Sept 23, 2015 – Saraki’s Corruption Trial A Test Of Nigerian Judiciary System – Tabia Princewill
To some (particularly those who jumped ship from the PDP), he is a tragic hero, a victim of circumstance. In reality, he is their worst fear come true: that it is possible, in Nigeria, to pay for wrongdoing. Who would have thought, in a country where right is wrong and vice-versa, that despite being rich and powerful, one would finally be asked to answer certain vital questions pertaining to the source of one’s stupendous wealth? To those calling Senator Saraki’s travails a witch hunt, don’t worry, there is still time for the EFCC and ICPC to dust off all the old facts and dossiers they had gathered regarding former governors, ministers, senators etc. from both parties but certainly, case by case, in no particular order, this country will be rid of looters and there is nothing anyone can do to stop this.
Senator Saraki’s upcoming trial is a test for the Nigerian judiciary, a test for our democracy as well as a test for us as a people. Are we able to see facts for what they are without ethnic, religious or even party sentiments? Are we able to ignore the noisemakers who seek to divide us on those lines, thereby drawing attention away from their own crimes? Are we able to fight for a country where, finally, opportunity, equality in front of the law, are accessible to every Nigerian rather than just a few? None of these things can be achieved without the resolution of the problem called Bukola Saraki. As Senate President, the third highest office in the land, the sworn protector of the Nigerian constitution and therefore of the Nigerian people and their right to live decently, it is mindboggling and ironic that he should be accused, not of anti-party activities (some wrongly believe this is the real cause of his woes) but of defrauding the Nigerian people.
The Saraki problem is the quintessential Nigerian morality issue that shows the fundamental dysfunction of our society. The Saraki confidence, that cool assurance that all is well in the land of theft, grand larceny and impunity is a slap in the face of justice, in the face of every Nigerian who bothers to strive and wake up in the morning, to face daily hardship and humiliation due to the political elite holding our economy hostage. Toyin Saraki gives talks on maternal healthcare but how many women and children in Kwara have died because the funds meant to be invested in their upkeep have been spent elsewhere, to allegedly fund the lavish lifestyle of one family? I know little of the Sarakis beyond what I read, like most Nigerians, so this isn’t personal.
The poor people of Kwara deserve, just as much as the Sarakis, to live comfortably. Commodities that in other climes are affordable, not reserved to the elite, are luxuries in Nigeria. How many Nigerian children drink milk or can say they eat three meals a day? How can they, when the budgets allocated to feed them in schools or to design infrastructure for their contentedness, are in the pockets of a few, whose wives then set up NGOs to donate crumbs, giving back bits and scraps of what is rightly ours! The problem called Saraki is born of complete disregard and contempt for the Nigerian people. The Senate President refused to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, an institution lawfully permitted to summon him (he should know as a Senator, he votes and enacts laws) allegedly because of the “hurried way” in which he was called into court. What an excuse. Some people take Nigerians for fools. He would prefer, many surmise, to appear in front of an ally, one Justice Ahmed Mohammed before whom his cases were previously brought, (all miraculously acquitted by this same judge, despite the mountain of evidence presented by the prosecution). If the problem called Saraki is not solved, we cannot claim to have a country of law and order or to want the progress and development of the average Nigerian. Mr. Saraki reportedly owns some properties worth more than 2 trillion Naira, some in the UK worth more than 12 million dollars. Remember the noise made by the opposition over Buhari’s cows or Osinbajo’s four or so homes and ask yourself, which is the face of corruption. Let us be honest with ourselves, for once, as a people and condemn in one voice what is wrong with our country. Indeed, not every wealthy man is corrupt but when one cannot quite point to the particular businesses which are the source of such stupendous wealth, eyebrows are more than raised: Nigerians are left screaming their indignation and horror. Neither allegations of forgery or theft do a senate president make: that is the crux of the Saraki problem. The unwillingness to step aside to clear one’s name, as is usually done, smacks not only of guilt but also of hatred for the public’s sensibilities, the same public Saraki was sworn in to work for. We have heard nothing from Dino Melaye, his unofficial spokesperson during his election as Senate President. Perhaps even the chairman of the senate ad hoc committee on media and publicity knows there are limits to defending the indefensible.
In fiction, there are honourable thieves who steal from the rich to feed the poor: they believe they have no other options. Upon all the wealth rumoured to be in Saraki’s possession, one cannot point to a company gainfully employing Nigerians. Rather, he is accused of using state funds to buy private assets and even going so far as declaring possessions and moneys he did not yet own so as to better seize them later. I had never heard the term “anticipatory looting” before the Saraki problem. If only such tactical genius could serve Nigerians rather than keep them impoverished. From the days of Societe Generale, to the alleged bank loan scandal in the also defunct Intercontinental Bank, there are too many questions for Saraki to answer for him to remain Senate President. It would be not just dishonest but depraved for him not to respond, in court, like any Nigerian without his influence would be forced to do. But then again, regular, (or well-meaning) Nigerians don’t become governors nor do they become Senators. They die of curable diseases, live miserably without their pensions and ask God why they were not born a Bukola Saraki.
It is curious that a purported barrister should confuse democracy with impunity: the idea of a witch-hunt isn’t just preposterous, it shows that for some people, no matter what evidence exists to condemn a man, or at the very least to give him cause to defend himself, they refuse to see him as guilty because that would mean accepting their own guilt, the wrongs they too have committed. It is understandable as a defence strategy, although not a very tenable or intelligent one. It’s the end of freedom from unpleasant consequences. Nigerians live unpleasant lives, it’s time the burden is shared by those who cause such nasty state of affairs.
Too many civil society organizations are so easily bought in Nigeria. Is Bukola Saraki a member of NANS? How curious that they would stage a protest to “save” him but not to show solidarity with the UNILAG student who died due to her university’s negligence recently. I hope and despair all at the same time, reminding myself it is darkest before the dawn.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.