The recent defection by Senate President Bukola Saraki, from the All Progressives Congress, APC, to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has remained the most significant blow to the ruling party in the gale of defections that has buffeted the ruling and the opposition parties in recent times. Not even the subsequent uncommon defection by Senator Godswill Akpabio can compare with it in terms of the authority of the position involved. To be sure, the senate president is the third highest office in the country.
The stand of the APC is that the position conventionally and morally belongs to the majority party in the Senate. Therefore, Saraki should have done well to leave the crown behind when he left the fold of the APC. The party, under the guidance of its national chair, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, is working round the clock to claim the crown back. But sans the issues of morality and convention, Saraki has the provision of the constitution in his favour. Section 50 (1) (a) obviously strengthens his resolve to hold tight to the position.
The Section referred to supra specifically provides: “There shall be a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.” The constitution does not say s/he must be a member of either the majority or the minority party. But convention and morality have historically influenced decisions in this regard unless there are unconventional and immoral acts that rake up legality and defence from the constitution as it is in the present circumstance.
Interestingly, the key to unlocking the logjam created by Saraki’s unconventional and immoral occupation of the senate presidency is in the constitution: to reclaim the crown from Saraki, the APC must necessarily muster two-thirds (73 senators) of the 109 members to remove him from office and put the crown on another person that its caucus chooses as replacement. As a prelude to the epic battle of crown, the APC leadership is insisting Saraki should resign honourably or risk removal. But Saraki is digging in his feet in condescension of the ruling party.
49 opposition senators have already signed up against the removal of Saraki. Assuming arguendo that the remaining 60 senators are with the APC, the project to remove Saraki will appear problematic in the context of the constitutional requirement of two-thirds as provided for in Section 50 (2)(c). But Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, PACAC, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, said that the two-thirds requirement was not necessarily of the entire membership of the house but of attendance during the sitting where the serious business of removing a presiding officer is conducted.
However, a decided case has settled the issue in the matter between the National Assembly v. President (2003) 9 NWLR (Pt.824) 104 @ 132 per Oguntade, JCA (as he then was) wherein he held that “Two-thirds majority of each House can only mean two-thirds of the membership of the Senate and the House of Representatives. It cannot mean anything else. The section has no relationship with the ordinary quorum of each House. It does not employ a language referable to the portion of membership of each House. It is two-thirds of each House of the whole Senate and House of Representatives…there must be at least 73 members in the Senate and 240 members of the House of Representatives.”
The perspectives, notwithstanding, there has been no let up in the moves by the APC to effect a leadership change in the Senate. The game of political brinkmanship has assumed its own life. It is a battle for the Senate crown. It is the survival of the interest that has the superior political savvy. This is the reason political leaders on both sides have brought the magnitude of their authority to bear on the process. Oshiomhole has declared that Saraki must be impeached. On the other hand, Saraki has maintained he cannot be impeached outside the two-thirds requirement, thus setting the stage for an epic battle of wits and grits.
To be sure, this is not the first time the nation would witness this kind of scenario in the history of the Fourth Republic. In November 1999 and August 2000, the Senate recorded the removal of its presiding officers. The first was Evan(s) Enwerem and the second was Chuba Okadigbo. Enwerem was removed on November 18, 1999 by the votes of 90 senators while Okadigbo, who succeeded him, would on August 8, 2000, lose the seat in a haze of conspiratorial alliance between senators and the presidency by the votes of 81 senators.
A stubborn Okadigbo had met his match in implacable Obasanjo. The plot to remove Okadigbo was a long-distance race that only the presidency could have sustained in terms of the huge funds outlay for its execution. At the height of the crisis, Okadigbo resorted to self-help, making away with the Mace which, according to him, he kept beside a six-foot python in Ogbunike cave in his home state of Anambra, in response to the plot to reconvene the Senate behind him. That manner of reconvening the senate was possible at the time, but that mischief has now been cured by the series of amendments to the Senate Standing Orders. The Senate cannot be reconvened without the notice by the senate president as provided for by Order 12 (1) (2) and (3) on the re-assembly of the Senate.
Okadigbo’s rodomontade that the nation would witness a democratic drama on the floor on August 8, 2000 turned out to be so but the ramification was disastrous for him. He could not keep his 43-member loyalist group in the Senate to deflect his impeachment and removal. I have put these historical developments in context in the hope that both sides to the current battle of crown would be properly guided by these precedents in the prosecution of their battle plans.
Those who are uncomfortable with Oshiomhole’s boisterous move to truncate Saraki’s hegemonic rule in the Senate on the PDP platform should understand his position as national chair of the ruling party. His argument as to the morality and conventionality of the majority producing the senate president is in apple-pie order, although Saraki became senate president as an APC senator through the votes of the PDP caucus. The constitution, the grundnorm, has provided the steps to take to cure the mischief of Saraki’s continued presidency of the senate against the run of morality and convention.
Oshiomhole’s exertion is to avert the subjection of the APC caucus in the Senate to minority rule. The plots, schemes and plans have become writ large and the open threat of impeachment by the APC has increased the political temperature, portentous of grave dangers to democracy if means, other than constitutional, are adopted. The APC leadership is sure-footed in his belief that Saraki’s days are numbered. The ruling party is deploying the authority of its control to ensure increase in the membership of its caucus in the Senate.
Indeed, the APC has the wherewithal to infiltrate the PDP caucus and other smaller caucuses in the Senate to secure two-thirds majority. Deploying the magnitude of presidential power should be a veritable source of bugaboo to Saraki in this battle of crown. This is the expected shape, form and texture of the burgeoning supremacy battle of crown; otherwise, the deployment of morality and convention to validate the claim of the majority party to the position of the senate president in the circumstance will only dilate the noise and irritation in the polity over the issue of rightful ownership to the Senate crown.