of a recruit in dealing with the body that makes laws for the country. In the process, Buhari downplayed an important political maxim: The struggle to reclaim Nigeria from PDP required more than a simple majority in a presidential election. It entails sustained influence throughout the life of the new government. This type of influence in the American presidential democracy entails continuous lobbying in the legislature with the tradeoffs generally targeted towards public good. But effective lobbying in the Nigerian context is totally something else. It is simply for personal gains and demands a serious act of “Ghana-Must-Go”—whatever that means.
This reality coupled with Buhari’s austere profile created a huge opening for the corrupt oligarchy to strike back. They easily capitalized on the fact that most of the senators—both from the ruling and opposition parties—were flat broke after 2015 polls. Having invested their last card in the said polls, these lawmakers were desperate to recoup, the source notwithstanding. Not surprisingly, the election of the principal officers of the senate was basically a cash-n-carry affair.
This gist, if it is not already manifest, is that Olubukola Abubakar Saraki deployed his huge wealth to “lobby” to gain control of the senate. Thus, instead of the much-anticipated change, Nigeria is faced with a precarious situation where some of the most hardened members of the corrupt oligarchy dictate the content and pace of the legislative agenda—in a Buhari government. Today, not only does a member of a discredited minority party remain the deputy president of the Senate, most of the important committees are chaired by the same opposition characters that combined to ruin the previous regime.
Of course, President Buhari has been fighting back. But it is clear he has been hitting them with kid gloves. While dragging Saraki and Ekweremadu to the courts is in tune with due process, the punch has been too flat and too slow. It does not take a psychological maven to discern that these two senators have no shame and will never toe the path of honour to step aside for greater good. More essentially, the duo has already conquered the legislature and is armed with the war chest to duplicate the feat at the judiciary.
The way forward, therefore, is to meet the Saraki Senate fire for fire. It requires countering with a heavy dose of Nigerian style of lobbying till we reclaim the mandate. The politics of the moment requires taking an objective head count in the Senate to determine who is in or who is out. It requires securing the majority needed to impeach Saraki before he finally unleashes his plot.
Critics are expected to roar at this juncture. Those from the opposition will cling on their banal rallying cry of separation of power. But they should be reminded that there comes a time nonsense paves way to common sense. Not only is the change under a serious threat, separation of power is not a license to commit crimes or hold a nation hostage. In short, the elites joining to spew the separation of power façade might as well recognize that their action does nothing but further the prevailing view that consequences for bad behavior in Nigeria are only applicable to the ordinary people.
Other critics will argue, and understandably so, that Buhari must not compromise his principle in the course of the war against corruption by indulging in Nigeria ’s brand of presidential lobby. But Mr. President should shun such notion. For leadership is contingent upon the environment. Even as it is vitally important for leaders to be unwavering in their convictions, any conviction ought to advance the greater good, if it is to translate to effective leadership. Blind following of ideology is another name for dogmatism and can easily lead to destructive power. Moreover, Buhari cannot feign ignorance of how he finally won the presidency after three previous attempts without money.
The objective fact is that the Nigerian masses are not interested in the best of reasons for failure. We need the change we voted for—not Saraki. Buhari needs to be emboldened by the wisdom of the story of mat and space. He does not need to be told again and again that Senator Bukola Saraki has become the real threat to Nigeria ’s democracy. And it remains the responsibility of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to find ways to influence the shyster and his principal cohorts out of power, however the quickest style of lobbying.
SKC Ogbonnia wrote in from Houston and can be reached via email: SKCOgbonnia@firsttexasenergy.com