The plot to weaken opposition to the emergence of Senator Ahmed Lawan, the preferred choice of the All Progressives Congress for the position of Senate President, has reached an advanced stage, According to Saturday PUNCH.

Saturday PUNCH gathered in Abuja on Friday that the ruling party was leaving nothing to chance as it was prepared to take full advantage of pending cases before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to whip uncooperative lawmakers into line.

It was learnt that the party’s strategists had reached a conclusion that it would be dangerous to underestimate the influence of the outgoing President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who they argued was keenly interested in who would succeed him.

In order to checkmate him, there are strong indications that the EFCC may arrest and detain him after his tenure officially ends and keep him until new principal officers are elected.

This plot, Saturday PUNCH learnt, was part of strategies being considered in a bid to destabilise the opposition and whip other contenders into line.

A top-ranking security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, explained that investigations into Saraki’s stewardship as Kwara State Governor and later Senate President was part of a larger plot by the current administration to clip his political wings and ensure the APC had its way.

Saturday PUNCH was informed on Friday that the EFCC’s probe of Saraki’s property in Lagos and the interrogation of the National Assembly clerk as well as other management officials was part of the general plot.

Also being investigated by the anti-graft agency is the Clerk to the House of Representatives, Mr Patrick Giwa.

The clerks were grilled by the EFCC on Wednesday over alleged corruption infraction and diversion of the duty tour allowances of legislative aides to members of the National Assembly.

The EFCC had acted on a petition sent to it by the legislative aides, a copy of which was sent to Buhari.

The signatories to the petition were Messrs Chinedu Nwokeukwu and Sunday Chuba on behalf of over 3,000 legislative aides.

They wrote partly, “We are reliably informed, Your Excellency, that the presiding officers of the 8th National Assembly are using the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Sani Omolori, to cover the alleged diversion of our entitlements and allowances.

“The clerk should have proceeded on pre-retirement leave in November 2018, having attained the mandatory 60 years and 35 years of service. He was allegedly served a letter to that effect by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation.”

A source said, “The executive and, by extension, the APC are desperate to install Senator Lawan as the next Senate President, but they know that Saraki may frustrate their plans. With him in the upper chamber, the party may not succeed in its bid to have its candidate as the next Senate President.

“So, the ongoing investigation of Saraki has become a tool to be used for the advancement of their cause; the plan is for the EFCC to arrest Saraki and keep him out of circulation shortly before the inauguration of the National Assembly and the election of the principal officers.

“This was the reason the commission grilled the National Assembly clerk and other officials about the finances of the Assembly and other issues relating to the procedure for the election of the leaders of the 9th Assembly.”

Another source noted that with Saraki out of the way, the plot against Lawan by other contenders to the Senate Presidency, like the former Senate leader, Senator Ali Ndume, and Senator Danjuma Goje, could easily be overwhelmed by pro-Lawan senators backed by the ruling party.

Our correspondent further gathered that the EFCC had been dragged into the Senate presidency race by top party and government officials who did not want to leave anything to chance.

The source noted, “The APC and top government officials have been having sleepless nights over the likelihood of Saraki (playing the) midwife and influencing the election of his successor because they fear he may continue to control happenings within the Senate, which may not augur well for the (Muhammadu) Buhari administration.

“This is why the APC Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and other party chiefs are not taking the issue of the emergence of the new principal officers with levity and they are ready to do anything to get their candidates into office.”

Apart from checking Saraki, it was also gathered that senators who voted against Lawan may face serious consequences for their action as the anti-graft agency was poised to go after them.

Should Lawan fail to clinch the position, Saturday PUNCH learnt that rebellious senators who have pending cases before anti-graft agencies would have their case files dusted up.

“Senators who vote for Lawan’s opponent will not find it easy after the NASS inauguration because their business deals, constituency projects and other activities will be subjected to clinical investigations and we all know what this may mean for some of them,” another senior official revealed.

When contacted, the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, said he would not respond to speculations about a possible arrest of the outgoing Senate President.

He said, “I will not respond to speculations on this matter. I do know the Senate has its rules and the election of principal officers is done in accordance with these rules.”

But the acting EFCC spokesman, Tony Orilade,

said the commission had no interest in the election of principal officers of the National Assembly. He said in line with its mandate, it was only interested in persons who had questions to answer with regards to the mismanagement of public funds.

He cautioned politicians against “dragging the EFCC into the National Assembly’s internal affairs,” stressing that the anti-agency was not a political organisation.

He stated, “Like the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, said, our investigation of any citizen is not personal and we are not after anybody. We invite or arrest people who have committed a crime, people who are corrupt. If you are not corrupt, we can’t arrest or detain you.”

Asked about the reported interrogation of Mohammed Sani-Omolori-led National Assembly management, including the Clerk of the Senate, Nelson Ayewoh, and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Patrick Giwa, Orilade said he did not have information about it.

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