Senate President Bukola Saraki has denied reports that he is nursing the ambition for presidency in 2019, saying he actually quit his presidential bid in the 2015 election for President Muhammadu Buhari.
Saraki stated that he contributed immensely to the emergence of Buhari as President and contributed greatly to his victory in the presidential election held on March 28, 2015.
The Senate President, who spoke to select journalists in an exclusive interview in Abuja on Saturday, also denied having plans to dump the APC due to the crisis in the party over his leadership of the Senate.
Rather, he said what remained paramount in his mind at the moment was how to support the Buhari-led administration to tackle the various social and economic problems confronting the country.
Saraki said, “I was the first person that stepped down his political ambition, once General Buhari announced that he was going to contest the presidential election. And since then, prior to the period of election, I worked tirelessly to support his emergence.
“Even some of my friends who are not supporting me now are doing so because I did not support them in their presidential ambition and that I supported President Buhari. That is why I find it funny that the same people are now claiming to love Buhari more than me. It is a very funny world.
“These are people that I was begging to leave the stage for Buhari to run since all of us are young. They are now the ones going round to say that Saraki did not like Buhari but time will tell.”
Explaining what happened on the National Assembly leadership election day, Saraki said he smuggled himself into the chamber on the day the 8th Assembly was inaugurated when he became aware of an alleged plan to abduct and prevent him from standing for the Senate presidential election.
The Senate President also defended his absence from the International Conference Centre venue of a proposed meeting between President Buhari and APC lawmakers on the day of the election.
He insisted that he did not receive any invitation for the meeting.
Saraki said, “As regards the meeting, on the morning of the inauguration, I didn’t finish meeting until 4am of that day and I had got information that efforts would likely be made to make sure that I didn’t get access into the chambers.
He said the plan before was that senators-elect should go to the Transcorp Hilton Hotel around 8:00am and 9:00am to proceed to the National Assembly.
The Senate President said he was, however, advised against going to the chamber at the scheduled time as there were plans to stop him from being part of the day’s proceedings.
Saraki said he got into the National Assembly Complex as early as 6:00am and stayed in a car in the car park from then till quarter to 10:00am.
He noted that all through the period, there was no communication to him.
“So, anybody who said they spoke to me to go the ICC was not true because I didn’t even know what was going on. All I was monitoring was how people were arriving at the complex. It was at quarter to 10:00am that I got information that the Clerk to the National Assembly had entered the chamber.”
Saraki, a two-term ex-Governor of Kwara State and former Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, said it was at that point that he got down from the “small car” in which he was hiding and entered the chamber.
“Even when I was in the chambers, I didn’t know what had transpired earlier on. The only thing I observed was that it appeared that some of our senators were not in the chamber. But for the fact that my colleagues arrived in batches, I had the opinion that they were on their way. And by 10:00am, the programme started.
“Before I knew it, my election had come and gone. Even, my people were worried. It was only when I got into the chambers that they were relieved,” Saraki added.
Saraki continued, he described Ekweremadu’s deputy Senate presidency as painful and unfortunate, but maintained that it was caused by the absence of his APC colleagues. He recalled that the PDP senators had announced to the public that they were supporting him.
He further said, “With regard to the deputy, when they told us that they had a candidate, we, too, told them we had a candidate for Deputy Senate President in the person of Senator Ali Ndume.
“We never, in our imagination, thought they (other APC senators) would not turn up. By the time we got there, we were only 24 while the PDP was more than 40.
“It is unfortunate that we have a PDP man as deputy Senate President. It is painful. It is painful for any APC member because when we went through the struggle. That was not what we signed for.”
Saraki said it was unfair to put the blame on “one side” as it was a combination of errors and miscalculations that led having some senators at another place instead of being on the floor of the Senate.
“So, to suggest that it was out of a desperate act to emerge (as Senate President) is what I reject completely and those who followed the events would know that I didn’t have that deal to emerge,” he claimed.
The APC, however, described Saraki’s claim of non-invitation as a lie, "all senators-elect were invited."