If nothing else, the ongoing trial of the Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu over charges of criminal conspiracy and alleged forgery of the Nigerian Senate Standing Rules, 2015, speaks directly to the fouled political atmosphere in the country, tainted by its origins in intrigues and clash of ambitions. Both Saraki and Ekweremadu appeared before Justice Halilu Yusuf of the Federal High Court in Abuja and were granted bail. The trial has been set for July 11, two days before a July 13 Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) ruling on a motion filed by Saraki in his other trial on alleged false declaration of assets. The depressing spectacle of the nation’s number three citizen sitting inside a wooden cage labelled “Accused Box” like a petty criminal is another embarrassing verdict on Nigeria’s poor democratic credentials and a huge disservice to the country. This is an unmistakable act of judicial imbecility and a national embarrassment that is disgraceful and totally unacceptable and must not be allowed to continue. But for reasons of decency, self-respect, propriety, and consideration for best practices in public office, Saraki should resign his office.
The headache that this issue has unleashed on the relationship between the executive and the legislative arms of government is indeed lamentable. In a statement after their court appearance, Saraki reiterated his accusation that the Buhari administration is orchestrating a witch-hunt against the Senate leadership. “…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 is 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?” Saraki noted that “there is now a government within the government of President Buhari who have 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 Presidency in a belated and tepid response by Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity) discounted Saraki’s accusation as “ridiculous and preposterous” saying Saraki failed to identify those who constituted the “government within the government” hence the issue remains within “the realm of fiction and mere conjecture.” Obviously, the last is yet to be heard in this unfolding tragic-comedy of errors. If anything, the statement from the Presidency only vindicates Saraki, whose legal troubles have overshadowed and undermined the smooth functioning of the upper legislative chamber. Now that the battle lines have been drawn over what portends to be an imminent constitutional crisis, Nigerians cannot help but wonder whether in the perking order of priorities, the so-called forgery of Senate rules should be pre-occupying the President at a time when 27 of the 36 states are unable to pay their workers’ salaries.
Honestly, the Presidency’s obsession with the Senate leadership election has not only impugned Saraki’s integrity; it has brought opprobrium upon the high office of President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which he occupies, and by extrapolation, the entire nation, thereby aggravating the national shame. Keen observers have been wondering what manner of a country would allow a man to be shuttling from the lofty seat of Senate President to the dock. All level headed Nigerians must feel a sense of shame and outrage by such contrived humiliation of a man who incarnates state authority and state institutions.
Against the backdrop of Saraki’s other trial at the CCT, this latest trial, even if not meant to victimize Saraki as has been submitted, hints, at the very least, at inappropriate and wrong timing. The standing view is that the executive is trying to emasculate the legislative branch of government, to remove the leadership of the legislature. The Senate has insisted that its 2015 Standing Rule was never forged and remains a legal and valid document that had been authenticated by the upper chamber since its second day of inauguration in 2015. In a unanimously adopted motion sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi), the Senate described as unfortunate attempts by the executive arm of government to muzzle the legislature and make it an appendage of the executive.
Meanwhile, Saraki has tried, through his lawyers, to stop his trial, but the courts, including the Supreme Court, have all ruled that he should have his day in court. This is fair enough. He has also emphatically stated that he would rather go to jail than resign. This again is reasonable, but he must reconsider this position. Granted that, in the context of the rule of law that underpins democracy, Section 36 of the Constitution confers on accused persons the rights of fair hearing and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty; it is worth-noting that Section 23 lists “integrity” as a national ethic. The oath of office of a member of the National Assembly which Saraki took; concludes with the commitment, on oath, to “abide by the Code of Conduct contained in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution…”
All this raises the fundamental issue of personal integrity and public trust which underlines leadership. Public trust is earned with personal integrity and this is to say that no one, whose integrity is in doubt, should hold public office. Indeed, high office such as the Senate Presidency is preeminently, a place of moral leadership. These are less matters of law and far more matters of morality. Perhaps, the ulterior motive behind all these trials is to force Saraki out of the office. But if Saraki really cares for his name now and in the future, if he has any esteem for the Senate he heads, and of Nigeria, his fatherland, he should vacate his office, and send a strong message that his personal ambitions and interests are not above the good of the country.
For this reason, he should resign and save from further denigration, his person, his office, the National Assembly and the Nigerian people. Resigning might be seen as capitulation yet, he owes himself this sacrifice as a way of claiming the moral high ground. This is not just about law; it is the supreme act of statesmanship and love for one’s country and proof of patriotism that will inscribe his name in gold in the political history of Nigeria. By resigning, Saraki would show that Nigeria’s political culture has come of age and upon the establishment of his innocence, Nigerians and the country he is so determined to serve and lead will not forget his sacrifice. Hanging on would only further erode his personal stature and portray him as just another self-seeking politician driven by naked ambition and the spoils of office.