Perspective

Magnus Onyibe writes that the Code of Conduct Tribunal must tread with care in the case involving the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki because Nigerians can read between the lines

The firestorm generated by the Code of Conduct (CCT) arraignment of Senate President Bukola Saraki over alleged false declaration of his assets when he was governor of Kwara State has taken the dimension of political witch-hunting. At least, that’s the view of his numerous supporters, especially fellow senators, who came to that conclusion after the recent Supreme Court’s denial of the senate president’s prayer to prevent CCT from further prosecuting him.

In a terse statement, a majority of the members of the red chamber reaffirmed their confidence in Saraki’s leadership while pledging to sustain their unflinching support for their embattled leader throughout his travail.
Left with no other option, and perhaps buoyed by the exaltation of his colleagues, Saraki had looked forward to his days in court, last week (to be continued this week), where he will either shine or melt.
Normally, witch-hunting is not an uncommon part of politics and anyone who is in doubt, should ask Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, senator and secretary of state of the United States of America, and presently the Democratic Party front runner for the White House. The ‘banana peel’ to borrow from the Nigerian lingo, deliberately put on the path to the Oval Office for Mrs. Clinton to step on, slip and fall to prevent her from getting there is known to all keen observers of the race to the presidency of the USA.

That’s why a sad event on an ordinary day, during her time as Secretary of State, such as the attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, where the USA ambassador, Chris Stevens and a couple of other compatriots were killed by Libyan terrorists, became a sort of albatross that would define her candidacy for the presidency.
Likewise for former two terms governor, and now senate president, Bukola Saraki, whom forces, similar to the ones intent on hamstringing Senator Clinton in faraway USA, seem to be determined here in Nigeria to equally undo him as senate president and ruin his chances of probably running for the presidency in 2019 or beyond.

Just like Hilary Clinton, who the ghosts from her time as Secretary of State suddenly started popping up as soon as she announced her interest in the presidency, Saraki’s alleged breach of public service code with respect to his network during his term as governor is being dangled like the sword of Damocles over his head.
The difference between both situations with Clinton in the USA and Saraki in Nigeria, is that while Clinton is confronting her demons barely ten (10) months to when President Barack Obama is supposed to hand over to his successor on January 20, 2017, Saraki is embroiled in a presidential ambition-motivated legal tango, less than eight months into the commencement of the new regime which has four (4) years or 96 months tenure.

Make no mistake about it, not all politicians can stand the heat of blackmail and scandal. Take the recent case in the United Kingdom, UK for instance. Chuka Umunna, a Labour Party leadership front runner in the UK dramatically abandoned his candidacy barely after three days of launching it for fear of the muck which might be raked up about him, his fiancée and his mum.
Hear him: “Since the night of our defeat last week, I have been subject to added level of pressure that comes with being leadership candidate”. According to him, “I have not found it to be a comfortable experience. One can imagine what running for leadership can be like, understand its demands and attention but nothing compares to doing it and the impact on the rest of one’s life. Consequently, after further reflections, I’m withdrawing my candidacy”.

You can imagine that the scenario above is the sort of attitude that the fear of blackmail could have compelled Hillary Clinton and Bukola Saraki in the USA and Nigeria respectively to adopt, but alas the pair of Clinton and Saraki are made of sterner mettle, hence they have decided that instead of chickening out like Chuka Umunna in the UK, they are soldiering on.
The duo of Hilary Clinton and Bukola Saraki are veterans of many political battles. Along with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, Hillary survived the famous whitewater real estate scandal that rocked the then governor of the state of Arkansas’s presidential quest for No 1600 Pensilvania Avenue, Washington DC – which is the White House and residential address of US presidents.

After getting to the White House together, Hilary and Bill survived the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal that led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the USA by the House of Representatives.
Fortunately, the impeachment had no significant consequence, because the senate did not concur in the impeachment as constitutionally required.

On her own, Hilary fought and won the senate seat for the state of New York and subsequently contested against Barack Obama for the presidency in 2008. Although she did not make history at that time by becoming the first female president of the USA, as she had hoped, she nevertheless caught a handful of cloud, (since she could not accomplish her ambition of touching the sky) by being compensated by Barack Obama, who appointed her the Secretary of State of the USA.

Similarly, Bukola too has been in the trenches for most of his political life. After serving as a presidential aid during Olusegun Obasanjo era, with the support of his father, regarded as the godfather of Kwara State politics, he fought and won the governorship of the state. As if he had affinity with conflicts, Bukola was embroiled in a sibling feud that pitched him against his sister, Senator Gbemi, who wanted to succeed him as governor.

Fearing the potential consequences of handing over the reins of government to his sibling with the attendant concern that Kwarans may wonder if the governance of Kwara is a family heirloom of the Sarakis, Bukola demurred. That is in addition to the fact that the existential reality in Kwara State is that it is predominantly a Muslim state, where women are not usually heard or seen.
His seeming obstinacy pitched him against his patriarch dad, who was on the side of his daughter in the ‘internecine’ war and passed away after Bukola won the battle and Gbemi lost. Although Bukola has been battle tested, the struggle for the senate presidency is by far, the fiercest and most formidable political battle so far fought by the embattled senator.

With an array of powerful forces with the sole purpose of torpedoing his ship of ambition to lead the senate, he put on his thinking cap and came up with bizarre, if not Byzantine strategies, like sleeping over the night in a car in NASS car park to avoid being arrested or kidnapped by his formidable foes, who were intent on preventing him from presenting himself for election as senate president.
Riding on the back of such political dexterity, he planted himself on the senate presidency, in a manner that left his admirers holding their breath and his opponents, licking their wounds.

In a very uncanny manner, Hilary Clinton’s main opponent in the Democratic Party primaries, Bennie Sanders has been accusing her of raising her hefty campaign funds from the Wall Street, which as Sanders alleges, makes her a rich establishment woman and therefore not a progressive and undeserving of the presidency of the USA. Such sentiments, in my view, are being echoed here in Nigeria too and therefore part of the reasons Bukola Saraki is facing political crucifixion by his traducers.

Latching onto the array of properties they allege the senate president owns onshore and offshore, and did not declare when he was governor, they conclude that he is a bourgeois, whose ambition to be senate president, which in their view is a precursor to taking a shot at the presidency in 2019 or beyond, should be deflated. How so hypocritical!

If Hilary Clinton survives the political shenanigan and gets elected in the USA, she would not only be the first female president, but also a millionaire, probably the first, since the time of Henry Ford. Only billionaire, Ross Perot, an independent candidate, who ran against Bill Clinton and George W Bush as well as the republican, Mitt Romney, part owner of investment firm, Bain capital, who contested against Obama in 2012 that could have been in the same club of millionaire presidents.

In the unlikely event that the loquacious hate monger and republican party candidate, the billionaire tycoon, Donald J Trump beats Clinton in the race to the Oval Office, assuming he becomes the GOP candidate, he would be the richest president that the USA ever had and Americans would accept, and not begrudge him because he was already a billionaire through enterprise in real estate business before emerging the president.

Back home in Nigeria, not many of our compatriots realize that Bukola Saraki, an ex-banker would be like Trump (in terms of wealth) if he runs for and wins the office of the president of the federal republic of Nigeria in 2019 or beyond. As a banker of many years standing and having started as a middle level career banker, after graduating as a medical doctor, the senate president has proven to be a wealth creator and deserves his status as multi-properties owner.

His peers in the financial services sector, who attained the level of executive directorship and substantial ownership in the banking sector, can boast of similar affluence in terms of assets acquisition.
Being a veteran of many investments in Nigeria spanning decades, he is deserving of his high net worth status, in my reckoning.

Since politicians like to deploy all manners of armaments including blackmail as weapons in political battles, under-declaration or anticipatory declaration of assets, as his antagonists allege, has become a deadly Arsenal being used against a rising star, who till date personifies the youth generation in the top echelon of govt. As devotees of Nicholo Machiavelli would posit, “The end justifies the means” hence political opponents would stop at nothing to pull down Saraki.

For the avoidance of doubt, I do not support corruption and l would be the first to insist that the senate president faces the consequences of his crime if he had been caught with his hands in the ‘cookie jar’ of Kwara State, where he served two terms as governor.

In other words, Saraki won’t have my sympathy if he was being tried by the ICPC or EFCC for financial embezzlement, but having not been accused of stealing the common wealth of Kwara people while in office, but for the offence of under or over declaration of his assets, which may be considered a misdemeanor, I regard the Code of Conduct Tribunal, trial, a political machination or gimmick engineered by his political opponents to crash his purported future presidential ambition which is odious to me.

Fortunately, majority of the members of the red chamber concur with the view above and they have unequivocally expressed their solidarity through a resolution disseminated to the members of the public via a press statement.
The resurgent Supreme Court has ruled, perhaps, according to point of law, so Saraki has no other option than to allow the trial at CCT continue. But caution should be taken so that the tribunal does not throw away the baby and the bath water and in the process incur the wrath of Nigerians, who have become more savvy and adept at deciphering political rights and wrongs in Nigerian political environment, which is fast descending into a jungle of sorts, where politics is brutish, long in trickery and short in altruism.

Onyibe, a development strategist and former commissioner in Delta State is an alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA