The trial of Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, for false and improper declaration of assets by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) is getting more and more curious by the day. As I write, protesting members of the civil society group, Citizens United for Peace and Stability are protesting at the National Assembly, Abuja. The group, just as the Senate President predicted earlier, is calling for his resignation over what it described as his myriad of corruption cases, the purchase of SUVs for senators at an exorbitant price and his alleged attempt to frustrate the 2016 budget.
Since the Federal Government, on September 15 last year, proffered a 13-count charge against Saraki through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, it has been one dramatic revelation or the other on the alleged wrongdoing of the Senate President. Eight witnesses lined up against the embattled Speaker have been coming up with stories of his alleged infractions of some laws. The plight of the Speaker has not been helped by the reported leakage of the controversial Panama Papers which again identified him as one of the Nigerians operating “shell companies” in the tax haven in the Central American country.
Ours senators, on their own, have added not a little colour to Saraki’s trial with the way they make a beeline to the CCT sittings to demonstrate their solidarity with their leader, although the number of them involved in this enterprise has reduced of late. The reported array of 80 legal practitioners handling his defence is another side attraction of the case.
Last week, Dele Momodu’s Letter to Saraki, published in his notable column, Pendulum, in This Day, added a fresh twist to the saga. The writer, in the letter entitled “My Candid Letter to the Senate President”, went to great pains to define the boundaries of his relationship with Saraki. I did not find that surprising. The Nigerian situation is such that any writer must clearly state his relationships with persons and issues on which he/she is writing because the belief out there is that no writer can proffer his views on any person or issue unless he has been paid to do so, or has one pecuniary, tribal or religious benefit to derive from it. Even as I write, the word out in some quarters is that the Dele Momodu interjection is a carefully crafted public relations gimmick for the embattled Senate President, with the sole objective of giving him air and space to passionately plead his case, and subtly “blackmail” his accusers in the court of public opinion.
I have no reason to doubt the intentions of my long time friend and professional colleague in his letter to Saraki. Doubting Momodu, for me, will amount to a pitching of tents with those who believe that all interventions on public issues are borne out of selfish interest. This view could also be applied to my own honest opinions on the Saraki matter, as my views may be interpreted to have been “influenced”, one way or the other. I must, however, state that there is no chance in hell of this, since I have no personal dealings with either Saraki, or his suspected “traducer-in-chief” that he did not name, but who, by his description, can be no other person than APC chieftain, Chief Bola Tinubu.
I must, however, state that Saraki’s reply to Momodu published under Right of Reply in This Day of Saturday, April 23, made very interesting reading. He largely traced his travails at the CCT to several incidents. These include the mode of his emergence as Senate President against the desire of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC); his alleged trading of the position of the Deputy Senate Presidency to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); his “original sin” of opposition to the APC’s then alleged Muslim/Muslim ticket, which he suggested, made it impossible for “some people” to become vice presidential candidate of APC; his refusal to abide by the APC’s decision to allocate leadership positions in the Senate to certain persons, contrary to the body’s extant rules which require that elections should be held for such positions; and the fear by “some people” that his successful holding of the position of Senate President would make him a formidable force for the Presidency in 2019, contrary to certain interests. He also gave explanations on his alleged “jumping” from one court to the other to stop his prosecution, instead of facing his trial. He told Nigerians that he was only “seeking for justice.” He said he was being unfairly treated as a similar case involving Bola Tinubu was dismissed in 2011 and wondered why justice should be applied differently to different people. He also exonerated himself from the decision of senators to be following him to the CCT, saying that it is their personal decision to follow a leader they freely elected.
Saraki’s narrative is, indeed, a moving story of a man that the political gods of this time have decided to roast. The very fact that such a high profile figure and, indeed, the nation’s Number 3 man, is being dragged to the gavel is enough proof that certain interests in this administration are bent on dragging him down.
There are two clear positions on the Saraki affair. On one side of the divide are those who are so scandalized by the putrefying odour emanating from the Saraki trial and the dragging of his exalted office in the mud that they want him to step down to clear his name while the Senators goes ahead with the work for which they were elected by Nigerians. Among the many Nigerians who hold this view are my highly respected senior colleague and a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Ray Ekpu, who, in his back page column in yesterday’s The Guardian, advised Saraki to resign honourably “so that he can concentrate on clearing his name”. He also advised our senators to pluck up the courage to ask him to resign and thereby stand guard over the reputation of the Senate, before the Saraki saga shreds it. Another senior journalist, Mr. Ken Ugbechie, last Sunday in his Sunday Sun column, Gongbeat, urged Saraki to “drop the gavel” and clear his name because “the gavel and the dock do not mix.” He gave many good examples of leaders who had done the same in similar circumstances, and some of them came back stronger.
On the other side of the divide, however, are those who believe Saraki is being victimized and should not resign, but hold on tenaciously to his office, as he may not be able to reclaim it if he is eventually cleared of the offence.
Where do I stand on this matter? I neither want Dr. Saraki to resign, nor continue to hold on to his office, without telling Nigerians the real facts about the false assets declaration issue. It is true that with his high office, he would not be facing any trial at all but for the fact that some powers that be are bent on bringing him down, but then, is he actually guilty of false and improper declaration of assets or not? Sadly, his full page response to Momodu did not address this most important question. I hate that any person would be singled out for harassment and I really feel for the Senate President, but then, a harassed person must be able to plead his innocence over the charges made against him, and not simply challenge the judge or give reasons why he is being harassed. I have tried to follow this reverberating Saraki saga, but I am yet to read anywhere that the false assets charges were cooked up. I think the Senate President should speak a little more on this question to win the hearts of all right thinking Nigerians on this matter.