Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The spat between the Nigerian Senate and Presidency

Since his emergence as the Senate President on June 9, 2015, Senator Bukola Saraki -  medical doctor, former aide to President Olusegun Obasanjo, two term governor of Kwara State, former chairman of Nigeria’s Governor’s Forum and two term Senator – have been in the eye of the storm. His emergence as Senate President allegedly irked his party, All Progressives Congress, leadership. The party executive had thrown its weight behind Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State as the the preferred choice.

However, using his political dexterity, the Kwara born political tactician decided to cut deal with senators from his former party, Peoples Democratic Party. He triumphed and was sworn in as Senate president and concomitantly as the chairman of the National Assembly.  As part of the deal, Senator Ike Ekweremadu from the opposing PDP was voted in as Deputy Senate President. APC leadership saw this as an affront, a sacrilege! PDP had ruled Nigeria for 16 years and in the four electoral cycles that the party held sway; it never shared the leadership positions with the opposition parties in the National Assembly as done by Senator Bukola Saraki and his group of like-minded senators.   

That is how the trials and travails of the Senate President began. No sooner had he won that his wife was invited by Economic and Financial Commission for questioning over financial matters when she was the first lady of Kwara State. It was soon the turn of her husband, Bukola. A directing staff in the Office of Attorney General and Minister of Justice dragged the distinguished senator to the Code of Conduct Tribunal .The original 13 counts comprise false asset declaration and maintaining of offshore account while serving as Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.

Recently there were additional two charges that Saraki continued to receive salaries and emoluments as governor of Kwara State after the expiration of his tenure and at the same time, from the Federal Government, as a Senator between June 2011 and October 2013. The other additional charge is that Saraki failed to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau on assumption of office as Governor of Kwara State in 2003, his leasehold interest in the property at 42 Remi Fani-Kayode Street, Ikeja, Lagos.

The senate president has since last year been battling for his political life at Justice Danladi Umar’s CCT. His legal team has been using all the tricks in the law books to buy time or have the charges quashed. They have been filing all manner of ex-parte motions and interlocutory appeals. Saraki’s counsels have also challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him while also arguing that the CCT is not properly constituted. The Senate President’s legal team has equally asked the judge to disqualify himself due to a supposed EFCC indictment of a bribery allegation against him.

While still facing the asset declaration trial, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN on behalf of the federal government dragged the SP and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu as well as the former Clerk of the National Assembly and his deputy to the Federal High Court in Abuja over an alleged forgery of senate rules. Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, had petitioned the Inspector General of Police alleging forgery of the Senate Standing Rule 2015. This was investigated by the police and a report on it submitted to the AGF. Mr. Malami, purportedly acting on the police report in June 2016 decided to file criminal charges against the four accused persons.

However, before this, Senator Gilbert Nnaji on June 23 had filed a case against the IGP and AGF at the Federal High Court challenging the propriety of the police report on the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rule. He later filed a motion ex-parte in which he asked the court to stop the IGP and AGF from taking any step on the police report, pending the determination of the originating summon. Sequel to the action filed by Senator Nnaji, Justice Gabriel Kolawole had asked parties not to do anything on the police report during the pendency of the civil suit so as not to render the civil action nugatory.

Last Thursday, June 30, 2016 Justice Kolawole berated the AGF, saying he ought to use his power under the law to terminate any charge filed in breach of court process but he found himself as a promoter of such abuse. He said the AGF acted in bad faith because before his appointment as AGF, he was one of leading lawyers to Hunkuyi who authored the petitions upon which the police report was prepared and upon which the forgery charge initiated by the federal government was predicated. By his involvement as a private lawyer in the civil matter before the criminal charge was preferred against the defendants, Kolawole insisted that the AGF knew of the pendency of several court actions on the issues and ought to have used his office and law to terminate the flagrant abuse of the legal process.

Expectedly, Saraki and Ekweremadu alongside their like-minded senators have accused the presidency and APC party leaders as being behind their political travails. They alleged witch-hunt and political persecution. Some PDP senators have threatened to withdraw their support for Buhari presidency while some APC senators have also said they will decamp to the PDP. In the course of the roforofo fight between the two arms of government, the senate had attempted to amend the CCT act as well as insert immunity clause for the leadership of the National Assembly in the proposed constitutional amendment. Senate had also summoned the AGF to appear before it to explain the issues of conflict of interest, abuse of office, disrespect of a subsisting order of a court and violation of the principle of Separation of Powers. Nigeria Chief Law Officer is yet to appear before the senate to answer the query.

The presidency has washed its hands off senate leaders trial saying the law is taking its course.  Presidency has also said that it is not the senate or National Assembly that is on trial but a couple of individuals. Those who believe that do not  understand what in military parlance is called espirit de corps or solidarity. The question is: If Saraki were to have obeyed the party decision not to contest the senate presidency, will he have been accused of false asset declaration or forgery of senate rules?

Political persecution or not, what is happening is good for our democracy. It shows that no one is above the law and that there is no expiry date for crimes committed. If VIPs like the No. 3 and 4 citizens could be called to answer for their actions, then there is no one that cannot be tried for crimes committed. It may yet be a blessing in disguise for the accused persons as their trial is a golden opportunity to defend themselves and possibly get discharged and acquitted of all the allegations leveled against them.

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