BY OUR CORRESPONDENT
The stupidest question in the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki is whether or not it is politically motivated. The obvious answer is yes, but the obvious answer is not the whole answer, nor even the sensible one.
It was Saraki’s own politics that got him into this hole and he owes himself the favour of confronting the truth: his defiance of his party’s choice of candidates for the leadership of the Senate was bound to have consequences, for which he should have been prepared.
Of course, the initial confusion in the All Progressives Congress about who gets what didn’t help matters. In the circumstance, Saraki’s ambition to become Senate president was legitimate.
In pursuing it, however, he obviously believed he had the sympathy of the rump of former Peoples Democratic Party members who felt hard done by after the first wave of post-elections power sharing arrangement left the new PDP club of ex-governors, the All Nigeria Peoples Party and the All Progressives Grand Alliance in the cold.
The Congress for Progressive Change had produced the president and the Action Congress of Nigeria had produced the vice president. The new PDP felt it had to grab its own place or lose it forever.
Saraki was the arrowhead.
The first mistake he made was to assume that he could be Aminu Tambuwal all over again, and get away with it. Many things conspired to pave the way for Tambuwal’s rebellion, but its success encouraged a series of other rebellions from which an incompetent PDP leadership never fully recovered.
The APC clearly wanted to avoid that mistake. Saraki underestimated the response of interests within his own party who were determined to prevent a Tambuwal gamble and all its consequences. That misreading was a costly mistake. He could still have won. If he had allowed his colleagues and party members, who had been diverted, to return before voting on June 9, I suspect that he would still have won.
Of course, the APC would have been justifiably outraged that he was still in bed with the PDP. But he would have saved himself this prolonged misery, and his party the embarrassment of the half-man-half-monster Senate presidency that we have today.
It was not irreparable. After an intra-party standoff that even the opposition could not have dreamed of, Saraki was handed a list of the party’s candidates that had lost out in the power struggle. The same thing happened in the House of Representatives where Speaker Yakubu Dogara and his deputy, Yusuf Lasun, emerged against the party’s will.
Toeing the party’s line was not an easy decision for Speaker Yakubu Dogara, whose election, on the face of it, had passed off creditably. But he read the writing on the wall and ran to fight another day.
But not Saraki. He launched into legality and regretted that “his hands were tied.” I’ve heard it said that his real problem was not that his hands were tied, but that having obtained the support of the opposition elements to become Senate president, he was in a fix how to spurn them. In other words, he thought he could be free by giving his hands to be tied.
Another pro-Saraki argument is that there was nothing he could have done: Ahmed Lawan was so unpopular that even if Saraki had allowed the matter to be put to the vote, Lawan and other APC favourites would still have lost to renegades in the Senate who were fed up with party mandarins. But then the matter would have been out of his hands.
Rejecting the party’s list of candidates for principal offices marked a major turning point. From then, matters went downhill. Now, no one is sure exactly how it will all end – or when.
I would like to see the judicial process run its course; for Saraki to have his day in court and answer the grave charges that have been brought against him.
I would like him to tell the world if, indeed, among other things, he made false and anticipatory declaration of his assets, acquired assets beyond his legitimate means and operated foreign accounts.
It’s a no brainer that his case is politically motivated but that is neither an excuse for, nor a defence to, the charges. If Saraki had played his politics differently, the best he could have hoped for was to kick the can down the road. Yet, no matter how far down the road Saraki kicks the can, he would still have to confront the demons to be his own man.
Is this a witch-hunt? The question cuts both ways: Saraki must answer by his evidence in court. The charges against him are not statue barred and it, therefore, does not make sense to blame the Code of Conduct Bureau for bringing them up 12 years later.
On its part, the CCB must answer by going over the files of the more than 18,000 other public servants, from the local to the federal level, who are mandatorily required to declare their assets. The bureau’s shameful – or willful negligence – over the years is inexcusable.
It’s stupid to deny that politics is involved; it’s the triumph of politics that must not be permitted – whether it’s the politics of Saraki’s foes or his own post-election politics which has damaged him just as badly as his handling of the opening stages of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
If he is truly interested in the independence of the legislature, which he heads, and is determined to free himself from those in PDP who have tied his hands and others in the APC who want his head, he must answer the charges fair and square.
His greatest weapon is the moral victory that comes from a judicial process where he is entitled to free, fair and transparent trial. Anything less is grasping at straws and it’s only a matter of time before it comes back to haunt him.