PMB, APC and a Hounded Senate President, By Olukayode Thomas
The actions and body language of President Muhammudu Buhari since he assumed office on May 29, 2015, seems to confirm former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s postulation about him shortly after he was sworn in. Atiku told reporters then that Buhari is a good leader but ‘he may not be a politician’.
While being a good leader is good, combining good leadership with good political skills make a better leader. Buhari, no doubt, is high on integrity, but he has shown in the last few weeks that he needs aides who are well versed in the art and science of political wisdom which is needed to govern a diverse nation like Nigeria to succeed.
Buhari’s lack of political skills have resulted in the mismanagement of many sensitive national issues, unguarded statements which have led to avoidable criticisms, and the heating up of the polity on an issue he could easily have resolved through a phone call.
In the last few days, those with ears to the political ground, especially in Abuja, are aware of the news making the rounds that senators from the PDP states are planning to block the clearance of ministerial nominees from their states when the president submits his list at the end of the month.
At least two senators, out of three from a particular state, must back a ministerial nominee before his appointment can be confirmed.
If two or three Senators from a particular state reject a nominee, the Senate will have to turn him or her down, and only the President of the Senate can overrule them, like it happened in the case of Musiliu Obanikoro. When the Senators from Lagos rejected Obanikoro‘s nomination, the then Senate President, David Mark, used his veto power to overrule them.
There were also insinuations that Saraki, because a majority of PDP Senators voted for him to become the Senate President may likely not use his veto power to overrule the senators from PDP states, should they decline to support the president’s ministerial nominees.
Whether this is true or is just a rumour being spread by rabble-rousers to widen the gulf between Buhari and Saraki is still unclear.
But in a situation like the above, a politically suave president and leaders of the APC would call Saraki and brief him on the importance of getting the president’s nominees approved without embarrassment to either the president or the party; and I doubt if he will do otherwise.
But beneficiaries of the current crisis within the party, especially those with the view that Saraki’s presidency of the Senate is a threat to their ambition to rule the country in 2019, in case Buhari does not seek a second term and 2023, and if he does, believe getting Saraki arrested and locked up is the best solution.
They drag him before the Code of Conduct Bureau for failing to declare some assets he acquired while in office as governor and operating foreign accounts.
Saraki who faced about five or six similar charges since he became the Senate President, including one against his wife dismissed the charges as “false and frivolous”.
He maintained that he has consistently declared his assets as required by law at every point before resuming any political office and that of 2015 is not an exception.
While the prosecution of the number three man in the land on any charge at all is good for the society, as it will send a clear signal that the government of the day will not tolerate corruption and the culture of impunity which is killing the country, yet the way he is being hounded and persecuted is sending a wrong signal that this government has no respect for the rule of law. Let facts speak. The Code of Conduct Bureau edict stipulates that once assets are declared, they must be investigated, verified and ascertained immediately.
Saraki, as Governor of Kwara State, declared his assets in 2003, CCB did not raise an objection then; he repeated the exercise in 2007 when he was re-elected and 2011 as well, there was no complaint; and recently when he was re-elected Senator, he also declared his assets. The CCB has not even queried his latest declaration, so why go way back to 2003, many years after it was supposed to have queried it?
Why was Saraki not notified of the inconsistencies in his assets declaration forms before charging him to court as stipulated by law?
The CCB Act stipulates that prosecution must be authorised by the Attorney General of the Federation, so why not wait for an Attorney General to be appointed before commencing the prosecution? Why the haste? Then add the fact that the tenure of the Umar-led CCB board expired since April 2015, one cannot but conclude that mischief makers are at work.
When a Federal High Court ordered that all parties involved in the case should appear before it, one would expect the CCB that waited for twelve years before opening Saraki’s case file to at least wait a few more days, but instead of obeying the court order, the Tribunal chose to disregard the order of the presiding judge. Danladi Umar argued that the absence of the AGF does not stop the filing of a criminal charge and that the Federal High Court has the same jurisdiction with it, and hence, it is not bound by its ruling.
But those who know better have dismissed Umar’s claim. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), former NBA President, has faulted his claim that his court is at par with the Federal High Court.
According to him, “The Code of Conduct Bureau is not a superior court; it is an inferior court and because it is an inferior court, it is amenable to the judicial review jurisdiction of a superior court of record like the Federal High Court”. Another legal giant, Ebun Adegboruwa, described Umar’s action as an assault on the rule of law.
He said, “It will amount to total anarchy for the parties affected by an order to decide whether or not to obey the order. So, to that extent, the bench warrant issued against the Senate President is ultra vires, it has no place in law and cannot be enforced, because if the order of the High Court to the tribunal was not enforced, also the bench warrant of the tribunal to the Senate President cannot be enforced. You cannot use wrong to achieve a right”.
More embarrassing to Saraki persecutors is Umar’s antecedents; a government whose cardinal programme is war against corruption is putting it credibility on the line by allowing a judge tainted with allegations of corruption to be associated with its anti-corruption war. It is on record that Umar snubbed EFCC invitations on several occasions when invited to answer questions on allegations of corruption which included but was not limited to demanding the sum of N10 million from one Taiwo Rasheed, a retired comptroller of customs, who was being prosecuted at the time by the CCT for failing to declare his assets while in office. Saraki’s prosecution, which many believe is hounding and persecution, is an embarrassment to President Buhari and APC in so many ways.
A few months ago, APC leaders were defending Saraki against these allegations that they are using to hound him today when former President Goodluck Jonathan levied the same allegations against him. By trying Saraki for allegations they defended a few months ago, they are telling us they are not credible and should not be believed.
Saraki’s supporters claim that he is being hounded and persecuted is further given credence by the fact that only Saraki has been singled out for prosecution on about five different occasions since Buhari became President.
Although Sanusi Lamido Sanusi provided evidence that about $20 billion was stolen and he named names, those he named have not been invited for questioning by EFCC, much less charged to court. We have heard about the list of thieves, those who abused the import waivers for rice and other agricultural products, the huge fraud in NNPC, NIMASA, Nigerian Railways Corporation, Ministry of Defence and several government agencies, but nobody has been charged to court.
There have been countless revelations about a South-West Governor and a South-South Governor which probably truncated their chances of being appointed minsters, yet they have not even been invited for questioning.
The party flag bearer and would be flag bearer in the upcoming governorship election in two states have cases in court that border on corruption, yet they got the party ticket to be flag bearers.
While one is not advocating against prosecution of corrupt officials, but the way the government is prosecuting Saraki without following due process gives credence to insinuations that he is being hounded and persecuted because he dared contest and become the Senate President against the wish of an APC leader in the South West who has now vowed to use the state machinery to hound him out of office.
Buhari must not pretend that he is unaware of these shenanigans. He must put his foot down and urge all parties to obey the rule of law. Anything short will mean his endorsement of Saraki’s persecution by some APC leaders for becoming Senate President when he said it repeatedly that he will not interfere in who became the Senate President.
As an honourable man, Buhari’s word should be his bond.
Olukayode Thomas, a two time CNN African Journalist of the Year Award, writes from Lagos.