Before you milk a cow, tie it up (African proverb)
The deepening and damaging rancour involving the Senate on one side and the executive arm and powerful political forces on the other represents a major threat to the current political leadership and the democratic process. It is conceivable that there is a grand objective to be achieved at the end of a fight that seems destined to continue to take casualties from all sides, but it is difficult for most Nigerians to see it. The popular perception is that all sides are involved in a series of related conflicts that no one can win outrightly, or ever. More worrisome is the concern that these unending fights could cause irreparable damage to the administration's capacity to govern, to the cohesiveness and survival of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and to a nation which desperately requires focus, discipline and consensus around strategies and priorities. The beneficiaries in this civil war will chalk up another plus in an APC Senator reported as threatening to beat up another APC Senator and wife of Asiwaju Tinubu, and in muttered threats to impeach President Buhari if he insists on going ahead with prosecuting Senate leadership and management staff over allegations of forging Senate Rules.
It will serve little purpose to chronicle the major developments, turns and twists in the crises that have characterized federal executivelegislative relations from the word go. It is, nonetheless, important to state some obvious manifestations of these crises. The first is that Senate President Bukola Saraki is at the heart of it all. The manner of his emergence as Senate President appears to have created intense hostility from very powerful interests in circles around President Buhari and in the party. Second, it is now obvious that while Saraki can be threatened and substantially destabilized by investigations and trials, he has roots that go very deep in the Senate, such that his political fate and personal experience will be impossible to isolate from the heart of relations between the two arms of government. Three, there is an obvious weakness in political mediation capacities at the highest levels of the party and the government, a weakness that is fed upon by political opportunism from multiple sources. Four, these crises appear set to continue to sap energy, create higher levels of disharmony and increase the leakages in an administration that should face a host of challenges with all its assets on one side.
President Buhari, the party and a number of powerful persons see Saraki's position and journey as representing contempt for all core values in the democratic process and due deference to dominant interests, which must be resisted. To tolerate him is to invite further breaches. Pride comes into it because its perception as an audacious effrontery suggests some limitations in powers of persons and interests that should not be condoned. On the other hand, Saraki thinks he won a prize for possessing sharper political instincts, and should not be made to pay a price for the weaknesses of others. Pride is central to his position because he feels most of those opposing him are not his moral superiors, and would have done the same thing, given the same opportunities. He sees himself leading a pack that looks up to him to protect it from an executive arm that wants all scalps. He thinks he is being unfairly persecuted after paying dues and restitution in steering the Senate to accommodate some limitations of the executive arm.
Fear is also a major factor. The existence of a significant portion of the terrain outside the making and influence of the presidency scares some people who think its architects possess a capacity to expand it even further beyond their control. On the other hand, Saraki and his supporters in the Senate see a threat that will muscle them beyond any major significance in the political process, and many among them have long lost the luxury to sleep over the possibility that the fight against corruption will soon knock on their doors. Those without bulging files with EFCC are worried that their elaborate privileges will be decimated, and with them, prospects for oiling avenues for return in 2019.
This fight has been allowed to drag to a point where virtually all parties have no more room for maneuvre. Everything is at stake, and it will be all or nothing. The rump of the PDP is holding on to Saraki's fortunes and travails as its weapon and benchmark for influencing an APC administration engaged in a civil war. Without Saraki's leadership, it will lose a major political cover and source of power and influence. With Saraki as leader of the National Assembly, it has a foot in the door, and can work to reduce the damage and impact of an APC administration. APC Senators are substantially in disarray, but most want to see an easing of executive pressure and acts of hostility against Saraki. It says a lot about the poor management of the anti-Saraki forces that they have failed to pry away most of the fairly neutral Senators from Saraki.
Saraki himself has been unable to engineer a truce and some respite from the forces ranged against him. A combination of old and new sins seem to combine to create an endless source of destabilization against him. His expensive army of legal experts have not stopped his prosecution before the Court of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Just when it appeared that the CCT trial could be re-engineered to reduce stress, the trial over forgery of Senate Rules starts, threatening to deepen the chasm between the executive and the Senate. The Senate itself appears set to dig deeper and damage boundaries that are vital to management of justice systems. The Minister of Justice, the Justice Ministry and the entire bureaucracy of justice is now in the enemy list of the Senate. If there are parties mediating this deteriorating conflict, they do not appear to be making a dent on it. There are people who insist Saraki must be removed from his position and sent to prison, and they will not rest until this is done. They include senators who are virtual proxies of powerful interests which are themselves deeply interested in the fate of Buhari's presidency. A man like Saraki whose image has embodied so much odium really has no place at the head of a major democratic institution, but he will hang on because it appears the fight has been reduced to his person, and not to higher values.
At this stage, this fight to finish appears set to reach some poorlydefined but definite tragic ends, and voices that should be heard in support of political solutions are intimidated into silence by the fear of appearing either to support corruption and sundry illegalities, or impunity and high-handedness. Saraki is unlikely to step down, with so much of his political and personal life, as well as those of many senators riding on his survival as Senate President. Cessation of hostilities against him will be seen as a major capitulation by the fight against corruption and the imperatives of clipping his political wings. The judicial process will be stretched and stressed all the way, and will bear scars of this fight no matter how it is resolved. Hostile relations between the Senate and the executive will affect critical governance matters. The APC is finding it difficult to come to terms with its real character, and does not appear to possess the clout to knock together disparate interests into a cohesive organization under an identifiable political influence. The capacity of the APC to consolidate its grip on the political process beyond 2019 will be threatened. Saraki and the forces ranged against him are likely to bring the entire house down. Does anyone care?