Pervading Air of Bravura

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that all parties in the alleged false declaration of assets trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki have a reason to celebrate the final outcome.

Senate President, Bukola Saraki can now be proud and confident, not that he ever lost his assertive gait, after all, he kept saying from the beginning that his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal was politically motivated. While the agents of the Federal Government went through the motion, ostensibly commanded by a masked master, Saraki’s back was against the wall, and he had the serious and urgent business of clearing his name.

To some political pundits, the crack within the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, could be traced to the emergence of Saraki as Senate President on June 9, 2015 against strong opposition from influential interest groups and personalities. In order to outwit the party hierarchy, Saraki formed new alliances across partisan borders that strengthened his hand. The dominant cabal within the APC woke up too late to realise that Saraki had become a force they could not dislodge easily.

Having outwitted the party, Saraki who was elected on the platform of the APC to represent Kwara Central Senatorial District had good reasons to assume his arraignment before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for allegedly making anticipatory declaration of assets as well as withholding information regarding his assets while he was governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011 and when he became a senator in 2011 was a sort of retribution for a perceived offence.

It was unheard of that that a top-ranking member of the party at the centre would be exposed to public ridicule in that manner. At different times, Saraki was subjected to unbelievable emotional torture including standing in the dock. At another time, his security detail was withdrawn, leaving him vulnerable to assault. His trial witnessed a novelty when it was ordered to proceed day-to-day from 10am to 6pm everyday.

The President of the 8th National Assembly openly declared that he was under pressure to resign from his office when he was under trial, but he resisted the push to allow the law take its full course.

Two years after, the CCT cleared Saraki of charges level against him. In December of 2017, the Court of Appeal ordered Saraki to return to the tribunal and face three of the initial 18-count charge.Saraki, who challenged all the charges at different levels, made a no-case submission at the CCT after the prosecution closed its case.

Following the application of a no-case submission, the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, ruled that the evidences tendered by the prosecution were insufficient to substantiate its charges.

All the counts were thrown out at the Code of Conduct Tribunal in 2017, and the government again appealed the ruling.

The Court of Appeal upheld all but three of the charges, returning them to the Tribunal for retrial.

Rejecting the verdict, Saraki’s legal team appealed at the Supreme Court, insisting that Saraki had no case.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court said the Court of Appeal panel engaged in “forensic somersault” when it held that Saraki should answer three of the charges.

The trial took 1018 days from September 22, 2015 when the case began at the CCT. The Supreme Court verdict was not only a victory to Saraki, the Judiciary came out in glowing colours, while the Presidency also displayed an admirable generousity through Buhari’s attitude to the Supreme Court pronouncement.

In the days ahead, it would be interesting to see how these parties empty the residue of bitterness and allow a fresh flow of magnanimity. Now that the table has surprisingly turned, giving Saraki a vantage position, will he demand his pound of flesh from Buhari? In his quest to return to office in 2019, the President has no choice than to strike a deal with Saraki and his critical faction, the new Peoples Democratic Party.

Commending the country’s judicial system for carrying out its job, despite obvious challenges, President Muhammadu Buhari said no one should be allowed to undermine or break it. Buhari’s statement may be weighed with caution as the opportunistic antic of an old fox that may be considering another conspiracy against Saraki.

“I have seen many instances where individuals and groups seek the destruction of the judicial institution in the foolish thinking of saving their skin, instead of going through the painstaking process of establishing their innocence,” he said.

“In the case of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, I have seen him take the tortuous path of using the judicial process. He persevered, and in the end, the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, says he is not guilty as charged.

“This is what I have done in the three elections in which I was cheated out, before God made it possible for me to come here the fourth time I ran for the office.”

Affirming the CCT verdict of June 2017, which ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the case of false asset declaration against Saraki, the Supreme Court dismissed the three remaining charges.

A five-member panel of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Dattijo Mohammed, condemned the decision of the appeal court to agree with the tribunal in one breath and order Saraki’s return to the CCT in another.

In a decision read by Justice Centus Nweze, the Justices held that the prosecution was duty-bound to produce a witness with a direct links to the evidence.

They said the failure of the prosecution to produce such a witness rendered its case defective.

Describing the decision of the appeal court as a grave error, the Supreme Court ruled that, “This court will not lend its jurisdiction to such a charade and caricature of justice.”

Not surprisingly, the Senate President who always maintained his innocence and viewed the trial as political, said the outcome strengthened his belief in Nigeria as well as his faith in Almighty Allah, who is the righter of all wrongs.

“I have always believed in the infallibility of our Judiciary, secure in the knowledge that our courts – the last refuge of the oppressed – would never condemn the innocent. This outcome is also a vindication of my belief in the rule of law,” he added.

“As I said in my first appearance at the CCT, this is a politically motivated case. The case was trumped up in the first instance because of my emergence as the President of the Senate against the wishes of certain forces. Ordinarily, I doubt anyone would be interested in the asset declaration form I filled over 15 years ago.

“What we have seen is the opposite. Instead of working together in the interest of the nation and to seek to do better for our people, we are fighting one another and using legal instruments to mount baseless accusations against one another.

“Instead of exhibiting the need for unity and working day and night for that purpose, we are stoking the fire of division and rancour. I maintain that, above all else, my CCT trial has been a flagrant vilification of my person, and shows that some people are after their personal interests rather than the national interest.

“As a result of the war of attrition, various arms of government have wasted resources needlessly. It has been three wasted years across board in this country. Three years that would have been devoted to tackling issues affecting Nigerians, including: economic recovery, insecurity, youth unemployment and strengthening national institutions – were wasted on malicious prosecution.

“People were ready to trade off three years that would have been devoted to fostering cooperation, unity and economic progress for their selfish ends. It is my hope that those who are behind my persecution will see the handwriting on the wall and leave me to do the work for which I was elected, so I can continue to give my all to this great country of ours,” Saraki said.