With the latest adjournment to June 15, 2016, of the ongoing trial for an alleged false assets declaration brought against Bukola Saraki, the Senate president, by the code of conduct tribunal (CCT).
Nigerians will have to wait longer to learn whether the embattled former Kwara state governor is guilty as charged, or learn that his ordeal is politically motivated following his emergence as the nation’s number three man against his party’s wishes.
Saraki is on trial on a 13-count charge of false assets declaration, and of improper use of state funds to purchase private assets during his tenure as the Kwara state governor, among others allegations, but some political pundits are of the view that the defendant is being tried by forces in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) whose egos he bruised in the battle for the control of the leadership of the National Assembly.
The crisis which hit the ruling party following the way the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly emerged, contrary to party’s rules, is yet to subside, with inside sources saying that Saraki’s trial was masterminded by the leadership of the APC in a spirit of revenge.
Saraki’s trial has witnessed legal twists and trickery, with several adjournments and counter claims. At one time the Justice Danladi Umar-led panel asked the Senate president to report to the court at 10am daily, and the accused attended proceedings with over 80 loyal senators, which was highly dramatised in the media.
Anti-corruption crusaders are saying that the case is dovetailing into a silent phase as many Nigerians who have been following it since the beginning have lost interest and accepted that the matter will die a natural death like similar cases before it.
“As a legal practitioner, I totally frown at the entire procedure of the case, because it does not have any head way, more so that it lacks fair hearing. No fair hearing is given to the defendant and his team of lawyers,” Dotun Hassan, the president of the Yoruba Council of Youths (YCY), told NAIJ.com
He said that Saraki’s case has been faulty from the outset, and that there is no sense of sincerity in the trial, while expressing disappointment that Nigerians are not carried along by it.
According to Hassan, the fact that the chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, himself has a case before the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) should have been grounds to disqualify him from presiding over any case, particularly one that is corruption related.
“He who must come to equity must come with a clean hand. What then happens if the equity itself is not clean? The chairman has a bad record, if not ongoing. Therefore, he is not in the right position to be the judge in this case. In a real sense, this case supposed to be an EFCC’s case and not CCT. The ongoing case has put a question mark on every legal issue in the country.
“The ongoing issue is making mess of our democracy, ridiculing the nation before the world. What about President Buhari who was said to have declared his assets? It was later discovered that all the assets were not fully declared. Did the CCT say anything about that? Nigerians are no longer interested in Saraki’s case as they have been hit by the recession in the country. The ongoing case from my perspective will be swept under the carpet, hence dying a natural death. The case should have been ended by the Supreme Court,” he said.
Hassan alleged that a section of the APC is seeking Saraki’s head for clinching the top Senate seat, which had been exclusively reserved for the Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN)-arm of the party, since the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has the seat of the president, and the Saraki-led New Peoples Democratic Party (NPDP) were not considered for any top seat.
“So Saraki played smart one on the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu interest, which was a great blow on the ego of the Party’s National Leader, hence the premeditated nemesis of persecution in the CCT. The perceived fight is against PDP-led mouthpieces and strong men that could pose a huge political threat of opposition against the obnoxious policies of the government. The fight has earned us dreaded economic recession and political quagmire,” he said.
Sources close to the leadership of the APC confided with this author that Saraki’s corruption trial will continue to whither away gradually until Nigerians forget about it, Saraki having used his growing influence in the red chamber to tighten his position.
According to the sources, since party members loyal to leaders whose toes Saraki stepped on to obtain the Senate presidency vowed to ridicule him and Aso Rock’s silence by engineering his travail at the CCT, the Senate president decided to flex his muscles with the APC by holding the presidency to ransom over the 2016 budget.
“It was opportunity for Saraki to make a statement that he cannot be override easily as the nation’s number three citizen. Politics is a matter of interest and relevance and 2016 appropriation provided an ample opportunity for Saraki to show the party how relevant he is now. The leaders of the party are reaching compromise. But Saraki has also proven faithful to the party by sticking with it despite his travail,” one of the sources told NAIJ.com.
Olu Fasan, a political economist and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, told NAIJ.com that it would appear the Saraki case is too much of a political hot potato, and may be kicked into the long grass, continuing for so long that it becomes redundant.
“Of course, Saraki has every right to exploit legal loopholes and delay hearing of the substantive issues. But it is up to the judges to prevent this if they see it as an abuse of court process. But do not trust Nigerian judges to deal dispassionately with cases of a political nature as this one.
“If APC is using the allegation to seek Saraki’s obedience it is too late now. The only obeisance that the APC leadership wants is to reverse the situation in the Senate with respect to the leadership of the upper house. But they cannot achieve that. Even if Saraki wants to oblige, he cannot because he is beholden to the opposition party PDP members who helped him to become president of the red chamber. The truth is that Saraki will win at last,” he said.
According to Fasan, since the 2019 general election is around the corner, the APC has to worry whether it can win in Kwara and Kogi states where Saraki still has a lot of influence. He explained that if the APC tries to be difficult now, it may be Saraki’s turn to exact his own pound of flesh when the party needs him.
“I am not sure whether there is a deal struck between APC and Saraki, but it’s a game of cat and mouse, and everyone knows that the endgame may create losers and no winners. But I still believe Saraki has the upper hand. He can, at some point, return to the PDP, and that would hurt the APC.
“Driven by political considerations as this one has been, obviously we need independent judges, who also have a sense of public policy; that is, who know that corruption is a crime against the Nigerian people, and so are prepared to deal with corruption cases speedily, without fear or favour,” said Olu Fasan.
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