Saraki As Buhari’s Achilles Heel, By Majeed Dahiru
The majority of Nigerians who cherish freedom and relish liberal democracy are beginning to see the Saraki political battle as a continuous struggle against Buhari’s undemocratic tendencies. As the leader of the new opposition coalition, Saraki will no doubt be Buhari’s Achilles’ heel in 2019.
Achilles was a Greek mythical figure and man of many battles, most famous for his heroic exploits in the Trojan wars. As written in Homer’s Iliad, Achilles was fortified from birth against all worldly vulnerabilities that may lead to his early death by Thetis, his sea goddess mother who dipped him into the powerful River Styx, holding him by his heels. The whole of Achilles’ body was fortified with the impregnable strength of iron, save for his heels by which his mother held him, that wasn’t immersed in the waters of Styx. Achilles’ heels was thus the weak part of his strong body, which would later become susceptible to a poisoned arrow that resulted in his death.
Like Achilles’s heel, Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki may have become the weak point of a strong coalition of political forces that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015, and through which the rallying opposition forces may democratically oust the current All Progressives Congress (APC) government at the centre in 2019. In its bid to punish Saraki for emerging as Senate president against the wish of the APC top echelon, the Buhari administration has demonstrated clear leadership weakness in the way it has deployed state power to fight a purely personal matter involving the clash of over bloated egos. Rather than fortify his strong winning coalition completely by skilfully managing the crisis emanating from Saraki’s emergence as Senate president through a neutral and conciliatory approach, Buhari went on a series of offensives that have alienated a critical component of his winning alliance, making it vulnerable to the poisonous arrows of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
From the trumped up charges of forging Senate rules against the leadership of the Saraki-led upper chamber of the National Assembly to the hurriedly packaged charges of a code of conduct violation in asset declaration and a phoney link to a deadly armed robbery incidence in his home state of Kwara, Saraki’s persecution has vividly exposed the hypocrisy, double standards and dishonest war on corruption of the Buhari administration. In an attempt to disparage the image of Saraki, the Buhari administration has only succeeded in greatly diminishing the image of the institution of the National Assembly, the cornerstone of Nigeria’s, and every country’s, democracy. And when Saraki resolved to assert the traditional independence of the legislature in line with the principles of separation of powers for the purposes of checks and balance, Buhari’s reaction was that of scornful disdain. For a man apparently imbued with a Messianic complex and an inflated sense of self-righteousness, Buhari considers himself infallible, hence above questioning, checks and balances. He expects his correspondences to the National Assembly to be treated as dogmatically as believers do divinely revealed scriptures. Heads of ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDAs) and the police chief often treat National Assembly summons with sluggish disdain, taking cues from the executive, which regards the legislature as an unwelcome irritant.
The consequence of these acts of hypocrisy, double standards and impunity that have characterised the relationship between the Buhari-led executive and the Saraki-led legislature, has robbed off negatively on the quality of the overall governance of the Nigerian state.
For attempting to override President Buhari’s veto on an election sequence re-ordering clause in the electoral act, thugs in the company of a suspended member of the Senate invaded the hallowed red chamber and took away the mace during a plenary session, with all federal security agencies present standing down at that moment to allow for a successful operation. That was an unprecedented level of dare-devil assault on the National Assembly, calculated to intimidate the legislature, and which sent shock waves down the entire political spectrum.
The consequence of these acts of hypocrisy, double standards and impunity that have characterised the relationship between the Buhari-led executive and the Saraki-led legislature, has robbed off negatively on the quality of the overall governance of the Nigerian state. In addition to being unable to deliver on its three-pronged campaign promises of fixing the economy, ensuring national security and fighting corruption, by a largely distracted administration, Buhari has also failed to uphold the leadership principles of fairness, equity and justice among all coalition partners within the APC. Buhari’s failure of leadership has resulted in a widespread discontent among the people towards the APC federal government, as seen in the torrent of defections from the ruling party to the opposition PDP. Saraki’s defection from the ruling APC back to the opposition PDP, despite some last minute attempts to placate him and other defectors, may be the last straw that will break the camel’s back.
Still, on Tuesday August 7, in what many have described as an attempted coup, the National Assembly complex was cordoned off by armed masked men of the Department of State Services (DSS), ostensibly acting on “orders from above”. This development further fuelled the already rife speculation about an imminent forceful change of leadership of the Senate, with or without the required constitutional threshold. Apprehensions heightened when the PDP members of the National Assembly, working on a tip off from some of their colleagues in the APC caucus about a possible change of leadership, converged in sufficient numbers to counter any attempt to remove Saraki but were prevented from gaining entrance into the Assembly complex. The possibility of a less than two-third membership of the Senate sitting to effect a change in the leadership of the upper chamber triggered an outrage across Nigeria and beyond. The successful removal of Saraki as Senate president by less the constitutional requirement of two thirds majority would have amounted to a civilian coup, as that would have paved way for a democratically elected dictator whose actions, programmes and policies would neither be checked nor balanced. This latest development was condemned as the worse form of impunity the Buhari administration could ever contemplate. With immense pressure from both Nigerians across party lines and the international community, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo consequently fired the director general of DSS, Lawal Daura, while also condemning the actions of his men as unlawful and denying any form of authorisation of the unfortunate incidence by the executive.
The three-year dirty fight with Saraki has soiled the Buhari administration and exposed its weaknesses with the concomitant effect of a highly diminished image. This fight with the Senate President has brought out the failure of Buhari’s integrity. In a significant manner, Saraki has emerged from his travails as the rallying point of the opposition coalition in Nigeria.
This unprecedented and prompt punitive action by the Presidency against the head of a security agency has been welcomed as a clear departure from the complacent approval of impunity that has defined the Buhari administration. However, one critical question is left unanswered: Who authorised the deployment of security agents with instructions to prevent lawmakers from gaining access into the National Assembly complex on Tuesday morning? For any discerning mind that has followed the series of the acts of impunity of the current administration using the apparatus of the DSS, it is obvious that Osinbajo’s swift action was a cosmetic face saving measure for an administration that has lost credibility considerably. Osinbajo’s denial of knowledge of this unfortunate incidence begs further questions. Is Osinbajo also not aware of similar acts of impunity that aimed to cow other arms of government, such as the storming of the residences of senior members of the bench in a most brutal manner, a little over a year into office of the Buhari administration in October 2016, under the guise of a sting operation by men of the DSS? Is he not aware that DSS has continued to detain Sambo Dasuki, the former national security adviser and Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the leader of Islamic Movement In Nigeria, in disregard of several court rulings ordering their release on bail? How about the gross violations of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians to freedom and liberty, such as the case of citizen Jones Abiri, who has been detained for two years without charge in DSS detention facilities? For a government that has become notorious for half-truths and outright lies, it is apparent that Daura was simply a fall guy to cover up a failed grand scheme to carry out a civilian coup by illegally removing an elected Senate president and install a willing stooge to pave the way for an unchallenged civilian dictatorship. It is doubtful if Daura would have, on his own, deployed his men to garrison the National Assembly without a clear instruction from the highest authority in the land.
The three-year dirty fight with Saraki has soiled the Buhari administration and exposed its weaknesses with the concomitant effect of a highly diminished image. This fight with the Senate President has brought out the failure of Buhari’s integrity. In a significant manner, Saraki has emerged from his travails as the rallying point of the opposition coalition in Nigeria. As a victim of Buhari’s bullish impunity, Saraki is beginning to attract immense sympathy from the Nigerian public, while also in a dramatic role-switch, he is fast emerging as the hero of democracy, while Buhari is rapidly diminishing as the villain. The majority of Nigerians who cherish freedom and relish liberal democracy are beginning to see the Saraki political battle as a continuous struggle against Buhari’s undemocratic tendencies. As the leader of the new opposition coalition, Saraki will no doubt be Buhari’s Achilles’ heel in 2019.