THESE are not the best of times for Bukola Saraki, Senate President and chairman of the so-called 8th National Assembly that has done virtually nothing about its law-making responsibilities, but has continued to rip Nigerians off collecting huge allowances for practically sitting on its palm and watching the sun go down each day since it was inaugurated last June.
Mr. Saraki’s National Assembly has spent more time on recess than in the chambers of the Assembly, no thanks to the leadership struggle that has bedeviled the place since the intrigue that brought Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, his counterpart in the House of Representatives, into office.
As if that was not enough, Saraki has now been dragged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for failure to fully declare his assets as required of elected officers.
For failing to appear before the CCT on the day slated for hearing the case against him, chairman of the CCT, Justice Danladi Umar, has ordered the arrest of Saraki via a bench warrant that the police claims it is yet to receive. Saraki has himself taken the preemptive action, through his counsel, Joseph Daudu, of challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to hear his case.
Saraki’s latest troubles started on the rather fateful day of September 11, 2015, when the Federal Government filed a 13-count charge against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Among other infractions, Saraki was accused of failure to declare ownership of properties on choice locations in Lagos and Abuja.
These include property on Plot 2A, Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos; Plot 2482, Cadastral Zone A06 at No. 1 Tagus Street, Maitama, Abuja and Plot 2481, Cadastral Properties Limited at No. 3 Tagus Street, also in Maitama, Abuja. Although Saraki is also required to declare his assets as part of the process leading on to his election as two-time senator before his election as senate president, the infraction for which he is being called to account now dates back to his terms as governor of Kwara State.
Which means Saraki has been required to declare and must have declared his assets a number of times since he made the declaration that is now proving troublesome for him.
This cannot but lead to the reasonable question of what the Federal Government, or more appropriately, what the Code of Conduct Bureau has been doing all this while asking no questions of Saraki? Did they just wake up to the realisation that the man didn’t make full disclosure when he declared his assets years back as governor of Kwara State?
Or is the CCB like the Economic and Financial Crime Commission that has suddenly woken up from its deep slumber and is now going after its prey after years of ignoring them under the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan- is the CCB like the EFCC merely doing the ‘eye-service’ of supporting the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s fight against corruption? What was this body doing all this while, Nigerians would be asking?
In a country where the rumour mill is never silent and where conspiracy theories are not in short supply- in fact they are the first refuge of scoundrels with houses not just cupboards full of skeletons- in such a country like ours where meanings are quickly read into actions no matter the merit of such actions, people have been peddling stories of Bukola Saraki being a victim of persons more powerful than him in the polity.
High on the conspiracy list is the president, Muhammadu Buhari who has been accused of showing barely-concealed disdain for Saraki’s leadership of the National Assembly. First to tow this line of argument is the Peoples Democratic Party, whose spokesperson, Olisa Metuh, himself under serious accusations of corruption by members of his own party, has accused the Buhari presidency of despotism bordering on a desire to annex the powers of the legislative arm of government, and disdain for the principle of separation of powers.
The reason the PDP would argue in this fashion is not difficult to see. It all dates back to the self-same intrigue that brought Saraki, a member of the All Progressives Congress, into office with the active connivance of his erstwhile comrades in the PDP, his former party. This was against the position of his party that had names of other party members penciled down for the leadership of the National Assembly. The APC therefore demanded their resignation to no avail. While the party was able to reach a compromise with Dogara at the House, the situation in the Senate has since been deadlocked with no solution.
Buhari like other leaders of the APC has in principle refused to recognise the leadership of the Senate ever since, insisting that Saraki must tow the party line. This is the brief story behind the finger-pointing by the PDP in the latest case against Saraki. It is just one step away from the claims of other internet warriors that have manipulated Bola Tinubu, another leader of the APC, as being responsible for Saraki’s troubles. While the CCB has to be seen for the hypocrite it is for turning a blind eye to Saraki’s alleged failure to comply fully with the demands of the body, we should not be blind to the facts of the matter.
These are best summed up by the following question: is Saraki at fault or not? In other words, did Bukola Saraki hold back facts about the ownership of the properties in question?
Since the effect of the law for failure in this instance is not time-barred, since there is no specific limit to when charges can be filed, what Bukola Saraki should do is show that he did not own the properties attributed to him at the time he was supposed to be their owner. Perhaps, he does not even own any such properties in the afore-mentioned locations and has probably never been to those places.
All he needs to do, and which his counsel who has promised to produce him before Justice Umar had his plea to the tribunal to set aside its warrant of arrest been accepted- what Mr. Daudu and other supporters of Saraki ought to tell him, is that he should first of all clear his name rather than allowing opposition party members to politicise a serious matter of law.
Saraki and Buhari or even Bola Tinubu may not see eye to eye on the question of who leads the National Assembly but that cannot and should not be the explanation he has to offer for the charges levelled against him. He should in the first instance prove his bonafides and take on his accusers on the point of law by proving his innocence before launching any claim of a witch-hunt against his person or interest.