NIYI ODEBODE, JOHN ALECHENU,SUNDAY ABORISADE and OLALEKAN ADETAYO
The crisis of confidence which has pitted party leaders of the All Progressives Congress against the new principal officers of the National Assembly may take a turn for the worse this week.
Contrary to the belief in several quarters, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is widely believed to have accepted the election of the principal officers as a fait accompli, is said to be unhappy with the leadership of the National Assembly.
Sources close to the two camps told our correspondents that President Buhari and senior party officials were still peeved that Saraki and other party members defied the party and formed an alliance with the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party.
The APC senators loyal to Saraki had on June 9 boycotted a peace meeting convened by Buhari and the leadership of the party. The meeting, which was attended by senators loyal to Senator Ahmad Lawan, the APC’s official candidate for the position of the Senate President, was going on when Saraki, with the support of his loyalists in the APC and all the PDP senators, emerged as the senate president unopposed.
Since then, the party has been in crisis, even though the APC had said it would work with Saraki.
During the week, Saraki, paid a well publicised visit to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. His aim, reports say, was to seek the former president’s intervention in the crisis. Saraki wanted Obasanjo to pacify the APC leaders on his behalf. But Sunday PUNCH gathered that the former president’s intervention has failed to yield the results desired by Saraki and his camp.
It was gathered that shortly after Saraki’s visit to the former president, Obasanjo made a telephone call to Buhari advising him to make up with Saraki. The former president had reportedly told the president to work with Saraki and let the party deal with all the disciplinary issues that the former governor of Kwara State had been accused of. However, the President was said to have been non-committal.
Sources privy to these happenings told our correspondents that the telephone call initiated by Obasanjo was not the first time the former president would intervene in the matter. Sunday PUNCH reliably gathered that Obasanjo had met with Buhari in South Africa, last Sunday, and sought his help in resolving the crisis in the ruling party. Sources said that the former president, who was in Zambia for the 22nd annual general meeting of the African Export-Import Bank, had travelled from there to South Africa to meet with President Buhari.
Speaking over the weekend, some senior party leaders expressed doubts about the viability of Obasanjo’s intervention. They told SUNDAY PUNCH in different interviews that Saraki is an ally of former vice-president Atiku Abubakar whom Obasanjo is not very fond of.
One of them said, “It is not a secret that Atiku is solidly behind Saraki. How the senate president thinks Obasanjo will back any move by Atiku is what we don’t understand. Atiku was the first person that Saraki visited when he emerged as senate president. The ex-president will definitely not turn Saraki back but deep in his heart, he knows which camp he belongs to.”
But a source in the corridors of power told our correspondent on the condition of anonymity that the President’s response to pleas for his intervention had remained the same.
Sources said while Buhari was careful not to make his disappointment with Saraki public, he was very angry that the senate president led a rebellion against his party and also teamed up with the PDP to undermine it. One other reason the crisis has remained intractable, the source added, was the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as the Deputy Senate President.
“The President believes that Saraki earned the support of the PDP because of the deputy senate presidency he conceded to the opposition party. It is a treacherous thing to do to one’s party,” the source said.
Buhari had reportedly shunned all moves by Saraki to meet him before the senate president’s visit to Obasanjo.
However, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said Buhari was not avoiding Saraki. Rather, he said, it was the Senate President who is yet to visit the presidency. When asked specifically when Saraki would be meeting with the President, Shehu said it was left for the President of the Senate to decide.
“There is no truth in the claims that the President does not want to meet with any of the National Assembly leaders. He has said that he respects institutions and that strong men build institutions,” Garba said.
Our correspondents report that Saraki may be reluctant to make an approach because he doesn’t want to be rebuffed. A prominent member of the Like Minds Senators, a group sympathetic to the senate president, confirmed that Saraki had not fixed an appointment with Buhari after meeting Obasanjo.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said, “After the meeting with Obasanjo, there has been no specific move on the part of the senate president to meet with Mr. President. They will meet at the appropriate time.”
A senior APC official, who confided in SUNDAY PUNCH, said, “From all indications, all sides in the crisis are maintaining their hard-line positions on the crisis. It seems Saraki is not ready for reconciliation. His group is insisting on its position. The Lawan group has given its conditions for peace and the President believes that there must be party discipline.”
Meanwhile, in a clear sign that the president may not have a problem with the leadership of the House, Buhari will be granting audience to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, this week.
The meeting, one of our correspondents learnt, is at the instance of Dogara.
Shehu, confirmed Buhari’s meeting with Dogara. He however declined to give details of the specific day on which the meeting would hold.
“I have just gone through the President’s activities for the week and I saw that Dogara is scheduled to meet with him (the President) during the week,” Shehu said.
On his part, the spokesperson for the pro- Saraki group, Senator Dino Melaye, said the senate president had appeared before the party’s reconciliation committee.
He said, “The party set up a reconciliation committee with the APC General Secretary as Chairman and Saraki had appeared before the committee.”
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