The ongoing travails of the Senate President Bukola Saraki and his fight-backs provide incredible excitement to political spectators as they watch the moves and counter moves between the former Kwara State Governor and his suspected traducers. It is the excitement provided by these moves and counter-moves, with the embedded suspense, that makes some people to think of politics either as a ‘game’ or as ‘an art of the possible’. For those who see politics as a game – just like any other game like chess or draught- you anticipate the moves of your opponent while using decoys and filibuster to camouflage your own moves. Unlike a game however, which is often driven by the feel-good factor of winning, the driver for the game of politics is survival because power and the appurtenances of office are at stake. In the game of politics, there is no permanent ally, friend or enemy and honour, principle and morality are all relative and subjective. Politics as an ‘art of the possible’ advises that you should not try to enter the kitchen if you cannot take the heat.
Since his emergence as the Senate President and chairman of the 8th National Assembly Saraki has been in the eyes of the storm. Together with Speaker of the House of Representatives, HOR, Yakubu Dogara, he was treated like a pariah for not toeing the party line on who would become Senate President and Speaker of the HOR respectively. Dogara appeared to have been forgiven of his sins while Saraki, continues to bear his cross- partly out of his own making. Had he made some concessions in the distribution of the leadership positions in the Senate to accommodate the wishes of his party – as Dogara did – perhaps his ‘sins’ would also have been forgiven.
Saraki’s wife, Toyin, has been dragged to the EFCC over sins she allegedly committed more than twelve years ago when she was the First Lady in Kwara State. Ibrahim Lamorde, the chairman of the EFCC, had also become a subject of Saraki’s Senate investigation. Then came the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal – two otherwise sleepy entities – accusing Saraki of false declaration of assets when he was Governor of Kwara State. The presidency – as expected- has distanced itself from Saraki’s ordeals.
There are several lessons to be learnt from the Saraki saga:
One, a key beneficiary in Saraki’s current travails is President Buhari. When Saraki and Dogara emerged as Senate President and Speaker of the HOR respectively, several people initially refused to believe that Buhari had nothing to do with their emergence. The murmuring was that their emergence was a high-wire political manoeuvre by the north to ensure that it controlled not just the presidency but also the two chambers of the National Assembly. There were in fact suspicions that the alleged reconciliation meeting called by the President at a time the elections in the National Assembly were taking place and to which most of the APC Senators and HOR Members attended (paving way for Saraki to emerge as the Senate President with the support of PDP Senators) was part of the plot in the Saraki ‘coup’. Saraki’s current ordeals are therefore the strongest statement that the Presidency had nothing to do with the plot. This will certainly be mollifying to Tinubu’s supporters, some of who had already begun taking pot shots at Buhari for the apparent stabbing of the former Lagos state governor at the back.
Two, a joint winner in the saga is the PDP, which is likely to warmly welcome Saraki into its fold – even if he does not formally declare for the party. It is a perfect pay back for the APC which warmly welcomed Aminu Tambuwal into its fold when he emerged the Speaker of the HOR against the wishes of the PDP. Saraki’s saga could also deepen divisions within the APC. It will be recalled that some respected leaders of the party had openly supported the emergence of both Saraki and Dogara as Senate President and Speaker respectively and called their victories “triumph of democracy”. Will the APC extend its Cold War with Saraki to the high ranking individuals in the party who supported his emergence as Senate President?
Three, Saraki’s travails will have serious implications for the perception of Buhari’s fight against corruption. The narrative of Saraki’s traducers is that he is a corrupt man who must answer to the very specific and damaging allegations against him. Saraki’s counter narrative is that he is merely a victim of selective justice. If Saraki is able to debunk the specific allegations against him or it is found that there are several former and serving public officials with questionable asset declarations which the CCB and the CCT chose not to see, his allegation of selective justice will be cemented, causing perception problems for the regime’s fight against corruption. And once the regime’s fight against corruption is seen as selective and witch hunt, it will be de-legitimized and those convicted of corruption by the regime will look forward to being rehabilitated as heroes and heroines when the political circumstances change. What is fairly certain is that we are likely to witness an upsurge in civil society groups taking special interest in the asset declarations of former and serving public officials and asking critical questions. We are also likely to witness sponsored media campaigns asking Saraki to resign as Senate President apparently because he has lost the moral right to remain in office because of his trial.
Four, while the charges against Saraki are serious – and he needs to defend himself against the charges whether he is being framed or not – we must simultaneously pose the question of how an otherwise sleepy Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal suddenly woke up from their deep slumber and found their voices and stamina. Why did it take the CCB over twelve years to realize that Saraki has made false declaration? Both entities also need to properly explain why very few people have been prosecuted on the basis of their asset declarations. Answers to these questions are crucial in the current fight against corruption because it is important that these entities are not seen as instruments of witch-hunt. In fact how Saraki’s trials at the CCT ends will have serious implications for the public perception of the Buhari regime’s entire fight against corruption. Currently we have two contending storylines: ‘No one is too big to be tried for corruption in this dispensation’ versus ‘I am being persecuted only because I emerged the Senate President against your wish’. Who wins?
Five, a crucial question is how the no love-affair between the Presidency and the Senate President could affect the screening of the President’s ministerial nominees when they are presented to the Senate? My opinion is that the Senate’s hands will be tied here. If the Senate President tries to get back at his suspected traducers by giving tough time to ministerial nominees, he may come against the public mood already incensed at the delay in appointing ministers. The general feeling is that the country is suffering from a lack of policy direction because of the absence of ministers. If the Senate is seen as contributing to prolonging this unacceptable state of affairs, it may experience misdirected aggression from the public.
Six, Saraki’s current travails – apparently for sins committed when he was the Governor over twelve years ago – calls for the setting up of funds where former public officials could draw to defend themselves for their actions or inactions while in office. Though Saraki is well resourced and able to hire dozens of top lawyers to defend him, what if he was an ordinary soul like the rest of us? To think that several years after one has left office, one could still be dragged to tribunals and courts to defend one’s actions or inactions must be discouraging to people who genuinely want to serve their fatherland and to those who did so selfless and to the best of their abilities. With the increasing criminalization of people who have served the country in certain capacities, there is always the fear that some anti-corruption agencies could be sent after one – perhaps to whip the person into line – years after one has left office and probably when that person is struggling to make ends meet. A fund for qualified former public officials to tap from for legal defence could also help public officials to resist the temptation of dipping their hands into the public till.
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