Perhaps the biggest wrong step of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) at the inception of the present administration was its seeming inability to appreciate the dynamism of the constitutional provisions guiding separation of powers among the three arms of the government namely; the executive, the legislature and the judiciary under a democratic system.
With the high hopes of Nigerians in 2015 that the new government formed by a new political party will take our democracy to the next level with improvement in its practice, as being done in the advanced countries, the new government painfully took off with unprecedented animosity against some individuals in its fold on parochial issues that ordinarily would have been resolved at the party level, and thus, prevented such animosity from snowballing into crisis or getting out of its control.
Aggression rather than love, became the order of the day and were freely transferred in various forms and ways against individuals whose interest the powers that be in the party felt run into conflict with that of the party or other individuals.
One of such ugly issues was the election of principal officers for the two chambers of the National Assembly.
From the onset, the APC national leadership, after caucus meetings and wide consultations, informed Nigerians who freely donated their votes to the party that the post of the Senate Presidency has been zoned to the North Central.
By that understanding, a senator from the party platform and from the zone especially is expected to emerge not only as the Senate President but as the leader of the NASS.
Little wonder therefore, when Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, a former governor of Kwara State and second timer in the senate decided to slug it out with Senator George Akume, himself a former governor of Benue State both from the zone for the plum office.
Chief John Odigie Oyegun, the National Chairman of the party, a man with vast experience on national issues, decided to create a level playing ground for the senators to do their horse trading and come up with an acceptable candidate.
This ought to be the official position of the party but along the lines, others in the same party will not agree with him – they felt that all animals are not equal or at best, some are more equal than others.
Saraki, with a burning desire to lead the senate put his vast political experience acquired over the years as a former governor and chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) coupled with his family’s background in politics, building contacts across the political parties in order to make it to the senate presidency and also to make the senate a united family under his leadership.
His efforts paid off on June 9, 2015, the day the 8th senate was proclaimed in line with the provisions of the law when in an unprecedented show of popularity and acceptability, he was returned un-opposed in an overwhelming voice vote as the Senate President.
Mindful of the fact that the law permits them to pick their principal amongst themselves, the senators in a rare display of magnanimity also overwhelmingly voted Senator Ike Ekweremadu from the opposition, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the Deputy Senate President.
However, the joy and message brought about by that election that Nigeria is gradually over coming partisanship and sentiment in the running of government was short lived.
Some individuals in the executive arm parading themselves as “Kitchen Cabinet Caucus” came up with deep animosity and declared a total war against Saraki’s group in the senate.
Conspiracy against Saraki’s group became the order of the day and institutions, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) readily became a willing tool in the hands of the aggrieved politicians for use to settle scores with the perceived enemies.
It must be pointed out here, that ordinarily the main statutory function of the EFCC is to fight economic and financial crimes but in the bid to get at enemies, the scope of function was unlawfully expanded to include the fight against false declaration of assets which by constitution, is the prerogative of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
The animosity on Saraki’s election as Senate President got to the peak in September 2015 when a phantom charge of false declaration of assets was slammed on him with EFCC serving as the arrowhead in the trial that ordinarily ought to be the responsibility of the CCB.
The target was to declare Saraki’s seat in the senate vacant and thereby remove him as a senator and indeed as a Senate President so as to pave way for their preferred candidate.
But for the maturity and emotional stability of the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal and his colleague in the panel who resisted external pressure and influence to do the unlawful, perhaps the story in the senate would have been a different one today.
As it is often said in the legal parlance and in law courts, no one no matter how powerful can put something on nothing and expected the something to stand!.
Though the final judgment had not been delivered in the phantom charges, a careful perusal of the proceedings at the tribunal from the beginning till now, will not make it difficult for one to hold that the rule of law will indeed play itself out.
From the witness of EFCC to that of a commercial bank and later that of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), virtually all issues raised against the defendant in the matter have either been punctured, rubbished and rendered impotent in the face of superior arguments from the defendant’s legal team.
To worsen the situation for the author of the charge, its principal and star witness from the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) Samuel Madujemu may not have helped the case of the prosecution in the celebrated trial.
The witness who is the head of Investigation and Intelligent Unit of the CCB came to the tribunal with bundles of hearsay stories and contradictory evidence when faced with superior cross examination from Saraki’s lawyers comprising best brain from the bar including a former Attorney General of Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Kanu Agabi SAN.
Madujemu in his evidence made it clear that his CCB had no formal report of investigation carried out on the assets of Saraki because a directive to probe the assets in 2015 when he emerged as Senate President against the wish of the party was made oral by the powers that be.
What is more, the witness said that Saraki’s case was the only one ever carried out without written report of CCB because the purported investigation which led to the arraignment of Saraki on asset declaration was carried out by EFCC.
In his answers to some of his questions and documents presented, Madujemu admitted that Saraki indeed declared his assets, that of his wife and his children when he held office as Kwara State Governor.
He equally admitted that his own roles and that of the CCB in the purported investigation of Saraki’s assets were limited to the review of the EFCC report and what is more, that the CCB only compared the asset forms of Saraki with the purported findings of the EFCC.
Worse still, the witness informed the tribunal that he was invited orally into a team that reviewed the EFCC report and that up till now, CCB has no written report on the outcome of the revision of the EFCC report.
Besides that, the witness’s testimonies were bundles of hearsays which in the face of the law, have no probate value other than to be consigned into the dust-bin.
As if that was not enough an official of a commercial bank who was also invited to testify denied ever seeing any foreign account allegedly operated by the defendant in the trial.
The Banker made it abundantly clear that he had never worked with Fortis Bank of the United Kingdom neither did he know how the foreign banks do open accounts for their customers.
The futility in his evidence got to the peak when he shocked the tribunal with a revelation that the bundle of documents presented to him to give evidence was handed over to him when he reached Abuja and that he was neither the maker nor the signatory to the documents and as such, will not be in position to give cogent and verifiable evidence on documents prepared by other persons.
In answer to a question the witness admitted that Messrs Amex Ltd. who are the operators of Saraki’s foreign card were not a bank and thereby put a paid to the allegation of foreign account operation by Saraki.
In the bid to do control to the damage done by the witness of the bank, another banker from the same bank, Amazu Nwanchukwu was invited for the same purpose of giving evidence against the senator.
And as if the damage done by the first banker was not enough, Nwanchukwu was emphatic that he knew nothing about the purported foreign account operated by the man on trial.
Under cross examination, the witness admitted that the bundle of documents in his possession at the tribunal was presented to him by the prosecution and that he was just asked to read the documents and not that he knew anything about them since he was not the author.
Before then, the first witness Michael Wetkas who claimed to have led the EFCC investigation team had given contradictory evidence on the properties in which the defendant was accused of failure to declare.
And what is more, the EFCC operative admitted that he never obtained any statement from Saraki or have interview or at best, interrogation with him on the charges for which he is being prosecuted.
From whatever angle one looks at the trial, it is certainly and clearly a vendetta and product of anger that followed Saraki’s emergence as the President of the Senate against the preferred candidate of the party.
Therefore, for our democracy to survive and flourish, it will not be out of place to plead with the tribunal to look at issues objectively and do substantial justice to the matter in the interest of the larger society.
It must be clearly stated here, that this trial is definitely a product of anger taken to the extreme and based on nothing and as such should not be allowed to stand in the face of the law and in the interest of the rule of law.
Though the chairman of the tribunal may be a staff of the presidency, but having taken oath of office to be unbiased and impartial Minister in the temple of Justice, he is expected to do nothing but justice to the issue rather than allowing any unfounded allegations to be used to rubbish any innocent in the name of playing politics.
Mr Saleh wrote in from Abuja. He can be reached through [email protected]