Saraki’s Trial: Between Politics, Perception And Justice


SAN FRANCISCO, April 30 (THEWILL) – The on-going trial of Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, has raised new concerns over the sanctity of the judiciary. The trial has attracted lots of attention being that this is the first time Nigeria's number three would be docked over corruption-related charges.

But while the prosecution of any public official accused of corruption should be supported by all Nigerians, it is worrisome that individuals, organizations and even government agencies are making overt imputations and carrying out actions, which are capable of further impugning the nation's judiciary.

Regrettably, the trial has taken such a centre stage that the wheel of governance appears clogged so much so that the toll is on the relationship between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government. As if enough damage has not been done, a good number of Nigerians are now distracted from focusing on the more important issues of insisting that this government fulfills its campaign promises.

The trial is also one that is affecting the nation's political landscape with permutations running riot. Recently, the National Chairman of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun was reported to have insinuated that the party would not lose sleep if Saraki is found guilty and removed from office. This is not strange, considering the circumstance surrounding Saraki's emergence as Senate President.

Saraki has repeatedly said he is on trial because he is the President of the Senate, even though he recently said that his original sin was his opposition of APC's plan to field a Muslim/Muslim ticket for the last presidential election. Strangely too, despite several requests by the defence counsels that the presiding judge hands off the case, Justice Danladi Umar has continued to sit over the case.

Be that as it may, getting the Senate President to appear in court daily as it stands is slowing down governance, in as much as the Deputy Senate President sits in his stead. Yet, by virtue of the position occupied by Saraki, many are of the view that it is the entire Senate that is on trial. Thankfully, the number of senators who accompany the Senate President to the tribunal has greatly reduced, given the negative signals that their actions have been sending.

The Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, has hitherto been seen as an administrative organ, which investigates matters of assets declaration filed before it. But the Supreme Court ruling which gave the CCT equal powers as the High Court, has laid that to rest.

There are however concerns that only a higher authority could have strengthened the tribunal's hand, especially against a sitting Senate President which have oversight functions over the CCB. This fear is rife since the CCB, under the Executive, could be perceived as a puppet in the hands of a puppeteer. This is why we think the recent attempt by the Senate to amend the CCB Act was a step in the right direction, if not for the timing which was wrong.

THEWILL urges the CCB to clean itself of the perceived bias by re-visiting the almost 20,000 assets declaration filings by public officials, which have reportedly been lying untreated since 1999. The tribunal under Justice Umar is a respected organ of government which should not allow the public to go wild with allegations that it is being used to pursue primordial sentiments of individual, government or a political party.

Without pre-empting the court, if Saraki is found guilty eventually, it may be insinuated that he was not given a fair hearing, especially as he had raised concerns in this regard. According to him, he was not given the privilege to defend the allegations against him before referring his case to the tribunal, contrary to Section 3 (d) of the CCT Act, which so stipulates. It is also disturbing that the tribunal, under the same judge, admitted that its ruling in a similar case faced by the APC National Leader, Bola Tinubu, was done in error.

THEWILL therefore calls on the tribunal and its chairman to ensure that it is seen to be fair in the manner it administers justice in the Senate President's trial. Unfortunately, some have reached the conclusion that the CCT is only playing out a script. It then behoves on the tribunal to be highly judicial in this matter so that at the end, the faith of the people on the judiciary as the last hope of the common man can be sustained.