What makes Saraki Nigeria’s smartest Senate president

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How long does Sen. President Saraki have to outfox Aso Rock, and pull through this tumult of an estate? Answer: How long is a piece of string?

By Olusegun Elijah

Out of the 13 Senate presidents Nigeria has thrown up between 1960 and 2015, six had the misfortune of being splattered with one corruption allegation each, and they all went down thereafter. Except for the incumbent No. 3 citizen who has been enmeshed in five corruption allegations since he took office in 2015, yet he’s powering on like a hurricane.

Thumbs up for Sen. President Bukola Saraki! The APC top senator has been working his tail off to undo a maze of allegations, including false asset declaration, the Panama Paper scandal, the Senate Standing Rule manipulation (whose suit was dropped), the Federal Capital Development Authority accommodation scam, and, now, the Paris Club Fund refund. And he seems to be inching his way out. The odds are also strong he will tough all these out, and finish his four-year term, lugging the whole sleazy baggage along.

It matters little what signal his po-faced party leader and President Muhammadu Buhari sends. The former governor appears a tough job for the presidency—at least he’s not a push-over for the EFCC or easy prey for the niceties of rule of law. He’s not even a believer in the dignity of the office he occupies—like his predecessors who cared. Three of them accepted their impeachment; and two tendered their resignation letter.

But none of these actions looks like an option for Saraki. “The Senate President is not contemplating any resignation.” media aide Yusuph Olaniyonu said amidst calls for Saraki’s resignation last year when the Code of Conduct Bureau put him in dock for false asset declaration. “He will surely have his day in court.” And he’s been in and out of court—from CCT to Supreme Court—for no fewer than eight times in less than three years. And all of that is no skin off his nose.

It will take a lot more doing to make him respect his office—or to bring him to justice. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly told Buhari last July that to rid the nation of sleazeballs, the APC government must take the most travelled path: outspending those he called rogues and robbers in the National Assembly. They are many—and have survived years of probe and investigations.

Pretty hard to tell what Saraki’s mojo is. With his background in amala politics his late father was good at, he, compared with his forebears in the upper chamber, doesn’t stack up good in certain areas. The late Chuba Okadigbo was Senate President in 1999, after his predecessor Evan Enwerem caved in to a once-over of a certificate forgery allegation. The in-coming professor of philosophy and politics would also step on ‘banana peels” when he portioned out to his colleagues a huge Christmas bonus which later became his undoing. Okadigbo took a fall. And he couldn’t survive it. Five years later, Sen. President Adolphus Wabara was smeared with a bribery allegation which stuck so fast he couldn’t launder it. He quickly resigned.

What hastened their exit, political analysts say, was the fighting style of the president then—Obasanjo. He always matched them naira for naira, and got, most of the times, two-thirds of the House to finish off any conspiracy that got his nod.

But for Buhari, with his waste-not-want-not money management, the reverse might be the case.

Sitting atop a N150-billion NASS budget, Saraki will have enough ammo to fight to the finish. And he is sure to have enough backwind from the 65 Senate committee chairmen he appointed—and lots of love from some hard-assed senators like Dino Melaye and others he handcuffed with more lucrative committees. They have already cast in their lots with him. “We stand by him as he goes through the trial at the CCT where we believe he will be able to prove his innocence,” Melaye said.

Fighting corruption—or unseating Saraki, as it were—shouldn’t be the headache of Buhari alone, according to the presidency. “Nigerians should own the fight against corruption,” Femi Adesina said recently. Taking on the corrupt lawmakers, however, is not a piece of cake. It’s certainly going to need more than one #Occupy NASS a couple civil society organisations organised in Abuja last April. But it’s a bad thing that political observers have described Nigerians as gushers who can sustain a fight beyond a week.

Money is usually a strong weapon in defusing mass actions in Nigeria. And Saraki, like most politicians, including the executive, makes the best of it. Which is why the fight gets messier when Buhari, spending no cash, still sells his political stock to save his own. That makes many Nigerians unable to thump their chests for the anti-corruption campaigner.

The kid glove with which Buhari has treated corruption allegation against his CoS Abba Kyari and SGF David Babachir has made many, including sympathisers, conclude the anti-corruption fight is a joke.

“When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and in the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticide,” said Kaduna APC Sen. Sheu Sani. “But when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, they use deodorants.”

Sani is one of the most vocal on the floor. And he has his circle of influence where his view about Saraki is colored with this perception of Buhari’s presidency. A few more power centres like Sani’s in the House can only mean one thing: Saraki is going to tide over all the storms. And he will go down in history as Nigeria’s most tainted Senate president that kept his seat full term.

And the zing is: he’s got ambition loftier than the Senate cubicle.

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