Last week, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) discharged and acquitted Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, of an 18-count charge of false assets declaration. Predictably, reactions to the judgment have been bifurcated to those who think it was a dent on the anti-corruption war of the Muhammadu Buhari government or whatever is left of that war; and the usual refrain of ‘corruption is fighting back’ the mantra of this government whenever it suffers a blow to its solar plexus in any of the cases it instituted.
By the way, this column is not too enamored of Dr. Bukola Saraki. Neither has its leadership of the senate been particularly different from the past, but as a politician, especially of the Nigerian variety, we can only ignore him at our own peril. But beyond the grandstanding of this administration on matters of corruption or, the case could not have been decided otherwise. Yes, I’m not a lawyer, but a careful analysis of the case reportage since it commenced in September 2015 would show that it was destined for the dustbin. From allegations without diligent investigation, late-coming prosecution witness, burnt evidence which a bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, adduced in its affidavit, and inept prosecution witness, no court worth its name could have convicted Saraki.
Forget the side drama of the usual senators’ large entourage which accompanied Saraki to the court sessions, led by the ajekun iya senator from Kogi State, who is a member of the ruling APC, those who prosecuted the case should be asked to look for another job as prosecution is definitely not their forte. Or maybe they deliberately decided to bungle it after coming to a political arrangement with the senate president for the administration to have a smooth ride in a chamber its party has the majority. This is an allegation that the government needs to address, as the prosecution did not seem to be interested in getting a conviction in that case. The prosecution star witness, Michael Wetkass, a staff of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was a study in contradiction. Grueling cross-examination by Saraki’s counsel exposed the chink in the prosecution’s armour and some of the evidence could not stand the rigour. The leading prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, a senior advocate, was also unable to produce another witness that could have helped his case. He asked for an adjournment in April because the witness was unavailable requesting an adjournment till April 18, on that date again, the witness was not available necessitating another adjournment till May 4 and the witness was still not available. Consequently, the Saraki legal team filed a no-case submission.
It’s time the government thought through its strategy if it is still interested in fighting corruption and stop the regular ‘we shall do this,’ ‘we shall do that’ that we hear more often than actual work. Cast your mind back to July last year when the federal government told us that 80 special prosecutors would handle “high profile criminal cases investigated by law enforcement agencies, including the EFCC”. The plan was to set up 20 teams of prosecutors, comprising 80 lawyers and each team was to have four lawyers with a senior advocate as the leader. That was the time Saraki was arraigned in court for forgery with his deputy and two staff of the national assembly, a case the government later discontinued citing another trial in a court on the same issue.
The role of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption headed by Itse Sagay, a professor of law, should be well defined too just as that of the presidential adviser on prosecution. A quick look at these appointments suggest a government serious with prosecution of corruption cases since one of its major agenda is war on corruption but lately they have become a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Too often, together with the attorney general, these people say many things, some necessary but majority quite unnecessary and unhelpful in their quest. A simple question for the government to consider is, “Who does what?” not forgetting also agencies like EFCC, CCT, and ICPC who have legally assigned roles in fighting graft. Synergy is important in the battle as politicians are exploiting the lack of seriousness on the government’s side.
The Buhari government should look at itself too as the war should begin at home. Allegations against its own officials often go uninvestigated and when an investigation is done, a rare occurrence, the citizens are not informed of the outcome. A case in mind is that of the suspended secretary to the government of the federation. The nation is still waiting for the report of the committee headed by the vice president, now acting president, on the suspended secretary. All is not lost, but the government should do more and keep its house in order instead of pointing an accusing finger at others.