Following the failure to secure a safe landing for Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal penultimate week, members of the upper chamber of the National Assembly appear to be closing in on a successor in case the inevitable happens, SUNDAY ABORISADE reports.

The Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his army of supporters across the two main political parties in the red chamber, the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress, would definitely had wished that the cup of this week should pass over them. The Code of Conduct Tribunal has fixed March 11 to start the trial of the number three citizen of Nigeria who is the head of the federal parliament.

The Code of Conduct Bureau is prosecuting Saraki for alleged false declaration of his assets. Virtually all legal and political steps taken to stop Saraki’s trial by the Danladi Umar-led trial appeared to have hit the rocks.

For instance, a last-minute hope of securing a judicial remedy through an Abuja Federal High Court after a devastating blow from the Supreme Court which allowed the CCT to continue with the trial, was dashed penultimate week, when the court failed to heed a fresh prayer seeking to stop the trial.

The Senate President had sought an order quashing his trial before the CCT on ground, among others, that he was denied fair hearing in the course of investigations leading to the charges preferred against him.

While necessary judicial solutions were being explored by the Saraki’s team of legal experts, his friends and political associates within and outside the National Assembly had equally intensified efforts to lobby the presidency to prevail on the CCT to stop the case.

Part of the thinking of Saraki’s lobby team was that since an outright dismissal of the case would generate serious public outcry, especially when the case involved an alleged act of corruption, a deliberate delay through long adjournments of hearing dates could make Nigerians and the international community lose interest in it, while the Senate President enjoys his tenure. But feelers from some heavyweight politicians involved in the lobby showed that major political actors in the presidency claimed that their hands were tied on the matter because all facts were already in the public domain.

A senator who claimed to be privy to the lobby option told SUNDAY PUNCH on condition of anonymity that Saraki’s emissary to the presidency said attempting a political solution at this stage would cause a setback for President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade.

A presidency source had said, “If Saraki’s hands were not tied when he rejected the party’s nominations for the principal offices of the National Assembly, perhaps the rope would not have been tied tightly on our own hands at this moment too.”

Saraki’s loyalists in the Senate, however, saw an opportunity to save their colleague when Umar appeared before the Senate Committee on Judiciary to defend the 2016 budget of his tribunal penultimate week.

A senator, who would not want his name mentioned, confided in our correspondent that the Senate committee raised some issues in Umar’s budget and gave him a date to come back to defend the queries.

The senator however said the plan failed when Umar refused to show up for the budget defence until the deadline for the submission of committee reports on MDAs budgets lapsed last Monday.

Since the grand plot to bring Saraki and Umar together at the upper chamber failed, Saraki’s loyalists at both chambers are now allegedly mounting pressure on the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ethics and Public Petitions to intensify its probe of the alleged bribery allegation against Umar.

Both chambers of the federal parliament had asked their ethics committees to investigate an allegation contained in a petition by the Anti-Corruption Network that the CCT boss allegedly demanded and collected a N10m bribe.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Sen. Samuel Anyanwu, told our correspondent last week that his panel would await the outcome of the House committee, which had already started work on the petition.

But the spokesperson for the camp loyal to Sen. Ahmad Lawan, Saraki’s main opponent for the senate presidency seat, Senate Unity Forum, Sen. Kabir Marafa, said in an interview with our correspondent that the trial of Umar was politically motivated.

He therefore reiterated his call for the resignation of the Senate President in order to enable him to attend to his case.

It was learnt that part of the strategies of the SUF members was to constantly attack Saraki’s leadership, using the proposed purchase of exotic cars at a time when the Federal Government was finding it difficult to pay theN5, 000 meant for jobless Nigerians.

But the Special Adviser to Saraki on Special Duties and Intra-Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. Moshood Mustapha, described the public outcry over the reported purchase of some vehicles by the National Assembly for security operatives in the convoy of principal officers of both chambers of the legislature as “unnecessary.”

Mustapha said critics of the project vehicles were not being fair to the federal parliamentarians, arguing that nobody was raising eyebrows when the political office holders in the executive arm of government were allocated at least two vehicles each.

He said Saraki, for instance, had been using his personal cars since he was inaugurated as President of the Senate. He also cited instances where some of the vehicles he inherited in the convoy of his predecessor developed serious mechanical faults.

The pro-Saraki lawmaker said the car transaction was purely between the National Assembly management and the beneficiaries of the vehicles who are not even lawmakers.

Mustapha said Saraki was entitled to two vehicles but that only one was replaced in his convoy and that he chose so, on his own, because of the economic situation of the country and to minimise government expenses.

Mustapha also said Saraki saved the country N5bn when he rejected the N6bn put in the budget of the Federal Capital Territory to build his official residence and reduced it to N1bn just to exhibit prudence.

“Left to other people, they would have allowed it to go. As an individual, he doesn’t believe in that project but because a lot of money had gone into it; he believed that having N6bn in his official residence is a waste and decided on his own to take away N5bn from this project and put only N1bn.

“So, what is the N200m used to buy vehicles for security personnel and protocol compared to the N5bn he had saved the nation. I wonder why people are talking as if the vehicles are his personal property or for his children.”

He also said no form of bribery took place at the upper chamber during the screening of the ministers, contrary to insinuations in certain quarters. He added that no form of corrupt practice took place during the recently concluded budget defence by federal government agencies.

Mustapha said, “Bukola Saraki had created the most democratised, participatory and rigorous budgeting process as we have all seen, this is perhaps the most disciplined senate since 1999. We have ministerial screening and budget approval process without bribery and other forms of corruption. It is a scandal free budget process. Nobody has ever said anybody brought money or anything.

“Everybody has been busy doing his work and it was through this painstaking process that we were able to discover errors in the budget and even the president himself had said it that there are errors and that he would hold the culprits responsible.”

Neverthless, having considered the sensitive nature of the case before the CCT, some senators were said to have been making frantic efforts to shop for Saraki’s successor.

Findings by our correspondent showed that members of both the SUF and pro-Saraki senators under the aegis of Like Minds Senators had started making contacts on how to agree on an acceptable candidate.

Some senators were also said to have agreed that the Deputy Senate President, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, would not be affected by the change as he would be allowed to continue in office.

“However, senators from the anti-Saraki’s SUF group were advocating the change of the principal officers to reflect the position of the leadership of APC,” one of those privy to the plan had told SUNDAY PUNCH.

If the SUF members should have their way, the implication is that Lawan would take over from Sen. Ali Ndume as Senate Leader, while Sen. Bala Ibn N’Allah might lose his Deputy Leader seat to Sen. George Akume, who has not been attending activities in the Senate for some time. The newcomer from Edo State, Sen. Francis Alimikhena, might also be asked to vacate his seat as Deputy Whip for Sen. Abu Ibrahim.

It is still not clear how the issue of principal officers would be resolved but one of the Like Minds Senators said Saraki’s successor might come from his state or from the neighbouring Nasarawa State.

He said, “Both the SUF and Like Minds Senators had agreed to support the emergence of somebody from the North-Central geopolitical zone, a Muslim, who will be a bridge builder and acceptable to every senator.”

He also said the Saraki loyalists, who were in the majority at the upper chamber, had insisted that his successor must also be a member of the ‘New PDP’, a breakaway faction of the PDP which joined the APC at its formation.

The lawmaker said, “This issue had gone beyond SUF or LMS. We are coming together as one to ensure a rancour free arrangement that would lead to the emergence of a new senate president. Most of the people that we have consulted agreed that another senator from Kwara North should take over the mantle of leadership.

“It has been agreed that with this, the people of Kwara would not feel too bad, while the current arrangement in the red chamber will remain as it is. ”

Close watchers of the development at the senate were of the opinion that the resumption of Saraki’s trial at the CCT this week will obviously shape the nation’s political history.

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