By Ogaga Ifowodo
THE formal filing of charges against Senator Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, not to speak of the issuance of a bench warrant for his arrest for failure to appear in court to take his plea, leaves him with only one honourable course of action: resignation in order to clear his name. The alleged offences impeach very seriously his character and integrity, qualities that no leader, if he or she is to enjoy the respect and confidence of his or her peers (as of the electorate) and be effective, cannot afford to have under any shadow of doubt. Certainly not in these hopeful days of change, the real manifestation of which the people await with bated breath.
It is a serious thing to ask an “elected” official to resign his mandate, even though the office here is really only a privilege. Thus, in addition to my unqualified citizenship right to comment on matters of (urgent) national interest, I proffer, unbidden, further bona fides. I am a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress. Had I succeeded in my bid to represent the Isoko people in the House of Representatives, I would be Saraki’s colleague in the National Assembly. And I consider it a matter of honour and duty that Saraki resign from the office he occupies through means considered devious and unbecoming by almost everyone except those boxed into his Amen Corner.
Mostly, though, I make this call as the natural step enjoined on Saraki by the lofty sentiments he espoused and urged on his fellow senators in his inaugural senate address. In just the first four sentences, Saraki had uttered the words honour, honoured, distinguished, respect, faith, trust, humility, responsibility, and duty, repeating “humility” and “honour” as if to be sure that we would notice how much he valued those virtues. By the sixth sentence, he was literally aloft while describing the presidential election of 28 March as a “lofty victory for our country and our democracy.”
All of this, it would appear, was to enable him deploy the phrase “individual ambition” by appearing to deplore that tendency while thanking the senators who elected him for their “courage.” Their support, said Saraki, went beyond “any individual’s ambition.” Curious words, but they remind us that his ambition, writ large for all the world to see, required the absence of nearly all the senate members of his party, and that he got his victory from the defeated party at the ransom price of trading away his party’s capacity for effective legislation towards the transformative change it had promised, the elimination of corruption being a priority.
Yet, taking him at the surface meaning of his words imposes a minimum decorum. At least, for the sake of the integrity of the vaulted office he so doggedly covets, and because he seems not unaware of that ethical responsibility. “Beyond any political party or personal victory” (how the personal and the individual haunt this thoughts!), he said, the 2015 elections marked “a major watershed in the political annals” of our country, a “moment . . . when our democracy truly came of age . . . fired by our people’s overwhelming desire for change . . . [thus imposing] enormous responsibilities . . . on those of us who occupy leadership positions in our respective capacity (sic) at this time [that] can hardly be over-emphasised.”
Well, this unique moment of change is threatened by a heavy cloud of suspicion hanging over the head of the leader of the legislative arm of government. The thirteen felonious charges of non-declaration and false and anticipatory declaration of assets, fraudulent conversion of public funds for personal gain, contravention of the law prohibiting public officials from operating foreign accounts, etc., may well turn out to be unfounded and really an excuse for a witch-hunt (suggesting, ironically, that his own party members whom he thinks are behind his troubles consider him the witch in their midst). Malicious prosecution, as Saraki and his counsel, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, must know is an offence and offers him additional remedy through a post-acquittal action in tort.
Thus, if I were Saraki, knowing that my reputation and moral authority have been grossly tainted, I would jump at the opportunity to restore my name. I would go to any court or tribunal, any forum, properly constituted, to prove my innocence. I would spurn my lawyers’ well-laid obstruction strategy sure to delay my day of vindication. After all, their best outcome can only be legal victory in the stifled courtroom but assured conviction in the open court of public opinion. I would say to my lawyers, “And while you file motions upon motions and cripple the court, how shall I regain the respect and trust of my peers and my party for the serious business of nation-building? What will the people think of me while you grin in self-satisfaction over your cleverness?”
But then if I were Saraki, I would not be in this fine mess in the first place, not having made it past the party primaries for the House of “undistinguished” Representatives. And faced with felonious charges aimed at proving my ultimate unsuitability for public office, at destroying my public career, I would sooner have witch-hunters as my prosecutors than the more down-to-earth citizens in the streets. Which is why, on my honour, I would resign and hasten to court to clear my name.