Nigerian Sen. Bukola Saraki of the All Progressives Congress (APC) emerged as the new Senate president after the country's main political parties struck a power-sharing deal in the upper chamber. Saraki, a former member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was the only candidate nominated for the top post and was immediately sworn into office Tuesday, according to local media reports.
As the elected head of Nigeria's Senate, Saraki has become the third most powerful figure in the West African nation. Although the former Kwara state governor belongs to President Muhammadu Buhari's party, he was not the preferred choice for Senate president.
Saraki, 52, was nominated by Sen. Ahmed Sani Yerima in a surprise motion, which was seconded by Sen. Dino Melaye, a former House of Representatives member. Sen. Ahmed Lawan of northeastern Yobe state was the APC’s preferred candidate while Saraki drew support from his former party, the PDP, despite his defection. No one present at the National Assembly building in Abuja nominated Lawan, according to Nigerian newspaper the Premium Times.
Sen. Ike Ekweremadu of the PDP returned as Deputy Senate President, defeating the APC’s candidate, Sen. Ali Ndume, for the position. Ekweremadu won the race Tuesday following a political agreement in which the PDP agreed to back Saraki for Senate President in return for Ekweremadu’s re-election, according to the Premium Times.
The ruling APC has 59 senators while the PDP has 49. The APC took over as Nigeria’s ruling party after a sweeping victory in the general elections in March, marking the first time the PDP didn’t hold majority power in Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1999.
Former Nigerian President Goodluck Johnathan lost re-election to opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari of the APC by a couple of million votes. It was the first time an incumbent lost the presidential poll in Nigeria, Africa’s richest and most populous nation.
Johnathan and the PDP have lost popularity in recent years largely because of the Boko Haram insurgency and allegations of corruption. Countless PDP members have either resigned or ditched the losing party to join the APC after suffering defeat at the polls.
The PDP's public support for Saraki could also be a sign that Johnathan's party is forming an alternative power base to crack Buhari's government, just days after his May 29 inauguration, according to the Associated Press.