I Had No Deal With Ekweremadu – Saraki   | Independent Newspapers Limited
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I Had No Deal With Ekweremadu – Saraki  

Posted: Jul 5, 2015 at 1:40 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, at a recent interactive session with media representatives in Abuja, speaks on his emergence as President of the Senate and that of Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP) as Deputy President of the Senate; the lingering feud in APC; his vision for the 8th Senate, and the allowances and salaries of National Assembly members, among other issues.IGNATIUS OKOROCHA was there. Excerpts…

Concerning what happened inside the chamber on June 9, when you were elected as Senate President, were you aware of the meeting scheduled by the party at the International Conference Centre (ICC)?



The truth is that I have not spoken on that incident before, to say what exactly happened. First, as regards the meeting at the ICC, I did not stop the various meetings I was having till around 4 a.m. on Tuesday, and I got the information that efforts were likely being made to make sure I did not get access into the chambers. So, as early as 5 a.m., I had a contingency plan that I must have my way because the plan before was that we should go to the Transcorp Hilton between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and proceed to the National Assembly from there. But I was advised that it would not be safe or secure for me to do that because there were some people who were striving to ensure that if I did not get to the chamber, it would not be possible for anybody to nominate me or second my nomination. So, I had to devise my own means. I can tell you today that I was in the National Assembly Complex as early as 6 a.m. in the morning. I stayed in the car park, inside the car from that 6 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. This is the truth. I was there and there was no communication. So, anybody that said he spoke to me or called me was lying. I did not know what was going on. All I did was to monitor how people were arriving into the chamber. It was at 9:45 am that I got information that the Clerk had entered the chambers. I got out of my car, put on my Babanriga and walked from the car park into the chambers. That was the reason some of you would have noticed that I looked very tired that morning. Even when I was in the chambers, the only thing I observed was that some of our senators were not present, but for the fact that people were arriving in batches, I was of the opinion that they would come in subsequent batches. Then, by 10 am, the event started and before we knew it, my election had come and gone. Even some of my supporters were initially worried that they did not see me. They were relieved when they saw me in the chambers.


Is there any change in the 2011 Senate Standing Order and that of 2015?

These are administrative issues. All we got when we arrived in the Senate Chambers was a brown envelope and inside it was the 2015 Standing Order and that was what we worked with.


There was a story that in 1979, your late father contested to be Senate President and that he was a threat to the preferred candidate. We heard that on the day of the inauguration of the Senate, he was invited by the then President, Shehu Shagari, and by the time he came back from the meeting, Senator Joseph Wayas was already on the seat as the Senate President. Is there any link between 1979 and 2015?

I think people are just creating stories and expressing issues. Honesty, nobody in his wildest calculation ever thought that senators would not be present on the day of inauguration. In my own view, most of those who worked closely with us will not be surprised with the outcome of the election because I worked hard. I had direct contact with every single senator. I was not relying on anybody. Even within our party, I worked hard and was in touch with everybody, seeing them, talking to them and we began to build confidence. Also, on the other side, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I was talking to them. That was the reason I laughed when people said that I had a deal that led to the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President. I did not make any deal for Ekweremadu to win.  I did not need a deal because, as I said, I worked hard. I was canvassing and campaigning for their votes and some of you will remember the meeting we held at the Transcorp Hotel where former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, co-chaired with Senator Gobir. If you heard most of them there, the position they were taking was that “this is the Senate President we want.” This was not on any party line. Those who came from PDP, their view was that, “this is the Senate President we believe in and we believe can lead us.” So, when I heard people talking about a deal, it was strange to me. Our success was because one was able to convince a lot of our colleagues and they accepted that this is the person that was going to lead and, as such, the outcome of the Senate Presidency election was positive. But the fact is that we worked hard for it and also prayed about it. We campaigned and won the confidence of our colleagues even within the APC itself. I believe that the way the events turned out was some evidence of faith and destiny because, sometimes I sit down and still wonder how some of our colleagues found themselves in the International Conference Centre. I mean, if there had been a situation where the Clerk announced that the event had been postponed, it would have been a different thing. I am sure if you ask some of my colleagues what actually happened, they will not find an answer to it other than that there must be a hand of faith and destiny.


So, it was not true that you were invited to the APC meeting at the ICC and you refused?

What I am saying is that PDP senators had announced to the public that they were supporting me without my having a meeting with them. PDP as a party told the public at about 10 p.m. on June 8 that because, in their own meeting, majority of their senators have told the party that this was who they were going to vote for, the party decided to agree with them. So, even in their own interest, strategically, they decided that since 30 of their senators were going to vote for me anyway, the remaining had better join and concur. It was not until 2 a.m. on June 9 that they called us to tell us that this was what they had decided and when they said that they had a candidate for the position of Deputy Senate President, we also told them we had a candidate in the name of Senator Ali Ndume. It was our own calculation that after we finish the Senate President’s election, the two groups in APC would meet and agree on a candidate. We never thought the other group would not turn up for the inauguration. By the time we got there, we were 25 or thereabout and they were over 40 PDP members. So, there was no way they would not have defeated us and that was what happened. When people said it was a deal, I said to them that if the Clerk had started the procedure in the House of Representatives first before proceeding to the Senate, it is the House of Reps, I am sure, that would have had a Deputy Speaker from PDP. It was the two hours the Clerk of the National Assembly spent with us that gave time to House members to return to the House of Reps and have enough number to prevent that kind of event. For any APC member, it is unfortunate that we have a PDP man as a Deputy Senate President. It is painful for any APC member. When we went through all the struggles that was not what we signed for. It is unfortunate it has happened but it would be unfair to put all these blames on one side because it was a combination of luck and miscalculations that led us to have what happened that morning – that some Senators were in another place instead of being at the National Assembly. So, to suggest that it was out of desperate act to emerge as Senate President will be uncharitable.  I reject the suggestion that we had a deal completely, and those who had followed the event knew that I did not need that kind of deal to emerge. As I said, if the Senate elections had been the second one to hold, Ekweremadu would not have emerged Deputy Senate President. The problem would have been in the House of Reps. My view is that we will see how to work with it and how we would be able to move on as a party and still push in through our agenda.


Your emergence was against your party’s wish but the party leadership later accepted. When the party nominated principal officers, one would have thought that in order to mend fences, you would have accepted their nominees. Don’t you think that people will now see it as a case of a man who has defeated his party twice?

Let me take the first question where you said that my emergence was not the party’s position. We have it on record that at no time did the party say it has zoned this position to a particular zone. Soon after the election, the party held a meeting at the caucus level. At the caucus level, there was a working document that the party presented, which showed that it has zoned the Senate Presidency to North-Central but, at the meeting, it was rejected and thus, the party needed to go back and work on the paper. We waited for the party but there was no follow up. Then, we started hearing rumours that the party was thinking that it might consider not holding on to that proposal from the National Working Committee that the Senate Presidency should be zoned to the North Central and, may be, it will be given to the North East. Then, the governors got involved, held their own meeting and also recommended North-Central. All we were waiting for was for the party to announce that the position has been zoned to North-Central but all of a sudden, the leaders of the party categorically came and said there was no zoning. If the party had said it had zoned this position to the North-East, Abubakar Bukola Saraki would never have contested for the office of Senate President. But the party said there was no zoning and that it would use merit and all that. It also said anybody from the two zones can contest. That was point number one. On the issue of procedure in the emergence of the principal officers of the party, it is true that the party did send a letter but as you all know, we are guided by the Constitution and the Standing Order of the Senate. These are two documents that I have taken an oath to ensure that whatever I do as the Senate President, I will abide by their rules. And also by parliamentary practices and procedures and things that are done as convention, you know that the contents of that letter clearly was not the norm or what they practise in that place. It generally has been the convention that majority of these positions go to the different caucuses of the party and from there, the party meet and recommend. This Senate President is just first among equals. I do not have any executive power over my colleagues, and some of you know the effort I have made, particularly in the North-East zone, to appeal to some of our senators to see whether they would agree with the party’s position, but at the end of the day, my hands were tied. All one could do was to appeal and, at the end of the day, we must be guided by the Standing Orders and by the Constitution. Again, this letter by the party chairman, all the senators knew the content of the letter, not that it was known only to me. So, there were opportunities also in those zones to implement the content or leave it. It was really dependent on the wishes of those senators. The point should not be to hold me responsible for the actions of those colleagues of mine because it would be very unfair. The positions they took were those in line with our Constitution and Standing Order. In that area, it would be unfair to say that the party was defeated twice.  I remember that in 2011, we saw how leaders emerged, in the previous Senate; we have seen how the nominees emerged, and I do not think this one has been any different from how the previous ones have emerged. That area is very important and it is clear. So, we should not give the impression that the party’s position was jettisoned. Some of these letters from the party are normally addressed to the caucuses of the party and not to the plenary session of the senators. And at the end of the day, what I was reading was their decision, not mine. And those are the people according to our Standing Orders and the Constitution that have the right to make those decisions. In any case, the party has also demonstrated some inconsistencies on the matter. On Friday, June 19, the party chairman called me and said that they were sending a letter to my office. I said that they should send it. In the letter, which I had seen the copy, the party only zoned the positions and principal officers and directed the Senate caucus of the APC to fill It. No name was put against any of the positions. Then, they recalled the letter, obviously after somebody had mounted pressure on them. They then wrote the last one which they specifically allocated to individual senators. That is the inconsistency we are talking about.


Why did you not read the letter from the South West-Caucus?

Because I had not received their letter, but they communicated to me later that day that their letter should be ready by the end of the business last Friday. I do not know whether they would have submitted it. I did not want to do anything that was not strictly official. I knew that they had no objection to a particular candidate but I wanted to be sure I got a letter from their caucus like others did, and that was the reason I did not announce any name. Their letter had not arrived but they had conveyed to me that they had got nine or 10 signatures and were waiting for two or three remaining to sign, but some of them were not around and that was the reason their letter was delayed.