- Senate president says he’s ready to go to jail, Buhari controlled by cabal
- President is no one’s stooge, presidency responds
Tobi Soniyi, Omololu Ogunmade and Alex Enumah in Abuja
Following their arraignment at an Abuja High Court monday on allegations of forging the Senate Standing Orders, 2015, Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, in separate emotionally-laden statements both declared their innocence and excoriated the executive for using the apparatus of the state to ride roughshod over the Senate over its choice of leadership.
Others arraigned alongside the leaders of the Senate included a former Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, and Deputy Clerk, Benedict Efeturi. All four were granted bail under terms spelt out by the court.
Saraki, in a statement he personally signed, said he would fight the current battles confronting him to the end and would be glad to end up in jail rather than surrender the leadership of the Senate to the “nefarious agenda of a few individuals”.
He also claimed that there was a government within the government of the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, which had seized the apparatus of executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda.
But in a swift riposte, the presidency yesterday dismissed the Senate President’s allegation, stating that to claim Buhari was anybody’s stooge “is not only ridiculous, but also preposterous”.
Saraki accused those behind his arraignment as enemies who want to desecrate the Senate and subvert democracy.
“I will remain true and committed to the responsibilities that my citizenship and my office impose on me. Without doubt, the highest of those responsibilities is the steadfast refusal to surrender to the subversion of our democracy and the desecration of the Senate.
“This is a cross I am prepared to carry. If yielding to the nefarious agenda of a few individuals who are bent on undermining our democracy and destabilising the federal government to satisfy their selfish interests is the alternative to losing my personal freedom, let the doors of jails be thrown open and I shall be a happy guest,” he said.
He proclaimed his innocence of the alleged forgery and described the charges as nothing but a violation of the principle of separation of powers as well as another desperate move in the persistent persecution of the Senate leadership.
Saraki described the action of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who charged him and others to court over alleged forgery as misguided.
Justifying his claim that there was another government within the government of President Buhari, Saraki said the government had continued to chase the leaders of the Senate instead of addressing the myriad of crises confronting the nation.
“Today, we the leaders of the Nigerian Senate reiterate our innocence against the charges filed by the Attorney General of the Federal Government of Nigeria at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court on the allegations of forgery of the Senate Standing Rules document.
“In our view, the charges filed by the Attorney General represent a violation of the principle of the separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch as enshrined in our constitution.
“Furthermore, it is farcical to allege that a criminal act occurred during Senate procedural actions and the mere suggestion demonstrates a desperate overreach by the office of the Attorney General.
“These trumped up charges are only another phase in the relentless persecution of the leadership of the Senate.
“This misguided action by the Attorney General begs the question, how does this promote the public interest and benefit the nation? At a time when the whole of government should be working together to meet Nigeria’s many challenges, we are once again distracted by the executive branch’s inability to move beyond a leadership election among Senate peers. It was not an election of Senate peers and executive branch participants.
“Over the past year, the Senate has worked to foster good relations with the executive branch. It is in all of our collective interests to put aside divisions and get on with the nation’s business.
“We risk alienating and losing the support of the very people who have entrusted their national leaders to seek new and creative ways to promote a secure and prosperous Nigeria.
“As leaders and patriots, it is time to rise above partisanship and to move forward together.
“However, it has become clear that there is now a government within the government of President Buhari which has seized the apparatus of executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda.
“This latest onslaught on the legislature represents a clear and present danger to the democracy Nigerians fought hard to win and preserve. The suit filed on behalf of the federal government suggests that perhaps some forces in the Federal Republic have not fully embraced the fact that the Senate’s rules and procedures govern how the legislative body adjudicates and resolves its own disputes.
“Let it be abundantly clear, both as a citizen and as a foremost legislator, I will continue to rise above all the persecution and distraction that have been visited on me.
“In the words of Martin Luther King Junior, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy’,” Saraki said.
In another statement, Ekweremadu advised those in power not to use the law as an instrument to “bludgeon innocent citizens into submitting to the untamed wishes and caprices of witch-hunters”.
Speaking after his arraignment yesterday, the Deputy Senate President expressed confidence that his trial would afford Nigerians to see clearly that the charges proferred against him were “nothing but meretricious thrash”, adding that democracy was not military rule.
He said: “For me, I find great comfort in the immortal words of late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who said that ‘history will vindicate the just and the wicked will not go unpunished’.”
Insisting that his trial was political and could endanger democracy, he further added: “Let us make no mistake about this: it is not Senator Ike Ekweremadu or Senator Bukola Saraki or the other accused persons that are on trial; rather the hallowed democratic principles of the separation of powers, rule of law, the legislature, and indeed democracy itself are on a ridiculous trial.
“Mere anarchy is unleashed upon the land, but our courage must not fall apart. No condition is permanent and nothing lasts forever.”
He stated that as a law-abiding citizen and a firm believer in the rule of law and all the rights and privileges it advertises, “it is only in my place not to commit a crime, but way out of my reach not to be accused of one, especially when the instruments of power become apparatuses for oppression of the innocent and voices of opposition”.
He added: “Indeed, I, in no way or fashion claim to be above the law, just that I believe that the law should not be used as an instrument to bludgeon innocent citizens into submitting to the untamed wishes and caprices of witch-hunters.
“However, I put my trust in God, the court, and the overwhelming solidarity of the good people of Nigeria. When the dust settles, Nigerians will see clearly that this charge is nothing but meretricious thrash. Time, occasions, and provocations like this will teach their own lessons.
“I hope that one chief lesson will be that democracy differs markedly from military rule and that public officers should never subvert the foundations of democracy by prioritising the rule of man over the rule of law.”
However, in reaction to Saraki’s allegation that there was a government within the administration, the president’s media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the Senate President’s claim would have been worth its while if it had been backed with more information.
Adesina, in a statement, said: “If he had proceeded to identify those who constitute the ‘government within the government’, it would have taken the issue beyond the realm of fiction and mere conjecture.
“But as it stands, the allegation is not even worth the paper on which it was written, as anybody can wake from troubled sleep, and say anything.”
Adesina said it was within the constitutional powers of the AGF as the Chief Law Officer of state to determine who had infringed upon the law, and who had not.
He pointed out that: “Pretending to carry an imaginary cross is mere obfuscation, if indeed, a criminal act has been committed. But we leave the courts to judge.
“To claim that President Muhammadu Buhari is anybody’s stooge is not only ridiculous, but also preposterous. It is not in the character of our president.”
Earlier yesterday, Saraki, Ekweremadu, Maikasuwa and Efeturi were granted bail by Justice Yusuf Halilu of an Abuja High Court.
They were arraigned on a two-count charge of forgery and conspiracy to commit forgery. All the accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charges and were consequently admitted to bail while trial was adjourned to July 11.
The four defendants were put on trial by the federal government on the allegation of forging the Senate rules used on June 9 last year to conduct the elections through which Saraki and Ekwerenmadu emerged Senate President and Deputy Senate President, respectively.
Shortly after the charges were read to them, they pleaded not guilty, prompting their lawyers Mr. Ikechukwu Ezechukwu (SAN) for Maikasuwa, Mahmud Magaji (SAN) for Efeturi, Paul Erokoro (SAN) for Saraki and Joseph Daudu (SAN) for Ekwerenmadu, to move applications for bail for the defendants.
Justice Halilu, after taking arguments from the counsel, admitted all of them to bail with two sureties each who must be Nigerians, male or female, and who must have landed properties either in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse or Apo Legislative Quarters to be able to qualify to stand as sureties in the matter.
The judge, in his ruling, held that Sections 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution presumed the defendants innocent of the charges preferred against them and that it was normal and natural for them to be allowed on bail so as to prepare for their defence.
The judge took judicial notice of the positions of the defendants, adding that there was nothing by way of evidence to suggest that they would jump bail if allowed to go home.
Justice Halilu noted that the essence of bail was for the defendants, who were presumed innocent by law, to ensure their attendance in court throughout their trial and that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) also lends support for bail for any Nigerian accused of bailable offences as in the instant case.
The judge however said that in the event that any of the defendants is unable to comply with the bail conditions, they should be remanded in Kuje Prison pending the time they would meet the bail conditions.
By press time, Maikasuwa had complied with the bail conditions and had left the court premises.
The Senate President and his deputy obviously had no difficulties fulfilling the bail conditions, but chose to wait for the other accused persons to perfect their bail.
Earlier, counsel to the federal government, who is also the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation (DPPF), Mr. Mohammed Diri, had told the court that he had no opposition to Saraki’s bail on the grounds that he was the President of the Senate and did not want to cripple the activities of the Senate.
Diri, however, vehemently opposed Ekwerenmadu, Maikasuwa and Efeturi’s bail on the grounds that they were likely to evade trial, having allegedly evaded the service of the charges preferred against them.
The prosecution told the court that if convicted, the three defendants were likely to be jailed for 14 years and that because of the gravity of the punishment, the court should be cautious in granting them bail.
Erokoro, while moving a bail application for Saraki, told the court that apart from the charges, Saraki’s name was never mentioned, either in the proof of evidence or in the police report, adding that he had not in any way been linked to the alleged offence of conspiracy and forgery.
Erokoro further argued that no attempt was made by the prosecution to serve Saraki with the charge in question as required by law and that Saraki has been standing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on other charges for almost a year and had never absented himself once at the tribunal.
He urged the court to grant Saraki bail on self-recognition or under liberal terms because as the Senate President, he was too big to run away in order to evade trial.
However, Chief Daudu (SAN), who was representing Ekwerenmadu, urged the court to note that the DPPF had no objection to the other three defendants on the grounds that they were charged with the same offence as Saraki.
Daudu told the court that he understood the political language of the DPPF on Ekwerenmadu, adding however that “what is good for the goose is also good for the gander”.
He also dismissed the insinuation by the prosecution that the three other defendants evaded service of the summons, adding that there was no affidavit of evidence to that effect before the court and that the insinuation should be regarded as mere speculation.
Other lawyers argued along the same lines with Daudu in their submissions for the bail of their clients.
The trial attracted 30 senators, dozens of reporters and supporters from across the country.
Owing to the multitude that turned up for the arraignment, the courtroom was overcrowded as supporters and journalists struggled to follow the trial.
At some point, the judge was forced to adjourn so that the security personnel could empty the courtroom of the crowd that had turned up.
Seeing that the senators who had accompanied Saraki and Ekweremadu were not willing to budge, the police turned on reporters asking them to leave the courtroom.