The embattled President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who is currently facing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal has traced the genesis of his travails to a political disagreement with a national leader of the governing All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu.
Mr. Saraki, who was replying an open letter to him last week by a magazine publisher, Dele Momodu, suggested that Mr. Tinubu was after him because he blocked his (Tinubu) attempt to be the running mate to President Muhammadu Buhari before the 2015 election.
Mr. Saraki had in the past repeatedly claimed he was being persecuted for emerging President of the Senate against the wishes of the leadership of the APC and Mr. Tinubu who backed another candidate, Ahmed Lawan, for the post.
But in his letter to Mr. Momodu, Mr. Saraki added a new layer to claims he made in the past regarding why he was being tried for corruption.
He said although many people believed he was on trial because he emerged Senate President against the wish of the leadership of his party, that was not his only offence.
“I have also been accused of helping to frustrate some people’s opportunity to emerge as President Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate,” Mr. Saraki said. “But I have no problem with anybody.”
Although the Senate President did not clearly mention any name in this new claim, it was Mr. Tinubu that was repeatedly and widely criticised for scheming to become Mr. Buhari’s running mate before the 2015 presidential election.
The former Lagos governor played a leading role in the opposition merger that became too hot for the then ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, to handle.
He rallied the electorate in the South-West of Nigeria behind Mr. Buhari, a strategy that largely led to the defeat of PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan in the election.
Mr. Tinubu later nominated Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to become Mr. Buhari’s running mate after opposition mounted over his ambition to run with Mr. Buhari.
Justifying his decision to go against the aspiration of the former Lagos State governor, Mr. Saraki said he was concerned that it would not have been “politically smart” for the APC to run a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Mr. Tinubu is Muslim, and so is Mr. Buhari.
“I doubt if we would have won the election if we had done this, especially after the PDP had successfully framed us a Muslim party.
“I felt we were no longer in 1993. Perhaps, more than ever before, Nigerians are more sensitive to issues of religious balancing. This, my brother, was my original sin,” Mr Saraki said.
The Senate president said Mr. Tinubu’s political camp was of the view that since he conspired to frustrate the ambition of their benefactor, then he must not realize his own ambition as well.
He however, added that he had no regrets taking that decision.
“I only stood for what I believed was in the best interest of the party and in the best interest of Nigeria,” he said.
No deal with PDP
Mr. Saraki also said contrary to the view held by Mr. Momudu and many others, he never entered into any deal with the opposition PDP to produce a candidate for deputy senate president.
He blamed APC leaders for the emergence of Ike Ekeremadu as deputy senate president.
“I did not do any deal with the PDP,” Mr. Saraki said. “I did not have to because even before the PDP Senators as a group took the decision to support my candidature on the eve of the inauguration of the 8th Senate, 22 PDP Senators had already written a letter supporting me.
“What I did not envisage was a situation where some members of my party would not be in the chambers that day, especially when the clerk had already received a proclamation from the President authorising the inauguration of the Senate.
“Pray, if a team refused to turn up for a scheduled match and was consequently walked over, would it be fair to blame the team that turned up and claimed victory?
“I believe those that made it possible for PDP to claim the DSP position were those who decided to hold a meeting with APC senators elsewhere at the time they ought to be in the chambers.
“What the PDP Senators did was to take advantage of their numerical strength at the material time. They simply lined up behind Senator Ike Ikweremadu while those of us from APC voted for Senator Ali Ndume. It was a game of numbers, and we were hopelessly outnumbered.
“If the PDP had nominated their own candidate for the Senate Presidency position that day, they would have won. It was as simple as that,” he said.
Mr. Saraki recalled that in the build up to the inauguration of the senate, the National Working Committee of the APC sent two signals.
The first signal, he said, specified how leadership positions in the National Assembly had been zoned.
He added that while members were trying to give effect to that decision, the second signal came, which contained names of people to which these zoned position had been allocated.
He said what the APC leadership failed to acknowledge was that the presidency of the Senate was not an executive president.
“Therefore, I cannot decide by myself who gets what in the Senate,” Mr. Saraki said. “Therefore, when they said I defied party directive in the choice of principal officers, they are invariably ascribing to me the power that I did not have,” he said.
APC persecuting me
The Senate president said he was not asking to be shielded from prosecution because of his contribution to the APC if there was genuine basis for such action to be taken against him.
He however, added that he also did not expect to be so strongly persecuted by a party he contributed so much to build.
“The New PDP may not have given APC victory in 2015, but it was an important factor in the dynamics that produced that victory,” the senate president said. “And with all sense of modesty, I was an important factor in the formation of New PDP; in leading that group to the APC; in ensuring our group’s support for the candidate during the primaries and in mobilising substantial resources for the election.
“For these, I have not expected any special compensation. Rather, I only expect to be treated like every loyal party member and accorded the right to freely aspire.”
He also explained why his colleague senators had been accompanying him to attend trials at the tribunal.
“The Senators have freely accompanied me to the Tribunal not because they are loyal to me as Abubakar Bukola Saraki, but because they are committed to the principle that produced me as the President of the Senate,” he said.
“The same principle that produced Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President and produced Ali Ndume as Majority Leader. They see all of us in the Senate leadership as manifestation of their jealously guarded right to freely choose their own leaders. Because they know they made us their leaders without any external interference; they are confident that they retain the power to remove us whenever they so wish.
“They also know what this trial is all about. They believe I am being victimized because they have expressed their right to choose their own leadership. This is why I am not in any way perturbed by my absence in the chambers during this trial. Because I was not imposed on the Senate, I feel confident that the Senate will protect its own choice whether I am present or not. It is never about me.
“It is about the independence of the legislature. It has always been so since 1999. It is so today and it would be so in 2019, it would be so in 2023, and as long as we practice a democracy that operates on the principle of separation of powers.”