The presidency and ‘trial’ of the Nigerian Senate
IT all started with the arraignment and eventual trial for false asset declaration of Bukola Saraki, the Senate President. Saraki who had emerged president of the Senate against the wish of his party is being tried before Justice Danladi Umar of the Code of Conduct Tribunal for concealing information on his assets when he was governor some ten years ago. Specifically Saraki is accused of concealing information of his ownership of some choice properties believed to have been acquired with public funds. The Senate Leader’s run into stormy weather with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is generally linked to the frosty relationship between him and leaders of the All Progressives Congress, APC, which followed his rejection of his party’s wish not to stand as leader of the Senate. In a daring demonstration of skullduggery, he outsmarted his party with the support of their opponents to emerge leader of the Senate.
While his anti-party behaviour and initially uncompromising posture to both the party and the APC-led presidency may have got the EFCC sniffing for muck around him, it would be stretching credibility too far to say that the charges against him are entirely invented and are neither without foundation nor merit. The truth is that one only needs to look in the right places and you’d find filth beneath the innocent façade of most Nigerian politicians. The EFCC has only ‘discovered’ what it chose to ignore before now. What Saraki needs to do is to provide adequate proof that the properties traced to him were acquired legitimately. But his stalling antics at the CCT and attempts to browbeat the tribunal chairman by linking him to an alleged act of corruption, or even making his CCT trial look like a turf war between the presidency and the senate undermine his claim to innocence. For Saraki, it’s not just raining, it is pouring right now. While still slugging the baggage of his EFCC-CCT charges and trial, the police have brought an additional charge of forgery of Senate rules. These are the very rules that allegedly strengthened Saraki’s position and led to his emergence as Senate leader. Joined in the charge against him are at least three other officers of the National Assembly including Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President. On 27th June, the duo was arraigned for forgery and ever since the long-held claim of supporters of the Bukola Saraki senate that the presidency is out to emasculate the national legislature has been rife. To be sure the forgery charge against Saraki and Ekweremadu preceded the EFCC-CCT case against Bukola. The police have only been taking their time investigating. For them the charge of forgery and its investigation was a marathon as opposed to the sprint the Saraki-Ekweramadu cohort took it for. The police appear set for battle now and the trial is on. Like with the Bukola Saraki CCT trial the forgery issue should be seen for what it is and not conflated with other issues. The accused persons only need to demonstrate their innocence even as the police try to prove their case against them. To embark on a curious journey of conflating their individual plight with the ‘trial’ of the national legislature, as the Senate leaders and their supporters appear bent on doing, is to hint at the very cause of their present travail: a failure to distinguish between the individual and the collective. A person is seen or sees themselves as the institution. It’s one step from claiming for oneself what belongs to all, turning the commonwealth into personal wealth. It’s a superiority complex that leads to the misuse of power and is at the root of our corruption story. It was therefore not surprising that at the beginning of the Bukola Saraki trial he appeared at the tribunal with bus loads of senators in an apparent demonstration of moral support and ‘defiance’ of what they saw as executive arm-twisting, while being blind to the irony of their position as law makers openly abetting an alleged breaker of the law. Nothing alerted this so-called honourable body of law makers to the anomaly of being led by a senate president that is docked and journeys regularly between the law courts and the senate chamber. Add to that the image of both the senate president and Mr. Ekweremadu, his deputy, as they both are docked and have to make the shuttle trips between the senate chambers and the courts. As he makes his court appearance now Ekweremadu has cleverly dumped his trademark smart suit for a traditional Igbo gear- what better way to whip up ethnic sentiment and conflate his personal travail with that of the Igbo that are justifiably outraged by their marginalisation by the Buhari government? Rather than demand the resignation of these leaders even if only to clear their name, Nigerian senators are content to support the circus show that runs between the senate chamber and the law courts. They would rather dreg up all kinds of primordial excuses for why they are being ‘persecuted’ and compromise the integrity of the National Assembly than take the honourable path of clearing their names. The show of support by members of the National Assembly for their leaders on trial is actually a game of self-preservation as many of those in both chambers of the Assembly as elsewhere in the Nigerian government are candidates for jail based on their present and past activities. It would therefore not wash for these elements to pretend that there is nothing to the allegations against them and that the presidency is only intent on whittling down the independence of the legislature. There may be legitimate grounds for such claims in some cases but not in this instance. The legislators will need to do better than this to make their claims of executive interference stick. The executive has no doubt being selective in its anti-corruption fight. But it has been dogged and none of those so far found culpable have successfully shown that they have no questions to answer. One would only demand that the cases being prosecuted should not be aborted, should lead to conviction and not allowed to flame out for whatever reason. Persons or groups suspected of corruption but are being overlooked by this administration because of their connections to the present leaders could be prosecuted by succeeding administrations. It is also clear that for very pragmatic reasons not all suspected cases of corruption can be simultaneously tried. But to insist that this should be so or this administration’s anti-corruption fight would be dismissed offhand is to provide cover for corruption. We are in a deep mess as things presently stand. Daily revelations of massive and unconscionable looting of this country make any insistence on simultaneous prosecution treasonable.