In what is a clear indication of realignment of political forces ahead of the 2019 general election, Senate President Bukola Saraki last week disengaged the services of about 100 legislative aides.
The sack of the aides confirmed earlier reports that the Senate President had ordered a staff audit in the first quarter of 2017 and set new terms and conditions for them.
Although the sack was initially scheduled for June 2017 to coincide with the second anniversary of the Eighth Senate, the Number Three Citizen decided to postpone it till annual recess to douse political atmosphere.
The broader implications of the development is that it would not only worsen the unemployment situation in a country that is already battling economic recession but would exacerbate the security situation in the National Assembly, as the disengaged staff would besiege the lobby of the apex legislative chamber seeking employment from lawmakers.
Cases abound of former staff who either served as aides to ex-lawmakers or support staff since 2003 but still throng the National Assembly to beg for alms from lawmakers, journalists or visitors.
Ironically, they pose no threat to security agents manning the various gates leading to the Complex as they are allowed free entry.
Some of the affected staff had been at the office of the Senate President on secondment from the National Assembly Management, while those said to be redundant were also laid off.
Prior to the sack, there were over 300 aides working with the Senate President, surpassing the 112 that worked for the immediate past Senate President David Mark. Although each principal officer is entitled to 10 legislative aides, the provision has been violated by Presiding Officers who accept some unknown individuals as aides to pacify political interests.
Consequently, most of the affected aides were inherited staff of Mark. One of them is the Director of Protocol, Arthur Ndiwe, who spent a total of 10 years on the position, having served Mark for eight years before continuing with Saraki in June 2015.
The dictum of “No permanent friends, no permanent enemies but permanent interests” best depicts the disengagement of the staff, as some of the affected aides were said to be loyalists of the Senate President’s political associates whom he had fallen out of favour with.
Yusuph Olaniyonu, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Senate President, however, confirmed that new set of people would be engaged to replace the sacked ones.
“It is possible that a new set of people will be joining the exercise. It is a positive one, not a punitive measure. It was meant to reposition the office to ensure that the office is more strengthened,” he said.
“I don’t have the detail on the number of persons affected, those retained and those likely to be recruited,” he further said.
The development also proved the alliance between Saraki and his New People’s Democratic Party (PDP) bloc of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) group of the party.
This was why the Clerk of National Assembly (CNA), Sani Omolori, who emerged despite stiff opposition from Saraki, did not resist the redeployment of aides to the National Assembly Management. Sources say he was made to realise by the cabal loyal to the President that he (Saraki) is now part and parcel of pro-Buhari group.
This was evident on Tuesday last week when the Senate cautioned anti-Buhari supporters demanding the resignation of President Muhammadu Buhari over his indefinite medical vacation in London to stop heating up the polity with their demands.
In a statement signed by its spokesman, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate said the protesters were only creating unnecessary tension in the country and seeking to divert the attention of the Presidency from the economic and security issues which are being tackled with vigour.
The Senate noted that President Buhari had complied with the provisions of the nation’s groundnorm, the Constitution, which stipulated that he must handover to the Vice President and duly inform the two chambers of the legislature about his medical vacation.
“The President has broken no law and therefore we do not see any justification for this diversion and noise making. The sponsors are merely seeking cheap publicity at the expense of the peace of Nigeria. We, in the National Assembly, are satisfied that there is no vacuum. The Federal Government is working. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo is providing the required leadership. So, there is no reason for the protests.
“All Nigerians now should focus on praying for the safe return of the President. We in the Senate are happy about the report by the Governors and party leaders who recently visited President Buhari in London and we know he will soon return to continue to provide leadership to our people and the rest of Africa.
“We therefore call on the protesters to stop all these demonstrations and let their sense of patriotism overshadow the zeal for activism by joining other Nigerians to pray for the President, the acting President and Nigeria as a country at this critical period”, Abdullahi stated.
Call Saraki the political bride for the 2019 presidential election and you won’t be wrong. This was why the opposition party declared that it would ensure the return of the Senate President and other high profile Nigerians who defected from the party.
The same sentiment was re-echoed by Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State Governor and Chairman PDP Special Non-Elective Convention Planning Committee who gave a time frame of three weeks for return of its former members.
OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, Abuja