By Henry Umoru, Dapo Akinrefon, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Levinus Nwabughiogu & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA — The Presidency, and the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki alongside his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, were, yesterday, locked in a war of words over the arraignment of the nation’s two top legislative officials for alleged forgery of the Senate’s Standing Rules.
While Saraki said, yesterday, that his trial with that of his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, was a clear indication that President Muhammadu Buhari was not in charge of governance, and that a cabal had taken over his government, the Presidency said Saraki’s allegations were not only “ridiculous but also preposterous.”
Senator Ekweremadu, on his part, said his trial and that of his boss was a clear case of the courts being used to achieve vendetta against them.
Saraki spoke shortly after he, alongside others charged with him, including his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu; former Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa and his deputy, Mr. Benedict Efeturi, secured bail from the Federal High Court, Jabi, despite stiff opposition from the Federal Government’s lawyers.
Cabal has seized governance
According to Saraki, those he accused of forming a new government within the government of Buhari are using their positions to pursue and work towards achieving their nefarious agenda.
He said: “However, what has become clear is that there is now a government within the government of President Buhari, who has seized the apparatus of executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda.”
Saraki, in a statement he personally signed in Abuja, warned the government and the All Progressives Congress, APC, that if there was no rethink in the fight against the legislature, they stood the risk of losing the support of Nigerians.
I’m ready for jail — Saraki
He vowed not to surrender to the desecration of the Senate as well as moves by the executive to rubbish the nation’s democracy.
He said he was ready to carry a cross, adding that he was also prepared to go to jail in fighting against injustice and intimidation.
The Senate President said it was unfortunate that at a time the entire government should be working together to solve Nigeria’s many challenges, the National Assembly was once again distracted by the executive arm’s inability to move beyond a leadership election among Senate peers.
The statement read: “Today, we, the leaders of the Nigerian Senate reiterate our innocence against the charges filed by the Attorney-General of the Federal Government of Nigeria at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court on the allegations of forgery of the Senate Standing Rules’ document.
“In our view, the charges filed by the Attorney-General represent a violation of the principle of separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches as enshrined in our constitution.
“Furthermore, it is farcical to allege that a criminal act occurred during Senate procedural actions and the mere suggestion demonstrates a desperate overreach by the office of the Attorney-General. These trumped-up charges are only another phase in the relentless persecution of the leadership of the Senate.
“This misguided action by the Attorney-General begs the question: How does this promote the public interest and benefit the nation? At a time when the whole of government should be working together to meet Nigeria’s many challenges, we are once again distracted by the executive branch’s inability to move beyond a leadership election among Senate peers. It was not an election of Senate peers and executive branch participants.
“Over the past year, the Senate has worked to foster good relations with the executive branch. It is in all of our collective interests to put aside divisions and get on with the nation’s business. We risk alienating and losing the support of the very people, who have entrusted their national leaders to seek new and creative ways to promote a secure and prosperous Nigeria.
“As leaders and patriots, it is time to rise above partisanship and move forward together. However, what has become clear is that there is now a government within the government of President Buhari who has seized the apparatus of executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda.
“This latest onslaught on the legislature represents a clear and present danger to the democracy Nigerians fought hard to win and preserve. The suit filed on behalf of the Federal Government suggests that perhaps some forces in the Federal Republic have not fully embraced the fact that the Senate’s rules and procedures govern how the legislative body adjudicates and resolves its own disputes.
I’ll continue to rise above persecution
“Let it be abundantly clear, both as a citizen and as a foremost legislator, I will continue to rise above all the persecution and distraction that have been visited on me. In the words of Martin Luther King, Junior, ‘the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy.’
“I will remain true and committed to the responsibilities that my citizenship and my office impose on me. Without doubt, the highest of those responsibilities is the steadfast refusal to surrender to the subversion of our democracy and the desecration of the Senate. This is a cross I am prepared to carry.
“If (my not) yielding to the nefarious agenda of a few individuals, who are bent on undermining our democracy and destabilizing the Federal Government to satisfy their selfish interests is the alternative to losing my personal freedom, let the doors of jails be thrown open and I shall be a happy guest.”
Saraki, Ekweremadu, others get bail
Meanwhile, despite stiff opposition from the Federal Government, the Abuja High Court, yesterday, released on bail the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, former Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa and his deputy, Mr. Benedict Efeturi.
The quartet were docked before the court on a two-count forgery charge the Federal Government entered against them.
The defendants were alleged to have masterminded the usage of a bogus Senate Standing Rules for the July 9, 2015, election, through which both Saraki and Ekweremadu took over leadership of the Senate.
Government maintained that the defendants had by their conduct, committed an offence punishable under Section 97 (1) and 364 of the Penal Code Act.
However, though the Federal Government, which was represented by the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, Mr. Mohammed Diri, did not oppose Saraki’s bail request, it, however, urged the court to deny the other defendants bail.
The DPP told the court that Ekweremadu and the other defendants previously evaded service of the charge on them.
“We urge this court to be cautious in handling the bail of the 1st, 2nd and 4th defendants. This is also considering the fact that the charge against them is very serious,” the DPP insisted.
He noted that the three defendants evaded service until the court granted an order for substituted service of the charge on them by pasting it on the National Assembly notice board.
“My lord, what this means is that if granted bail, the defendants may not be seen again for trial,” Diri added.
He said government’s decision not to oppose Saraki’s bail application was to ensure that legislative business in the Senate was not hampered.
Delivering a bench ruling on the matter, trial Justice Yusuf Halilu stressed that the essence of bail was to ensure the liberty of an accused person, who under Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution, was presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“The law is trite that considering whether or not to grant bail is within the discretion of the court and exercise of such discretion must be done judiciously and judicially,” the judge held.
He observed that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, equally “lends supports that an accused person standing trial shall be granted bail to enable him prepare defence.”
He said the concept of “presumption of innocence” under the constitution entailed that an accused person should be afforded the facility and time to prepare to defend the charge before the court.’’
Having considered the applications for bail and submissions by counsel to the defendants, Mr. Ikechukwu
Ezechukwu, SAN, Mahmud Magaji, SAN, Paul Erokoro, SAN, and J. B. Daudu, SAN, and after also considering the counter-affidavit from the DPP, Justice Halilu ruled that he would allow the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th defendants to go home today (yesterday).
The judge also asked the 1st, 2nd and 4th defendants to provide two reasonable sureties each, maintaining that the sureties must be owners of landed property in the high-brow areas of Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse II or Garki in Abuja.
The court subsequently fixed July 11 to commence full trial of the defendants.
Heavy security in court precincts
Meanwhile, there was heavy security presence in the court’s precincts which shares the same perimeter with the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, where Saraki is also answering to another 16-count charge bordering on alleged false/anticipatory declaration of assets.
Supporters of the embattled lawmakers thronged the court premises in their numbers to observe the proceedings.
Whereas Saraki, who appeared calm all through the proceeding, wore his usual white caftan with a cap to match, Ekweremadu, on the other hand, was dressed in traditional Igbo attire.
Earlier, armed security operatives barred photo-journalists from gaining entrance into the court premises, a development that led to protest by the journalists.
It took the intervention of lawyers to persuade the mobile policemen to grant the cameramen entry into the premises.
Saraki’s allegations ridiculous —Presidency
Meanwhile, the Presidency has described Saraki’s allegations as not only ridiculous, but also preposterous.
The Presidency in a statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, called on Senator Saraki to come forward with more information on those who hijacked Buhari’s Presidency.
The statement, entitled: “Senator Saraki and the fictive cabal,” read:
“President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, claims there is ‘now a government within the government of President Buhari,’ which has allegedly seized the apparatus of executive powers to pursue a nefarious agenda.
“This claim by Senator Saraki would have been more worth the while if it had been backed with more information.
“If he had proceeded to identify those who constitute the government within the government, it would have taken the issue beyond the realm of fiction and mere conjecture. But as it stands, the allegation is not even worth the paper on which it was written, as anybody can wake from a troubled sleep and say anything.
“The Attorney-General of the Federation is the chief law officer of the state. It is within his constitutional powers to determine who has infringed upon the law, and who has not. Pretending to carry an imaginary cross is mere obfuscation, if, indeed, a criminal act has been committed.
“But we leave the courts to judge. To claim that President Buhari is anybody’s stooge is not only ridiculous, but also preposterous. It is not in the character of our President.”
Courts being used for vendetta — Ekweremadu
Also reacting, Senator Ekweremadu, in a statement affirming his innocence, regretted that the case was a vindictive use of the courts to achieve personal vendetta against individuals, who some people in authority were peeved against.
Warning that such use of state powers must not be allowed for personal goals in a democracy, Ekweremadu said he was not the one on trial but the institutions of the nation’s democracy.
According to him, he found solace in God and in the words of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe that the truth shall vindicate the just.
He said: “I presented myself to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court today as an ordinary citizen of this great nation to plead not guilty to charges I did not and could not have committed.
“It is deeply troubling to note that people in high places, who swore to uphold the law, have dwindled into purveyors of falsehood and rumours who seek to smear and tarnish the reputation of law-abiding and responsible citizens as well as cripple the hallowed institutions of democracy.
“It is all the more disheartening that people, who should know better use the colour of their office to pursue private vendetta against people they disagree with.
“This grotesque display of vindictiveness, arrogance, and mindless targeting of innocent citizens should find no sanctuary in our democracy.
“Using the machinery of justice to create disorder is a dangerous and invidious scheme that ultimately will lead Nigeria down the road to perdition. It is Senator Bukola Saraki and Senator Ike Ekweremadu today, who knows whose turn it will be next?
“I am a law-abiding citizen and believe in the rule of law and all the rights and privileges it advertises. But, even at that, it is only in my place not to commit crime, but way out of my reach not to be accused of one, especially when instruments of power become apparatuses for oppression of the innocent and voices of opposition.
“Indeed, I, in no way or fashion, claim to be above the law, just that I believe that the law should not be used as an instrument to bludgeon innocent citizens into submitting to the untamed wishes and caprices of witch-hunters.
“However, I put my trust in God, the court, and the overwhelming solidarity of the good people of Nigeria. When the dust settles, Nigerians will see clearly that this charge is nothing but meretricious thrash. Time, occasions, and provocations like this will teach their own lessons.
“I hope that one chief lesson will be that democracy differs markedly from military rule and that public officers should never subvert the foundations of democracy by prioritizing the rule of man over the rule of law.
“Let us make no mistake about this: it is not Senator Ike Ekweremadu or Senator Bukola Saraki or the other accused persons that are on trial; rather the hallowed democratic principles of separation of powers, rule of law, the legislature itself, and, indeed, democracy are on a ridiculous trial.
“Mere anarchy is unleashed upon the land, but our courage must not fall apart. No condition is permanent and nothing lasts forever.
“For me, I find great comfort in the immortal words of late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who said that history will vindicate the just and the wicked will not go unpunished.”