Let me state something upfront. The law is (and should be) no respecter of persons. Anyone who is found guilty of an offense or breach by a court of competent jurisdiction should be punished accordingly. Anyone who is accused of any offence is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. However, due process must be followed because in all we do, we set and follow precedence. These are my assumptions as I try to appraise the ongoing hullaballoo about the trial of the president of Nigerian Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, for alleged false declaration of his assets and consequent breach of the Code of Conduct Act.
Like many Nigerians, I am very angry about the mention of the word ‘corruption.’ It gets worse when any prominent politician is associated with it. It has very little to do with the Senate president as a person. Just that he is a big man and naturally on the receiving side of our ongoing class war in the country. Poor people get very irritated and incensed when some humongous amount of monies are being mentioned in connection with public officers. It is purely as a result of a class warfare where poverty of the majority breeds anger and resentment against a few. It is a struggle for incorporation rather than a matter of justice or equity. No one really bothers about the details or tries to stop that anger from distorting their objective reasons. But I beg to differ on this one.
I attended the session at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, last Tuesday, uninvited. I had to go there because I wanted an opportunity to see things for myself and put the whole saga in context. I left my room at about 8am and arrived the tribunal’s premises at about 9.02am. I spent more than 30 minutes from Jabi junction while enduring humiliating searching and frisking from gun-wielding and stern-looking policemen. At a point they stopped the taxi that was conveying me and I had to resort to renting a motorbike to complete my journey. There were about 483 policemen deployed from the road to the premises of the CCT. They had armoured personnel carriers (APCs) positioned in strategic locations. They were so battle ready such that you will mistake the trial in view to be that of Abubakar Shekau or Abu Qaqa or a known Boko Haram commander. I managed to take a seat in the fully-parked room after looking around for 10 minutes.
I counted about 34 journalists, 19 video cameras and three live television broadcast vans in the compound. It was clear that everyone was prepared for a major event. I was a little surprised at the elaborate preparation that I saw. It was as if another Oscar Pistorius was about to be arraigned. I was not exactly sure what to expect neither could I guess who could have paid for such elaborate publicity. The atmosphere in the room was so soaked with tension. Some journalists gathered in clusters to review their expectations for the day while others threw banters at one another as they waited.
At about 9.40am I noticed some movement of a crowd of persons at the entrance after which the delegation from the Senate arrived. I spotted Senate President Saraki, Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu, Senator MagatakardaWamakko, Senator Ben Bruce and others in the crowd. The deputy Senate president sat on the front row. The senators waited for another 50 minutes before the chairman of the tribunal stepped in at about 10.30am. I do not want to comment further on what transpired in court lest someone either shout subjudice or accuse me of contempt of court. But I enjoyed the exchanges between the prosecution and the defence team which brought clarity to the undercurrents of the trial. That said, let me raise some observations making round already in the public domain.
The first observation is about the credibility of the tribunal under its current leadership. It was reported in the media that the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar is himself facing corruption charges levelled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. It was stated that the EFCC had invited him on several occasions and he rebuffed all of them. How come no one issued a warrant of arrest on him? Now the problem is how can such a man who is yet to clear himself from EFCC be trusted to preside aover the corruption trial of another person? Such a man lacks the moral impetus to try anyone. The right thing expected is that either the learned justice would have stepped aside until he sorts himself out with the EFCC or (he should have) handed over the trial to an acting chairman to preside over.
The second point is about the timing of the alleged offence and the trial. I listened while the charges were read and came to understand that some of the alleged breaches were said to have been committed many years ago when the defendant was serving as governor of Kwara State. Many Nigerians are wondering why it took the CCT 12 years to complete their investigation and bring the matter to trial. Observers admit that part of the sins of the former governor is that he emerged as the president of Senate against the wishes of his party. Now if this is true, it means that the CCT is now a tool in the hands of the party to punish the senator for his disobedience. There are those who think that the timing is not as important as the fact that symbolism of prosecuting a high profile politician. As far as they are concerned, offenders can be tried post-mortem. They take it as a credit to the political will of the current administration to fight corruption to take on anyone anytime. True; it sends a clear warning signal. What about others? Is Senator Saraki the only public officer who might have allegedly breached the CCB Act? Are there other senators and public officers lined up for CCT? Shall we then take this trial as a coincidence or a well-rehearsed plan to use someone as a scapegoat?
My third and final point is about the implications of the whole saga on the polity. There appears to be a clear battle line that has been drawn between the executive and the legislative arms of government. Can President Buhari afford this now? I am worried because of the complaints from many quarters that the federal government is moving very slowly and whether such executive-legislative face off will not worsen the pace of governance. We have been informed that the president will send his ministerial nominees to the National Assembly on September 30. And so what next? If some of these grey areas are not clarified, how will he expect any expedited clearance of those nominees? Now I have read that some senators are already asking their president to resign so that senators like the wife of Lagos strong man, Remi Tinubu or George Akume should take his place. How will one expect the Senate to fare per chance any of these handpicked persons take over the leadership? How come the struggle to replace the Senate president started before his removal? Is it another banana peel as observed by Late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo?
Every lover of democracy knows the implication of a docile parliament. It simply means that no one will provide effective oversight or question any form of executive rascality. Such a situation will create opportunity for the executive to exercise both constitutional and unconstitutional powers without checks, which may encourage the president to become dictatorial. The consequences will be too dangerous to contemplate. In as much as many of us support the current effort of government to fight corruption, such efforts must be systematic, thorough and made to follow due process and not converted to a selective fight. Nigerians have not forgotten how anti-corruption efforts of President Obasanjo yielded results until he converted them to instruments for hounding political opponents. President Buhari must learn from that experience. While we cannot conclude on Saraki’s own yet, the dramatisation of his trail, the undue politicisation and media sensationalism curiously leaves a lot to be desired.


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