Former Nigeria ruling party claws back some ground with senate presidency, Buhari cabinet still unnamed

Over two months since new party won national elections, there has been been no policy statements and no key appointments, raising concern.

THE election of Bukola Saraki as Nigeria’s Senate President is a sign that it’s going to be a tough year for President Muhammadu Buhari as the former ruling party still intends to exert influence.

Saraki, an All Progressives Congress senator from the western state of Kwara, drew on support from the now opposition Peoples Democratic Party to win the leadership on Tuesday of the upper chamber, riding over the APC’s preferred choice, according to party spokesman Lai Mohammed. Saraki is a former PDP lawmaker in a party formed by the merger of three groups then joined by renegades from the PDP.

“It’s going to be a turbulent legislative year,” Olusegun Sotola, a research fellow at the Lagos-based Initiative for Public Policy Analysis, said by phone. The APC are “still operating as blocks.”

While Buhari won the March elections after promising to radically reshape Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy is reeling from a slump in the price of oil, on which it depends for more than two-thirds of government spending. Last month, an acute fuel shortage during a dispute between oil-product marketers and the outgoing government left service stations closed, aircraft grounded, and businesses unable to operate.

Economic growth slowed to 4 percent in the first quarter compared with 5.9 percent a quarter earlier, the national statistics agency said last month. The naira has declined 7.8 percent against the dollar this year.

Firm internal discipline
If Buhari’s party is to guide through the bicameral National Assembly the laws that will revive Nigeria’s economy, it will need to maintain firm internal discipline.

The APC holds 64 seats in Senate to the PDP’s 45 and won 214 of 360 seats in the House of Representatives. As well as Saraki’s selection as Senate President, Yakubu Dogara was voted on Tuesday as Speaker of the lower house.

“The APC is an amalgamation of different political parties, and they are yet to be closely united as a party,” said Sotola. “The APC has a majority but it’s not so great, and it’s problematic that the PDP still has a substantial number of seats.”

Saraki and Dogara weren’t the “clear” candidates chosen by an APC “straw poll” when the party met, Mohammed said in a statement on Tuesday, without naming the party’s preferred candidates.

‘Enormous Task’

Buhari “would have preferred the new leaders to have emerged through the process established by the party,” his office said in a statement. He said lawmakers now had to “focus on the enormous task of bringing enduring positive change to the lives of Nigerians.”

Buhari, who was inaugurated on May 29, has yet to name his cabinet ministers.

“There have been no policy statements and no key appointments,” Sotola said. “If this is a sign of things to come, it’s a bad omen.”

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