In a country where celebrity bashing is a passion for some, the past week offered quite a serving with the appearance of Senator Bukola Saraki the President of the Senate, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). While this column will omit the reasons and the court processes associated with his appearance in deference to the integrity of the country’s judicial system, there are non – judicial fallouts that may avail the issue of a wider swat of impact, on the nation’s political space.
For instance, remarkable is the conspicuous posting on the witness stand the label ‘ACCUSED BOX’, which with Saraki’s face over it, offers an iconic picture whose value may be less important to the trial, than serving the interest of his traducers. This is just as the massive attendance of the tribunal seating by legislators in the two Chambers of the National Assembly, who came from across party lines, along with the huge media interest in the matter, attests to the fact that the issue goes beyond Saraki as an individual.
After all it was William Shakespeare who in his classical play ‘Julius Ceaser’ wrote that “when beggars die there are no comets seen. The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes”. Yet the sight of Saraki in the witness box of the CCT – much as it may assuage the hunger for his blood by his traducers, does not equate with his ‘death’ either politically or otherwise. Rather it serves a nobler purpose as a testimonial that being the chief lawmaker in the country, Saraki is ready at any time to promote the rule of law, even if it is with a personal example. Hence he allowed himself to go through the whole process of legal redress ahead of his appearance in the dock.
An interesting angle to Saraki’s issue is that the alleged offences are supposed to have been committed about twelve years ago during his term as Governor of Kwara State, after which he had even served one term in the Senate and is now in his second term. The spectacle speaks volume on the sense of duty and promptness of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), in the discharge of its statutory responsibilities. Someone recently noted that the saga offers a clear signal to all Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) in Nigeria to revisit their past personal records, even if such shall be with the assistance of consultants, in order to clear any overlooked cobweb, which may attract the unexpected interest of the CCT or any other agency now and in future. Can this author be allowed to assume in honesty and true innocence as well as crass ignorance and naivety that ambush and predation, which thrive on concealment and secrecy, have not crept into the routine practices of the nation’s public service.
Expectedly the issue has generated a welter of conspiracy theories, with some sprouting out of patently unfounded spins as well as others coming from premises that are only laced with splattering of half-truths; with all designed to achieve preconceived parochial goals. For instance one theory has it that President Muhamadu Buhari is behind an agenda to bring Saraki down. This brainwave gained so much flesh that the Presidency in the previous week formally dissociated the President from it with a statement from his Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Mr Femi Adesina, to that effect.
However among the various fallouts from Saraki’s issue is a most incongruous one which holds that the Senate is ganging up to fight Buhari, ostensibly through opposing the passage of his submissions to the floor of the Upper Chamber. Topical of these submissions is the expected list of ministers that will run the government along with the President. Another expected meeting point between the President and the Senate is the presentation of the 2016 Budget, which with its emerging profile is expected to drive reforms in the Nigerian economy, some of which may be unpalatable in the short run. The insinuation is that some Senators are actually bellyaching and may want to take it out on the President whenever they have the opportunity to do so.
Yet nothing can be more pejorative to the federal legislators than this insinuation that qualifies as nothing more than the figment of the warped imagination of an uncultured mind. The insinuation at its best is intended to blackmail the Senate and by implication the National Assembly, into unacceptable acquiescence and servitude, in its relationship with the Presidency and other stakeholders in Nigeria’s democracy. Such insinuation must be working on the theory that the National Assembly even as Nigeria’s central legislature, has no independent opinion of its own on any issue and must therefore be goaded into accepting whatever comes its way from any source, especially the Presidency.
Given the wide diversity of the characteristics of the various parts of this country and by implication the 109 Senatorial districts, it is simply inconceivable for all presently serving 109 Senators to gang up to fight the President over any issue without altruistic and nationalistic promise. But just in case they do so, then such a deal should be seen from the angle of what their constituencies and the entire nation stand to gain from the enterprise. After all, the National Assembly represents the voice of the people, and as the ancient Romans would say “vox populi, vox Dei” – (the voice of the people is the voice of God).
In any case, having operated solo for so many months without as much as visibly involving the National Assembly in the processes of governance as stipulated by the Constitution, it should not be surprising if the President has earned for himself a frosty rendezvous with the federal legislature, beyond the Saraki saga, whenever he decides to meet them. As has been stated previously and severally in many fora, the list of ministerial nominees, which the President is billed to present to the National Assembly any time from now, offers a challenge over which he needs to come to terms with the federal legislature.
It is understandable that driven by patriotic intentions, the President may be insisting on fielding Nigerians with credentials that may be superior to the basic provisions of the Constitution which are a West African School Certificate (WASC), membership of a political party and absence of previous criminal indictment. But what of if the Senators, at the prompting of their constituencies demand additional criteria including representativeness of whatever interest that may be canvassed then?
Another area of concern is with respect to the budget whereby traditionally, whatever submission that comes from the executive consists of nothing beyond a pile of sterile papers, until such is given life by the legislature. What happens if the legislature in reviewing the proposals, overturns the core provisions of the budget and insists on alternative positions beyond the contemplation of the executive which authored the budget? Because to do otherwise will be as good as the legislature, turning itself unacceptably into a mere rubber stamp agency.
Even the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) may have earned for itself a visit to the hallowed portals of the National Assembly, (courtesy of the oversight functions of the latter), to edify Nigerians on how far it has fared in executing its statutory mandate. For the purpose of clarification the law mandates the CCB to monitor the assets of and other matters of official conduct in service by public servants in the country, from the lowest level messenger in the local government councils to the President in the villa.
Having started with Saraki in its new found powers and zeal, it needs to demonstrate its efficacy in delivering on its mandate with respect to all officers within its statutory purview, nationwide. This column, on behalf of all Nigerians, asks for nothing less.