Sunday, 24 April 2016
By Evaristus Bassey
It is probably true that Dr. Bukola Saraki is being ‘persecuted’ for daring to be Senate President without the consent of his party leaders. Regarding himself as one of the henchmen, he didn’t see the need to defer to someone else what he could assign to himself. Those of us in the civil society had organized ourselves under the auspices of Situation Room, and went immediately to congratulate him and (Yakubu) Dogara, the Speaker, House of Representatives, because we wanted to support the independence of the legislature; the legislature must be free to elect her officials without undue interference. Nigerians must support the legislature to stand, having been the whipping boy of all coup d’etat in Nigeria. A good legislature at all levels would ensure the stability of our democracy if it has the temerity and the capacity to carry out its oversight functions properly.
Saraki has demonstrated that he is on top of his job. Even as an ordinary senator he exposed the cabal behind the subsidy scam, and now as senate president, has ensured Nigeria was not shortchanged because of Treasury Single Account,TSA, remittances, and exposed the flaws in the 2016 budget. Saraki is an effective senate president and quite ready to lead the oversight functions entrusted to the senate. The vibes Nigerians are receiving is that it is not merely a question of occupying an office, which was meant for someone else and yet performing well in it, Saraki’s troubles are also a preemptive strike against any future ambition to be president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Saraki has done his best to fight back, going up to the Supreme Court. The court says he has a case to answer at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Now that the trial has commenced, it would be a great opportunity to make his defense. I doubt if the case of a wrong precedent would still be invoked, where the expectation seems to be that since Tinubu was freed on grounds that he was not invited by the Code of Conduct Bureau to make clarifications concerning his asset declarations before being taken to the CCT, the same must hold for Saraki. If, as the chairman of the CCT himself has admitted, it was a wrong judgment, since criminal matters are not statute-barred, would the case be reopened against Tinubu ? Unfortunately only the attorney general may be able to do this, and with Tinubu as leader of the ruling party, only an insane AG might follow this up. It simply means that Saraki is on his own in this matter. The consolation is that the charges do not appear to be trumped up but actually emanate from forms he filled by himself. These forms were supposed to be filled under oath and ordinarily true to fact.
Nigerians are used to swearing all kinds of affidavits. They cost two for a penny. Many Nigerians have different age declarations and all kinds of false declarations, and these have become part of what we Nigerians treat with extreme levity.
Of course, Saraki does not intend to resign as senate president despite the fresh leaks from the Panama Papers. I would have been in shock if he did. We have built a society in which honour is rare and shame is scarce; we have so blurred the lines that our children do not know anymore when they cross from right to wrong and vice versa; we have taught everyone that wealth is righteousness, so Saraki must be feeling very aggrieved at this ‘injustice’ done to him and expects our sympathies, even warning us to beware of point-men whom intelligence had revealed were planning fake protest marches against him. As it is, if he is convicted, he would make history as the first senate president to be so convicted by any court or tribunal.
But beyond Saraki, the government of PMB needs to make verification of assets a rule rather than the exception. It does seem that it is common place to make anticipatory declarations among office holders; so is ICPC or EFCC empowered enough to support the CCB to carry out a massive verification of the claims of public servants, beginning from public officials elected or appointed since 1999? While Saraki must face justice to the end, singling him out for now, must only be a test case of a tsunami that must sweep across our public strata.
If only those in public office would invest monies they took from our coffers back here in Nigeria and create jobs for our teeming unemployed youths, it would mitigate the impact of public theft. Sadly, these monies are transferred to other economies to enrich them, only for us to go and borrow money from these countries. I once sat with a man on my way to London who claimed he worked at the Nigerian embassy in London at a time General Sani Abacha came asking for help to keep his loot in the U.K but was advised against it and he had to head to North Korea, shortly after he became head of state. I don’t know how true this claim is, but it is possible that some of our money is in China, Vietnam, North Korea, etc. We didn’t even know Abacha took so much until he was out of the way; you wonder then how much those who are alive today stashed away, because nobody has dared to investigate them, not counting our various governors and ministers, military generals, and chief executives of government agencies.
The good thing with the present government is that public officers are conscious of the prying eyes of law enforcement agencies and whatever we may think of this government, it is a major step for Nigeria that financial recklessness has reduced among high office holders who hitherto thought that the commonwealth was their personal estate, although these advancements are mostly at the federal level. As for Saraki, thanks to Jonathan who signed the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, so whatever rigmaroles would be played out, will not last for eternity.
After Saraki, as a way of national reconciliation and transformation, we expect a full-scale verification of the asset declarations of past and present high officials of state, including directors of federal ministries, who I understand suffer from some of the worst infections of the kleptomaniac bug. Those who are able to return the loot or assets should be let free, since corruption was a very normal part of our culture and they may not have thought seriously about the consequences of what they were doing.
• Fr. Bassey works at the Catholic Secretariat.
The article first appeared on The Guardian