- Resumes plenary Tuesday
As the National Assembly prepares to resume for another round of legislative business on Tuesday, September 29, there are indications that Nigerians are likely to see more political drama and intrigues in the days and weeks to come.
With the current travail of the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, many political analysts and observers are expressing fear that the legislators may not overlook the humiliation and persecution their president had suffered in the recent past as a battle line has being drawn between the presidency and the legislators.
Also, what is on the lips of many Nigerians, is whether the legislators would still rally support for their president as they passed vote of confidence on him when his political travail first started before the fresh one at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT .
At the inauguration of the Senate on June 9, 57 out of 109 senators were reported to have voted for Saraki.
Right from the “Change” campaign slogan of the now ruling party, APC ahead of the 2015 general elections, many Nigerians had expected real change in all ramifications, especially in the social, economic and political ways of doing things in the country.
The APC, which was then the major opposition party had during the campaign promised to fight corruption, unemployment, epileptic power supply, decay in the health and education sectors, improve infrastructure and subdue the Boko Haram insurgency in the country.
But with the current development in the APC, especially the frosty relationship between President Muhammadu Buhari and Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki since his election as the Senate President, which the party did not endorse, the much expected “Change”, many political observers noted, may take some time to really actualize.
Though the three arms of government-the executive, the legislature and the judiciary should be independent of each as enshrined in the constitution, there should be some level of cooperation among them, especially between the executive and the legislature for rapid development of the country.
Many people have argued that Saraki, as the Senate President and Chairman of the National Assembly, if still enjoying the majority support of his colleagues could frustrate the efforts of President Buhari as the executive cannot work in isolation of the legislature. This school of thought is of the firm conviction that since Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives, were members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, before they defected to the APC, it is believed that should they decide to work against the government of Buhari, it may be difficult for it to succeed.
Though the senate is presently divided under Saraki, as there are two groups -”Senators of Likeminds” comprising of lawmakers who are loyal to Saraki and the Senate Unity Forum,SUF, belonging to Senator Ahmed Lawan, who was the APC preferred candidate for the senate president position, presently, as Saraki is enjoying the support of Senators of Likeminds in the senate, there are indications that members of the Senate Unity Forum have started wooing other senators loyal to the Senate President. It was learnt that the SUF members, who contacted the pro-Saraki senators, hinged their argument on the ongoing trial of the Senate President at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. It was gathered that the group might have succeeded in securing the support of 12 pro-Saraki senators, mainly the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP members.
The CCT had on the strength of alleged assets falsification charges leveled against Saraki by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, served him a court summon recently for his appearance before it penultimate Friday.
The CCB had as widely reported in the media recently, filed a 13-count charge against Saraki before the Tribunal through the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation. Count one accused Saraki of making “false declaration in the assets declaration form for public officers on assumption of office as Governor of Kwara State by making an anticipatory asset declaration”.
The charge reads: “You claimed to have owned and acquired No. 15A and N0. 15B McDonald Ikoyi, Lagos through your company Carlisle Properties Limited in the year 2000 whereas the said property was in actual fact sold by the Implementation Committee on Federal Government landed property in the year 2006 to your companies Tiny Tee Limited and Vitti Oil Limited for the aggregate sum of N396, 150, 000”.
The charge sheet also alleged Saraki to have operated an American Express credit card account during his tenure as governor, where he allegedly wired at least $3.4 million from Nigerian account to American bank account. The law bars public officers from operating foreign bank accounts while in service.
But Saraki said, “Most of these allegations are frivolous and not true. It has been there since 2003 and you wake up 12 years after to start raising non existing issues. I have always done my assets declaration. We will continue to do our work here. There is no doubt about it that it is mischievous and it is not current”.
“The issues raised are not true. As far as we are concerned, we are not shaking. We will focus on what we have come here to do, elected by the people and by my colleagues to work for the interest of this country”, he added.
According to the Senate President, his present travail is being influenced by external forces and warned that he will not in any way be distracted by the spurious allegations.
According to Ojo Taiwo, a legal practitioner, “the ongoing travail of the Senate President will definitely affect the level of governance in the country, because there is no way it won’t slow down the pace at which President Buhari would want to provide dividends if democracy to Nigerians”.
Asked to explain better, Taiwo said, “Mr. President is expected to send the list of his ministers for clearance by the senate and if there is this cat and mouse relationship, for whatever reason between him and the Senate President, we all know what may happen to some of the nominees whenever they go for screening”.
“Again, some executive bills are expected to come before the senate for debate and passage, what do you think will happen when such bills are sent by Mr. President. The unfortunate thing is that it is the grasses that usually suffer whenever two elephants fight. It is the masses that will eventually suffer at the end because of this kind of political ‘war’, because it will affect the rate at which the country would have been developed”, he stressed.
As the Department of State Services, DSS has finalized the screening of the ministerial nominees sent to it by the President; the President is expected to send the list to the Senate for screening and possible confirmation any moment from now. Many people, especially supporters of Saraki are expecting him to take his pound of flesh during the ministerial screening just to get back to the President and the leadership of the APC.
President Buhari has since denied instigating the ongoing corruption trial of Saraki. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Garba Shehu, said that the President vowed to respect the rule of law and this is what he is doing by staying out of this matter.
Notwithstanding, the denial, loyalists of the Senate President in the Red Chamber may decide to frustrate Buhari’s administration through the screening of his ministerial nominees. Having been docked as an accused person, harassed and humiliated, it appears that the Senate President is now up against Buhari and the leadership of the APC in what many have termed “titanic political battle”.
It has been rumoured in some quarters that the Senate President will likely take his pound of flesh when the National Assembly resumes next tomorrow screening Buhari’s ministerial nominees. All eyes will be on the National Assembly, especially the Senate, as the parliament resumes plenary on Tuesday.
A public affairs commentator, Alhaji Adegboyega Lawal, while reacting to the issue in an interview with this paper, said, “The pronouncement of the Code of Conduct Tribunal was not a surprise to some of us in view of the politics that followed the election of Dr. Bukola Saraki as the Senate President. Saraki is occupying the number three position and that is not a small office in this country”.
“Why his current travail did not come to some of us as a surprise, is the way he disrespected the leadership of APC, the party, which platform he used to be elected into the senate in the first place during the sharing of positions in upper chamber. If not the party and the Presidency would have stood by him”, he opined.
Lawal went further, “Some people were shocked at the pronouncement of Justice Danladi Umar of the CCT directing the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase to arrest the Senate President for his refusal to appear before him, because they thought, as the number three citizen, he should have immunity against such arrest while in office. But the constitution only provides immunity to serving President, vice president, governors and the deputy governors and protects them from any form of arrest irrespective of the offence they must have committed”.
However, after about six days of seeking for judicial way out of summon of appearance slammed on him by the CCT, Saraki finally appeared before the Tribunal last Monday. He had refused to honor the court summon on the grounds that his counsels obtained ruling from a Federal High Court in Abuja, calling on the Tribunal, the Bureau, the Federal Ministry of Justice and himself to appear before, a submission the Tribunal dismissed by issuing a warrant of arrest on him for his appearance before it.
Saraki did not also appear before the Tribunal at first on the grounds that his counsels had already sought for application of stay of proceeding of the suit at the Tribunal from the court of appeal in Abuja. The Court of Appeal however refused to grant the application while ruling on it, a development that made Saraki to finally agree to appear before the tribunal today.
Addressing the press on his readiness for appearance before the Tribunal, Saraki said all the steps he had taken so far on the Tribunal’ invitation, were guided by legal advice from his lawyers but stressed that he is a law abiding citizen.
His words: “Well, with the ruling of the appeal court, I think based on legal advice, we shall exercise our rights and being a law abiding citizen, by the directive of the CCT, saying that one should be there tomorrow, I will be there. I have nothing to hide.
“One was exercising one’s right both at the Federal High Court and at the Court of Appeal. So, I will be there before the tribunal. The most important thing is that I believe in the process and I will be there in the morning”.
The Senate President addressed the press after about two hours closed door meeting with about 15 senators, cutting across party lines including the Deputy Leader of Senate, Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC Kebbi South), Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP Abia North), Hope Uzodinma (PDP Imo West), Binta Garba Mashi (APC Adamawa North) and Kabiru Gaya (APC Kano South), among others.
Earlier before the press briefing, the media office of the Senate President had issued a statement, stating clearly that Saraki will be at the tribunal . The statement said his appearance was to show that he has nothing to hid as a law abiding citizen.
The statement reads, “The Senate President, Bukola Saraki will appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal today, Tuesday 22nd of September 2015. While the Senate President Bukola Saraki, had stated and maintained that he is ready to submit himself to due process of the law on any issue concerning him, he also believes that he has an inalienable right to resort to the same judiciary for protection when he feels his fundamental rights are about to be infringed upon.
“The Senate President is a law abiding citizen and his absence from tribunal was based on legal advice he received from his counsel that it is not necessary for him to appear before the tribunal at this stage since the jurisdiction of the tribunal and the process of initiating the matter are being challenged before the federal High Court Abuja.
“Following the adjournment for the determination of the motion on notice and the substantive suit before the Federal High Court to 30th of September and the appeal pending before the Court of Appeal adjourned to the 29th of September 2015, the Senate President has decided, as a law abiding citizen, to appear before the Tribunal in the interim.
“Dr. Saraki has taken the decision to attend the Tribunal sitting to demonstrate his respect for the rule of law in spite of his personal reservation on the process of his trial and the purpose it may be intended to serve. Dr. Saraki wishes to assure Nigerians of his absolute belief in the judicial process and is therefore confident that the course of justice would be served at the end of this matter”.