By Abdulwahab Oba
Saturday evening is always a very busy day for me. It is the time I write my column in the papers. This last Saturday wasn’t an exception except for a few distractions from a friend in the United States who kept “salaaming” me. I tried ignoring Olukayode who studied International Human Rights Law at the University of Notre Dame, but he wouldn’t let go. Eventually, I replied “wa alaikun salaam”.
As if that was the clearance he needed, he started chatting with me without waiting for appropriate responses: “it’s dangerous for the SP [Senate President] to accept to work with PMB again. I assure you it’s very dangerous. I assure you they will accept all conditions just to have SP. He should not, please”, he said as if I hold the ace for Saraki’s decision.
“Remember OBJ also begged and even prostrated for Atiku. The rest is now history”, Olukayode continued. At this point, I interrupted to let him know I was still online. “God will show him the way. Let’s keep praying for him”, he replied. “Insha Allah, we shall be rightly guided”, he retorted and continued. “I was very close to Bode George through his wife Roli. He told us Baba prostrated for Atiku and that he [Bode George] felt like shooting Atiku while Baba was begging him. Till date, Atiku is still struggling to get out of the PR mess Baba put him. Once again, I pray Allah blesses us with his guidance and aid us to see beyond tomorrow”, he concluded and prayed.
Yes, may God guide Saraki and others to take the right decision at this critical moment of their political career. Come to think of it, Saraki took the risk in 2015 to leave PDP’s comfort zone to join and reform the APC. At the APC’s national convention in Lagos, Saraki put all kinds of personal and premordial sentiments aside to work for the emergence of the candidate Muhammad Buhari, which earned him the wrath of former vice president Atiku Abubakar and Rabiu Kwankwaso. In deciding who became Buhari’s running mate, Saraki also believed, and rightly so, that the level of religious animosity instigated by the then ruling PDP would not permit a Muslim/Muslim ticket. Expectedly, this also earned him the displeasure of some power blocks who thought otherwise.
Bukola Saraki was a major factor and pillar of the APC campaign machinery, especially in terms of intellectual and logistics supports for the success of the party. But men will continue to be men. Soon after the rare electoral victory, men began their political machiavellianism. Presumed democrats turned despots and collective liberties alienated from decision making. They swore not to allow Saraki enjoyed the fruits of his labour, labeling him a rebel and ridiculously an armed robbery accomplice. What a weird world!
Unperturbed, Saraki offered genuine opportunities for reconciliation so Nigeria can move forward. But those benefitting from the needless attrition would not let go. Now, the highest court of the land has put a judicial end to the political humiliation of Saraki. Those who laid the judicial ambush are seemingly asking for reconciliation they rebuffed for three years. But, the question is whether the verbal or written reconciliatory agreement is genuine. Would this not be another landmine for Saraki?
As we approach the 2019 general elections, it is obvious politics and politicking in the interest of survival and re-election will continue to take centre stage. Election and re-election bids will naturally instigate actions and reactions, fuelled by strategies to gain control, regain lost ground either by arm-twisting, blackmail, rapprochement, realignment etc. This was my worry when I learnt the president has finally embraced discussions and negotiations towards resolving the three years impasse.
But has the president not laid another ambush for Saraki and the National Assembly through his latest request asking for approval to spend, through INEC, over N242 billion on the forthcoming elections. The fund, according to the President in his letter to the Senate, is to be provided either through supplementation or virement. It would appear the President was giving the Senate an opportunity to determine which of the two sources of funding they will approve, but reading down the lines, we get a complete picture of what the President wants: virement. And this virement must be from the ‘insertions’ made by the National Assembly to what the executive had proposed as budget for the 2018 fiscal year.
I’m sure we have not forgotten that the ‘insertion’ referred to by Mr. President were the constituency projects which the legislators had explained were needed by their constituencies but which the presidency is arguing is not necessary. Certain facts thus emerge from this section of the presidential transmission to the upper chamber. First, the confirmation of insinuations that the President would, always, want to have his way. This request for virement from the insertions by the lawmakers, ‘in the national interest’ is a direct statement that since those projects were not proposed by the executive in the first instance, then there is no way they should be implemented.
If the projects were not proposed by the executive, does that make them less justifiable for implementation? Are the beneficiaries of such projects not Nigerians? Are they not voters? Are they not entitled to benefit something from their country? Of course, no one is talking about the fact that our budgeting system is not people-friendly; as it were today it is only what those in Abuja want that must be done, without proper consultations with those below the ladder who are to be the eventual beneficiaries.
The second fact from the letter is the subtle blackmail of the federal legislators. Read this: “…As you are aware, the 2019 general election is scheduled to be conducted early in 2019. To ensure that adequate arrangements are made for free and fair election, it has become necessary to appropriate funds to enable the relevant agencies to commence preparations. Accordingly, I invite the distinguished senate to consider, in the national interest, relocating some of the funds appropriated for the new projects which were inserted into the 2018 budget proposal totalling N 578, 319, 951, 904 to cover the sum of N228, 854, 800, 205 required as noted above.”
What if the lawmakers refuse the request? They will be working against ‘national interest’, against the provision of adequate arrangements to ensure ‘free and fair election’! This line of the letter is a strong campaign issue against the lawmakers who are also politicians and want to come back to their various offices. As such they might just eat the humble pie, accept the proposal and who loses? The people!
And come to think of it, why couldn’t the election budget be part of the overall national budget? We all knew from January that INEC would conduct election in 2019 and would need to start preparations from 2018. Why bring a supplementary proposal for the agency in July? Didn’t they know what they would be spending as far back as 2017? Again, one of the shortcomings of our budgeting system.
Again, why do the security agencies need fresh funding after what has been captured in the 2018 budget? We need to ask questions around this issue too because there is a lot of opacity surrounding security budget in this country and as the saying goes, politicians are the same, only their slogan differs. Can we trust these ‘executive insertions’ too?
2019 campaigns on my mind, friends. Is Mr President genuinely ready for reconciliation? Should Saraki abandon the struggle mid-way, especially when the arsenals have been purchased? What about the alliances and coalitions? Can the coalition defeat the incumbent?
May God direct our leaders right.