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Saraki: Flagrant persecution by Buhari’s government forced me to quit APC

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By Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, CON
President of the Senate of Nigeria

Special to USAfrica [Houston] and USAfricaonline.com

I wish to inform Nigerians that, after extensive consultations, I have decided to take my leave of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

This is not a decision that I have made lightly. If anything at all, I have tarried for so long and did all that was humanly possible, even in the face of great provocation, ridicule and flagrant persecution, to give opportunity for peace, reconciliation and harmonious existence.

Perhaps, more significantly, I am mindful of the fact that I carry on my shoulder a great responsibility for thousands of my supporters, political associates and friends, who have trusted in my leadership and have attached their political fortunes to mine. However, it is after an extensive consultation with all the important stakeholders that we have come to this difficult but inevitable decision to pitch our political tent elsewhere; where we could enjoy greater sense of belonging and where the interests of the greatest number of our Nigerians would be best served.

While I take full responsibility for this decision, I will like to emphasise that it is a decision that has been inescapably imposed on me by certain elements and forces within the APC who have ensured that the minimum conditions for peace, cooperation, inclusion and a general sense of belonging did not exist.

They have done everything to ensure that the basic rules of party administration, which should promote harmonious relations among the various elements within the party were blatantly disregarded. All governance principles which were required for a healthy functioning of the party and the government were deliberately violated or undermined. And all entreaties for justice, equity and fairness as basic precondition for peace and unity, not only within the party, but also the country at large, were simply ignored, or employed as additional pretext for further exclusion.

The experience of my people and associates in the past three years is that they have suffered alienation and have been treated as outsiders in their own party. Thus, many have become disaffected and disenchanted. At the same time, opportunities to seek redress and correct these anomalies were deliberately blocked as a government-within-a-government had formed an impregnable wall and left in the cold, everyone else who was not recognized as “one of us”. This is why my people, like all self-respecting people would do, decided to seek accommodation elsewhere.

I have had the privilege to lead the Nigerian legislature in the past three years as the President of the Senate and the Chairman of the National Assembly. The framers of our constitution envisage a degree of benign tension among the three arms of government if the principle of checks and balances must continue to serve as the building block of our democracy. In my role as the head of the legislature, and a leader of the party, I have ensured that this necessary tension did not escalate at any time in such a way that it could encumber Executive function or correspondingly, undermine the independence of the legislature. Over the years, I have made great efforts in the overall interest of the country, and in spite of my personal predicament, to manage situations that would otherwise have resulted in unsavoury consequences for the government and the administration. My colleagues in the Senate will bear testimony to this.

However, what we have seen is a situation whereby every dissent from the legislature was framed as an affront on the executive or as part of an agenda to undermine the government itself. The populist notion of anti-corruption became a ready weapon for silencing any form of dissent and for framing even principled objection as “corruption fighting back”. Persistent onslaught against the legislature and open incitement of the people against their own representatives became a default argument in defence of any short-coming of the government in a manner that betrays all too easily, a certain contempt for the Constitution itself or even the democracy that it is meant to serve.

Unfortunately, the self-serving gulf that has been created between the leadership of the two critical arms of government based on distrust and mutual suspicion has made any form of constructive engagement impossible. Therefore, anything short of a slavish surrender in a way that reduces the legislature to a mere rubber stamp would not have been sufficient in procuring the kind of rapprochement that was desired in the interest of all. But I have no doubt in my mind, that to surrender this way is to be complicit in the subversion of the institution that remains the very bastion of our democracy. I am a democrat. And I believe that anyone who lays even the most basic claim to being a democrat will not accept peace on those terms; which seeks to compromise the very basis of our existence as the parliament of the people.

The recent weeks have witnessed a rather unusual attempts to engage with some of these most critical issues at stake. Unfortunately, the discord has been allowed to fester unaddressed for too long, with dire consequences for the ultimate objective of delivering the common good and achieving peace and unity in our country. Any hope of reconciliation at this point was therefore very slim indeed. Most of the horses had bolted from the stable

The emergence of a new national party executives a few weeks ago held out some hopes, however slender. The new party chairman has swung into action and did his best alongside some of the Governors of APC and His Excellency, the Vice President. I thank them for all their great efforts to save the day and achieve reconciliation. Even though I thought these efforts were coming late in the day, but seeing the genuine commitment of these gentlemen, I began to think that perhaps it was still possible to reconsider the situation.

However, as I have realized all along, there are some others in the party leadership hierarchy, who did not think dialogue was the way forward and therefore chose to play the fifth columnists. These individuals went to work and ensured that they scuttled the great efforts and the good intentions of these aforementioned leaders of the party. Perhaps, had these divisive forces not thrown the cogs in the wheel at the last minutes, and in a manner that made it impossible to sustain any trust in the process, the story today would have been different.

For me, I leave all that behind me. Today, I start as I return to the party where I began my political journey, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

When we left the PDP to join the then nascent coalition of All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2014, we left in a quest for justice, equity and inclusion; the fundamental principles on which the PDP was originally built but which it had deviated from. We were attracted to the APC by its promise of change. We fought hard along with others and defeated the PDP.

In retrospect, it is now evident that the PDP has learnt more from its defeat than the APC has learnt from its victory. The PDP that we return to is now a party that has learnt its lessons the hard way and have realized that no member of the party should be taken for granted; a party that has realized that inclusion, justice and equity are basic precondition for peace; a party that has realized that never again can the people of Nigeria be taken for granted.

I am excited by the new efforts, which seeks to build the reborn PDP on the core principles of promoting democratic values; internal democracy; accountability; inclusion and national competitiveness; genuine commitment to restructuring and devolution of powers; and an abiding belief in zoning of political and elective offices as an inevitable strategy for managing our rich diversity as a people of one great indivisible nation called Nigeria.

What we have all agreed is that a deep commitment to these ideals were not only a demonstration of our patriotism but also a matter of enlightened self-interest, believing that our very survival as political elites of this country will depend on our ability to earn the trust of our people and in making them believe that, more than anything else, we are committed to serving the people.

What the experience of the last three years have taught us is that the most important task that we face as a country is how to reunite our people. Never before had so many people in so many parts of our country felt so alienated from their Nigerianness. Therefore, we understand that the greatest task before us is to reunite the county and give everyone a sense of belonging regardless of region or religion.

Every Nigerian must have an instinctive confidence that he or she will be treated with justice and equity in any part of the country regardless of the language they speak or how they worship God. This is the great task that trumps all. Unless we are able to achieve this, all other claim to progress no matter how defined, would remain unsustainable.

This is the task that I am committing myself to and I believe that it is in this PDP, that I will have the opportunity to play my part. It is my hope that the APC will respect the choice that I have made as my democratic right, and understand that even though we will now occupy a different political space, we do not necessarily become enemies unto one another.

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AFRICA

Gabon President Ali Bongo recovering from an undisclosed illness in Saudi Arabia

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Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba is recovering from an undisclosed illness in Saudi Arabia and still performing his duties, according to a statement released on Sunday amid mounting speculation about his health.

The issue is a particularly sensitive one in the Central African nation. When Bongo’s father died in 2009 after more than four decades in power, Gabonese officials angrily denied French media reports of his death for almost a day, and shut down the internet in the country for several hours.

The statement said that Ali Bongo was suffering dizziness at his hotel in Riyad, Saudi Arabia on Oct. 24 when he sought medical care at King Faysal Hospital.

The information about the president’s health is “extremely reassuring” and the president “continues to perform his duties,” the presidency said.

The communique came amid a swirl of rumors over the president’s health back home in the Central African nation. Some media reports suggested that Bongo had suffered a stroke, though government spokesman Ike Ngouoni cautioned people about “fake news”.

“It would be in his interest entirely to make his presence. I think they’re not putting him in front of the cameras intentionally,” said Douglas A. Yates, a Paris-based Gabon expert.

One of the world’s largest producers of oil, Gabon’s wealth is far from evenly distributed. About a third of the population, estimated to be below 2 million people, live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

The elder Bongo, who ruled the oil-rich nation from 1967 until his 2009 death, was viewed by many as the father of the nation. His time in power, though, was dogged by allegations of corruption and the use of oil profits for personal luxuries, including properties in several European and American cities, and lavish trips abroad.

Ali Bongo won a special presidential election that was held a few months after his father’s death. The opposition claimed it was rigged.

In 2016, protesters took to the streets of the capital, Libreville, and the Parliament building was burned after Bongo’s opponent, Jean Ping, accused Bongo of vote-rigging. The European Union, the United States, and France also expressed concerns about some of the results. Gabon’s constitutional court later upheld Bongo’s victory. AP

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Gunmen abduct Catholic priests in southern Nigeria

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“They were abducted on their way to Ekpoma, Edo state, from Delta for an event,” he added, saying police and local security were hunting for the gunmen.

A source at the Warri Catholic diocese in Delta State confirmed the incident, which comes less than three weeks after five Catholic nuns were kidnapped in Delta State.

The nuns were released two weeks later, and a suspect was in custody, said Aniamaka. He would not say if a ransom had been paid.

Several sources confirm that the nuns had been returning from a burial ceremony in the southeast Nigeria when they were abducted by gunmen who opened fire on their vehicles, injuring two other nuns.

In January, Nigeria’s bishops denounced a wave of kidnappings for ransom in the country.

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AFRICA

Nigerian army posts Trump video to justify shooting muslim Shiites

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Nigeria’s army (has) posted a video of US President Donald Trump saying soldiers would shoot migrants throwing stones to justify opening fire on a Shiite group (last) week.

In the video, Trump warns that soldiers deployed to the Mexican border could shoot Central American migrants who throw stones at them while attempting to cross illegally.

“We’re not going to put up with that. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” said Trump in remarks made on Thursday.

“I told them (troops) consider it (a rock) a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexican military and police, I say consider it a rifle.”

Nigeria’s defence spokesman John Agim told AFP that the army posted the video in response to criticism that its security forces had acted unlawfully.

The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) said 49 of its members were killed after the army and police fired live bullets at crowds who marched near and in the capital Abuja. The army’s official death toll was six.

Amnesty International said Wednesday it had “strong evidence” that police and soldiers used automatic weapons against IMN members and killed about 45 people in an “unconscionable use of deadly force by soldiers and police”.

The United States embassy in Nigeria said Thursday it was “concerned” and called for an investigation.

“The video was posted in reaction to the Amnesty International report accusing the army of using weapons against pacifist Shiite protesters…. Not only did they use stones but they were carrying petrol bombs, machetes and knives, so yes, we consider them as being armed,” said Agim.

“We intervened only because the IMN members are trying to harm our people, they are always meeting us…at security check points and trying to provoke us, they even burned a police vehicle.”

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is almost evenly split between a mostly Muslim north — which is predominantly Sunni — and a largely Christian south.

Experts have warned the government that a heavy-handed response to the group risks sparking conflict in a volatile region where poverty is widespread.

IMN leader Ibrahim Zakzaky has been in custody since 2015, when an army crackdown killed 300 of his supporters who were buried in mass graves, according to rights groups.

Zakzaky is facing a culpable homicide charge in connection with the 2015 violence. He remains in jail despite a court order granting him bail.

On Thursday, 120 of 400 IMN members arrested by police on Monday were  charged with “rioting, disturbance of public peace and causing hurt,” said a court official in Abuja on Friday.

According to court documents seen by AFP, the IMN members had been ordered to disperse but they “refused and started throwing stones at the police officers and other members of the public and thereby caused them bodily harm”.

All the suspects pleaded not guilty and were granted bail with the court hearing to resume on December 5.

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