It is no longer news that Senator Olubukola Saraki, Nigeria’s Senate President is standing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over allegations bordering on assets declaration while in office. One must commend the vision of those who birthed the idea and worked towards the establishment of such a noble institution meant to safeguard our public institutions and check the corrupt tendencies of public officials.
However, one must also quickly say that the way and manner the CCT has conducted its affairs in recent times leaves much to be desired. The trial or is it persecution of Saraki has exposed the CCT to ridiculous mockery before the public. The extreme dramatization of processes and orders by the chairman, Danladi Umar, is akin to juvenile exuberance. This is so because, as many believe, the chairman of the tribunal is suspected to have been handed a script by the political hawks in our polity by which he must play and arrive at a predetermined end, and very quickly too.
This is the only way one can explain the exaggerated seriousness, false demure outlook and externally instigated pressure with which the judge is handling the Saraki matter.
It is even worse when the chairman of such a highly revered institution has been investigated and earlier granted administrative bail by the EFCC over bribery allegations with one of those whose case he was supposed to oversee, and whose prosecution had earlier been ordered by the Attorney-General of the Federation. Although, the EFCC has hurriedly issued him a letter purportedly claiming he had no case to answer, one wonders why such a letter is coming now in the midst of the many controversies surrounding Umar’s highly unimpressive handling of the Saraki matter, and if the EFCC has any powers to overrule the Attorney-General.
It is public knowledge that Danladi Umar was said to have received money from one Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo with the aim of influencing the Tribunal’s judgement in his (Taiwo’s) favour. In fact, there is evidence that the sum of N1.8m was paid into Danladi Umar’s PA’s account purportedly for this purpose. The matter was so serious that other judges of the tribunal refused to sit with Umar on matters before them. Even the EFCC had once said that “…incidents of judicial corruption must not be allowed to fester, lest justice becomes an article of sale in the country” while making its report on why the CCT chairman should be made to face justice. Yet, Umar keeps living in denial when it is a well known fact that he admitted in his statement to the EFCC to having sat down privately in his office with Taiwo against every known judicial norms; he had used his own phone number to send his PA’s account number to Taiwo; and the investigation had also confirmed that Umar gave contradictory statements as regards the purpose for which the money was allegedly paid to him. This makes Danladi Umar bereft of any morality to keep sitting as CCT Chair and adjudicate over similar matters for which himself has been enmeshed.
That brings us to the shameful admission by Umar himself that his judgement in the FRN vs Tinubu in 2011 was in error. The question that has been on the lips of many is: was it a genuine error or did money exchange hands as it allegedly happened in the Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo saga? What Umar should do if he still has any honour left in him is to stand down from not only the Saraki matter but also from the CCT Chairmanship. He has lost the moral standing to continue to act in his current capacity as his judgements would always be viewed with bias even if they are honest. But because the hawks have pounced, Umar must do their biddings. As a willing horse, he has to see through his “assignment” to finish off the Senate President. Even if his conscience troubles him as it should do, the hawks would urge him on to exhaust every article of the script given to him, and he must do that quickly, too, hence, he himself becomes a victim of vultures.
Apart from this, the conduct of the CCT chairman so far is injudicious and injurious to the judiciary as an age-long institution of integrity and impartiality. I have witnessed several cases in courts over the years as a citizen interested in justice, fairness and equity to all parties irrespective of religious affinity, political affiliation and ethnic consideration, and never have I witnessed anything near what I saw at the CCT on Thursday, 21st of April, 2016. I have never seen a judge thrown caution to the wind and react so indecorously to an application brought forward by a counsel.
When Raphael Oluyede, one of Saraki’s counsels, attempted to bring forward an application seeking for Danladi Umar to disqualify himself from the trial, the chairman went berserk and to the consternation of all present, yelled endlessly at the counsel and threatened to have him arrested. It was an unsuccessful attempt by Umar to draw Oluyede into a needless shouting bout as the counsel kept his cool while Umar displayed what has become his usual judicial rascality fuelled by strongly held suspicion that he is being used by political mercenaries in APC who would do anything to procure judgement at the tribunal just to punish Saraki even if such an action is an unacceptable aberration at this stage of our political evolution. With sadness and tears rolling down my cheeks over the decadence that our judiciary has descended to, I walked away from proceedings during the break.
Following his continued uncontrolled exuberance, unnecessary boisterousness and the damning allegations of compromise and bribery, eminent lawyers and judges like former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Salisu Alfa Belgore; Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN; former Supreme Court Justice, Justice Samson Uwaifo; Justice George Oguntade; Justice Nnoruka Udechukwu; Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN; Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN and Chief Solomon Asemota, SAN, among others have since aligned themselves with Saraki’s position that Umar should disqualify himself from continuing with the trial. This is because they believe that doing otherwise would irredeemably damage the reputation of the judiciary. They made their position known during a conference organized by another legal giant, Ben Nwabueze (SAN).
It is quite saddening and ironical that a tribunal set up to check the conduct of public office holders is itself enmeshed in misconduct of the highest type. Unfortunately, it looks okay before the hawks that want to destroy the very fabric that holds our democracy in a blind quest to destroy one man for pursuing his legitimate desire to aspire to any office in the land while an otherwise a section of the vocal media sits idly, and in some cases, strangely applauds this rascality and deliberate degeneration of our democracy to an abysmal level by agents of blind vengeance and vendetta parading themselves as angels of “Change”.
It is obvious that Saraki cannot get justice here. One is even still afraid that if the case gets to the appeal court, the same hawks manipulating the process would also attempt to try their luck there. It therefore behoves on the judiciary to make very conscious and deliberate efforts to redeem itself from political buccaneers and auctioneers who are ready to pay anything in order to manipulate the process just to ensure that the innocent is declared guilty and punished while the guilty are set free. This should be the aim of the judiciary in all cases and at all times.
It is Saraki today, it could be anyone tomorrow. The process that leads to justice must be devoid of harassment, intimidation, coercion, corruption and double-standards! This is the only way the tribunal would not turn to a Code of Misconduct Tribunal.
Jude Ndukwe is a political analyst who lives and works in Abuja, Nigeria. He is a member of The Trent’s Elite Columnists. His column is published every Friday. He tweets from@stjudendukwe.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.