Senate President, Bukola Saraki is presently undergoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over an allegation of asset declaration fraud and as we are all aware, by the law of the land, Saraki remains innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law.
Many have queried the CCB for adjudging Saraki’s asset declaration in 2004, 2009 and 2011 as ‘proper’ and ‘in order’ only to suddenly woke up to fault the same record soon after Saraki became the Senate President in 2015.
The fact that the CCB waited for 13 years to question his asset declaration process justifies the suspicion and accusations coming for Saraki’s camp. Thus, some of his supporters conclude that his trial is a clear case of political persecution. They actually went further to allege that those calling for Senate President’s resignation are being sponsored by those who were against his ascendancy to the throne in the first instance.
On the contrary, others have contended that the wheel of justice usually grinds slowly and ask to know when a crime becomes a virtue because of the passage of time and assumed the garb of political persecution. They maintain that even when a case of political vendetta is established, it will not be enough for Nigerians to ignore the criminal case recently compounded by the Panama papers which have led to the resignation of the Icelandic Prime Minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson.
Consequently, the Senate President’s decision to jump from court to court in order to stop his case from proceeding at CCT has aroused suspicions and made him seem guilty to many Nigerians. They ask: After all if has no skeleton in his cupboard, why striving to avoid prosecution, particularly when money is not the problem. At least, he could afford the service of ninety Senior Advocates of Nigeria!
Thus, it looks absurd to discerning minds for Saraki and his co-travelers to believe that the calibre of an eminent lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, Senator Kabiru Marafa, CSOs led by Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Professor Ishaq Akintola-led Muslim Rights Council (MURIC), Babatunde Fasanya-led Change Monitor (CM) and other prominent Nigerians across the length and breadth of the country (including social media) calling for the resignation of Saraki are being sponsored by politicians who has always opposed his leadership since his emergence as the Senate President last June.
This alibi will be more compelling if Saraki lawyers could tell the CCT that his trial is indeed a form of political persecution launched by persons who are unhappy with his political successes. In proofing that to court, all his lawyers should need to do is to present the Twitter and Facebook responses to Saraki’s recent posts as exhibits.
Comically, one of Saraki’s advocates reasoned that former US President, Bill Clinton was also charged with perjury in 1998 after he denied having sexual relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky and allowed to go scot free, but he and his teammates chose to ignore the case of Guatemalan President, Otto Perez who resigned after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest to face corruption charges.
They also forgot to cite the cases of Rep. Aaron Schock, a 33-year-old Illinois Republican who resigned after he came under fire for using tax payers money to decorate his office and for billing his campaign for flights on private jets or that of Senator Dean Skelos; long-time Long Island Republican majority leader, who stepped down as Senate majority leader after being hit with federal corruption charges.
The same advocates could not remind their patron of Ashok Chavan, the chief minister of the central Maharashtra state and Suresh Kamalu who resigned from their high-profile posts amid corruption allegations and for the messy preparations for a Commonwealth Games.
In a civilised society, the most honorable option for Saraki, having undertaken to prove his innocence at the Code of Conduct Tribunal is to resign as the Senate President in order to preserve the integrity of the National Assembly.
Of course many may want to contest whether the Senate actually has any integrity to protect, after all, going by the shady deals and crooked ways that characterised the emergence of its leadership and how members have abandoned their constitutional duties to solidarise with Saraki at the CCT proceedings, in addition to passing a vote of confidence in him despite corruption allegations.
Saraki should have seen the hand of God on the wall beckoning on him to resign honorably. Or why would the revelation of internal data from the Panama-based offshore-provider, Mossack Fonseca come to light at this turbulent period.
Why, for God’s sake, would the information obtained by the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) surface at this moment. Could that also have been the doing of his political opponents, albeit international?
As the trial commenced, SaharaReporters conducted a Twitter poll asking Nigerians whether or not Mr. Saraki should resign. An overwhelming 74 percent wanted the Senate President to step down, while only 12 percent disagreed.14 percent did not care. Over 3000 Twitter users participated in the poll. If, as claimed by the Senate President’s loyalists, Nigerians are truly being sponsored to demand Saraki’s resignation, then such sponsors must have a large war chest and enormous influence.
Could it equally be said that hundreds of negative responses from Nigerian social media users that trailed Saraki’s claim he was “happy that the trial has commenced” after long delay must have been sponsored by the same people who are unhappy with his emergency as Senate President?
The support so far given to Saraki by the lawmakers, from massive attendance at CCT sittings and the passage of Vote of Confidence deserve a critical review. Since Legislative independence should not be mistaken for legislative rascality and criminality, it should, therefore, be the responsibility of the Senators to protect the integrity of the Senate by doing the needful, even if Saraki refuses to tow the integrity path.
The underscoring viewpoint of our legal system is that an accused person is presumed innocent until found guilty. The law does not convict people who are presumed guilty but convicts only those found guilty.
So, if Saraki harps on this and insists on staying on against all odds because of his claim that the clamour for his resignation is part of the shenanigans of his political enemies, it should be the responsibility of the Senators to start the impeachment process if indeed, they wish to protect the integrity and assert the independence of the Senate. However, if the senators also refuse to do the needful, one can only remind them that Nigeria masses always get what they want.
The world is watching!
By Ibrahim Ola Balogun, a policy analyst, social commentator and blogger.