By Olusegun Adeniyi
Following the election of Dr. Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and House of Representatives’ Speaker respectively on Tuesday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, released a cynical statement, telling the All Progressives Party (APC) to “stop whining and accept the will of the people, respect the independence of the legislature, as the PDP is not responsible for their naivety and crass inexperience.”
I believe that the APC leaders will do well to heed that admonition.
The statement released after the party had been out-snookered by Saraki and Dogara was to say the least, very disappointing. Such disposition is not in any way helpful to their cause or that of President Muhammadu Buhari. To imagine that the person you needed to truncate a legally convened legislative session is the Inspector General of Police rather than the Clerk of the National Assembly was poor judgement. And not following on what was happening within the PDP camp was a sign that the APC leaders still need to learn the ropes when it comes to high-wire politics in Abuja.
The night before the election, 47 PDP Senators had gathered at the Apo Legislative Quarters’ residence of the immediate past Senate President David Mark to present to him three options.
Option one: Exploit the division within the rank of the APC by sponsoring Mark to contest for the office of Senate President. The argument was that by the Senate rule, all that a winner needed was a simple majority and since neither of the two APC contenders (Ahmed Lawan and Bukola Saraki) would likely step down for the other, Mark would get more votes. The reasoning was that once that happened, Mark could take the gavel. The only thing the APC could do in such situation would be to go to court. But Mark declined the offer.
Option two: Conduct a mock poll among themselves (the PDP Senators in attendance) on who between the two APC candidates, (Ahmed Lawan and Bukola Saraki) they should back but with the proviso that PDP would produce the Deputy Senate President. That was something they were not prepared to negotiate.
Option three: Nominate another Senator in APC and give him their block vote in what would amount to divide and rule.
This option three has a precedent. A similar scenario played out at the Cross River State House of Assembly in 1991 during the transition to civil rule programme of General Ibrahim Babangida when there were two political parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). While Mr. Clement Ebri of the NRC won the gubernatorial election, his party secured only 12 of the 25 seats in the House of Assembly with the SDP winning the remaining 13.
On the day of the election of Speaker, there was drama. The moment the SDP nominated its candidate for the office, a member from the NRC nominated another SDP member to be Speaker and he went on to win on the strength of his own vote added to that of the 12 NRC members. As it would happen, the said SDP member had done a deal with the NRC by trading away the position of Deputy Speaker.
By Monday night, at the end of what was the third PDP meeting in Mark’s house, it was the second option that was adopted. But with 32 of the 49 PDP Senators coming from the South-east and South-south, there was a strong argument at the meeting that Lawan, most favoured by Mark, holds extreme views when it comes to the issue of North and South.
“He is, in fact, seen as a northern irredentist. From the PIB debate to confirmation of appointments to state of emergency and insurgency debates, Lawan employs hurtful, arrogant, and clearly divisive dictions”, said a returning Senator from the South-east. That gave Saraki a huge advantage.
However, the biggest odd against Saraki was that he had long-running ego issues with Mark who considers him arrogant and disrespectful. There was also an argument at the meeting that supporting Saraki by PDP would be like rewarding bad behavior since he was one of the people who brought the party down.
However, Ekweremadu argued in Saraki’s favour that he is more cosmopolitan and nationalistic in his approach to issues. A PDP Senator also told Mark that even if Saraki was a prodigal son, he was at least once a member of the family, hence it would be easier to work with him than with someone like Lawan who had never been a member of PDP in the last 16 years of his membership of National Assembly (eight years in the House and eight in the Senate).
So, even before the PDP Senators began to cast their mock ballots, it had been concluded that with Lawan being the choice of the APC, it was more pragmatic to go with Saraki who had been sounded out and had agreed to run with a PDP man for the office of Deputy Senate President. The choice of Ekweremadu was also strategic because, being very close to Mark, that helped to douse whatever ill-feeling the former Senate President may harbour against Saraki. There was also a strong anti-Tinubu sentiment at the meeting as many of the Senators argued that a vote for Lawan would be a vote for the APC National Leader. It was the same sentiment that was employed against Gbajabiamila in the House of Representatives.
With the mock poll conducted among the PDP Senators while Mark and Ekweremadu abstained, Saraki polled 28 votes and Lawan secured 17 votes. By this time, the acting PDP National Chairman, Chief Uche Secondus and Metuh, who were practically in Mark’s house throughout Monday, had entered the fray to seal the decision of the Senators as that of the party. And Saraki was brought into the meeting where he agreed to offer the position of Deputy Senate President to the PDP, specifically to Ekweremadu.
However, once the APC leaders got wind of the PDP decision, a meeting was immediately scheduled for 9am at the International Conference Centre, just one hour ahead of the time that the National Assembly was supposed to be inaugurated. Meanwhile, since the president had already transmitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly the proclamation order and did not withdraw it, Mark and Ekweremadu, experienced in such matters (with sufficient clout to put pressure on the Clerk) knew the APC Senators were misreading the rule of the game by staying away from their inaugural session on the pretext of holding a party meeting elsewhere. To worsen matters, attempts were made to use the police to prevent the National Assembly members from entering the premises. Who gave the directive is still a matter of speculations but it only infuriated the PDP Senators who rallied behind Saraki who had also got some of his APC senate colleagues to attend the session. By 6am, Saraki was already inside the National Assembly premises.
10am on the dot, the Clerk of the National Assembly commenced the session for the election of principal officers in the Senate. With Lawan and several of his APC colleagues still marooned at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Saraki was nominated for the post of Senate President and since he was unopposed and there were enough senators to make a simple majority, there was no contest. By the time the APC leaders and the senators (who were still expecting the president to arrive the ICC) realised the futility of their action, it was all over. Many of course rushed back to the National Assembly only to meet Saraki holding the gavel as the Senate President.
However, in what is perhaps a clear pointer that there are testy days ahead, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, yesterday accused both the Clerk of the National Assembly and Saraki of snubbing President Buhari’s request that the time of the inauguration be shifted forward in order for the meeting with the APC lawmakers to hold.
“I am talking about the Clerk, Governor Saraki, the key characters in all of these (who) had sufficient information directly or indirectly coming to them that the President will be meeting the party members and the party chairman was present on the ground. Assumption would have been that every loyal and committed party member would have presented themselves to the party and to their President. That did not happen yesterday (Tuesday)”, said Shehu.
The presidential spokesman, who was on ‘Sunrise Daily’, a morning programme on Channels TV, said while 51 APC Senators chose to respect the president by going to the ICC for the scheduled meeting, some others deliberately stayed away.
“The party had begun a process and concluded it and some of these actors were part of that process. They knew what had happened. There was a shadow election of some sort. It is clear that there was nothing accidental in all of these things that happened. There was a shadow election in which leaders were chosen on the platform of the political party and it was complete. There was no doubt about it,” he said.
With such statement coming from a presidential spokesman, the days ahead are definitely worrying for the ruling party and its relationship with the National Assembly.
However, to put what happened in proper context, we have to go back to the origin of the APC. The party is an amalgam of politicians with disparate interests and from different camps whose main agenda was to wrest control of power (and government) from then incumbent, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Each of the principal actors had his/her own grouse against Jonathan and they all came together with their individual ambitions.
For instance, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was pursuing his long-running presidential ambition just as the former Kano Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was. In the meantime, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was positioning himself to be running mate to Buhari while Saraki never disguised his ambition to be Senate President should the APC win.
However, following the emergence of Buhari as the APC candidate, Saraki ganged up with others like former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Kwankwaso and Atiku to block the emergence of Tinubu as Buhari’s running mate.
Whatever the other misgivings, that was the beginning of Tinubu’s antagonism towards the idea of Saraki’s emergence as Senate President. But there are other forces that moved against the former Kwara State Governor.
I understand that some of the people close to Buhari were also not comfortable with the idea of Saraki as Senate President. Aside seeing him as an ambitious politician who could possibly have an eye on the 2019 presidency, there is also the allegation that before the election, Saraki was hedging his bets. As the story goes, Saraki was the first person sounded out to be the Director General of Buhari’s presidential campaign but he cleverly turned it down on the pretext that he would prefer to play a role that would give him the latitude to reach out to all sides of the APC divides, apparently with his own ambition in mind.
What the foregoing shows clearly is that the APC leaders that are talking about party discipline are simply being hypocritical. APC was more a special purpose vehicle to get power than any cohesive group of men and women sharing the same vision. That explains why just a few minutes after the party’s national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, issued a scathing statement about Saraki and Dogara, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who is being slated to chair the APC Board of Trustees would congratulate them. Meanwhile, the president himself has accepted the outcome as a fait accompli.
Even before the latest fiasco, the contradictions within the APC are all there to see. For instance, Dr. Samuel Ortom was a minister in President Jonathan’s cabinet who contested and lost the PDP gubernatorial ticket, crossed over to the APC, secured its gubernatorial ticket and is today a governor on the platform of the party. Ditto for Senator Barnabas Gemade, a former PDP National Chairman whose senatorial ticket was taken away from him by former Governor Gabriel Suswan. He simply moved to the APC where he was handed the party’s ticket with which he defeated Suswan. There are hundreds of such cases across the country today which then means that the APC has a lot of work to do before it can be a party of shared ideals.
However, to the extent that Dogara’s deputy is from the APC, the problem in the House of Representatives will be easier to resolve. But how does APC reconcile itself to the fact that the Deputy Senate President is from another party? Saraki himself must be in a quandary over the choices he made. How do those colleagues of his who were backing him feel now that their candidate has practically been taken over by the opposition party? Dealing with these issues in the days and possibly weeks ahead will not be easy either for Saraki or the APC.
Dangote, Adenuga and the Nigerian Condition
Last Thursday in Mugher District in Oramia National Region, the Ethiopian Dangote Cement Plant was commissioned by Prime Minister Ato Hailemariam Desalegn .
While the ceremony was impressive with the presence of who-is-who in Ethiopia and several top Nigerian business leaders, the subtext came in the opening remark by Alhaji Aliko Dangote that “because of the reliability of power supply of the Ethiopian national grid, our Mugher Plant is connected to the grid for base supply. With the exception of South Africa, all our other plants in Africa including those in Nigeria are connected to our own captive generation for base supply.”
That admission brought to fore the challenge of electricity supply in Nigeria and the reason why the cost of doing business in our country has become so high with all the attendant consequences for our economy .
Unfortunately, this is an issue for which I have practically been blackmailed into silence because whenever I broach it, I am quickly reminded that the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua “caused the problem”. While I admit, with a benefit of hindsight, that my late boss made some mistakes in the manner he handled the power sector, the fact also remains that five years after his death no solution has worked which then suggests that the problem might be far deeper than what one man did or did not do.
However, whatever may be the misgivings about the power situation in Nigeria; I was delighted by something that happened when we arrived Addis Ababa at the wee hours of Thursday last week. As we(about 16 of us in the aircraft) switched on our mobile phones, we were immediately connected to the Ethiopian MTN network. As it would happen, the Nigerian MTN line did not work neither did any of the other mobile lines, except one : Globacom!
The message from that experience for me was simple: If we apply ourselves enough, we can resolve the power situation the way we have done with telecoms while the example of Globacom teaches that Nigerians have the capacity to play in any sector and be successful.
Unfortunately, there is so much obsessions about politics at a time we should be paying greater attention to the economy. We need to get the power sector right but beyond that, we need to encourage entrepreneurship at every level so that we can put our people to work. That, for me is the value of Dangote and Dr. Mike Adenuga (Jr) who have dared the odds in our country and have succeeded to the extent that their companies are now becoming multinationals within the continent and by so doing, spreading the Nigerian brand.
In his opening remark last Thursday in Ethiopia, Dangote revealed that the Dangote Cement is currently simultaneously setting up new cement plants and terminals across some 16 African countries.
“The Ethiopian plant is our sixth offshore plant that has commenced operations in Africa outside Nigeria. The other countries where our plants are currently running include Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana, South Africa and Zambia. In a few months from now, we will also commission our plant in Tanzania. Our plants in other African countries, which are in various stages of construction, are scheduled for completion next year”, he said.
With a projection that each of the plants would create thousands of direct and indirect jobs, Dangote disclosed that the Ethiopian project was funded entirely from his company’s cash flow and savings without any borrowing. But he lamented a situation in which American citizens could enter almost all the countries within the continent without visas whereas even he is restrained.
“We must break down the barriers and borders between our countries, and allow free flow of goods, services and people. For instance, as a Nigerian, I need visas to visit more than half of the 54 African countries, while an Ethiopian needs visas to travel to 78 percent of African countries. As a matter of fact, only 14 out of our 54 African countries (Seychelles, Mali, Uganda, Cape Verde, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Mauritania, Rwanda, Burundi, Comoros, Madagascar, Somalia and Senegal) offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to citizens of all African countries”, he said.
I know from experience that anytime I write about Dangote, I get criticised by those who are fixated about the fact that the system has been generous to him. I am well aware of that. But what many ignore, as I usually counter, is that the transition from trading into manufacturing, as Dangote did, was a risky enterprise that required guts and now that it has paid off for him, we should not begrudge him his rewards.
Besides, the illustration I often use is the Biblical parable of talents (a most profound teaching by the Lord Jesus Christ) that is set within the context of investments and productivity (Matthew 25: 14-30).
As the parable goes, shortly before embarking on a journey, a rich man delegated the management of his wealth to three servants by giving five talents to one, two talents to another and one talent to a third. While, upon his return, the first two earned him a hundred percent profit on his investments, the third servant who had buried his talent in the ground returned it without profit.
In his exposition on the parable, Hugh Whelchel argues that since the Bible makes it clear that the master understood the capacity of each servant, that then explained the disparity in the number of talents given them. “We want to protest this as unfair. Yet we know this is true from our own experience. But even though we’re not created equal in regard to the talents we’re given, there is equality found in the Parable of the Talents. It comes from the fact that it takes just as much work for the five-talent servant to produce five more talents as it does the two-talent servant to produce two more talents. This is why the reward given by the master is the same. The master measures success by degrees of effort…The unfaithful steward in this parable didn’t so much waste the master’s money – he wasted an opportunity”, wrote Whelchel.
I have heard stories from some business competitors of both Dangote and Adenuga about how ruthless they can be and I will not defend them on those scores. In any case, Mario Puzo, in his classic, ‘The Godfather’, has already made it clear that you don’t amass stupendous wealth in any society without breaking some rules. But to the extent that fortunes favour the brave, I will say that the duo of Dangote and Adenuga deserve the rewards for all the risks they take.
The point here is simple: For every Dangote and Adenuga that the Nigerian State has given either five or two ‘talents’, there are thousands of other Nigerian businessmen who have been handed a ‘talent’ each. And most of them have squandered those ‘talents’. Indeed, if a tenth of the number of the people who were handed one ‘talent’ each had been faithful, Nigeria would be a better country today. Therefore, when many of us argue that we need more Dangotes and Adenugas in Nigeria, we are not talking about the quantum of ‘talents’ they have been given but rather in the efforts they put in while deploying those ‘talents’ for the advancement of our society.
More than at any period in our history, we need to grow the economy and put our people to work. Doing that means providing the right environment and encouraging private entrepreneurship at practically all levels. Essentially because of that, this page will begin to focus more on entrepreneurship and I will appreciate inputs from readers who can help identify some of our young business people (preferably under 40) and what they do. Of course, I will do my due diligence before promoting such people but it is time we began to celebrate Nigerian business owners who employ our people and are adding value to our society.
If anything, the Ethiopian trip opened my eyes to the self-abuse to which some of our successful business owners subject themselves. We arrived Addis Ababa and checked into the Sheraton Addis by 2.30am on Thursday, left the hotel by 7am for the two-hour bus-ride to the cement plant, concluded the ceremony by 1pm, got back to the hotel at about 3pm, picked our luggage and headed for the airport. By 4pm we were already airborne and we arrived Nigeria by 8.30pm same day! That, I understand, is the kind of crazy schedules Dangote keeps almost every day. As for the reclusive Adenuga, he is hardly ever seen because he is always minding his business, literally and figuratively.
Yet, if tasked, I can list more than a hundred Nigerians who are billionaires yet have no daytime job and they hardly task themselves beyond playing golf, attending parties and giving in to all forms of vanities. These are people who employ no more than drivers, cooks, gardeners, stewards and the likes—personal staff who merely minister to their indulgences and those of their families.
Thanks to social media, at least many Nigerians have read about some idle oil barons who waste hundreds of thousands of dollars ferrying around some super models in their private jets from Monaco Grand Prix to Horse races in London. We also know of those who sponsor hundreds of their friends to go and attend the wedding ceremonies of their children in Dubai. Many of these characters, creations of the Nigerian State and its rent system, have no visible investment anywhere within our country and they create no jobs. Yet, to the extent that the challenge of the moment is that of how far individual beneficiaries of state patronage are prepared to go in investing their advantages in productive enterprises, we must commend both Dangote and Adenuga.
Even their most implacable foes would concede that the duo have made the great crossing from passive receptacles of state patronage into active engines of economic productivity and growth. In addition, both men have been creative and innovative in their chosen areas of investment. The important lesson therefore is that no matter the source of their wealth, the Nigerian business oligarchs cannot defy the fundamental ethics of capitalism which are hard work and discipline. Those are the attributes that have set Dangote and Adenuga apart from the rest.