SSS arrests Senator Yari for ignoring Bola Tinubu’s phone call amidst tussle for Senate President

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Senator Abdulaziz Yari has spent two nights languishing in the dungeon of Nigeria’s iron-fisted State Security Service, was told by two officials familiar, after multiple telephone calls to his lines from President Bola Tinubu rang through last month.

One senior security officer and a State House aide told in separate disclosures on Friday that the SSS arrested Mr Yari on Thursday morning and detained him for “thinking the president is a joke,” as one official put it.

Both sources obtained commitment to keeping them anonymous to bounce potential backlash from Mr Tinubu, who seemed to be shaping up to be a ruthless and vindictive leader after barely five weeks in office.

CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele
Godwin Emefiele
“He was asked why he ignored the president’s phone calls during the Senate leadership battle,” an official said. “He started arguing that he has every right to contest for the position and decisions about his political career moves should not come from the president.”

“The president was trying to appeal to him to stand down his ambition to make sure any fate similar to how Bukola Saraki became Senate President in 2015 won’t be repeated,” the official said. “We all knew that Saraki’s emergence back then was the first error President Buhari made, and it crippled his first four years in office.”

Sources said Mr Yari received a call from Yusuf Bichi, the director-general, to report at the SSS’ headquarters for an urgent discussion. Upon arrival, Mr Yari was asked to wait for Mr Bichi, who purportedly stepped out. But the senator was delayed throughout the day by a phalanx of armed SSS agents, only to be told at about 10:00 p.m. Thursday that he won’t be going home, The Gazette learnt. The senator’s planned visit with other Senate colleagues to former President Ibrahim Babangida on Friday was consequently aborted.

“His phones were confiscated, and he may be spending days, if not weeks, in custody,” the source added.

Abdulrasheed Bawa
Abdulrasheed Bawa
A spokesman for the SSS sidestepped questions about the development on Friday.

Mr Yari failed to garner enough votes for the position, but his Senate associates have alleged irregularities and may challenge the outcome in court. This could set him on a collision course with the president, with officials warning of dire consequences for Mr Yari’s political future should he proceed with the lawsuit.

Already, Mr Tinubu has detained Abdulrasheed Bawa without charges after firing him as the head of the federal anti-corruption office EFCC on June 14. Mr Bawa was looking into Mr Tinubu’s web of ill-gotten assets at some point in 2020, The Gazette previously reported. Mr Bawa’s detention has persisted after more than three weeks, even as he has neither been charged nor publicly accused of any wrongdoings.

Also held under a legally-dubious authority without charges is Godwin Emefiele, a Nigerian banker whom Mr Tinubu promptly fired from office as the central bank governor and subsequently ordered detained by the SSS, a national intelligence outfit whose illiberal manoeuvres have endured despite the country’s blistering journey from the tyranny of military juntas in the 1990s to the third decade of uninterrupted constitutional republic.

Officials said Mr Yari’s detention might also drag out if his colleagues at the National Assembly are not fierce enough in demanding his release, one of our sources said. Like Mr Tinubu, the former Zamfara governor is also a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress. But he poked the president’s ire last month when he declared plans to be Senate President at the resumption of the 10th National Assembly. Federal lawmakers, unlike the president and vice-president, have no constitutional immunity from arrest and criminal prosecution.

Mr Yari advanced his push to be Senate President even after party leaders publicly endorsed Godswill Akpabio for the position, largely on the account of Mr Akpabio’s southern Christian identity and second Senate term. Mr Yari, representing Zamfara West Senatorial District, is a Muslin from the North-West. The party sought to balance equity within its ranks by ceding the Senate presidency to a Christian from the South-South, since Mr Tinubu is a Muslim from the South-West and Vice-President Kashim Shettima is a Muslim from the North-East. House Speaker Tajudeen Abbas is a Muslim from Mr Yari’s region.

A spokesman for Mr Akpabio, who emerged the Senate President on June 13 after defeating Mr Yari 63-46, did not immediately return a request seeking comments. A phone number for the presidency did not connect on Saturday morning.

The Gazette heard from a second official that Mr Yari was also asked about transactions he received from the CBN, which officials are treating as suspicious but which the senator reportedly explained were legitimate.

“He told them the money from the CBN was from consultancy he did for the forum of governors and he still has an outstanding balance to collect from the CBN,” a source familiar with Mr Yari’s interrogation said. A spokesman for the CBN could not be reached for comments Friday night.

Mr Yari’s arrest came weeks after he secured a federal court directive forbidding the SSS, EFCC and other law enforcement bodies from arresting the senator on corruption charges.

The restraining order was renewed last month, with law enforcement sources telling Bellnewsonline they would continue investigations on the matter meanwhile.

Anti-graft agency Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, filed charges against Mr Yari in 2022 after Bellnewsonline exposed suspicious transactions he initiated in his last hours as Zamfara governor in May 2019.

The politician has continued to deny any wrongdoings, accusing his political rivals of hatching schemes to detach national politics and throw him in prison.

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