Senator Bukola Saraki is a different kind of politician from Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It is unlikely Saraki could have taken hold of his forte the way Tinubu has taken hold of Lagos. That takes patience, diligence and the nurturing of relationships. Those qualities, Saraki just doesn’t have.
He has always been a man in a hurry. But in the same way, coming from a state like Kwara in the north central, there is probably no politician in Nigeria who could have made so much of the smallest of opportunities offered to him by a relatively politically marginalised state the way Saraki has, not even Tinubu.
The importance of Lagos on national politics, the wealth of the state and its ever growing population are what have propelled its former governor to the centre of Nigerian politics.
Bukola Saraki can speak of no such advantages. Still, even in his darkest hours as a politician, the Senate President’s has been a journey of endurance and sheer tenacity.
It might have started with a helping hand from his late father, Olusola Saraki, but it didn’t take long for Bukola to find his own way.
And the journey has been defined by triumphs, failures, audacity and betrayals.
Sometime in June, maybe much earlier, the Nigerian Senate will hold a valedictory session for 64 or so senators that won’t be returning to the chambers in the ninth assembly.
But all the 64 who have found themselves on the losing side of an election are not leaving the Senate empty handed.
Along with the House members that won’t be returning, they will make way with some N24bn in severance pay. And among them are senators who were hardly noticeable on the floor of the Senate or outside it.
There are also some who were actively involved in the legislative process. A handful of those that won’t be heading back were however the real power brokers in the Senate. They wielded more power and influence than the a average senator.
Of these, some chose not re-contest. One such lawmaker is Senator Abu Ibrahim who is from President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina.
Even in his darkest hours as a politician, the Senate President’s has been a journey of endurance and sheer tenacity
Beyond being from the same state with the President, he is probably closer to Aso Rock than any other senator. In the Senate, he was the president’s voice and eyes. The only deducible reason for his choice not to seek re-election is age.
But he is not the only one to have made that choice. Senator David Mark, a two-time Senator President also did not seek reelection.
In fact, in the eighth assembly, he practically withdrew from the day to day activities of the Senate. What he did manage to do during the election was to pick his successor to represent his Benue constituency.
For Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, the story is slightly different. He has been reelected to serve in the ninth assembly but just made the announcement that this will be the last time he will represent his constituency in the Senate.
But what does it really mean when someone like Ekweremadu who was first elected as Deputy Senate President in his mid-forties, has served in that position for 12 years and still has age on his side, rules out another senatorial run in 2023?
Is it an acknowledgment that his time or his party’s time is up? Is he choosing not to be the face of the PDP in the Senate over the next four years?
Is the senator giving up on politics all together or is he aiming for a higher office in the expectations that his party will zone the presidency to the southeast?
Nobody better symbolises the coming change in era and the emerging opportunity for President Buhari than Saraki’s exit from the political scene
Either way, the PDP has to find new leadership in the National Assembly for the announcement made by Ekweremadu marks the end of an era. And for PDP, it has difficult choices to make.
Any politician that will lead it in the Senate has to be from the right part of the country. If it gets that choice wrong, then it is doomed for the next for years as an effective opposition party.
It will equally as doomed if it picks someone that lacks national appeal.
Nobody better symbolises the coming change in era and the emerging opportunity for President Buhari than Saraki’s exit from the political scene.
For the first time since he became president, Buhari has a real opportunity to shape the entire government the way he wants, from the Senate presidency to the Supreme Court, all the way down to the kind of ministers he wants.
So far, the President has been aloof, even at the detriment of his own party. But unlike Sen. Mark or Sen. Abu Ibrahim, Saraki isn’t leaving the Senate on his own volition.
He was defeated at the ballot box. His was a crushing defeat that has stripped him of virtually everything at the state and national levels.
In Kwara, he dictated who became governor, every state assembly and federal seat. All that, he has now lost. The only thing the senator is trying to hold on to are the local government chairmen he helped get elected in state.
The outgoing state assembly has passed a law to protect their tenure but then it is a law that can easily be repealed by the incoming government.
Even if the LG chairmen manage to stay in office; they are men, politicians and can switch allegiance within the blink of an eye.
Still, the defeat Saraki suffered at the polls is one he is unlikely to recover from. His one hope is for the presidential election to be overturned by the courts.
And that is a tall order, not only by the standards of African politics. Anywhere in the world, cancelling an election would be an earthshaking move.
But even with the loss he suffered at the polls, the 2019 general elections would have looked very different if both Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara had not decamped from the ruling APC to the opposition party
Annulling an election speaks of political instability. It is a road nobody wants to go down in any circumstance because you never know where it will lead or who it will consume.
June 12 serves as a vivid reminder. Today June 12 is remembered very differently, yet there were people in support of its cancellation. They just had no idea what was coming. Nobody ever imagined Sani Abacha would be the ultimate beneficiary.
And in Nigeria, just conducting general elections shakes the country to its roots with many predicting it could be the end of the federation.
Aside that, the results of the 2019 presidential election PDP claims is on INEC’s server carries no weight considering that the 2011 Electoral Act doesn’t recognize the electronic transmission of results.
In that sense, whatever is on the server by law is not authentic.
But even with the loss he suffered at the polls, the 2019 general elections would have looked very different if both Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara had not decamped from the ruling APC to the opposition party.
He managed to lead the senate against all odds and at the elections, risked it all and lost it all by trying to run for president
The PDP could not have put up the fight it did without the defection of Saraki and Dogara. They brought PDP back to life. And now for reasons totally beyond the Senate President’s control, particularly when it comes to the zones favorite to produce the president in 2023, his prospects in either of the two major parties are dim.
There is no doubt that Saraki has had a good run since he first emerged on the political scene in 2003, serving as governor in Kwara for two terms and twice representing the state in the Senate.
During that time, he has proven to be first among equals, initially by leading the Nigeria Governors Forum, changing its course and using it as a platform to bargain for power.
Again, as Senate President, he has used the position to project himself as a potential presidential contender and maybe just as crucial, became a genuine power broker that needed to be reckoned with in the politics of the country.
How he has managed this is a wonder considering that his political base is restricted to Kwara, a state that barely registers on the political map of Nigeria.
It is far from being one of the most populated. It is not particularly rich and falls in the north central zone which is the least homogeneous, making it impossible to it to take any common political stand.
Yet, he managed to lead the senate against all odds and at the elections, risked it all and lost it all by trying to run for president.
As astute a politician he appears to be, in the end, he just picked the wrong fight by going up against a sitting president. He didn’t just go up against a President, he went against one with popular mass appeal. And as a result, his retirement from politics might just be permanent.