Alone In The Middle Of Nowhere …The Plight Of A Senate President


For a Nigerian of his clout, pedigree, position and popularity, not many imagined that Senate President, Bukola Saraki would be an object of Judicial ping-pong played by men and women who naturally should sing to him, ‘Kabiyesi’ on daily basis. As head of the Nigerian Senate, the Upper Chamber of the Legislative arm, Saraki is presumed to be the Number three citizen.
In that capacity, should the President and his vice, either on account of a court judgment, ill-health or incapacitation, vacate offices, Saraki will emerge as President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. Such is the man’s measure of influence in Nigeria’s political equation today. But is it?
Interestingly, since he emerged as Senate President, albeit as an unanoninted one by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), signs that his would be a caretakerous reign has been obvious.
Senior members of his party have at various times described his emergence as a political coup. Some others described it as betrayal and unholy connivance with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to undermine the APC’s political offices zoning formula.
Saraki was indeed of a PDP background. He was a two-term governor of Kwara State under the PDP and proceeded to the Senate as a PDP Senator four years ago. He was not of the heritage parties that originally formed the APC, namely, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Conference of Progressive Change (CPC). The splinter group of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and defectors from PDP are presumed to be second class citizens, unless one has the required financial muscle and politicial clout to bulldoze one’s way into political relevance, as did Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
In the case of Saraki, who under this dispensation that ushered Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as President, was a Senator, could pride himself as one of the forces that delivered Kwara, a PDP State to APC. Also, being a former governor in the Senate, he believed and still believes that he is eminently qualified to become President of the Senate.
So, while the APC’s hierarchy was busy savouring the emphoria of victory over a ruling party, Saraki and a few members of the APC ganged-up and elected officers of the Senate with Saraki emerging as President, to the anger of the party leadership.
There are today 60 APC Senators and 49 PDP Senators. This means with only 6 APC Senators supporting Saraki together with the PDP Crop, no amount of election can unseat Saraki because, in the case of removal by vote, APC would require two/thirds majority which can never happen.
The APC leadership knew this but repeatedly threatened to unseat him, although they kept the process of such removal close to their chest. They merely left the opposition party and indeed the press guessing how Saraki’s fall would be actualised.
That was why, when the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) found faults with Saraki’s assets declaration, while as Governor of Kwara, and was ordered to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) many Nigerians believed that it was indeed one of the processes designed by the APC leadership, to teach Saraki a lesion. Saraki thought so too, and ran to the High Court to stop the trial before the CCT.
One of his arguments before the court was that only the Attorney General of the Federation could authorise such prosecution, and since at the time, President Buhari was yet to appoint Ministers, his arraignment was unlawful. But the court saw it otherwise, forcing Saraki to appeal the judgment of the lower court at the Court of Appeal.
Prior to the screening of ministerial nominees, some Senators flew the kite that the confirmation hearings would not be business as usual. That position many thought was going to be Saraki’s bargaining chip and force the Presidency to at least play ball, by calling the CCB to order, while the Senate allows the President’s men easy passage to confirmation.
Infact, when the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara and Saraki met with Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa, prior to the ministerial screening, Nigerians concluded that Saraki’s problems might well be over.
The easy passage of most of the President’s men, was also attributed to an imaginary truce reached between Buhari and leaders of the Legislative arm. That public mindset also placed so much hope on the Appeal Court to upturn the lower court’s decision in Saraki’s favour, and put to permanent rest the embarrassment of the country’s No. 3 citizen. But when the Appeal Court finally gave its judgment, it went against Saraki and indeed all expectations.
With that victory, the CCT quickly dusted its files and ordered Saraki back to the tribunal, this time, not even Saraki’s lawyers’ information that the matter was before the Supreme Court, could stop the CCT from doing its work.
From the confidence exuded by the CCT, the force of character demonstrated all through the process and the doggedness of the prosecution, it is most unlikely that the tribunal does not enjoy the total approval of the Commander-In-Chief.
This is because, most Nigerian institutions, be they anti-crime or anti-corruption, work according to the body language of the leadership. Non-interference means approval and that could make such structures do the unimaginable.
That is indeed why Special Adviser to the President on Media, Femi Adesina’s initial explanation, that President Buhari could not interfere with the operations of the CCB as a stereotype and not a convincing piece of denial. If Buhari wanted to save Saraki, it is simple. Order them to withdraw charges of false declaration of assets against the Senate President.
But the CCT last week confirmed that it meant business when, it insisted on trial of the Senate President, whether or not that matter was before the Supreme Court, whether or not Saraki’s lawyers withdrew from defending him. Instead, the tribunal gave Saraki about a week to look for other legal representatives, meaning, the trial must go on.
By now, it should dawn on Saraki that he is alone in the wilderness; that has clandestine support for easy passage of the President’s nominees is no guarantee against the CCT and that the plot to remove him as Senate President by hook or crook, is as real as daylight.
The question now, without sounding prejudicial, is, what if, like the lower court and the Appeal Court, the Supreme Court rejects Saraki’s request to halt the trial before the CCT? What happens to the Senate President in the hands of a CCT that would surely be better emboldened by such judgement? Then, could the presence of the Senators who usually accompanied him to the tribunal stop the CCT members from ordering their Senate President into the accused box?
What happens in the event of a conviction? These are mere questions picturing a worse case scenario and not necessarily predicting the legal outcome of Saraki’s judicial travails.
Truth  is, Saraki is alone and should know so early enough. He must not depend on the assurances of any one but pursue his defence as purposefully as possible.
For, it would amount to living in a fool’s paradise, an illusion of grandeur if Saraki believes that he would come out of this turbulent judicial voyage unruffled. The only way to get out of it is to secure assurance from his silent, even faceless persecutors, if his resignation as Senate President could be his Visa to peace. Without that, there are valid fears that in the end of the CCT trials Nigerians would witness the fall of a Senate President.
A worse case scenario is conviction with or without an option of fine. That means a Senate President, an ex-convict who cannot be a Senator unless pardoned by the same President who already has registered his reluctance to interfere with the work of the CCT.
Where would such a scenario leave the nation’s Senate? Would not there arise another Saraki with at least 6 APC Senators to combine with the 49 of the PDP and still defy the APC leadership? In such circumstance, and should such an actor be without sins, how can we have a united Senate, required to address the nation’s many challenges, in law-making and exercise of over-sight on the executive arm?
My Agony is that Saraki still believes, and strongly too that, the regular courts could help avert the impending CCT trial and all will be well. That means he really does not appreciate the forces he is up against. Now is the time to explore political solution to his travails because the judicial option may not be fool-proof and or pleasant in the end. In the United States, may be, but not here in Nigeria.