By David Malingha Doya, Sophie Mongalvy, and Riad Hamade
Nigeria’s Senate President Bukola Saraki is considering running against President Muhammadu Buhari when Africa’s top oil producer holds elections in February.
“I am consulting and actively considering it,” Saraki, 56, said Tuesday in an interview at his residence in the capital, Abuja. “I believe I can make the change.”
After recently defecting from the ruling All Progressives Congress, Saraki said that if he decided to run, it would be under the banner of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party. He would need to win the party’s ticket during primary elections in October.
At odds with Buhari ever since he emerged as the Senate leader against the president’s wishes in 2015, Saraki is a former member of the PDP who despite joining the APC, often went against the party line.
His defection last month back to the PDP came amid a wave of such departures from the APC, including dozens of senators and at least two state governors. After security operatives surrounded Saraki’s home last month for undisclosed reasons, the secret police temporarily blocked access to the National Assembly on Aug. 7, in what Saraki said was an illegal attempt to impeach him. The head of the State Security Services was dismissed over the deployment.
“If a government can go and lock up an arm of government — and it’s never happened in our history — we should all be very concerned,” Saraki said. “We should not be surprised that they would use security agencies for elections.”
“So one is concerned for his security, but I think what we are doing right now is fighting for the soul of this country,” he said.
PDP senators are rotating shifts to “keep vigil” at the National Assembly to ensure that those from the ruling party don’t clandestinely get into the chambers in attempt to change the senate’s leadership, The Nation newspaper reported on Thursday.
The Senate, on recess until Sept. 25, hasn’t yielded to pressure from Buhari to reconvene to consider an elections budget he sent to lawmakers just before they broke off. Saraki accused the executive of sending the budget late, and instead invited the electoral body to meet relevant committees without setting a date for a plenary session.
“It could have been avoided. The 2019 election is not an emergency thing, from 2015 we all knew there would be elections in four years’ time,” Saraki said. “If we have to say it as it is, it’s inefficiency bordering on poor planning that brought us to this point. But we have agreed in principle that our committees should meet with the electoral commission. The appropriation committee will look at it to see how do we fund it.”
Investors and citizens have lost confidence in the president, according to Saraki, the nation’s third-highest ranking official after Buhari and his deputy. Buhari’s victory in 2015, which marked the first time an opposition party won power at the ballot box and put an end to 16 years of PDP rule, came after he pledged to fix the economy, improve security and fight corruption in Africa’s most populous nation of almost 200 million inhabitants.
While Buhari’s administration has raised record amounts of money in oversubscribed Eurobond sales and increased revenue to boost investments in roads, rail, ports and power, poverty remains widespread in Nigeria and the nation is still dealing with deadly violence in several regions.
To win the PDP ticket at the party’s primaries on Oct. 5 and 6, Saraki would need to beat another presidential aspirant, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who also defected from the APC last year.
Saraki said Nigeria needs to be governed by a genuinely pro-business administration that will be able to tackle recurrent security issues. Below are some excerpts from the interview:
• “Most of the inflows that have come in are merely hot money, and that is because the oil price has gone up. Investment in the real sector is not seen. The private sector, in my view, has probably taken a position that the confidence is not there in the government. The country requires a government that is truly pro-business, and a president that sees himself as a chief marketing officer.”
On the involvement of security forces in political matters:
• “There has been a persistent disregard for due process and a lack of neutrality for some of these issues. For you to have credible elections, you must have safe elections. Security agencies are actively getting involved in the politics.”
• “The fundamentals of whatever we are going to develop is going to be based on sound democracy, credible elections, freedom of choice of Nigerians. If we don’t have that as a foundation, then everything else cannot happen.”
On gasoline subsidies:
• “If we are going to have a subsidy, we should have a budget for it. Because once we have a budget for it, the private sector can also play a role in the importation of petroleum products. And if the private sector plays a role, definitely the cost of the subsidy will go down and there will be more efficiency in the delivery of products. But in the environment we are in today, where it’s only the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. that’s doing that, it’s going to be inefficient, it’s not going to be transparent.”
On the PDP:
• “The PDP has learnt its lesson from the loss in 2015, and I think unfortunately the APC did not learn from their victory.”
• While negotiating with the PDP “we listed a number of issues. We talked about how to sustain and improve the fight against corruption; the issue of providing more powers to the states; inclusion and having a more nationalistic approach on things we do; to continue to improve the environment that will ensure investments. We listed a number of items during the discussions with the PDP, and there is a written agreement to that. We trust that we can hold them to that.”
• “We would ensure that the party is strong on security. The APC too have not done well on the issue of security. We have the opportunity with the right kind of presidential candidate and president to provide the leadership for the party. The party has a good opportunity to lead the country in the right direction.
• Source: Bloomberg