By Fabian Chukwuka
The call for the head of Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, appears to get louder daily. At the vanguard of this ‘crucify him’ crusade are some Nigerians who believe his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct Act and subsequent trial make him unworthy to continue to occupy the third most important office in the country. The right thing for him to do, they say, is to resign honourably and save the reputation of the Senate. This call has become even more strident with the resignation of the Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, over claims that his family hid suspicious funds in a tax haven, as exposed by thePanama Papers leak. Saraki’s traducers say he should go the same way, if he has any honour.
But I beg to disagree. There is stark contrast between Gunnlaugsson’s corrupt enrichment and the Saraki matter, which is clearly a case of political witch-hunt and, if you permit, mis-use of the judiciary to settle political scores. A little background on the matter will suffice. After the historic victory of the All Progressives Congress in the 2015 general elections, there was a great scramble by different strands of the party for influence and positions in the new government. The APC was made up of the legacy parties of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Action Congress (AC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), a faction of the All Progressive People Grand Alliance (APGA) and the new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP).
The fight for political offices was particularly fierce in the National Assembly, where all of a sudden the APC had the good problem of contending how to share its ‘electoral spoils’ without causing rift. This balancing act did not apparently work out well as crises soon broke out.
The party itself did not help matters with its positions shifting severally on zoning. At first, it said the Senate presidency was zoned to the north-central; it later shifted its position to the north-east, and finally stating that all the senators were free to contest any office they desired. But, even though that was the official position, it was obvious the party had favourites for the various principal offices in the National Assembly.
And Saraki was not one of them. However, being a smart and experienced political player, he campaigned and lobbied his Senate colleagues who actually are the most crucial factor in the emergence of the Senate leadership. He won. This obviously irked a section of the APC leadership and the presidency, which reportedly described his election as Senate president as a coup. For Saraki, if he thought his emergence as the principal senator was the end of the matter, he was gravely mistaken. His victory has come with all manner of troubles and tribulations.
The most potent of which is the case before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Saraki was brought before the tribunal to answer a 13-count charge bordering on irregularities in asset declaration. Ideally, one would not give this a second thought. Public officers ought to be accountable and answerable to the law if the need arises. Therefore, If Saraki had indeed breached the law regarding asset declaration, he should face it squarely. But in Nigeria nothing is quite as it seems.
Firstly, no case would have been brought against Saraki if he had played the ‘’good boy’’ and not gone against the unstated wish of his party by contesting the position of Senate president. That was the genesis of his problem. He became a marked man, to be cut down by any means possible. And the Code of Conduct Tribunal is just being used as a tool to achieve this end. What this suggests is that the case is not about justice and fair-play, but about vendetta and soothing the big egos of the APC apparatchik. This has serious implications for our legal system. It means the law is not blind but selectively used against political opponents. This is particularly saddening because this government rode on to power on the premise of change and promise to do away with impunity.
But nothing appears to have changed. Impunity seems to be gaining ground with the use of judiciary to settle political scores. For political foes, that is. For friends of the government with even more serious and salacious allegations of corruption hanging around their necks they are comfortably invited into the inner recess of Aso Rock to tea. Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transport and aviation, for instance, was indicted by the Judicial Commission of Enquiry set up by the Rivers State government to probe his tenure as governor between 2008 and 2015. Rarely too do I hear Nigerians call for Amaechi’s sack or resignation as a result of his indictment. His defence was that the judicial panel was politically motivated and tele-guided by Nyesom Wike, who succeeded him as Governor of Rivers State. If the defense of being politically victimised is good for Amaechi, why not for Saraki?
Secondly, I believe if Saraki resigned without the consummation of his trial it would be setting a bad precedent. This would become the standard practice, such that if the executive or any group loses out in political contest, all they need to do to get their rivals out of office is to make serious allegations of corruption and then ask him to resign. The question that arises from the foregoing is this: what then happens if the court finds the person not guilty?
In Saraki’s case, I believe his resignation would be a presumption of guilt and preempting the outcome of the CCT. It would give his foes an easy victory that they do not deserve. He should therefore fight on and explore all legal options open to him.