What Next for Saraki?

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It’s about time the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, seriously weighs his options but without prejudice to the reality of the underbelly of his trial, writes Adams Abonu

Embattled! This is the adjective that aptly describes the unfolding dilemma of Nigeria’s President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki. Though many Nigerian pundits seemed to have found the use or abuse of the word “embattled” a common syndrome, recent developments bordering on the trial of the number three citizen by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on charges of non-declaration of assets and corrupt enrichment aptly gives credence to ascribing the word to describe Saraki’s situation.

As the trial proceeds with a somewhat heightened pace, THISDAY checks have revealed that Nigerians have become more interested in the case as the sanctity of the judiciary and the moral integrity expected of a legislature are both on trial at the court of public opinion. The eventual outcome of Senator Saraki’s prosecution viz-a-viz his expected stepping down from the exalted seat and the judicial precedence the CCT would set forms a major crux of this intervention.

While the embattled senator has ascribed his current ordeal to the manner of his emergence as senate president in the wee days of the incumbent National Assembly, having emerged against the whims of the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) with the connivance of opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members in the senate, there is no denying the fact that he has a case to answer and his image to redeem. However, his path to redemption has been fraught with dramas and anti-climaxes that tend to further derogate public confidence in his political brand, and in some cases, slant more sympathy in his way.

For a man, who has inherited the political dynasty put in place by the late venerable Senator Olusola Saraki from Kwara State, Senate President Saraki has basked in political goodwill of ho managing the circumstances would determine his viability. As a young politician, the supposedly thoroughbred medical doctor served former President Olusegun Obasanjo as Special Assistant before proceeding to replace the “erring and disloyal” the late Governor Muhammad Lawal.

He was elected into the senate to represent Kwara Central, after the expiration of his statutory two terms of office as governor and four years later, he made it to the highly coveted seat of the senate president. He fought different political battles, including the disagreement with his late father and patriarch of the dynasty, but the ongoing bid to have him vacate the office and the likelihood of a conviction could make for the toughest challenge he could ever bargain for.

In a bid to clear his name and retain the seat, Senator Saraki had gone all the way to the Supreme Court to have his prosecution stopped. While all the antics have been futile, the ongoing trial at the CCT further presents him with the ample opportunity to make his defence and prove his earlier assertion that he was only being politically persecuted.

In the senate, there has been reported waning of his stranglehold on his colleagues as the number of those who often “accompanied” him to the proceedings of the tribunal to the detriment of the all-important legislative process reduced from more than seventy senators to a paltry dozen in recent days.

Apparently, to stall the process, the senate invited the Chairman of CCT, Justice Danladi Umar, to appear before it and answer to charges of an alleged 10 million naira bribe proffered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a charge the commission would later withdraw “for want of evidence.”

The senate even took legislative manoeuvring to a reckless extent when it tried to amend the Code of Conduct Act of 2004 and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, upon a motion to that effect by Senator Peter Nwaboshi from Delta State all in a bid to provide an escape route for their embattled leader. It only took the resilience of the civil society and different editorials from different media houses against the move to have the senate tread the path of caution by withdrawing the invitation to Justice Umar and stalling the clandestine amendment.

Now that the judicial process to have Senator Saraki answer for his alleged crimes against the Nigerian state and possibly, his flouting the decision of his party has been set in motion, what should be the most reasonable course of action for the embattled national leader?

Opinions are however divided. While some reckon that the Senate President should heed the ‘voice of reason’ and step aside from administering the National Assembly and face his prosecution squarely, there are those who see it differently. Those who support the idea that he steps aside have called on the senate president not to bring further opprobrium to the senate by sitting tight at the face of a criminal trial.

Writing in the Guardian Newspaper, Dan Agbese, prominent journalist and one of the founders of the now rested Newswatch magazine told Saraki that it was time to “let go of the straw” and save the face of the legislature in Nigeria.

“It should be possible for us to dispassionately look at what is going on in the National Assembly and come to the only sensible and inescapable conclusion: the Saraki affair ill serves our country. It has become hugely embarrassing to the person of the senate president and his exalted office; it has become hugely sordid with huge health implications for our olfactory organs, and it has become a huge mess and effectively crippled the legislative arm of government,” the reputable journalist wrote in his widely-read column amidst a note of sarcasm.

Agbese’s view, which resonated with other opinions, is that the eventual outcome of Saraki’s trial at CCT would either salvage or mar Nigerians’ perception about how their affairs are administered by those at the corridors of power. He concluded that “Saraki may, indeed, win his case or cases, and I hope he does, if only to put his traducers to shame. But as I see it, however this ends, it would leave in its wake, a) a huge moral deficit and deepen our cynicism in government; b) further erode our trust in our leaders at all levels and; c) confirm once more that the irresistible lure of lucre remains a clear and present danger in our country, despite the gallant efforts by the EFCC to keep itchy fingers away from our treasuries.”

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) had earlier led the call for Saraki to step aside when the President of the umbrella-body, Comrade Ayuba Waba told journalists that this was necessary to engender transparency and responsibility.

As the Appeal Court sitting in Abuja refused another stay of proceedings plea brought before it by Saraki, a coalition of civil society started to plan a mass action demanding his resignation. This mass action, under the hashtag #OccupyNass, took their peaceful protests to the gates of the National Assembly on Tuesday, where they were to clash with pro-Saraki protesters under another hashtag, #SaveOurNASS amidst a cacophony of interests.

A senator on the platform of PDP told THISDAY in Lafia in confidence that “the most reasonable thing for our senate president to do at this point is to stand down and allow justice take her course.”

“As a national institution, the senate cannot afford another trial at the court of public opinion considering that Nigerians already have a suspicious view of the senate. To be candid with you, we should be looking at the post-Saraki period of the senate so as not to put national development in trial,” the senator said on conditions of anonymity.

For Senator Dino Melaye, representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Saraki should not resign but stand and defend his integrity. In a widely read message on his Facebook page, he assured the embattled senator of his unflinching support at the face of his “persecution.”

There are also considerable concerns from knowledgeable quarters as to the tendency of arrogating “despotic powers” to President Buhari and the ruling APC if Senator Saraki is forced to step down without the law taking its full course. Those who belong to this school of thought are of the opinion that the senate president might not be completely innocent of the charges of corruption preferred against him but argued that the hand print of political persecution is rife in the entire process as it only had to take a disagreement with the APC leadership before his alleged sins were brought out.

“I’m not absolving (Senator) Saraki of the alleged crimes but we must also be careful not to give vent to political victimisation by asking him to resign before he is even convicted. Even in the last administration when a lot of things were not done properly, those who disagreed with the president and the leadership of the then ruling party like Rotimi Ameachi were not given such treatments.

“Yes, Amaechi may have won Rivers State having been tagged a traitor, but he stood his ground, fought all the way and ensured Jonathan was voted out. Thus, we must be careful so as not to create a political monster in President Buhari and the APC, both of whom are clearly involved in this persecution called trial,” a top-notch journalist told this reporter in confidence because of the sensitive nature of his editorial position.

According to him, “First, it has taken the system 12 years to realize something was amiss in the forms submitted at different election years by Saraki. So, where are those who verified the forms and cleared them? What happened to the extant laws and provisions which requested that such discrepancies be brought to his notice before further actions are tyaken?

“Why has it taken Saraki to draw similarities with Tinubu’s case and as much as point out the technicalities before the same tribunal presided over by the same judge realised the former Lagos governor was freed in error? Where is the rule of law in this? And you expect saraki to open his eyes wide and step into a waiting trap? You can go on and on to establish that this is no genuine trial but sheer persecution occasioned by Saraki’s bold emergence as Senate President.”

In the final analysis, as Saraki considers his options, the national interest of giving a transparent integrity to the senate should remain paramount to him while Nigerians are also prompted not be carried away by those who would rather give a dog a bad name just to hang it. Nigeria will be better if these sordid dramas are brought to an acceptable conclusion and without leaving the critical institutions of nation-building badly mutilated.