Saraki and lawyers

On the same day Senate President Bukola Saraki asked the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) trial judge Danladi Umar to recuse himself on the grounds that the jurist was under EFCC’s criminal investigation, documents surfaced indicating that the judge had since last year been absolved of the 2012 allegations of corruption levelled against him by one Rasheed Taiwo, a retired Customs officer.

Dr Saraki’s recuse request was presented through a fresh motion by a counsel, Raphael Oluyede. The new counsel had not been previously listed as a member of the counsels defending the senate president, nor did the leader of Dr Saraki’s defence team, Kanu Agabi (SAN), a former Minister of Justice, at first give any indication he was associated with the unusual application. Mr Agabi was to later reverse himself. Justice Umar, however, refused the application, describing Mr Oluyede as a busybody.

Mr Oluyede had previously also filed a suit heard by Justice Abdul Kafarati seeking to halt Dr Saraki’s trial on the grounds of rights enforcement and the court’s lack of jurisdiction. That suit was dismissed two Fridays ago, thus paving the way for the senate president’s trial to proceed diligently. It is not clear whether any other effort would be made to stifle the trial, considering that more than six months after he was first docked, the Senate President has explored as many baffling chances as possible, up to the apex court, to stall the EFCC case accusing him of false declaration of asset as governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011. After finally failing at the Supreme Court, Dr Saraki had pronounced himself ready to defend his reputation, indicating that indeed, he was glad to begin the process of clearing his name of any wrongdoing.

But between when he declared his readiness to defend himself and last week, Dr Saraki again made two solid efforts to stall the case. He apparently is not as pleased to defend himself as he has let out. More, it is even beginning to look like he is not really convinced he is innocent of all or some of the 13 charges (now amended to 15) filed against him. By his desperation and manoeuvres, he continues to give the impression he knows his goose is cooked. He began his pussyfooting by first showing to the world how undignified it was for the Senate President to be tried, not to talk of being docked. After that failed, he began to plot the failure of the entire case by attempting to procure technicalities to thwart the case. Regardless of the commencement of the case proper, Dr Saraki has still not relented in looking for excuses to end the case before it is properly tried. Indeed, as it stands today, and despite his serial failure to stymie the case, no one can determine when the Senate President will finally give up on his puzzling display of legal and political legerdemain.

It will nevertheless be prejudicial for any commentator to argue with certainty that the case will go against Dr Saraki. Notwithstanding the optimism of the prosecution and the pessimism of the accused himself, it is in fact uncertain how the case will end. What is however certain is that Dr Saraki seems appallingly unmindful of the consequences of his brazen plots and stratagems to defeat the rule of law. He heads the topmost legislative chamber in the country, making him the country’s number one lawmaker. That position and that chamber call for the most intense circumspection, not pertinaciousness. There is a regal, executive and jurisprudential nobility to lawmaking, not to talk of the noblesse oblige that every lawmaker must subscribe to. Yet, all this appears lost on Dr Saraki.

What is even worse is that except those who are in turn plotting to unhorse Dr Saraki from the senate presidency, no other senator, particularly among those supporting him, recognises the futility and farcicality of trooping to the courts in solidarity with the Senate President. Dr Saraki and his supporters have tried to present the CCT case as political persecution. Even if they felt so, there is nothing in the charges filed against him, and the manner of his arraignment, that indicates political persecution. This fact has become obvious over the months. If Dr Saraki’s senatorial friends initially suspect persecution, enough has transpired between then and now for them to shun the exhibitionism displayed every court day. In any case, what is more crucial is that Dr Saraki is not just a senator or ordinary person, he is the country’s chief lawmaker. That position more than anything else requires utmost scrupulousness in behaviour. The question Nigerians will ask is: if those who make laws for the country exhibit such poor judgement, where is the hope of democracy?

Dr Saraki has repeatedly declared his readiness to defend himself and clear his name, even if he privately spurns his word. It is important for him to step aside and do so. But meanwhile, let him eschew all the plots and stratagems he has become enamoured of. Fellow senators should also desist from their farcical show of support. Despite initial confusion and uncertainties, the CCT appears ready to hear the case on its merit and to let justice be served. Both the CCT and Nigeria’s chief lawmaker owe the country the duty of ensuring that the rule of law is scrupulously adhered to. They must do nothing to undermine it or the cause of justice. Dr Saraki in particular must set a precedent by upholding and advancing a code of behaviour that compels public officials to step aside when such weighty charges are levelled against them.

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