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APC Senators Back In The Trenches

The internal strife that has recently been bedevilling the caucus of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the senate appears to be worsening ahead of the 2019 general election. 

Dare Odufowokan, The Nation's Assistant Editor examines the factors responsible for the sour relationship among Senators elected on the platform of the ruling party.

With the 2019 general election fast approaching, many observers within and outside the country are paying keen attention to happenings within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which is already troubled as chieftains are now pitted against one an other over the control of party structures and other issues, ahead of the election which the party is seeking to win in other to remain ruling party for another four years.

The APC, which basked in the euphoria of defeating the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the 2015 general election, has found itself bedeviled by intra-party squabbles for most part of its short existence. At the national level and in most states of the country, the ruling party is divided against itself. Most organs of the party, including its caucuses in the national assembly, are not spared from this crack.

According to very reliable party sources, the party caucus in the senate is one of the worst hit organs of the ruling APC. The Nation gathered that ahead of the 2019 general election, APC senators, rather than working together to ensure victory for their party in the said election, are currently divided into groups scheming against one another within and outside the hallowed chamber.

The Nation gathered that following the controversy that trailed the recent amendment made to the 2010 Electoral Act by the national assembly which saw APC senators openly disagreeing over the order of elections, the APC senate caucus became further fragmented into what is now know as ‘pro-Buhari’ and ‘anti-Buhari’ groups. It was further gathered that the groups now meets separately to plan and scheme against one another.

“The situation now is such that we have two groups of APC senators meeting separately and working at cross purposes in the national assembly. While the recent amendment to the electoral act was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, the division among us has been on for quite a while. The sacking of Senator Abdulahi as chairman of the Northern Senators Forum has further polarized the caucus.

“This is working at great advantage for the opposition. It is now very easy to shoot down pro-APC motions and bills on the floor of the senate. It is now common placed for the senate to disagree openly with presidential suggestions and requests. This is not good for the ruling party as we head towards another general election. It is all working to the benefit of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

A divided house 
Worried about the disunity rocking the caucuses of the APC in the national assembly, a member of the 7th assembly, Hon. Bamidele Faparusi, advised APC legislators and other chieftains of the party to close rank and be in unity warning that that intra-party squabbles and disunity among members of the party in the various organs of the party, including the senate caucus, may rob the party of victory during the next election.

The forearm federal legislator condemned a situation where senators elected on the platform of the ruling party are unable to work together for the progress of the party. He lamented that the disunity among APC senators is working agains the party’s delivery of the much awaited dividends of democracy to the good people of Nigeria who graciously voted for the party in 2015.

But while Faparusi is optimistic that the division among APC senators will soon be a thing of the past as the 2019 election draws nearer, given efforts by the leadership of the party at reconciling the many differences bedeviling the caucus, another chieftain of the party, Chief Bode Jaiyeola, former state secretary of the Alliance for Democracy in Ogun State, feels the division is worsening as the senators are now more divided by ever.

According to Jaiyeola, the crisis rocking the senate caucus of the ruling party is multi-dimensional and as such cannot be wished away. “Concerted effort will be required to nip the disunity among our senators. The situation is daily taking a turn for the worse and to say the truth, the opposition senators are more united and as such more influential in the national assembly.

“At a time when APC senators should be working together towards ensuring victory for the party at the next presidential election, they are allowing pockets of disagreements to divide them so much that they cannot speak with one voice. Sadly, this division is not caused by just one factor. It is a product of several factors and developments dating back to the very beginning of the current assembly,” he said.

Findings by The Nation however revealed that aside the brouhaha generated by the controversial amendment of the electoral act, the division among APC senators can also be traced to a number of other issues which include the resumed trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, perceived, rumored or confirmed presidential ambitions of some sitting senators as well as differences over what should be the fate of Chief John Odigie Oyegun, the national chairman of the APC and the National Working Committee (NWC).

“These issues, and many more, are at the centre of the confusion rocking the APC senate caucus. In fact, some of the senators are here quarreling as a result of their fear that they may be denied return tickets by the APC in their various states. Many f them are blaming President Buhari for that and are determined to work against him and the party. Others have pledge their loyalty to some other presidential contenders aside Mr. President,” a senate source added.

Still on electoral act amendment 
Sources within the Senate revealed that the clam currently pervading the hallowed chamber can be likened to the peace of the graveyard as senators are meeting in groups behind the scenes to fine-tune their next move concerning the controversial amendment made to the electoral act last week. It should be noted that the national assembly has forwarded the amendment to President Buhari for his assent.

The two groups of senators who supported the amendment and those who opposed it are keenly awaiting Buhari’s decision on the amendment made to the 2010 Electoral Act. The clean copy of the amendment was last Monday transmitted to the presidency for assent. Buhari has up to 30 days to either withhold or assent to the draft Law, in line with section 58 (4) of the 1999 Constitution.

While the senate leadership and and the PDP senate caucus are in support of the amendment, APC senators are sharply divided over the amendment. Senator Abdullahi Adamu, sacked chairman of the NSF and a former Governor of Nasarawa State, leads the camp that is opposed to the amendment. And if Adamu and other leaders of his group are to be believed, not less than 59 senators are in his camp.

But Senator Dino Melaye, speaking for those supporting the amendment, said only Adamu and a handful of senators are in the opposition. He said majority of APC senators are in support of the amendment. Whichever of these two claims turns out to be the truth, one thing is certain, APC senators are at loggerheads over the amendment and will still dig deeper into one another should Buhari refuse to sign the amendment.

In anticipation of the President’s decision, the two camps, according to reliable sources, are currently carrying out intensive supporters’ recruitment, a situation that has further polarized the party’s caucus in the senate. While some senators are all over the place urging their colleague to be prepared to support President Buhari should he withhold assent, some others are urging senators to be prepared to overrule Buhari should that happen.

“What we are doing currently is preempting the decision of President Buhari on the amendment sent to him. The same controversial amendment which was hurriedly and fraudulently passed by those working against the interest of the ruling party even when it was obvious that the majority of senators present are opposed to it. With high hopes that the President will reject it, we are planning on what next.

“To override the President, the those promoting the amendment will need two-third majority of both Chambers of the National Assembly. We are mobilizing our members to ensure that they don’t get the required number and we are sure that given the opposition to the controversial amendment, and the outcry against it by Nigerians, they will not succeed,” a senator told The Nation.

But a supporter of the amendment said, “We are battle ready to overrule the President if he refuses to sign the amendment. Section 58 (5) of the 1999 Constitution reads: ‘Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by a two-third majority, the bill shall become Law and the assent of the President shall not be required.’ And I am sure we will get the two-third majority to do just that.

Only a few of our colleagues in the APC, say about 20 of them, are opposed to the amendment. The rest of us, all the PDP senators and even Senator Umeh of APGA, are in support of the amendment. So, with what we have on ground and what we are still doing, it is in the interest of President Buhari to just assent to the amendment and avoid a situation where he will be overruled,” he said.

Beyond the amendment 
There are also strong indications that the decision of the federal government to file 11 grounds notice of appeal against the June 14, 2017, judgment of the Code of Conduct Tribunal which acquitted Senate President Bukola Saraki of 18 counts of false asset declaration and other related offenses, may have irredeemably pitched some senators against Buhari and the APC.

According to a reliable source, many senators sympathetic to Saraki are angry that the party looked on while Buhari continue to use the judiciary to humiliate the Senate President. “Those accusing senators of working against APC by opposing Buhari are hypocrites. Where were they when Buahri worked against his own party by humiliating the senate President who is a fellow party man?

“No matter what you say about Buhari and the APC today, there are many of us who will not be moved by all these cry of “anti-party”. What is more anti-party than humiliating your own party man the way the federal government has done to Senator Saraki in the last three years? At a time they were talking about reconciliation, they appealed a judgement that proved Saraki innocent and returned him to the dock. Is that the way to make peace? We are waiting for their explanation,” the senator said.

The Nation also learnt that a good number of APC senators are prepared to leave the party should the Senate President be forced to leave. According to senators who spoke to our correspondents, while Saraki may not have made up his mind to leave the APC, there is pressure on him by his supporters in the PDP urging him to jump ship before the next general election.

“You shouldn’t be surprised by the refusal of some of us to support the President in some instances. How do you want us to feel when we are made more comfortable by opposition senators while our own party men are daily plotting agains the leadership of the senate? There is no gainsaying in the fact that Saraki’s leadership of the senate is made possible by PDP senators. So, how then do you heal the crack in our own camp? That is how bad the situation is,” a senator from Niger state said.

To further compound the situation, The Nation gathered that there are still some APC senators nursing the wound of how Saraki emerged as Senate President in defiance to the directive of the party. These senators, it was learnt, are already plotting on how best to prevent his return as Senate President in the next assembly. “Some members of the Unity Forum will stop at nothing to ensure Saraki is not re-elcted as Senate President,” a source claimed.