The world is perpetually in conflict and is a battleground for interests, resources and ideologies. Inherent in most of these struggles are the battle for control and survival. This is also applicable in politics where the only thing that is constant is interest, hence the popular dictum: no permanent foe, no permanent friend. But because human needs are insatiable, there is always the tendency for crisis and conflict over limited opportunities and scarce resources. Only one person each and per time will be the President of Nigeria, President of the Senate and the Governor of a State
It is, therefore, germane for Nigerians to appropriately decipher the underlying interests in the on-going trial of President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Most importantly, what should really be our uttermost concern as individuals, groups and organisations within the national interest of our country? A matter that has advertently drawn our attention and touched on the emotions of millions of Nigerians, home and abroad, should ordinarily be put in a proper context for the sake of our democracy.
I will do my bit to tell Nigerians that the on-going CCT trial in Abuja is not really about Saraki and that is the bitter reality. Maybe, if we pause a bit, look through history, do some soul searching and scrutinise the bigger picture, we could have a better understanding. I don’t intend to exempt the President of Senate from this ordeal if the process of justice is fair and straight. Let me put it in a clear perspective; it is democracy that is on trial and not really Saraki in the context of my argument.
The tensed political battle between former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former President Olusegun Obasanjo readily comes to mind. A rivalry in which Obasanjo practically brought down all the instruments of the state to undo Atiku could have derailed our hard won democracy if not for the courts, the media, civil society organisations, human rights groups and pro-democracy activists. They rose to the occasion and defended the sanctity of democracy by not allowing Obasanjo to manipulate the system against his vice.
Not necessarily that Atiku was politically right, but Nigerians looked beyond the individual, saw the bigger picture and rose to defend democracy and the rule of law. The concern then was, if Atiku falls, no one is spared, and Obasanjo seen as a maximum ruler, could further manipulate the system against anyone. While the former president subjected democracy to ridicule, serious test and threats, the people stood for democracy and in the end, democracy won, but not necessarily Atiku.
In Africa and some developing countries, there is always the tendency for former military rulers-turned-democratic presidents to show some level of intolerance and dictatorship. The onus is usually on the people to stand firm and defend the civil process, protect what is right and what is just to strengthen democracy. So as it was during Obasanjo, so it is again in Nigeria during the tenure of another former military leader-turned-president. Nothing has changed. Today, if Saraki falls by this brazen manipulation of the CCT, it is obvious the system could also be manipulated against anyone successfully.
Judging by some shameful developments emanating from the CCT, there is indeed a cause for alarm over the future of our justice system. For the same tribunal chairman to reverse its own past judgement in a similar case as Sarak’s for political expediency is curious. It is absolutely clear no fair trial can come from Danladi Umar. There are also moral burdens on the part of Umar and the curious clearance letter issued him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which did not even follow due process. Although Umar has ruled that he is qualified to sit in the temple of justice, despite unresolved EFCC case hanging around his neck, the court by record has taken a judicial notice of this ruling and it should further be tested at the appellate courts.
This matter is a political struggle between two camps in the ruling All Progressives Congress, but of which state power is now being used to oppress and manipulate the system against the other. It is even more worrisome that the perceived arrowhead of the anti-Saraki camp, who currently enjoys the backing of the state, was the person set free by the tribunal in a similar case. This is the point at which Nigerians should show some circumspection. This kind of sensitive scenario at high level does not just happen.
It comes to a nation as a test of its conscience and justice system. Posterity has a way of judging this. The onus is on us.
Let us show serious caution; we should know that evil can manifest in many ways to hunt a nation. Sometimes it comes to a people in a subtle way disguised as political interest. Note that the major regret of the United States today was bringing down Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Sadam Hussein of Iraq. President Barack Obama has admitted to one of these regrets recently. It is not in contention that since the fall of these two leaders, America has become increasingly unsafe, with more threats and terror. Maybe the US didn’t sufficiently think about the bigger picture at the time it took those decisions and couldn’t see beyond a narrow political and economic objective. I applied this scenario for us to further understand that there are consequences for every action.
I repeat that the matter that is now the number one trending topic in Nigeria is really not about Saraki but what comes after, if the state succeeds in this on-going judicial perversion. The tendency for autocracy is rising in Nigeria: disobedience of court order is becoming rampant; extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by the state is getting more pronounced; government’s insensitivity is on the rise; affront against the legislature is threatening checks and balances; the judiciary is now under extreme pressure from the executive to do its bidding, and many more. If the process of justice is perverted, autocracy will walk with horns and have a full day. We are already seeing semblances of fascism. We will all pay for it.
Many who defended Atiku didn’t do so to protect Atiku or his politics, but they did so to prevent the derailment of democracy, which came at a huge cost. The conspiracy of silence in Nigeria today is deafening. Let me ask this question, do you know who is next after Saraki? What we must insist on as a people, irrespective of our political leanings or views, is fair trial for everyone, including Saraki, and obedience to court orders by the Presidency and the government. There is absolutely no need to twist the process of justice against anyone. The table can turn any time.
So far from the testimony of the star witness in the on-going trial at the CCT, it appears the EFCC did the bulk of the investigation against Saraki. The bulk of the revelations are about alleged money laundering and economic crimes. There is, therefore, no need to desperately backtrack or recant on Section 3 (d) of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act, which has given Saraki a means of escape like a former Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu. It is the law and not Saraki and the law should either be amended or allowed it to work that way. Since the prosecution claims to have sufficient evidence of financial crimes against Saraki, why not try him in the open court?
It is not in contention that this matter is more about battle for political control, relevance and struggle for 2019 presidency, and not necessarily about anticorruption trial. Based on human limitations, I think Saraki has nothing to lose again in life, having achieved so much in his political journeys. He may later get justice at the apex courts if the CCT succeeds, but Nigeria will later grapple with the consequences of allowing the judicial process to be manipulated. Remember Tinubu and Saraki could still work together, but what we don’t know is that we may never recover from what we will lose in the process. The earlier we know this is not really about Saraki, but the future of democracy, the better for all of us.
–– Atoye, a public affairs analyst and co-convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, can be reached at: email@example.com