Newly elected Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, and his APC ruling party have just been dealt a massive blow in their quest to overhaul and reform governance in Nigeria. The ruling APC party’s candidates failed to secure the two leadership positions in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Despite having the majority in both chambers, APC members Sen. Bukola Saraki of Kwara State and Rep. Yakubu Dogara of Bauchi State who had defected from the PDP to the APC just one year ago, joined with their PDP colleagues to elect themselves as leaders of both houses, refusing to support the candidates chosen by the APC caucus. The Senate selected Saraki as the Senate president and re-elected PDP senator Ike Ekweremadu of Enugu State as the deputy president, despite the fact that Ekweremadu is from the opposition party. Rep. Yakubu Dogara has been selected as Speaker of the House with support from his former PDP colleagues.
While it comes as no surprise that the allegiance of PDP defectors to the APC is paper thin, and it is clear that their true motivations are personal ambitions, it is disturbing that the newly elected president did not have more sway in the matter. If President Buhari is going to have any success in unravelling the complex and heavily entrenched corrupt interests in Nigerian governance, he is going to have to successfully tackle and overcome far more difficult opponents than the ones who just bested his party in the National Assembly. Secondly, since he will need legislative support for some of his reform agenda, his party’s failure to elect their preferred candidates shows that they do not have sufficient political support in either chamber to do anything. The national assembly gobbles up an enormous amount of the national budget and it is unlikely that this will change in any way given the current dynamic. It is also likely that the same PDP-APC coalition that obstructed the ruling APC party’s candidates from assuming the leadership of both houses will continue to obstruct the APC agenda in both houses. This is a catastrophic setback for President Buhari. He and the APC leadership should take note, and respond firmly if they intend to have any successes over the next four years.
Despite snookering their own party, it still appears that Sen. Saraki and Rep. Dogara fully intend to remain active members of the APC and take part in the APC administration. It would be utterly foolish if the APC leadership and President Buhari were to accept this and continue as if nothing has happened. If his party and, more importantly, their agenda is to be respected there must be consequences. Both Saraki and Dogara knowingly committed political ‘acts of war’ against their newly adopted party. Accordingly they should be treated as a political insurgency until they surrender and resign from their positions. Saraki and Dogara and the APC members that supported them should be suspended by the APC effective immediately. Along with the suspension they should be excommunicated from the ruling party. Finally, the APC should spare no resource in ensuring that neither of the two renegades nor their core supporters win re-election or secure any other political position after the next election cycle. As the President of Nigeria, Buhari himself cannot play a direct role in levelling these sanctions, but he should certainly fully support his party in doing so.
Now that President Buhari has returned from his G7 trip he and his core advisors need to realize that their honeymoon is over. Their handling of this legislative fiasco was less than stellar and the aftermath may haunt them for some time to come. Just as the president has adopted a war stance in dealing with the insurgency in the north, moving forward he must do the same within the political landscape in Nigeria. There is nothing to celebrate, no reason to relax, and serious concern for what is to become of the lofty goals to reform the political landscape in Nigeria and stop chronic mismanagement and corruption in governance. Right now, the President looks weak and very slow to act. The Vice President has demonstrated that he does not have any political clout among political elites in Abuja. His attempts to address the Saraki-Dogara legislative coup were laughable at best. Just a few weeks into his presidency, with no major action or accomplishment and no cabinet in place, the tenure of President Buhari has gotten off to a rocky start. He clearly misjudged his political support-base within his party’s loose coalition and neglected to address a brewing political storm until it was too late.