By Bisi Lawrence
Dr. Bukola Saraki, the distinguished President of the Senate, believes that the accusation of his alleged false declaration of assets when he was the Governor of Kwara State, is politically motivated. The Code of Conduct Tribunal, before which he had to appear in Abuja, also has before it the consideration of another indictment against Saraki of owning and operating foreign bank accounts contrary to his position as a public officer. But beyond that, he is also held to have acquired some assets which are believed to be beyond his legitimate earnings.
Starting from the bottom, the acquisition of assets beyond what can be accounted to be within proper means speaks directly of honesty in office. This, actually, is the crux of the exercise of the declaration of assets by public officers both at the resumption and the termination of their terms.
There is usually a clamour among the citizens for the declaration at the beginning of the tenure but that lasts only for a while, and then the whole exercise is allowed to pass muster.
Even when it is observed at the beginning, there is no compunction about its being made public, anyway. So no one actually knows how successful or effective the measure has been. But it would appear to have been given the full treatment in Saraki’s case, hence the allegation of having more than he honestly should.
A former Governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, was also made to pass through the same crucible from which he emerged with his head not being bloodied—to say nothing of being unbowed. Tinubu could have brought out the persecution “card” too.
He had been chiefly responsible for wresting the South-Western States, particularly his own Lagos, from the grasp of the rival political party which had, albeit, then retained its hold on the Federal Government and was therefore in a position— the position— to ruffle his feathers to some extent. But rather than make a meal of the circumstance, he promptly responded to the summon of the Code of Conduct establishment, and proved his innocence.
On the other hand, Saraki, though on a similar terrain considering his relationship with the political party in power at the federal level, exploded with blazing resentment. He refused to honour the invitation to a formal hearing at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and essayed to stop the process of his trial through two other judicial processes.
Of course, that was his “fundamental human right”, as he was at pains to establish when he finally showed up at the tribunal. Prefacing his plea of “Not Guilty”, he remarked that he was there because he was the Senate President. That was a self-evident fact which, however, lent itself to more meanings than the obvious one. It could also have meant that he was in the dock because his high position would naturally attract a closer scrutiny than that of other ordinary legislators.
But he might also have meant that it was as a result of the resentment within his party of how he came into that high office. It was what his erstwhile comrades in his political party viewed no less than skulduggery. Of course, though it is not in our place to be judgmental, all is said to be fair in love and war—and, of course, in the cutthroat nature of our politics. It all came from the grisly phenomenon of defection.
Saraki followed the swift tide of carpet-crossing from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress on a personal ambition unknown, and unshared, by many members of his new party. When his desire clashed with that of the party, he turned round again to form an alliance with the former party to the betrayal and frustration of his new party, on whose ticket he had won a seat in the Senate. So he became the Senate President, right before our eyes, while he thumbed his nose in the direction of his base.
This incident of his arraignment has very quickly become a cause celebre of the season, coming as it does to disrupt the comfort that has been felt within the membership of the PDP, after the rout it suffered in the last election. They are up in arms against the APC, against the Federal Government, against the President, and anyone in sight who is not wearing the Saraki cap.
They accuse the APC of trying to derail democracy, simply because their paladin is at the centre of a storm he provoked for himself. Some PDP stalwart have even suggested a “political settlement” for the issue, not caring the implication of such a distortion of justice. They say, “Nothing is beyond a political settlement.
One man who articulated that execrable proposition was obviously a member of the PDP. He was on national television, appearing in one of those morning shows that feature contributions of opinions from members of the public who are usually delighted to appear on TV. They make no secret of their joy in their parting words at the end of the programme when the hosts thanked them for showing up; they reply, ‘Thanks for having me.”
It is usually a discussion in which all parties do their best to keep within the civil bounds of communication, despite spells of heated argument and, sometimes, open dissent. But this man was so incensed by his perceived injustice against the Senate President on this issue that he also intoned the sentiment that if you stuck your finger into the bottom (that was not the word he used) of anybody, you were bound to come up with some “faeces (which is the word with which one of the hosts tried to help him).
The man really did have a foul mouth. (I will not mention his name here.) On the other hand, those who are in support of Saraki’s predicament express the sentiment that the Senate President has nothing to fear once he can successfully defend himself against the charges. Of course, they fervently believe he cannot. They equally fervently hope that the outcome will be his removal from the presidency of the Senate.
Some APC members have actually come out to ask for his resignation. Others, who would probably wish to be considered moderate, believe he should step down, at least, for the duration of the trial. But Bukola Saraki, in my estimate, is made of sterner stuff. He would rather ride the storm.
However, almost every group of discussants on television, or commentators in newspapers on the Saraki issue clearly overshot the bounds of “sub judice” which imposes discretion on the comments that can be made about a matter on trial in a court of law.
The legal points raised have so far touched on the jurisdiction of the tribunal, its composition and the interpretation of its quorum vis-a-vis the constitutionally stated powers. Some lawyers, who might have been expected to know better, openly offered opinions that hardly fell short of contempt of the tribunal which has had its status as a court of law under dispute in this matter.
But not only here but also in other cases, it has become the practice for practitioners of the learned profession in Nigeria to step out of court, at the adjournment or conclusion of a matter, to further hold court to journalists in the precincts of the law courts.
There they feel comfortable and free to pontificate on the case at hand, sometimes with scarce regard for the opinions and positions of the judges involved. A review of such behaviour, particularly in this Saraki issue, by the Nigerian Bar Association, might recommend a necessary check to this tendency to the prestige of the legal profession and its practitioners and regard for due process.
Well, having won a seat in the senate under the aegis of the APC, the Senate President ascended that position, in defiance of his party a political organization not unacquainted itself with dark intrigues or open confrontations.
The APC did not attain the premier position in party politics in this country today by cringing before forces that wield fragile powers. It has taken quite a blow from one of its vassals. Call it witch-hunting and, if you choose, support the witch. But watch out as the Empire now strikes back.