Mr. President, You Are Holding The Tiger By The Tail - by Fola Ojo

Some call it sleek and sleazy; some brand it betraying and rebellious; and others believe it is treacherous and sheer political household wickedness; but whatever anyone calls it at this point doesn’t really matter. In a Senate and House of Representatives where the governing party has a numerical edge, Bukola Saraki, who is a member of the ruling party is the Senate President; and Ike Ekweremadu of the undying opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party, is his deputy. 

That must be old news by now. As a close watcher of how the ping-pong of politics is played in the unfurling Muhammadu Buhari era, the manner with which the Kwara State senator emerged the commander of the Senate on Tuesday is pure right-on-the-money political trigonometry in a country where seven is always more than 19.

The APC chieftains including our greenhorn civilian President reportedly invited wrangling legislators to a roundtable talk to sift through the leadership imbroglio and settle for a team that would help lead the new administration’s efforts in the National Assembly. But before anyone could get their bearings, Saraki reportedly sold a dummy to his fellow senators. In a typical politician mannerism and mesmerism, Saraki sneaked out from the backdoor to smooch up with his ex-fellow PDP legislators for whom obviously there is still a lot of love. In the bargaining game with the PDP senators, Saraki auctioned the Deputy Senate Presidency to one of his political lovebirds in the PDP to the chagrin, rage and fury of the APC, a party just hopping out of the opposition altitude and learning how to operate on a ruling frequency as a governing party.

There is a smoking anger now in the APC House and among many of its supporters all across the world. “How dare Bukola Saraki do that to his party”? People are asking. I am not joining them in the question session; I know the heart of politicians just like Jesus Christ knows the heart of men. While the APC is rollicking in a festive mood and beating its chest that its Broom Revolution had swept off the PDP, the same broom has swept back some remnants of the PDP principalities into reckoning and eminence; thanks or no thanks to the Kwara senator.

Whether President Buhari likes it or not, the total package of his change agenda is now in a head-to-head confrontation with a gathering ferocious wind from crafty and experienced opposition PDP. Does Buhari really know the negative effect of not having loyalists as leaders in the parliament? No; he doesn’t; but soon will find out. Some political craftsmen in the President’s party had reportedly counselled him to take a stand as to who should become leaders of the two legislative bodies. I heard that the President was told that his agenda for change would suffer a discouraging setback if men who didn’t share his vision were allowed to be at the command-and-control centre of the legislature. Mr. President did not agree. “I am prepared to work with any leader that the House or Senate selects. It doesn’t matter who the person is or where he or she is from… I will not interfere in that process.”

The President may believe that he can work with everybody. For once, Nigerians want him to do just that in the interest of all of us. But can everybody work with him? Among the “everybody” the President is naively embracing are those who may sink his dreams. How many legislators will agree with the President that their remuneration and juicy perks be slashed in half to save money for Nigeria? How many of them will agree with him that all the nominees he will soon be sending to the National Assembly are perfect fits for his vision? How many of them will not put their interests front-and-centre pushing to have their own candidates sneaked on to the list of ministers? Mr. President has not walked this path before; he has always been a soldier and farmer. The world of politics is a different ball-game. The easiest part of politics is mounting the podium and telling the world what your visions and missions are. The fun part of politics is to dance to some Fuji music in Ibadan and have men, women and children chant “Sai Buhari” one million times to your delight. That fun part accounts for only 10 per cent of what politics is all about. Ninety per cent of the dirty game is what you do behind closed doors where you position those who will let you keep your position, and then run your agenda through the house without much opposition. But our own civilian rookie President believes even his adversaries have changed their minds about him, and that they love him without a condition because they love Nigeria. Mr. President, you are holding the tiger by the tail. He who holds the tiger by the tail will end up in the belly of the beast.

Buhari had said during the inauguration that he belongs to nobody; and that may be true. But now, we know that he will be forced to belong to somebody. He will belong to Saraki, David Mark, Ekweremadu and salivating PDP legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives who want to have him for lunch. By the time real politicking commences, Mr. President will know that he has dug a big hole for himself and strange men will drive his agenda. The signal from Saraki to the PDP legislators was a PDP family language which Buhari could not decode. Only those christened and weaned on the altar of the PDP politics understand the linguistic. What may now happen is exactly what happened to George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) as President of the United States of America.

In the 1988 US presidential election, Vice-President George H. W. Bush running for president made a lofty promise not to raise taxes. “Read my lips, no new taxes”, he vowed. When he was sworn in, he had to deal with the opposition Democrats who were in control of the Congress. The federal budget debt stood at $2.8 trillion, and there were no revenues for any new domestic ventures. Bush found himself in the difficult position of trying to balance the budget and reduce the deficit without imposing additional taxes on the American people.

The Democrats were waiting. Bush had no choice but to compromise with the Congress. In June 1990, Bush reneged on his “no taxes” pledge made during the campaign, noting that tax increases might be necessary to solve the deficit problem. Many conservative Republicans felt betrayed when Bush agreed to raise taxes. Running against a smooth, savvy, young and good-looking Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, Bush, with an approval rating of almost 90 per cent after the Iraqi War, lost disgracefully to Clinton. His opposition controlled the agenda in the Congress. When adversaries overtly or covertly control the legislature, they control the president.

Saraki is an APC member, so also are Dogora and Lasun Yusuf from my home state of Osun in the House of Representatives. But the APC including President Buhari felt more comfortable with the candidacies of others and they know why. Are Buhari’s adversaries controlling the National Assembly today? It looks like it; and it looks like this President may have dug a hole for himself. How can Buhari and his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, deliver on their 100 days promises? It has become more difficult now. And if they don’t, Buhari may end up being a one-term President. If he is not impeached, he will be impeded. He is holding the tiger by the tail; and he and his party may end up in the belly of the beast on or before 2019!