Saraki`s ‘Battle Royale’ Continues
Since his election as President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki has had his hands full fending off one political fight or the other. But his current travails at the CCT seems to be the mother of all battles for his political survival and relevance. In this piece, ANDREW ESSIEN examines the issues at the heart of this ‘Battle Royale’.
From the time Nigeria regained her ‘freedom’ from the grips of the military in 1999 and began to explore democratic process of governance, every Senate President has had to fight his own type of battle. From the ones ‘cooked’ within to the banana peels thrown at them from outside influences mostly the executive, to the ones set in motion by the senate presidents themselves; usually throwing caution to the wind and trudging steadily to the path of self-destruct.
Senator Evan Enwerem who was seen as the proverbial cat with “nine lives”, had resisted all efforts to force him out of office following allegation of perjury and age falsification.
But when his angry colleagues demanded that he vacated his plum position as President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Thursday, 18 November, 1999, he knew then that the inevitable end had come. Although he fought to hold on to the office, he was floored. And, his position forcefully taken from him.
Senator Chuba Okadigbo also had to bow to the inevitable will of his colleagues when they came after him with votes, which was passed by 81 to 14, after an earlier motion calling for him to step down.
His fall from office was a fallout of an internal investigation concluded that the principal officers in the Senate had been guilty of gross abuse of public office.
During the earlier vote, Mr Okadigbo stepped aside to allow the debate on the corruption allegations, which he had vehemently refuted, to go ahead.
But the then Senate president, the third ranking politician in Nigeria, protested his innocence saying he would not be “stampeded” out of office, adding that “The only way to get rid of this Senate president, of this Fourth Republic, is to go through the constitutional means,” he told a packed Senate.
Senator Adolphus Wabara also had his on fair share of issues when he stepped on the banana peels after being accused of receiving N55 million from a former Minister of Education, Fabian Osuji, to pass the ministry’s budget in 2005. Mr. Wabara was charged alongside four others.
Senator Bukola Saraki however seems to be fighting on all fronts, in a battle that may eventually consume his political carrier. From the time he indicated interest in the office, to the period he was elected president of the Senate, in a manner many party fateful describe as a macabre fashion, he has had to be fighting from day one.
It began like a joke when his wife, Toyin Saraki, was invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with regard to several contracts executed by companies said to be linked to her during her husband’s tenure as governor of Kwara State. Subsequently, one Kennedy Izuagbe, a former director of Societe Generale Bank Nigeria Plc and managing director of Carlisle Properties and Investment Limited (companies allegedly associated with Saraki) was declared wanted by the EFCC for conspiracy and money laundering to the tune of over N3.6 billion. These were only a tip of the iceberg of greater ‘things’ to come.
All hell was let loose when the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) invited the Senate President for trial on a 13-count charge of false assets declaration, a breach of Section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap C15, LFN 2004 and punishable under Section 23 (2) as incorporated under paragraph 18 of Part 1, Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.
One would have thought that his ‘travails’ would have disappeared after a while but more fights would be fought by him as he also tried to settle into office.
cording to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Saraki made false declarations in his Assets Declaration Form for Public Officers at the beginning and end of his tenures as governor of Kwara State between May 29, 2003, and May 28, 2007,; and between May 29, 2007, and May 28, 2011.
The CCB alleged that in some cases Saraki made anticipatory declarations while in others he made wrong declarations not attributable to his income, gift or loan and also concealed certain properties in the form.
For example, Saraki claimed to have acquired a five bedroom house and undeveloped plot at 15A and 15B MacDonald Street, Ikoyi Lagos valued at N300 million and N200 million respectively in 2000 through his company Carlisle Properties Ltd. But the CCB alleges that the properties were in actual fact sold by a government agency in 2006 to his company Tiny Tree Ltd and Vitti Oil Ltd for about N396.15 million. In the same vein, Saraki claimed to have acquired two undeveloped plots at 17A and 17B MacDonald Street, Ikoyi Lagos at N497.2 million which he wrongly claimed was from proceeds of sale of rice and sugar.
The Bureau also alleged Saraki of refusal to declare, at the beginning of his second tenure as governor of Kwara State in 2011 his ownership of Plot 24 Glover Road Ikoyi Lagos, which he acquired between 2007 and 2008 through his company Carlisle Properties Ltd from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for a total sum of N325 million; and making false declaration in respect of properties in other parts of the country and cash deposits in banks.
The most disturbing fact however is that his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), until very recently, has been silent so much so that it has become deafening as to why he should be let out in the cold, even though some groups have canvassed that the case be quashed in the light of a similar situation obtainable when the then Lagos State governor and leader of the APC, Chief Bola Tinubu was in a similar situation.
Presenting what will pass as the party’s position on the matter, the chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun when asked whether there will be an interference by the party through the presidency, taking cognisance of the possible takeover of the Senate by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) should Saraki be removed, he said:
“We don’t take anything for granted. As they are planning, we are also planning. The situation is under control. The whole situation is unfortunate but it is real.
“What politbical situation in a legal matter? Are the judges politicians? The President is certainly not the type who will interfere in a judicial matter. I think we know him well. Everybody must know him. Things must be done normally. And that is part of the change mantra that we must play by the rule so that we don’t truncate processes.
“People don’t seem to internalize what change is. If the President says “court, free that man”, the same president can say “court, imprison that man.” Is that the Nigeria you want? No! Change means allowing the law to take the proper course. I can tell you the President won’t interfere. The President is straight definite, straight and firm in all facets.”
Political analysts aver that Saraki’s travails may have started the very moment he nursed and indeed, saw through his ambition to lead the Senate without consulting the “gods” and going against party decision on the zoning formula. While the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara may have been caught in the same Web of seeking the office against the party’s wish, pundits posit that he had made ammends by accommodating others to leadership positions in line with the desires of the party and thus, atoned for his ‘sins’.
Saraki, however, was said to have mingled with strange bedfellows to ascend to the senate presidency and also rewarded them with ‘juicy’ committees.
His spokespersons and sympathisers within and outside the senate have been speaking up for him. Some have asked why the case was being brought now, several years after the offence was allegedly committed.
Sadly, some members of the Senate President’s camp in the national assembly are now of the view that the incessant face-off between the legislature and the presidency allegedly being generated by Saraki’s trial at the CCT, is needless and avoidable, adding that what has been happening in the last few months “were blatant display of disregard for the sanctity of the senate by some senators whose loyalty is not to the country, but to an individual or group.”
The hopes on the minds of Nigerians is the speedy resolution of the issues at hand. If he is found wanting, the law should take its course and if not, let all these cease and let the citizenry see the dividends of the ‘change’ they voted for.