As the Senate resumes from its recess, Okechukwu Jombo writes that the forgotten ‘’Banana Peel’’ may soon return to the red chamber.
Even though everyone knew that Senate President, Bukola Saraki was in trouble the moment he teamed up with Senators under the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to emerge president of the Senate. What the people didn’t know is that his problem will manifest sooner than expected.
Maybe because the proverbial ‘’banana peel’’ seems to have been forgotten since former Senate president, David Mark outlived it by staying longer than a session, what is happening to Saraki now has shown that it is very much around and can claim another victim just like before.
It ould be recalled that the first president of the Senate in the Fourth Republic, Senator Evan(s) Enwerem emerged under the same controversial circumstances as Senator Bukola Saraki.
Enwerem became Senate President against the desire of the majority of his party members in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who in a straw poll had chosen Senator Chuba Okadigbo. Okadigbo had days after his emergence as senator-elect, traversed the country visiting every senator-elect to canvass support for his ambition to be Senate President.
But days before the leadership contest, President Olusegun Obasanjo moved against him and used the minority parties, the Alliance for Democracy, AD, All Peoples Party, APP and a sprinkling of PDP senators.
In the end, Enwerem triumphed principally because Obasanjo backed him against the desire of the majority of PDP senators. Even though President Muhammadu Buhari who had vowed not to follow the same path refused to interfere and despite pressures stood his ground.
A last-minute move to force him into action after the PDP endorsed the All Progressives Congress, APC rebel candidate, Saraki was unsuccessful as the rebels refused to come for the meeting insisting that the president did not call the meeting.
Enwerem’s stay in office was for barely five months before his removal by a majority of senators in November, 1999. That was the only one of two successful impeachment moves against any principal official of the Senate in the Fourth Republic. It happened on the day that his backer, President Obasanjo jetted out of the country. And in came Okadigbo, who was himself removed in July, 2000.
Okadigbo’s era had its full surfeit of parliamentary drama. Anyim Pius Anyim, who succeeded him, led a Senate that moved from subservience to Obasanjo to a senate that tackled the president and almost impeached him.
Having handled the tail of a lion, Anyim in his valedictory address as the life of the Senate came to an end said he was leaving the PDP.
After Anyim, a dutiful Obasanjo protégée in the person of Adolphus Wabara emerged. The gist around was that Wabara became Senate President even before his election as a senator was confirmed. The Wabara Senate wisely shied away from the indiscriminate scrutiny of the administration as Obasanjo had warned.
But when Wabara supposedly toyed with the idea of becoming the first Igbo President, his end came quickly.
His quick end was expedited by the disproportionate sharing of Senate funds which led senators to rebel against him leading to his forced resignation in April 2005 after he was indicted in the Education Bribe for Budget scam.
Senator Ken Nnamani, who replaced him as Senate President, perhaps led the most stable Senate of the era and when the life of the second Senate of the Fourth Republic came to an end it was no surprise he was severally cited as a candidate for vice-president.
Senator David Mark emerged as the President of the Sixth Senate and became the first and only person so far to complete a four-year term as Senate President.
He repeated the same feat in the Seventh Senate whose term came to an end last week. He was in good position to retain the same position but for the humiliation his PDP suffered in the polls last March.
Senator Mark’s endurance some claimed was largely because he avoided the banana peel of disproportionate sharing of funds that fell many of his predecessors. Mischief makers allege that he was in fact the onewho put those banana peels!
On Sakari’s matter Senators opposed to his emergence as president have vowed to impeach the two-term governor of kwara State when they resume plenary at the end of their six weeks break.
It has even been reported that no fewer than 35 senators collected $50,000 each as Sallah gift ahead of resumption of business by the federal lawmakers.
According to one senator-beneficiary of the largesse, “they said the money was Sallah gift, but we know what they want. The motive is clear.”
Prodded to open up further on the matter, the senator said the motive for the gift “is to curry our support before we reconvene. They are not happy that Saraki wield so much influence here like when about 81 senators passed a vote of confidence on him. They want to reduce his influence on members ahead of resumption date.”
The lawmaker, who added that a senator from the Southwest and another from the Northwest were coordinating the sharing of the largesse, disclosed that most of the senators who collected the gift reported to the senate president. “But he told them to follow their conscience even if they are taking the gifts,” he added.
In the same line, Second Republic Governor of old Kaduna State and Chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, Mr. Balarabe Musa, has asked Saraki to step down as Senate President as a show of respect for his office.
Musa said, “First of all, it depends on his conscience. If he knows that the allegations against him have anything bordering on genuineness and if he knows that he has not done anything above board, he should succumb to his conscience.
“In honour of the institution he represents, it is therefore best for him to resign in order not to undermine the position of the judge.
“If he knows that there are elements of truth in the allegations against him, he should not cost the government so much in court and thereby undermine the integrity of the bench; he should just resign. He is still young; he still has a lot of opportunities.”
Also the Executive Chairman, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said, “He should resign for now. If he is found to be innocent, then Nigerians would have reason to apologise to him and his dignity will be restored. If he continues to hold on to power, he is likely to lose more dignity; nobody will respect him for doing so.”
Similarly, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project described Nigeria as a peculiar place, where issues of probity, integrity and adherence to the rule of law would be questioned and politicians would continue to remain in public office “as if those things don’t matter.”
According to the Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in saner climes, when public figures would have such burden on them, the first thing to do would be to get off the seat to clear their name by virtue of the rule of law and due process.
Mumuni said, “If people are saying he should resign, I also support that move because as the number three man in Nigeria, he has not set a very good example. It is not a question of ‘If I was not declared senate president, nobody will remember what I did 10 years ago.’ Why didn’t he declare his assets when he was governor?
“If we are talking about equity, then we must be able to come to equity with clean hands. That is the way I see it. I have never been a subscriber to the idea of witch-hunting. Why can’t they just follow the law? The question of witch-hunting, to me, is neither here nor there. Did they comply with the law? I don’t believe in the idea that they have enemies somewhere.
Also, the Convener, Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, faulted those who call Saraki’s trial a witch-hunt. He said the Senate President should resign.
He said, “I believe it will be good for the Senate and the country – for political responsibility – for Bukola Saraki to resign. Unless that is done, his political influence will interfere in the process.”
In the same vein, the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform said even though Saraki remained innocent until the tribunal finds him guilty, it had become morally necessary for the Senate President to resign from office.
Convener of CODER, Chief Ayo Opadokun, who was the General Secretary of the National Democratic Coalition and an ex-Secretary-General of the Afenifere, said it was not possible for all lawbreakers in the country to be tried at once. He said, “They have to be picked one by one.”
He said although other lawmakers in the National Assembly might have committed similar offences on assets declaration, Saraki’s trial would serve as a good lesson to others.
Opadokun said, “Saraki’s trial has more fundamental dimension because of the fact that someone crookedly emerged as leader of the Nigerian legislature and he has been charged for false declaration (of assets), which is a criminal offence and which carries significant punishment fashioned by the Nigerian criminal law system.
From the foregoing one can be sure that the return of the banana peel is not very far.