SARAKI: Still Open To Unravelling

Saraki’s lawyer, J. B Daudu at the tribunal. (Inset), Saraki

Saraki’s lawyer, J. B Daudu at the tribunal

THE ministers designates have moved on. The Senators have taken up new assignments. Yet the spectacle and interactions of the last screening exercise remain fresh in the minds of Nigerians.

The push and pull between senators on the opposite sides of the aisle, All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the screening came to a crescendo on the issue of what to do with the nominee from Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi.

Being at the epicenter of the rancorous relationship between APC and PDP, the wrangling also put the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki on the spot.

Recognizing that the first among equals received a prodigious percentage of his winning votes from PDP senators to mount the Senate presidency, all eyes were indeed on Saraki. Nigerians, especially APC faithful wanted to see whether the President of Senate would again betray his party or irrationally pander to the whims of his loyal supporters from the other side.

Ever since emerged numero uno of the Red Chamber, some APC chieftain continued to hold the manner of his election through bipartisan support against senator representing Kwara Central in the senate. In a bid to ruffle his feathers and ensure that the seat was made unbearably hot, powerful chieftains went down to the archives to review his asset declaration form filed at the point of his inauguration to the office of Kwara State Governor.

The irritation of the spontaneous trial, as well as, the posers over the propriety of both the timing and essence of the arraignment at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) reverberated on the polity. While the pros and cons of the trial were being marshaled, by public intellectuals and partisan commentators, the issue of the continued delay by President Muhamadu Buhari to put together his cabinet for effective governance simmered. Attempt was made to link the delay to the jigsaw surrounding the president of senate’s arraignment in the CCT.

While some observers argued that the president may not be disposed to send the list of his cabinet nominees to the senate headed by Saraki, others wondered why the president should join forces with those who do not want the Kwara senator as senate president to stampede him out of office, stressing that the legislature being an independent arm should do without such interferences. But while the background noise continued, the president hurried the first batch of his list of cabinet nominees. And it was into the hands of the President of Senate, who had to wait extra hours to help the president fulfill his promise to Nigerians that his cabinet would not exceed the month of September.

Without adding to the lull in constituting the federal cabinet, the Senate announced dates for screening of the nominees. It was at that point that the contentious nature of Amaechi’s nomination crept up. And based on the President of Senate’s trial at the CCT, Amaechi presented a genuine source of political temptation for Dr. Saraki. While APC saw Amaechi’s screening contention as a trap against the President of Senate, his supporters in PDP wanted so much to use the former Rivers’ governor’s indictment by the judicial panel to stop his ministerial consideration. And in adopting that strategy, PDP sought to use its support for Dr. Saraki as bait.

Prior to his nomination by the president for possible ministerial appointment, a judicial panel of inquiry was set by governor Nyesom Wike of his home state, Rivers. Whether by mischievous orchestration or in tandem with the drive against official graft, the report of the panel made some damaging discoveries on how the nominee presided over the affairs of Rivers State as governor. To give full effect to the battle against Amaechi’s confirmation, a senator from his state brought a petition from a civil rights group and handed it in to the Senate committee.

The Senate made a curious pronouncement that every nominee must get the support of at least two senators from his/her state of origin. Nigerians cried out that the proviso was targeted at the former Rivers State governor because all the three senators from Rivers stood and won election on PDP platform.

To crown the puzzle, the chairman of the Senate ad hoc committee was a PDP senator. It was before this committee that Amaechi appeared, after a failed first attempt. Yet by the time the nominee was to get his day at the plenary to undergo interrogation, the report of the ad hoc committee had not been presented. The atmosphere became charged. The nominee mobilized his political resources just as his supporters blamed his travails on the intrigues by his successor and tormentor in chief. Handbills and posters were printed and posted along major streets in Abuja urging the senators to grant the ‘Lion of Ubima’ the right to bow and go!

When at last Amaechi had his stand at the senate lectern, the PDP caucus declined to pose any questions, insisting that the report of the committee on ethics and privileges should first be discussed. On the appointed day for clearing the nominees, the PDP senators rejected the votes and proceedings held for the confirmation of Amaechi and 17 others. The PDP caucus, through the minority leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio; stood against the confirmation of the former Rivers State governor.

As it turned out the opposition senators wanted the committee report on the alleged corruption petition against Amaechi to be considered by the Senate before the decision to confirm him or not. APC senators held that the committee’s recommendation that the nominee’s screening should be put on hold on account of a pending court case should be rejected, while PDP senators voiced their support. It was on that disagreement that the PDP team stormed out of the plenary. Before that show of practical dissension, Senator Biodun Olujimi made a poignant statement about the ideological crossroads, which the majority was bringing to the debate. She said: “We are being shut out. And the only reason I am standing up to speak is that there is a moral burden on not only this senate but on the government of President Buhari that is riding on the crest of no corruption, minimum corruption, we don’t want corruption… There is a weighty allegation against somebody.

There is a need to ensure that the court of law absolves him before we can confirm him in this Senate. I am insisting that the court of law must clear him before we confirm him. The majority will always have its way but the truth is that Nigerians will know that this government is not about to fight any corruption and it is only willing to condone it all the way.”

It was if APC recognised the legalese that an accused is adjudged innocent until proven guilty. Amaechi had also claimed that the panel of inquiry, which report and attendant white paper the PDP wanted to clutch on to deny him clearance, did not indict him. That Amaechi was giving the green light from the Red Chamber could be seen in part from the good boy disposition of the President of Senate. Having been faced with such affected inquisition, Dr. Saraki must have seen the poisoned chalice, which his supporters in the PDP Senate caucus wanted to present to him. He must have reflected that what took place on June 9, 2015 was situational politics predicated on the absence of leadership direction in APC.

The President of Senate therefore knows full well that President Buhari’s declaration that he was prepared to work with whoever emerges from the election of floor functionaries in the Senate amounts to a license for all who could, to aspire. What happened thereafter was nothing short of an afterthought engineered by entrenched political interests to make the election of the Senate President as betrayal and disobedience to the party and its leadership. The screening exercise provided Dr. Saraki to show that he was a truly loyal party without any inclination to play the Judas threatened as he was by PDP sSenate caucus’ concerted pressures. Determined to leave nothing to chance or leave room for talebearers and political mischief makers to use the non-clearance of Amaechi to weave further fibs about the leadership of the Senate.

Saraki Goes To Buhari
The President of Senate decided on the spectacular by choosing to personally deliver the list of nominees to the President. It was a show of humility that threw his detractors off balance. If there was going to be a delay in constituting the federal cabinet, Saraki did not want to be part of the cause. Even at that, most observers believed that the dissension of the 49 PDP senators may have rendered the clearance incomplete. But there was a precedent: Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, presented similar scenario and opposition senators did the walking away.

However, the part that was lost in the whole gamble was the feeling that having emerged as President of Senate with the backing of PDP caucus, Saraki must have been isolated by the seeming loss of camaraderie with his PDP supporters. It was against that background that APC exulted with a tinge of leer that the party has demonstrated its unity. Having succeeded in achieving a dividing line between Saraki and his PDP backers, APC felt that it was but a question of time to discipline the President of Senate.

What however did not jell for that strategy is the position of Senator Ike Ekweremadu. Why did the Deputy President of Senate not join his colleagues to stage the walkout? Could it be that the DSP was considering defection to the ruling party? As Saraki ferried the ministerial list to the presidency, the small talks continued that having been left without the massive support of PDP caucus, Saraki now courts the friendship of the Presidency. But some presidency sources saw the walkout of PDP senators as a mere decoy, wondering why Ekweremadu should not quit his seat in protest to the unilateral clearance of Amaechi. Even at that there were suggestions that having succeeded in getting the 36 nominees cleared, the Presidency can now deal with Saraki, more so in the light of the walkout. The question of what to do with Ekweremadu becomes an albatross as party insiders revealed that various overtures to make Saraki support the removal of Ekweremadu failed. Could APC stand the possibility of having an Ekweremadu as President of Senate? That is the puzzle that shadows the continued trial of Saraki at the CCT.

Another Censorious Exit
WHAT transpired at the CCT has given an aperture to what lies ahead for Nigeria and APC through the trial of the President of Senate. For the Code of Conduct Tribunal to rule that Senate President Bukola Saraki’s trial should go on despite a pending appeal at the Supreme Court, shows that there could be more to the trial than search for moral rectitude among public officers. If Amaechi, as President Buhari’s nominee, was given a clean bill of health at the Senate, irrespective of his pending action in court, the CCT ought to show restraint knowing that as the saying goes the wheel of justice grinds slowly but surely. The affront on the Supreme Court, which the ruling represents does not augur well for the Federal Government and the cause of justice. The rush to nail Saraki has been advertised more than ever before. That the trial was meant to divide APC and distract the NASS is no longer in doubt. It was a day that the CCT Chairman, the President of Senate and Nigerians were to witness another censorious walkout. Only this time the protest was against the rush to make the Apex Court helpless in a matter that demands correct interpretation of law.

Despite the plea by Counsel to Dr. Saraki, Ahmed Magaji, (SAN) for the Tribunal to put further hearing on hold pending the consideration and determination of the appeal properly filed at the Supreme Court, the CCT chairman repudiated the fact that issues of jurisdiction and qualification were being contested.

Saraki had approached the Supreme Court praying it to order a stay of proceedings of his trial at the Tribunal pending the determination of his appeal. It happened that some of the issues the appellant wants the Apex Court to address are whether the constitutional provision that three members should be on the CCT panel was met and if so whether two members can receive a matter, even when they form quorum to take pleadings during continued hearing.

Apart from the political need served by the trial, Nigeria has much to learn from the issues been canvassed about the CCT and administration of justice. Due process remains the most outstanding ingredient in a democracy. As such, attempt abridge the process may end up creating the enabling culture for impunity and “rascality”.

If Saraki is isolated from the prevailing judicial wrangling, could it be that a healthy precedent has been set? With the state of affairs in the 8th National Assembly, there are reasons to believe that Nigeria’s democracy is in for serious revision.

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  • Ikwerre