Growing demands for the resignation of Senate President Bukola Saraki took a dramatic turn with the invasion or occupation of the Senate building by protesters, vowing not to withdraw until Saraki resigned. The controversy on the demand for his resignation had been on intermittently, even as Saraki was employing judicial rights to stop the trial, all so far, unsuccessfully.
The issue here, therefore, is not the person of Saraki himself but the resignation. That is if, when and how. There is nothing new in raising moral standard on the Saraki issue, depending on who is the proponent. Even student union leaders and self-proclaimed social crusaders had openly accused themselves over questionable deals on the funds of their respective organisations.
Several tactics had been employed in the recent past all in the hope of forcing resignations but also in return by Saraki himself, both against which caution was issued here. Every detail of that caution is still valid today. Political rivals wanted Saraki to quit but the caution was that a dangerous precedent might be set. Let it be clear that none of our current political combatants, especially Saraki, is indispensable. However, given the penchant of Nigerians for creating political tension, demand of public office holders to resign on moral grounds over allegations yet to be confirmed, especially in law courts might spiral out of control.
Allegations will always be made, which may not necessarily be factual or, at any rate, valid when prosecuted in law courts. If, therefore, every public office holder is forced to quit in advance of proof, allegations of impropriety may soon become cheap blackmail weapon to discredit borderline or even innocent ones.
For example, it took Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, his first eight months in office to appoint his cabinet. President Muhammadu Buhari came and reduced(?) the period to, at least, five months. On account of that, newly elected governors took slightly longer than that to appoint their respective cabinet, all of them either waiting for or copying President Buhari. We may add copycatism to our political vocabularies.
Then, out of desperation, while the public watched the tango on whether Senate President Saraki should resign or not, a petition suddenly surfaced at the Senate, alleging series of corruption dealings against the judge, who was to try him. Even if the petition against Justice Danladi Umar was not stage-managed, Saraki’s Senate wasted no time in referring the petition to its Ethics and Privileges Committee, virtually turning the accused into a fellow Senator obliged to be probed so urgently in such circumstances. The report of the Senate probe into the corruption allegations was to be submitted within a fortnight. Such urgency?
Only the unwary would have failed to discern the mindset of those senators with vested interests: Pronounce Justice Danladi Umar guilty of the corruption allegations and get him discredited from continuing with the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki. The question was: When was the Senate Ethics and Privileges Committee empowered to prosecute public office holders, particularly a Judge, who might be currently trying accusation of false declaration against the Senate President? Even if the Senate had such powers, should it not have occurred to that chamber to disqualify itself for credibility purposes, from all matters of corruption allegations a Judge currently trying the Senate President?
The alarm was then raised in this column to Saraki himself that should the Senate proceed with that parliamentary subterfuge to force Justice Danladi Umar to resign, without being investigated or tried by competent statutory bodies like the EFCC or police, Saraki’s position as Senate President would also become automatically untenable and he (Saraki) would have to resign, losing in the process all benefit of being presumed innocent until proved guilty.
Only then did the danger (Saraki could not foresee in his desperation to escape or delay trial) dawn on him. Accordingly, the Ethnics and Privileges Committee of the Senate couldn’t submit or publish the report of investigations into corruption allegations against Justice Danladi Umar. Hence, the two of them are facing allegations of impropriety.
That is why even now, Senate President Saraki should be allowed to conclude his trial. Otherwise, there will be consequences if Saraki is forced to quit, in advance of the determination of his case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Both Senate President Saraki and the man trying him, Justice Danladi Umar, have been accused of impropriety, rightly or wrongly. Should Saraki alone be forced to resign before being pronounced guilty, on the much touted ground of morality, to which should be added fairness, the position of Danladi Umar specifically as the Judge trying Senator Bukola Saraki will no longer be tenable. The consequence of which will be that Justice Danladi Umar must match the moral standard set for Saraki. Hate him or like him, every Nigerian must enjoy equal treatment.
Another consequence is that should Danladi Umar step down from trying Saraki, any new Judge assigned the Saraki trial will have to start afresh. One predictable fate, awaiting any new Judge (assigned Saraki’s trial after Justice Danladi Umar might have been forced to quit) is that he, the new Judge, risks being labelled with allegations of impropriety, to get him also discredited from trying Saraki. And then a third Judge will be appointed? If we face the truth, in our present state of moral debauchery, how many Judges can pass the scrutiny?
The trial of Senator Saraki by Justice Danladi Umar should be allowed to run through or any disruption to warrant a new Judge may be the beginning of an interminable trial. The prosecution of ex-public office holders since 2003 and 2011 is stalled in various courts. Worse still, an Indian on trial for criminal fraud since 2008 is yet to have his fate determined in Nigerian courts because at every critical stage, the presiding Judge is transferred while a new Judge starts afresh. Since 2008.
That is the prospect should both Senator Saraki and Justice Danladi Umar be consequentially or collaterally forced to quit.
By the way, either out of desperation or alarm at the dare-devilry of protesters, who occupied National Assembly, Senator Ali Ndume reportedly assessed the situation as unprecedented. Ndume must have misread the situation or he is ignorant of history. There was nothing unprecedented. But if unprecedented, history starts some day, and if that history in Africa started in Nigeria, so be it. After all, the occupiers of the Senate building were peaceful throughout their operation. In the past, such precedent would have been violent protests and demonstrations supposedly against our unpatriotic National Assembly members.
Unfortunately, victims of such protests were always innocent ordinary Nigerians not in any way connected with the criminal goings-on in the National Assembly. Senator Ndume also worsened matters when he said only his constituents, who elected him could dismiss him. Cheap and convenient self-service, again borne out of ignorance of history. Otherwise, Sha Palavi of Persia (now Iran) would have said the same thing. Ex-President Ali of Tunisia would have resisted the commencement of Arab Spring. The late President Mobutu Sese Seko would not have escaped from Zaire for exile in Algeria. General Numeiry of Sudan would have died in office instead of exile in Egypt. They were all driven out of opulence by people’s revolt.
Unprecedented? Ndume should learn about the Rose Revolution of 2003 in Georgia, one of the fall-out republics from the disintegration of the defunct Soviet Union. A former Soviet foreign minister appointed President of the new republic of Georgia in 1992, Edward Shevadnadze, rigged himself back in office in 2003 amidst public protests, attempted to inaugurate the National Assembly. But the people occupied the National Assembly and resisted him while security forces remained unconcerned. Shocked, Shevardnadze promptly left the scene for his own safety and resigned immediately.
The lesson? People’s revolt is the lot of those who lose touch with society. France, 1789, Russia 1971, Belgium 1830, Germany and many parts of Europe 1848.
There was something unusual in the manner the peaceful protesters easily occupied the National Assembly, given the reputation of overzealousness of Nigerian security in such situations. Without any iota of reasoning, security personnel would have unnecessarily heightened tension by releasing tear gas or even live bullets even though the occupiers were non-violent.
The reaction of Nigerian security while the National Assembly was being occupied showed marked improvement, which is praiseworthy. Or was Nigerian security taken by surprise by the occupiers? With speculations, over days, of the imminent occupation of the National Assembly by protesters, it was most unlikely that the security was taken by surprise. Also, the security did not tamper with the occupiers on the stupid allegation that the protesters did not obtain police permit.
Most remarkably, the police, this time, did not claim to have discovered plans by any group to cause mayhem in the National Assembly. The security was reported to have been overwhelmed by the large number of the occupiers. Fine. Neither the security nor the protesting group was violent in conduct.
That is civilised governance. Inspector-General of Police Arase is retiring in that glory. His successor? We are waiting.