SOLOMON AYADO, in this report, retraces the political sojourn of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, through his trails at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
The political space was jolted by the acquittal of the Senate President, Sen Bukola Saraki, by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), over a case of false asset declaration.
The tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, in his ruling, said the prosecution had failed to successfully prove its allegations.
Expectedly, the judgment sparked diverse reactions, exposing somewhat a divide in the political space with regards to the anti-corruption war.
While the fiery pro-corruption movement dismiss the judgement as faulty, the group of voices clamouring against political persecution in the guise of prosecution consider the judgement a major win.
What’s more, while proponents for a focused legislature, especially in the Senate, consider the judgement as long overdue, those who believe that the excesses of the political class, nay, the legislature needs to be contained, frown.
However, while the trial lasted, the Senate had repeatedly declared that the case against its president was politically motivated. They believe he was suffering for his sins of going against interests in the party.
In a statement after the charges were filed, Saraki, said the case were calculated to rubbish him, saying he was fully ready to assert his innocence.
“We therefore conclude that this is not an anti corruption driven case and cannot be part of the moves aimed at fighting corruption,” the senate president said. “It is simply a pure malicious and politically motivated prosecution aimed at undermining the person and office of the Senate President.”
He said the charges were based “on outright fabrication and mischief, will not and cannot stand the test of justice.
However, almost 22 months after he was arraigned, the CCT in what appeared like a game well settled, discharged and acquitted Saraki of the 18-count charge of false declaration of assets.
Reacting to the judgment, Saraki said by submitting to the trial he has cleared his name with the tribunal’s discharge and acquittal verdict.In a statement personally signed by himself, Saraki said that the clearance has vindicated him and renewed the nation’s faith in the judiciary that it could indeed provide sanctuary for all those who seek justice.
“After undergoing the crucible of a tortuous trial, my vindication today calls for celebration. It is my belief however that if there should be any celebration at all, it should be a celebration of the hopes that this judgment gives us as citizens that despite all the challenges that we face as a country, we are well on our way to building a country where the innocent needs not be afraid,” Saraki stated.
Saraki’s CCT Sojourn
The Code of Conduct Bureau had in September 2015 slammed a 13-count charge of corruption on Saraki.
In charge number ABT/01/15, dated September 11 and filed before the CCT, Mr. Saraki was accused of offences ranging from anticipatory declaration of assets to making false declaration of assets in forms he filed before the Code of Conduct Bureau while he was governor of Kwara state.
According to the charges, the Senate President was also accused of failing to declare some assets he acquired while in office as governor.
Among other offences, including allegedly acquiring assets beyond his legitimate earnings, Mr. Saraki was also accused of operating foreign accounts while being a public officer – governor and senator.
The offences, the charge said, violated sections of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.
Mr Saraki was also said to have breached Section 2 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and punishable under paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
The charges were prepared by M.S. Hassan, a deputy director in the office of the Attorney
General of the Federation. The government later increased the charges to 17 on January 11, 2017. In February 2017, one more charge was added, bringing the charges to 18.
A Perceived Original Sin
With the judgement, the Senate President has established himself as not just one of the most powerful politicians in the current political dispensation, but as a tactical politician.
His sojourn at the CCT is not a battle that many political actors can fight to the finish, without falling victim of one political gimmick or another.
The high wire politics that led to Saraki’s emergence as Senate President is seen to be the major grudge that attracted the wrath of strong interests within the his party, All Progressives Congress (APC).
The emergence of Saraki defied party supremacy, a move that unforgivable in minds of many APC stakeholders.
The APC had settled for Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan (Yobe North), as candidate for the Senate presidency after a mock poll.
However, while conflicting signals emerged over a meeting with the President, Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and party stakeholders at the international Conference centre in Abuja, Saraki and some other lawmakers considered by APC leadership as “rebel” were being elected as principal officers in the upper chamber.
Saraki’s sins were made worse by the fact that he enjoyed the massive support from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers, to the extent that his deputy was a PDP lawmaker, Sen Ike Ekweremadu.
This decision was considered a slap in the face of the ruling party especially that the PDP Senators unanimously supported the emergence of Saraki while the APC lawmakers broke ranks with their party.
What’s worse, Saraki refused moves to reach an early truce over his emergence by refusing to severe ties with his Ekweremadu his deputy a PDP member as well as the APC ‘rebels’ in his leadership.
Decrying what he described as moves to undermine the independence of the judiciary, Saraki initially refused to severe ties. Shortly after, Aggrieved APC lawmakers turned on the heat, filing legal action over an alleged forgery of the senate rules which brought him to power.
Although he secured victory in that case as well, he was mindful of not fighting too many battles on different fronts. He tactically yielded to the demands of his party by reshuffling committees as means of appease aggrieved members.
As time passed and new political configurations within the APC emerged, he warmed his way into the heart of the presidency and by extension his party’s leadership.
Curiously, many analysts both in the judiciary and political circles, are befuddled at how Saraki unknot the legal cum political bangles placed on him by interests in the APC and by extension the federal government.
The often contrived failure of judges to conform to due process and rule of law, devoid of unfairness and injustice was what made a lot of commentators to believe that escaping the judicial traps would be impossible or difficult for Saraki.
While many say Saraki, an old time politician and someone who is very conversant with judicial administrative process can always not be short of legal solutions, others posited that the allegations were mere political traps to gag him, and so, there were liable to quick modification at anytime his issues with the party are resolved.
The necessity of Saraki not being consumed by the false assets accusations stem from the manner worse political or judicial issues are often thrashed in the country. The party itself can be guilty, just as the judiciary where the hope of a common laid is often compromised.
It began with moves to appease the party. Apart from Saraki being reported to have embarked on secret visitation to major political stakeholders with the intent to appealing their forgiveness, financial inducement was alleged to have exchanged hands in the process. Seemingly, several political sacrifices were noticed to be made by Saraki to strengthen the plea.
Said to be one among many surrender tactics that would see to the successful acquittal of Saraki, the removal of Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) as Senate Leader was seen as a major sacrifice. This, it was gathered became critical and important hence the APC had settled for Senator Ahmad Lawan as party candidate for the Senate Presidency but Saraki with wit and political gimmicks thwarted it and further hijacked the senate leadership, making himself the Senate President.
However, Saraki would need to show the party conformity and loyalty, as well as show remorse over the offense he earlier committed. Ousting Ndume and bringing Lawan was percieved to be the best option in this case. Like being guarded to the political pit, without any premonition, Ndume suddenly fell into it.The former Senate majority leader, Ndume was suddenly suspended by the Senate through the recommendations of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges after he raised a motion on point of order, calling for probe in the allegations of certificate forgery against Melaye and seizure of bullet proof Range Rover against Saraki. That is how Ndume’s removal brought in Lawan, a situation many APC chieftains were happy with.
CCT Clearance and Setback for Anti-Corruption War
Since the CCT passed the judgement clearing Saraki of the accusations on false assets declaration, there are mixed reactions. There are agitations and counter agitations over the verdict. While many people including politicians, business men and Civil Society Organization(CSOs) have said the verdict is a jest on the judiciary, others posit that the development have shown the ugly posture of the APC led government on the fight against corruption.
This is just as Chairman of Partner for Electoral Reform, Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu, told newsmen that the judgment ought to be otherwise, considering the weight of the allegations against the Senate president.
However, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), commended the Code of Conduct Tribunal for what he described as a bold and courageous verdict.
Saraki and Romance With PDP Bloc
Saraki was elected unopposed. 49 PDP Senators passed a vote of confidence while 8 APC Senators voted in the election, bringing the total number to 57 senators that participated in the election. As it was, Saraki won with the block votes of the PDP. For many people, it depicted Saraki’s broad base support. A former member of the PDP, he was part of the chieftains of the party who broke away to form a new PDP.
Saraki’s election is a throwback to what happened in 1999 during the rebirth of the country’s renascent democracy when Late Senator Evan Enwerem was elected on the strength of the votes of the opposition Alliance for Democracy Senators to defeat Senator Chuba Okadigbo, the official candidate of PDP members.
Of course, the rule of the Senate prescribes a simple majority for the election of Senate President and only about 38 Senators is required to form a quorum. During Saraki’s election, the APC had lost its majority status, though the constitution is not explicit that the Senate President must come from the majority party.
Recently, during a valedictory session to mark the 2nd anniversary of the Senate, the Senate minority leader, Godswil Akpabio revealed categorically that if the PDP had wanted, it would have produced the Senate President during the election that brought in Saraki. According to him, “on that day, the PDP senators were the majority and even when some of our members suggested we tip a PDP Senator for the position, we refused and settled for Saraki.”
At the moment, it is not sure whether the Senate under Saraki may witness instability as some aggrieved group will be plotting his exit, especially now that he has been granted freedom from the CCT.