The icy relationship between President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President Bukola Saraki appears to be thawing, as both leaders engaged in a tête-à-tête and laughed heartily during a private moment at the low-key celebration held to mark the nation’s 55th independence anniversary in Abuja on Thursday.
Since his emergence as the Senate president three months ago against the wishes of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), there has been no love lost between Buhari and Saraki.
Although Buhari had immediately after the leadership contest in the Senate said he would respect the outcome of the election, he never hid his displeasure over Saraki’s emergence and that of his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Saraki with the support of the opposition PDP senators trounced the favoured choice of the APC and Buhari, Senator Ahmed Lawan, who alongside other APC senators was at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, waiting to meet with the president when the election in the Senate took place.
Ever since, the president has studiously avoided meeting with the Senate president and on Tuesday in New York, where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly, said that his confidence in Saraki would depend on the outcome of the latter’s trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), where he is facing charges of false assets declaration.
Despite the cold war, Buhari and Saraki, who sat next to each other during yesterday’s ceremony, were all smiles and engaged in light banter.
Saraki also led Dogara and other leaders of the legislature to present a card to Buhari congratulating him on Nigeria’s 55th independence anniversary.
The event, which was held in the forecourt of the Presidential Villa, witnessed a special presidential change of guard to mark the event and lasted for about two hours.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, had earlier indicated that this year’s anniversary would be low-keyed due to the state of the country’s finances.
The event started with the arrival of Buhari, who appeared in his trademark traditional attire with a white cap to match.
The president inspected the quarter guards before marching to the Presidential Villa forecourt to receive the national salute which was followed by a rendition of the National Anthem.
Prayers were offered by the Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, and the Deputy Chief Imam of the Abuja National Mosque, Sheikh Muhammad Kabir, reported the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
The event witnessed the the 21-gun salute, inspection of new quarter guards, silent drills, posting of sentries and colour, while weapons and uniforms were inspected to ensure conformity with military standards by the Commander, Brigade of Guards, Brigadier-General Musa Yusuf.
Shortly after the ceremony, Buhari signed the anniversary register and released pigeons from cage.
The president, assisted by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Saraki, Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, and other top dignitaries, cut the anniversary cake.
Speaking in separate interviews after the ceremonial change of guards, Saraki, Justice Mohammed and the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Oyegun expressed confidence in Nigeria’s ability to overcome its present challenges.
Saraki said he was hopeful and confident that the future was very bright. “In next few years, things will be even better,” he said.
The Senate president said that in the legislature it would not be business as usual, stating: “We will ensure that the National Assembly will be people-oriented and will make laws that will make impact on Nigerians.”
The CJN said: “We will make it by the grace of God. We are on the right path,” while Oyegun said at 55, Nigeria has finally discovered that it was on the wrong road.
“We have finally moved to the road that leads to progress, hope, employment, prosperity and that will lead to Nigeria finally attaining that greatness that God destined it for. We are on the way,” the APC cheiftain added.
Those who attended the ceremony were former Heads of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and Chief Ernest Shonekan, and former Senate Presidents Ken Nnamani and Joseph Wayas.
Others were the service chiefs, the current and former Inspectors-General of Police, former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme and Lt.-Gen. Oladipo Diya (rtd), other top government functionaries and members of the diplomatic corps. (Thisday)