Today’s scheduled resumption of the trial of the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal undoubtedly affirms the present administration’s mantra that no one is above the law. However, the political drama that shadowed the emergence of Saraki as the country’s number three citizen also paints the matter of politics as an issue in the trial.
Saraki is being tried on a 13 count charge including failure to declare his assets, operating a foreign bank account among other charges bordering on the violation of the code of conduct for public officers.
Today’s formal resumption of trial follows Saraki’s failed efforts to cut short the trial on the basis of what he cited as bias and political persecution. The Senate President had approached several courts reaching the Supreme Court, which all refused to stop the trial.
The Senate President had among others, cited the fact that the authorities failed to abide by the provisions of the CCT Act which in Section 3 (d) stipulates that the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB should, first of all, notify a public officer of any issue the bureau may have against him or her before taking the case to the CCT. The Supreme Court, however, refused to consider that provision as it ruled that Saraki should face trial. Besides, Saraki had also sought to affirm the fact that the CCT as presently constituted does not form a quorum to try a case.
But beyond the legalese is the whispering claim by associates of the Senate President that the case against him simply arose out of political witch-hunt. Their claim is that if Saraki had not become Senate President that the issues surrounding his assets declaration when he was governor more than six years ago would not have arisen.
They have also sought to point at the fact that of the more than 5,000 public officers expected to declare their assets to the CCB that only a few have been brought to trial; remarkably, the last high profile person to have been brought to trial was the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, whose case in 2011 was generally alleged to have been a scheme by the former Goodluck Jonathan administration to browbeat the then opposition leader.
Given Tinubu’s pre-eminence in the former opposition camp, it was alleged that the Jonathan administration wanted to humble him by making him face the CCT on issues that arose almost six years after he had left office. Remarkably, the Jagban as he is famously hailed by political associates overcame what was alleged to have been the political persecution of the Jonathan administration by citing Section 3 (d) of the CCT Act, to wit, to say that he had not been previously served by the CCB on any anomalies on his assets declaration.
The Saraki team according to sources are also hoping to project that fact when his case comes up today. But beyond the trial is the unfolding snare for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC in the continued trial of Saraki. A conviction for Saraki could further destabilise the Senate to the amazement of the APC.
Unbeknown to many operatives of the APC, the party’s majority in the Senate outside senators aligned to Saraki may not be defensible. With the balance of the parties being APC, 59, PDP 44, and Labour 1 with four seats outstanding, the propensity of the mainstream APC to push through legislative proposals could be hampered should the about 30 APC senators aligned with Saraki team up with the opposition PDP.
It is a danger that the leaders of the APC have yet to contemplate. President Muhammadu Buhari, who could suffer the backlash the more according to sources, may not have serious issues with Saraki.
“Buhari’s problem is the presence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu in the office of Deputy President of the Senate and his anger is that Saraki helped Ekweremadu to that office.” The president’s angst against Ekweremadu is said not to be personal but rather, ideological. The president, sources said, is still miffed with the PDP and what the party did to him in his years in the opposition.
Should Saraki lose out in the emerging case, the Senate could be headed for a fresh leadership election in which the PDP now revitalised after its bruising losses in 2015, could as well challenge whosoever the APC could produce. Even with the lack of unity in the APC with its senators divided between the Unity Forum and Like Minds, it could become an enticement for the PDP to dare the APC by entering the fray with the assurance that APC senators inclined to Saraki could align with them.