Time to let go of the straw
It should be possible for us to dispassionately look at what is going on in the national assembly and come to the only sensible and inescapable conclusion: the Saraki affair ill serves our country. It has become hugely embarrassing to the person of the senate president and his exalted office; it has become hugely sordid with huge health implications for our olfactory organs, and it has become a huge mess and effectively crippled the legislative arm of government.
These are not the best of times for Dr Bukola Saraki. And these are not the best of times for our country. We are in a tangled mess. Almost every week brings sordid details or more correctly, allegations of what, if true, would be cases of monumental financial malfeasance on the part of the senate president. He seems to have accumulated more cans of worms than are good for his integrity. As a can or two are opened each week, there is a gasp of shock in the one nation in the world that is blissfully unshockable.
At the beginning of this saga, the senate president portrayed himself as a victim of powerful forces that did not approve of the manner he ascended the throne. It was easy to point stubby fingers at the executive arm of government and his political party, APC. Saraki tweaked their whiskers. He seized the senate presidency in a very rough and unorthodox manner. We now have this anomaly of two rival political parties sharing power in the upper chambers. Perhaps to secure his position, he dashed the deputy senate presidency to the rival PDP. This was not wise. His party leaders were stunned. From what I hear, they are still chafing over it, with some of them determined to put his feet to the fire.
I am told President Muhammadu Buhari described what Saraki did as a coup. From where I am watching this enveloping saga of the absurd, Saraki has carried on patently naïvely. I nearly said bravely. I am not sure the man remembered that those who offend the gods can only save their skin by appeasing them. Silly me. He too has become a god in his own right. Gods do not beg gods. You too should remember that.
His problem began with the CCT over his alleged false or non-declaration of his assets and liabilities as required by the law. It seemed like a minor case then. Not any more. The courts have refused to save him from the ordeal of his trial. His case has ballooned and taken new dimensions beyond his alleged assets declaration transgression. He now faces cases of outright alleged corruption with several strands, each of which can force the senate president to hear the sound of nails being driven into his political coffin.
At the beginning of this saga, he could count on the support of most his colleagues in the senate. You would recall that 80 or so senators did not need much persuasion to give him the vote of confidence. I thought they did the honourable thing in the circumstances. Their primary intention was to serve notice on both the executive and the party that they would not abandon their leader, whom they felt was being persecuted for taking whatever steps he found necessary to grab power. It would have been dishonourable of them to throw their leader under a moving vehicle.
I did not think then, and I do not think now, that the vote of confidence was necessarily an indication that the senators believed that Saraki was innocent of the allegations against him. But I welcomed it. It was an act of legislative solidarity.
The NLC called for Saraki’s resignation as early as that. But I thought the congress missed the point. There has been no case of an important man up there in our country resigning his exalted position just because someone has thrown the mud at their immaculate baban-riga. In any case, our laws protect accused persons against such a clearly demonic and hasty action. He must be presumed innocent until an all wise judge and true rules otherwise. But here, the accused does not want to be tried. How else does he intend to clear his name?
It seems to me things have changed. The large numbers of senators who trooped out to the court with Saraki at the beginning of his case must now be down to a miniscule. I would be prepared to bet that if a vote of confidence were taken today at the senate, Saraki would not believe the low number of ayes. I am sure he is not unaware of the fact that some of his colleagues are already jostling for his throne. Translation: more senators are prepared to desert him now than he is prepared to believe.
Naturally, Saraki is fighting hard to prove his innocence in every strand of his legal ordeal. Last week he showed us how prepared he was for what promises to be a long and tortuous battle to free him, clear his name and let him proceed to reign undisturbed as senate president. We saw the line up of his 80 lawyers whose combined experience at the bar is so formidable that the earth shakes and witnesses tremble before them.
Last week brought a messy twist to the mess. The senate committee on ethics, privileges and public petitions summoned the chairman of CCT, Mr Justice Danladi Umar, to appear before it to answer to allegations of corruption against him. Justice Danladi is the judge presiding over Saraki’s case. Was this a case of legislative intimidation? The summons was wrong-headed and should not have been issued. The judge rightly thumbed his nose at the senators and they beat a shameful retreat.
Saraki may, indeed, win his case or cases, and I hope he does, if only to put his traducers to shame. But as I see it, however this ends, it would leave in its wake a) a huge moral deficit and deepen our cynicism in government b) further erode our trust in our leaders at all levels and c) confirm once more that the irresistible lure of lucre remains a clear and present danger in our country, despite the gallant efforts by the EFCC to keep itchy fingers away from our treasuries.
More importantly, Saraki would be a damaged political product with spots of public doubt all over him. He cannot expect to smell roses. Roses do not smell like Mushin gutters. I should know. I am married to a woman called Rose.
This is not entirely about the law; it is also about his moral responsibility as one of the top political leaders in our country. If he wins the legal battle, the battle to restore his moral integrity would be a harder nut to crack. He would have to face that battle alone without the aid of his battery of 80 distinguished lawyers.
Moral integrity is a premium in countries ruled by law, not by men. In such a society, no man needs to be persuaded to put both the system and the public interest above his own when he is in trouble with the law. Moral integrity rates very low, if at all, in our country. Nigerian big men loathe accepting personal responsibilities when question marks sprout like mushrooms all over their moral integrity. They always blame someone else for even their self-inflicted wounds. Sometime last year, Saraki was pelted at the Eid grounds in Ilorin, his home town where, for eight years, he was the most important citizen. The young men also hooted at him, calling him names I prefer not to repeat here. It is no longer necessary for him to moan about who is responsible for his ordeal. I would even advise him not to look in the mirror.
He is clinging to the straw as a matter of tradition in our country. I do not think this is smart or brave. It smacks of desperation. Perhaps, in this country of miracle men and women, he believes that if he holds onto the straw, it would take him safely to the shore. Seems like a forlorn gamble to me.
It is time for him to show some courage. Courage is the grace to know when to let go of the straw. Now is the time for Saraki to show that grace and end his legal ordeal and free the senate from continuing to be hostage to his own battle for political survival.