SARAKI: Another Clash Of Interests In APC, NASS And Presidency
WHEN the news broke last Wednesday, it was a shocker: President of Nigeria’s Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki was being charged to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). His offences, according to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation relate to alleged false declaration of assets. But the charges and arraignment are such that could generate dozens of other issues.
It was a big catch expected to make a bold statement about President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption. But some commentators wondered aloud about the real motives of targeting perceived political opponents.
Judging from the political manoeuvres that culminated in the emergence of Saraki as President of the Senate last June, others argued that the charges of corruption against Saraki, are targetted to get the Senate President to kowtow to his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). But the substance of the matter cannot be so easily ignored, particularly at a time like this, when the stringent noise is proclaimed about war against corruption.
There are other questions begging for answers. Saraki and his ‘tormentors’ may try to address those questions to best promote their interest, but the Nigerian public would perceive them rather differently. In the first place, could the trial affect the reality of Saraki’s continued stay as the President of Senate and chairman of the National Assembly? Will public opinion and morality issues throw him off balance as he in continues to preside over the affairs of the Senate? How do Saraki’s supporters in the APC respond to this matter? What becomes of the relationship between the Senate and the Presidency? Again, could this trial serve as effective punishment for Saraki’s violation of his party’s claim to supremacy?
Saraki has come under intense pressure since he assumed the Senate Presidency against the directive of his political party and that of President Muhammadu Buhari. His wife, Toyin is also being investigated by the EFCC over allegations of money laundering and diversion of Kwara State government funds. She is however yet to be charged.
From history, many presidents of the Upper legislative Chamber had been removed from office over similar matters. Late Evan(s) Enwerem was removed as Senate President after allegations of fraudulent change of name was leveled against him. Late Chuba Okadigbo was also removed for allegedly breaching financial regulations by granting anticipatory approval for the infamous street light contracts. Senator Adolphus Wabara was forced to resign as Senate President over allegations bordering on collection of bribes to pass budgets.
Though, he was later acquitted by the Court of Appeal, after he was found not guilty of the crime, he had lost the position. And in all these instances, the relationship between the legislature and the executive was badly bruised.
A particular example was the face-off between the then President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration and the Anyim Pius Anyim Senate. Although Anyim survived the series of offensives hurled against his Senate Presidency, there were instances he had to resort to what was then called parliamentary rascality against the executive. He was quick in supporting the Umar Ghali Na’Abba-led House of Representatives against Obasanjo by reeling out scores of constitutional breaches allegedly committed by the Presidency.
The two chambers later came together to threaten Obasanjo with impeachment. The timely intervention of the then Audu Ogbeh-led PDP saved the day: The matter was treated as “a family affair”.
So, in the brewing battle, casualties can come from either the executive or the Senate or both; depending on the arsenals and dexterity of their application. On the side of the Senate, there is no doubt that because of the subject matter of the allegations, public opinion could weigh against the Upper legislative chamber in the first instance. Again, even the kind of privileges, which were usually enjoyed by lawmakers as a result of chummy relationship with the executive, could be hampered. But as the battle lasts, the Presidency is sure to lose whatever support it might require from the Upper Legislative chamber.
The parliamentary lobbying that the presidency used to do to facilitate the smooth processing of all executive requests, including the ones needed for Bills, Budget proposals, and many others would be made more difficult. The problem might even affect the ministerial appointments that could be sent to the Senate before the end of the month.
All nominees loyal to persons within or outside government who are perceived to be playing roles in the war against Saraki would do well to forget being confirmed as ministers for now. It could be as bad as that! Accusing fingers are already being pointed at certain quarters by Senators who have expressed solidarity with Saraki in the matter. As expected, signs have started emerging that it is going to be a long drawn battle.
Saraki had following his summons to appear before the CCT sought the intervention of the Federal High Court for a restraining order against CCT, the Code of Conduct Bureau, and the Federal Ministry of Justice. The Federal High Court summoned the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to appear before it on September 21 over the attempted arraignment of Saraki without following the constitutional laid down procedure. Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed ordered the chairmen of the two agencies to show cause, why they should not be restrained from arraigning Saraki over allegations bordering on false and improper declaration of assets said to have been acquired during his tenure as Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and2011.
The Senate president who approached the court through motion ex parte, wanted the Federal Ministry of Justice, CBB, CCT and M. S Hassan stopped from taking any further steps to arraign or prefer any charges against him, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit he filed before the court. Saraki prayed the court to declare that the Ministry of Justice has not complied with the provisions of the 3rd Schedule of Section 24(1) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act before proffering a charge against him.
Therefore, Justice Mohammed, ruling in his chambers, ordered the Federal Ministry of Justice, chairmen of the CCB, CCT and M. S Hassan (1st to 4th respondents) to appear before him. Also, the judge ordered that the respondents in the motion should be served with all the court processes, including the motion on notice for the interim order or injunction, motion ex-parte, adding that hearing notices should be served on all the respondents. The Judge held that the order was made pursuant to the provisions of Order 26 Rule 10 of the Federal High Court (Civil procedure) Rules 2009.
In the motion ex-parte argued by Mahmud Magaji (SAN), Saraki said based on the provision of Section 24 of the CCB and Tribunal Act, his prosecution before the tribunal shall be initiated by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) or any officer directed by him (AGF). “In the absence of any subsisting AGF in the time being, this court has the jurisdiction to direct parties to maintain status quo pending the hearing of the motion on notice,” Magaji contended.
He further argued that since there is no subsisting AGF, the charge against him by the official of the Federal Ministry of Justice before the CCT is void as the provisions of section 24 (1) of the CCB and Tribunal was not complied with. Taking advantage of this legal position, Saraki did not appear before the CCT for arraignment. As at the 11 am time he was supposed to have appeared before the CCT, the Senate President granted audience to the leadership of the National Institute for Legislative Studies.
Another side of the expected face-off between the Senate leadership and the executive is the division among Senators and likely disruption of Senate activities. As usual, some Senators would take sides with the executive while others would remain with the Senate leadership. The dexterity the Senate President brings in handling the matter would determine to a large extent whether or not he enjoys the support of majority of Senators.
The strategy adopted by Anyim when he was having problems with the executive was to among others, stay away from general funds of the Senate. He ensured that all monies meant for the Senate were openly put before senators to decide on.
That was how Anyim’s Senate was on record as having had 88 committees, the highest ever. The idea was to ensure that overwhelming majority of senators were made chairmen of committees, so as to have fuller sense of belonging in the running of the Senate. The political implication of this was that more Senators would be loyal to the Senate President as a result of the appointments.
In separate reactions to Saraki’s trial, Senators across party lines had condemned the move and described it as distractive and uncalled for. They vowed that trial or no trial, majority of the senators in the Senate will continue to support the leadership of Saraki and specifically warned the federal government to be more focused on governance and not politically motivated distractions which they noted the Saraki’ invitation by CCT symbolizes.
Senator Sabi Aliyu Abdullahi, (APC Niger North)
IN an interview with journalists, Senator Abdullahi said all the allegations raised against Saraki by CCB are politically motivated, but will not in any way derail the 8th Senate from its focus of bringing about change in the positive sense, to Nigerians across the various sectors.
He said: “I want to believe an allegation remains an allegation; and our laws are very clear. It is an allegation until it is proven; I want to believe it remains an allegation. However, let’s take a closer look at what the allegations are, dating back to 2003 to date, I think, as far as I am concerned there is something fishy about it. It is very obvious; of course, we know what has happened since the inauguration of the 8th Senate.
And what I want to state here clearly is that we have a duty, based on our mandate by the electorate to come here. A number of processes were done, and I want to believe that, unless if somebody is trying to tell that all those processes were carried out by various security agencies were not correct, I want to believe, if they were correct, then somebody needs to ask the question: how come twelve years down the line somebody is feeling that there is something he has forgotten in those years and he wants to find out an answer for them now
Another side of the expected face-off between the Senate leadership and the executive is the division among Senators and likely disruption of Senate activities. As usual, some Senators would take sides with the executive while others would remain with the Senate leadership. The dexterity the Senate President brings in handling the matter would determine to a large extent whether or not he enjoys the support of majority of Senators
But I think that what the 8th Senate is looking at clearly are the issue of youth unemployment; the insurgency for which we know that based on the support of the National Assembly, we are all living witnesses to the thorough and expeditious work done to confirm the Service Chiefs, and our resolve through our legislative agenda to support our party in this particular dispensation. I want to believe that we will not be distracted from that, and whatever it is that anybody is doing, our laws are very clear. We have a responsibility, and on the basis of that we will try to do what Nigerians expect of us.
We are also aware that the Ad hoc Committee on Power has been working. I’m sure all of us here, after all these days work, I don’t know how many of you will go back home and meet light in your houses. So, these are very serious issues that Nigerians expect that we pay our attention to; and I want to assure you that the 8th Senate will not be distracted in any way.
We will stand by our leaders because leadership is from God and as far as I am concerned, I didn’t come here because I am the best; it is just the will of God that we will be here. And based on the fact that we are here, we shall try as much as possible to deliver very good legislations that will move this country forward. Nigeria is great, and we want to make it greater. And I assure you, we will definitely not be distracted. The entire Senate is behind our leadership”.
Senator Hussain Salihu, (APC, Nasarawa South)
SENATOR Salihu said those trying Saraki for one thing or the other that had happened in the past were doing so because he is now the Senate President. He said those behind Saraki’s ordeals will get tired of the trials as according to him, senators and by extension, the Senate will not abandon him as their duly elected leader.
He added: “The charges against Saraki, as far as I am concerned, are just distractive, in the sense that we are talking about issues of thirteen years ago and people are bringing it now. I think Nigerians should disregard such issues because they are distracting the National Assembly from doing its own constitutional work. And I don’t think that it is going to help us.”
He stated that “what we are talking about now is how we are going to get power supply; how the ordinary man can send his children to school and the sick to get hospitals that will treat them.
So, the allegations are non-issues. I think the people who are doing this are not helping the country; they are not helping the President and they are not helping anybody because as far as the National Assembly is concerned, we are going to move on from all these distractions. As you can see, for those of us that are around we are doing our work and the place is energized to take off for effective legislative activities when we resume.
So, I don’t see how these things are going to affect us. They will do it and get tired. What happened thirteen years down the line, why have they not brought it until now? So, we feel that those who are doing this are not helping the nation at all”.
Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP Abia North)
TO Senator Ohuabunwa, “as far as majority of senators are concerned, Saraki has led the Senate creditably well in the last 100 days and will continue to give him their total support, irrespective of any distractions from any quarters.”
Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (APC, Kwara South)
The battle against Saraki,” Senator Ibrahim argued, “was being coordinated by forces outside government to distract Buhari’s administration. It’s been expected and we are even expecting more. Because of the continued attempt by some people to destabilize the 8th Senate for the reason that they believe they have the prerogative to choose the leadership of the Senate from outside the Senate. But Nigerians are watching. They know that we have continued to do our work. We are in support of all the programmes and policies of President Muhammadu Buhari; we have nothing against the government.
And as somebody from Kwara State, I know that this is not new. Most of the charges are frivolous and we will be over this very soon. Why did the Code of Conduct Tribunal wait from 2006 to now? Were they sleeping, because he (Saraki) became the Senate President against the wishes of some people in Nigeria? But the President was very clear. He has no preferred choices. He told the whole world that he was going to work with anybody. As a senator, he didn’t call us to a meeting to tell us he wanted this person.”
The charges as filed by the Code of Conduct Tribunal last week range from anticipatory declaration of assets, under declaration of assets and false declaration of assets. Saraki is accused of failing to declare some assets he acquired while in office as governor; acquiring assets beyond his legitimate earnings and operating foreign accounts while being a public office holder.
The offences date back to his days as governor of Kwara state during which he served two four-year terms. He was said to have, according to the charges, violated sections of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and breached Section 2 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, an infraction punishable under paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
It was gathered last week at the headquarters of the EFCC that the anti-graft agency was planning to indict the Senate President on money laundering charges. Sources said that the EFCC might prosecute him on money laundering and financial crime charges ‘predicated’ on the Code of Conduct Bureau’s charges. The sources added that an ongoing investigation in the financial activities of Saraki’s wife, Toyin could also implicate the Senate President.
THE Senate President, Saraki has described the CCB’s 13-count charge of corruption as mischievous and an act of political witch-hunt. He explained that the allegations are not only false, but also frivolous and vowed not to be shaken by what he termed moves by his political enemies to distract him from carrying out his duties as a senator and Senate President for which he was elected. Saraki, who spoke to journalists yesterday in Abuja after a courtesy call on him by the management of the Public Complaints Commission, wondered why the Bureau would suddenly wake up with such allegations about 13 years after he declared his assets, saying he would defend the charges.
His words: “There is no doubt about that. It is mischievous, it is not correct and the issues therein are not true. As far as we are concerned, we are not shaken. We will focus on what we have come to the Senate to do. I was elected by the people. I was elected by my colleagues to work for what is good and in the interest of this country and that is what I will do.
For the Code of Conduct Tribunal to wait for 13 years before working on a declaration that was made since 2003 is ridiculous. I have always done my declaration and we will defend those allegations but we will continue to do our work here”.
I’m yet to be served court processes!
Saraki, noted that he was yet to be served court processes. He added that if served, he was prepared to meet those behind the plot in court, stressing that the case is based on outright fabrication and mischief, which he said cannot stand the test of justice.