It was Tuesday, August 7, 2018 and time was 8p.m. Office of the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, situated on 13, Aso Drive, Abuja, had already been flooded at the time by APC senators. A text message had been sent out the previous night by the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, who was assigned the task of rallying the other senators for such meetings.
Why a majority of the senators had arrived early as instructed, Oshiomhole and some other senators considered members of the inner caucus of the president and the party like Senators Ali Ndume, Abdulahi Adamu, Hope Uzodinma, Ovie Omo-Agege and Abdullahi Gume arrived by 11pm, a move that suggested they had met earlier at another venue.
Some of the senators, who had been waiting before the ‘grand arrival’ of their leaders, were of the view that Oshiomhole and others had probably met with the then Director General of DSS, Lawal Daura, at a separate venue before coming for the meeting. Oshiomhole and his cohorts had suspected there were moles among the senators and so were not carried along in their meeting with Daura.
Upon arriving, Oshiomhole laid the template for the discussion that was to ensue, describing the meeting as one of political survival and relevance for the attendee senators. He told them that the party understood the challenges that some of them were going through in their respective states, adding that the meeting was meant to address those issues with the assurance that they would all secure automatic tickets, for as long as they remained loyal to the party.
Soon after laying the template, Omo-Agege introduced the issue of Saraki’s defection and alerted the gathering almost immediately that the main thrust of the meeting was to perfect his removal “by any means possible”, addressing also the imperative of urgently reconvening the Senate for the new leadership that was to be installed.
Just as he gave his submission, Senator Danjuma Goje interjected and said if Saraki must be removed to which he had no issue with, there were laid down procedures and that the removal might be impossible without two-thirds of the senators which he reckoned would be difficult to secure given the current situation.
He, therefore, advised that the gathering should be guided by the rules of the Senate and the constitution of the land, that history would not be kind to them if they went outside the known rules of impeachment, which is not the same as electing the leadership.
Sensing that the deliberations had begun to prove difficult, Oshiomhole took over the floor and said pointedly that Saraki was a traitor, for whom the APC had done a lot of favour. He promised to list some of the things the party had done for him at a later date, but for now, his impeachment could not wait.
The APC Chairman senators that he and Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had done everything humanly possible to prevent Saraki’s defection, but later discovered that he was merely buying time for himself, adding that when they realised this, they decided to “smoke him out of the party”.
He also posed a direct question to some of the former governors now senators, who were present at the meeting, that as governors would they have allowed an opposition lawmaker head the legislative arm of their government?
He therefore reiterated that Saraki must be removed at all cost and as such, charged all the APC caucus members in the Senate present at the meeting to make the decision a personal assignment on behalf of the party.
With his disposition, senators were said to have concluded that the national chairman had obviously come to the meeting with a mindset, such that positions had already been taken on all issues and that whatever they felt or said did not matter at that point in time.
Even when he was asked which was to come first between removing Saraki and reconvening the Senate, he said he must be removed first, to which some of them retorted that it was utterly impossible to get that done first. But he was said to have dismissed their admonition.
Senators Binta Garuba (Adamawa) and Magnus Abe (Rivers) refused to be railroaded by Oshiomhole’s obvious bullying as they both sued for caution in the heat of the debate.
Specifically, Abe was said to have warned that if the plot was mismanaged, the PDP could secure public sympathy, the support of the international community as well as the human rights clan, which would never buy into the manner of approach to the removal of the Senate President.
Sharing the same view, Senators Danjuma Goje and Ahmed Yerima warned that President Muhammadu Buhari was a man of due process and respect for the rule of law and that anything to the contrary would not be acceptable by him, a statement of fact he urged them to factor into their already coloured considerations.
But the national chairman stuck to his guns and insisted Saraki must vacate the office of the president of the Senate, irrespective of the backlash that the senators had envisaged.
Discontentment started to creep in when Oshiomhole was asked with specificity, those he had in mind as replacement for the leadership about to be impeached. He did not mince words, when he hinted at Ahmed Lawan, saying as the most senior of the senators and the Senate Leader – he should be elevated to the office of the Senate President.
But Senator Yerima told him the choice of Lawan was not a smart one because the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara is also from the same North East as Lawan and so, the Senate could not produce a leader from the same zone again.
He went on to chip in, albeit jocularly, that if he claimed the choice of Lawan was suitable because he was the most senior in the caucus, then, the caucus should also appoint as his deputy, the second most senior senator in the person of Bala Na’Allah, if it was about seniority.
When asked about the replacement for the current Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, he said any of the four senators from the South-east: Hope Uzodinma, Andy Uba, Sonni Ogbuoji and Benjamin Uwajumogu would fill that up.
He, therefore, reiterated that “loyalty begets loyalty” and that they could only be guaranteed their return tickets if they were ready to do the party’s bidding by removing Saraki and Ekweremadu.
To seal this, he came up with a resolution with the assistance of a former governor of Ekiti State, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, who was allegedly delegated some secretariat responsibilities in the office of the national chairman.
The resolution read that they had agreed to change leadership; that they would reconvene the Senate by all means possible and that all members of the APC caucus were duty-bound to carry out those instructions ‘from the top’.
But when he asked them to sign, they declined that they would not except they agreed with clarity and unanimity the replacements for the current leadership. Against this backdrop, he asked for an hour’s break to make some calls and clear the grey areas. At this time, it was already about 1.00 a.m. on Tuesday.
After the one hour-break, they reconvened around 2.00 a.m., Oshiomhole came back to say he could not get to speak with the people at the top and then moved for adjournment untill 11.00 a.m.
When they finally reconvened at 11.30 a.m., he said he had consulted directly with Buhari and that a decision had been taken that Lawan should succeed Saraki, regardless of the arguments so far made against his choice, even though senators felt all along he had been speaking to a former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, and not the President.
But just as the meeting commenced, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, breezed in, exchanged pleasantries with the senators and left almost immediately.
All along also and unknown to the senators, arrangements had been made by the party leadership for them to be conveyed by a bus to the National Assembly complex, the moment the understanding was sealed for them to carry out the impeachment of Saraki and Ekweremadu.
Thus, to give weight to his plan and the new leadership arrangement, Oshiomhole claimed that the president had endorsed Uzodinma as Lawan’s deputy, and that Senator George Akume had been tipped as the next Senate Leader. He went on to say other positions would remain as they are, that is, Senator Olusola Adeyeye as the Chief Whip; Bala Na’Allah as Deputy Senate Leader and Senator Francis Alimikhena as Deputy Chief Whip.
It was at this point that Senator Sani Mustapha from Niger South got up and told Oshiomhole if it ever occurred to him that they were not his ‘small boys’ that he could order around at will or dictate to, wondering where he derived the powers he suddenly arrogated to himself especially, as it concerned the leadership of the National Assembly.
He reminded the party chairman that the office of the Senate president was zoned to the North Central, to which some of the leaders of the zone even thanked the president, saying, “Where do you think you derived the powers to just change the whole thing?”
Perhaps, spurred by Mustapha’s submission, Akume too stood and thanked the chairman for finding him worthy. But he reminded him that the North-Central supported the president and the party in 2015, “not because of Buhari but in spite of Buhari”.
He noted that while he was not averse to leadership change and Lawan being the Senate President, because he knew Lawan long before he came to the Senate, as it is the North-East already has more than its fair share in terms of appointment.
He posited that “Speaker Dogara is from the zone, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is from the zone, the Chief of Staff is from the zone, the National Security Adviser is from the zone, Chief of Army Staff is from the zone, Chief of Air Staff is from the zone and the Comptroller-General of Customs is also from the zone.
“But no one from the North Central is currently holding a position of responsibility and they blindly supported the president in 2015. Therefore, it is not fair that the Senate President should go to the North East again.”
Oshiomhole cut in here and first agreed with him that his points were valid, however, do not change the fact that Lawan had been chosen and as such, remained the choice for the office of Senate President.
“He literally overruled everyone,” one of the senators at the meeting told THISDAY, adding, “Oshiomhole is a dictator.”
The choice person, Uzodinma, for the office of the Deputy Senate President did not also go down well with the South-east senators, who were allegedly worried about his public image.
Senator Andy Uba, specifically, questioned the factors that informed the choice of Uzodinma above him and insisted he would not accept it. Some senators from other zones, therefore, rose up and canvassed for a neutral choice apart from Uba and Uzodinma.
On this one debate, Oshiomhole excused himself from the meeting and went out again to consult with “President Buhari”. By the time he came back, he said after consultation, it was agreed that Senator Sonni Ogbuoji from Ebonyi was chosen in the place of Uzodinma and it was accepted by other senators.
Curiously, the Oshiomhole arrangement was said to be completely contrary to what the other senators believed to be loyal to the APC had envisaged.
For instance, Ndume was said to have wanted to return to his former post as Senate Leader, while Abdullahi Adamu had positioned himself as the successor to Saraki, with Uzodinma as his deputy. In the same vein, Omo-Agege had eyed the seat of the deputy chief whip.
But evidently, the choices provided by the party did not go down well with a majority of the senators, particularly Ndume and Adamu, who were said to be unapologetically opposed to Lawan taking over as senate president.
It is also worthy that about 38 senators were present at the meeting that ended with them going away with some ‘compensation’ for their time, albeit after signing the resolution, which consented to leadership change.
THISDAY gathered that, according to the current Senate record, Senators Uzodinma, Ogbuoji, Godswil Akpabio, Fatima Raji Rasaki, Joshua Dariye (who is serving his time in prison) and Philip Aduda are still members of the PDP, because they have yet to declare on the floor of the Senate their defection.
In other words, the number of senators being bandied by the APC, minus those who just won the recent by-elections in Katsina and Bauchi, is not in sync with the actual number in its kitty, a development that is said to already make their claim of numerical strength flawed in a sense.
With Oshiomhole’s recalcitrant stand on the matter, the meetings continued last Monday, August 13, between the party and its members. A text message was again sent out by Lawan to each senator for a meeting and it read: “My distinguished brother, the APC Caucus holds an EMERGENCY meeting today, Monday, 13/8/2018, at No 13, Aso Drive, at 8pm prompt. Kind regards, Senate Leader.”
There was supposed to be another enlarged meeting of the National Assembly members and governors of the party the following Tuesday. THISDAY gathered that this enlarged meeting was initially slated to hold penultimate Wednesday but, because of Akpabio’s defection rally, it was moved to the next day, Thursday, which was also hampered by the Katsina rally, before eventually agreeing to have it last Tuesday.
At the end of the day, members reckoned the siege to the National Assembly by hooded operatives of the DSS, which was lifted by the acting president, failed for two critical reasons: the ‘bullying and intimidation’ by Oshiomhole and second, the discontent over the party’s choices of those to emerge the new leaders of the Senate.
While it is already public knowledge that Oshiomhole is not backing off from his Senate obsession anytime soon, the unconstitutionality of their approach to leadership change has inevitably attracted concerns from diverse quarters, including the international community, a development that has further put the nation on a grubby global spot.
It is, therefore, important that Oshiomhole and those travelling this undemocratic route in the name of the president should pause for a few minutes and ponder the implications of their action in the event that it blows up in their faces. Otherwise, history would be most unkind to them and deservedly so.