by Law Mefor
It is no longer news that the Supreme Court judgment on the appeal of the Senate President, Senator Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, to stop his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), was not favourable to him. What is news now is some curious calls going out for him to step down from his number three seat to face his trial at the Tribunal. On the face value, the calls may appear innocuous, and could have been even germane if this case is a regular one.
The apex court last Friday dismissed Senator Saraki’s appeal against the competence and constitution of the CCT to try him for the 13-count charge of false asset declaration. Those pushing for his resignation are saying that the issue has reached a critical stage where Senator Saraki’s corruption trial is questioning the Senate’s integrity and Nigeria’s pride. For them, therefore, the Senate under Senator Saraki is fast losing credibility. There is now a need to interrogate this claim.
The issue is public perception and the discerning members of the public know that Senator Saraki’s trial is a ploy to hound him out of the seat of the senate president, which he occupies against the APC directive and preference for Senator Ahmed Lawan. The trial is, as such, primarily, not about fight against corruption and that is what has made the case to lose favour and public sympathy. It also raises doubt over the objectivity and sincerity of the corruption fight.
It began with the way and manner Senator Saraki’s trial was commenced, which left so much to be desired. Yes, in law it is said, Nullum tempus non ocurit regi – time does not run against the crown (government). What this simply implies is that if one has any case to answer, he shouldn’t ever fool himself that passage of time would cover it. It is good for the system that once one runs afoul of the law, it would always haunt one. But infractions should never be used as a political tool and brought up only when there are political vendettas to settle.
While the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, had stated and maintained that he is ready to submit himself to due process of the law on any issue concerning him, he also believed that he had an inalienable right to resort to the same judiciary for protection when he feels his fundamental rights are infringed upon. That was why he approached the Supreme Court in the first place.
What armed Senator Saraki was the Code of Conduct Act 2001, Article 3 (b) which provides for the Bureau to first confront the asset declarant before referring the matter to its Code of Conduct Tribunal. This, Senator Saraki said, wasn’t done, which prompted him to seek other legal avenues for the protection of his rights. Question is: why rush to trial without following due process as stipulated in the code of Conduct Bureau Act?
As consequence, some have rightly called the trial political persecution rather than a fight against corruption, and an affront on the legislature. Since the return to democratic governance in 1999, the legislature has been subjected to executive highhandedness, leading to what has come to be known as ‘Banana Peels’ in the National Assembly, with the induced instability through bribery and corruption producing 5 Senate Presidents in 4 years under the Obasanjo Presidency.
Senator Saraki’s political persecution is obviously arising from the election of principal officers of the National Assembly in June, 2015, which saw to his ascension to the number three position in the land against the wishes of his Political Party. Are such people saying the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which gave Senators Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu the inalienable rights to be elected as Senate President and Deputy respectively by their colleagues should be sacrificed on the altar of the so-called Party supremacy?
The advocates of Party Supremacy over the Constitution (which is the grund norm) should first amend the Constitution; Chapter 5, which states in section 50 (1): “There shall be: (a) a President and a Deputy President of the Senate, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves”. Beyond doubt, the Constitution never contemplated the roles of political party caucuses or party executives in the elections of presiding officers.
Politics is all about consensus and should not be reduced to concentric circles of conspiracies. So far, Senator Saraki has demonstrated to be a good party man and has eased through all the requests of the APC government to Senate, sometimes against popular wishes of the Senators. An example should be the approval of Lai Mohammed as Minister, which voice vote was openly against. Senator Saraki pushes through such executive requests to give Mr. President the necessary support to hit the ground running and gain traction. He deserves to be given some respite to do his job without trepidation.
Legislative independence is what is stake here once again. The rapprochements achieved between the legislature and executive since the Yar’Adua/Jonathan days may be eroded once again and such has adverse consequences for the polity. Commendably, the Senators appear resolved to protect the Senate as an institution and its leadership. In doing this, a great majority of the Senators gave Senator Saraki vote of confidence when the trial began and accompanied him to the Code of Conduct Tribunal and are set to continue in like manner. It means the Senate will necessarily be shut down occasionally in solidarity and a demonstration of legislative Independence.
To these Senators, Senator Saraki’s resignation cannot even be contemplated given the political nature of the trial. Putting it beyond dispute that it is all political witch-hunt, the spokesman of the APC in Lagos State, confirmed what some of us have tried to prove – Senator Saraki’s trial is not a fight against corruption; it is a fight for his seat. The APC spokesman stated clearly that the APC would stop at nothing until they retrieve what he proclaimed as “stolen mandates held by Senator Saraki and Ekweremadu”.
Imagine his chilling, imperious words; “Again if Bukola Senator Saraki feels his hands are tightly glued to the exalted seat of the Senate Presidency and therefore cannot be removed, APC may be compelled to tear or cut his hands off, so that the National Assembly can move forward. No man is an island, and none can claim that he is the final word in APC .I shed no tears for Senator Saraki”.
Such alarming words coming from the APC official quarters even though unofficially, is for the Party’s fear of what has come to be known as ‘tambuwalization’, as many APC chieftains believe Senator Saraki and even Speaker Yakubu Dogara are pro-PDP and could still decamp. Yet, the same APC welcomed Aminu Waziri Tambuwal into its fold and shielded him to retain his position as Speaker even though the APC was a minority Party then.
What is more, if all one’s opponents or the Government need to do to hound anybody out of an elected or appointed position is to raise an allegation and the individual resigns to clear his name, then, there is a grave danger; for the target of such traducers may not be fact-finding but to remove the person from the seat, as is manifest in Senator Saraki’s trial. In such instances, where the allegations are politically motivated, the primary aim cannot be fight against corruption but to corruptly take the individual off his elective position. Since this is the case here, Senator Saraki would be doing our democracy a disservice by resigning as that will further make the legislature vulnerable and pliable.
Senator Saraki’s trial should be seen for what it is – political trial. Many have argued that it does not matter whether or not his case has gone stale since it was about assets they said he falsely declared 14 years ago. Yes, the wheel of justice grinds slowly and time does not run out on criminal matters. Yet, there are questions that Code of Conduct Bureau has to answer. Between the times Senator Saraki made his first asset declaration 14 years ago and the last one he made as Senate President, he had made asset declarations about 5 times. What did the Bureau do with the information he had been supplying them all the while? Can the Bureau rightly claim that it took it 13 years to verify Senator Saraki’s claims? If indeed it did take them 13 years to carry out simply asset verification, of what value is such institution to the fight against corruption? Is the leadership of the Bureau not supposed to be disbanded for dereliction of duty and incompetence?
More importantly, if the Bureau had all the facts all the while and sat on it, what moral right does its Tribunal (as constituted) still have to preside over the matter? Can such Tribunal still serve justice in this matter? More questions and no answers
Law Mefor is a political analyst. He tweets from @lawmefor1.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.