The on-going trial of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, has brought forth several legal, political, and public perspectives. I present some of these perspectives in rhetorical form, and in so doing, I confine myself to only those facts that are undisputed. We can all come to our own conclusions from them.
Saraki, like every other citizen, is innocent until proven guilty. The duty is on the prosecution to establish his guilt. He does not have to prove his innocence. It is his constitutional right to defend himself to the fullest limit permissible by law. And in exercising that right, he is entitled to engage any lawyer or a number of lawyers of his choice. He is well within his rights to have all the 80 lawyers in court (as was reported) defending him. He is also within his rights to choose Kanu Agabi SAN to lead his defence. But, why Kanu Agabi? Competence? Or because of the happy coincidence that Agabi just happens to be the boss of the lead prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs SAN, when the former was the attorney general of the federation and the latter was one of his special assistants? The question lies not in the exercise of the right to choose, but concerning the choice made?
Saraki is well within his constitutional rights to challenge the validity of the CCT proceedings all the way to the Supreme Court. Saraki must not be condemned for seeking the validation of his rights. But we heard the prosecutor say on the every first day Saraki appeared before the CCT in 18th September 2015, that on that day, three separate courts – the Federal High Court, Court of Appeal and CCT were deciding the same question: whether the CCT can validly try Saraki. Jacobs described that as an attempt “to knock the heads of the courts together?” Should any person be entitled to do that or is it a proper exercise of his rights to seek the same relief before three different courts on the same day? What would have happened had there been conflicts in the decisions of those courts? What would such a conflict portend for the orderliness of society or the image of our judiciary?
The scales of justice must be balanced and justice delayed is justice denied, we are told. Shouldn’t Saraki be entitled to have all his objections heard? Also, shouldn’t the prosecution (indeed Saraki as well) be entitled to have the trial concluded without undue delay? Is Jacob’s cry that Saraki is unduly delaying the trial a legitimate cry for justice or merely the cry of an eager hangman ready to tighten his noose? Shouldn’t Saraki, who proclaims his innocence and alleges persecution, be eager for early vindication?
Can the ubiquitous hand of politics really be removed from this trial? Saraki claims that it is all about politics, and were he not Senate President, he would not be facing trial. No rational mind would disagree with this. But is that really the issue? A Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a political animal. Being Senate President is even more political, if only for the fact that after the political process of the election into Senate, there is a further election for the office of Senate President, and in Saraki’s case, his emergence as Senate President is even more political. But let’s even backtrack. Filing an asset declaration form under the Code of Conduct law is itself an act that arises out of a political activity. The filing applies only to public office holders, of which State Governors (former and serving) are included. Therefore, trial by the CCT is never stripped of politics. So, it is completely disingenuous and utterly futile to maintain that the trial of a Senate President by the CCT is politically motivated. Of course, the matter is political, but does it end there? Shouldn’t some questions follow? Is there legal merit in the charges filed? If there isn’t and Saraki is being “punished” solely, as alleged by him because he is the Senate President, surely that would be a clear case of persecution? But if there’s legal merit in the charges, is the prosecution not within its prosecutorial powers to prefer those charges? Prosecution or persecution – whose duty is it to determine guilt or innocence? The accused, the prosecutor or the tribunal? And should it matter what the accused thinks about why he’s being prosecuted or the motives of the prosecutor? Is the case not to be determined according to the evidence and the law?
Is there anywhere in the world where prosecutors possess the time, resources and inclination to prosecute every infraction of the law? Are prosecutors generally, given those constraints, not inclined to be selective as to whom and for which offences they prosecute? Are considerations such as the desire to send out a strong message or to set an example as a deterrent to others, good or bad considerations in deciding whom to prosecute? Is it not the same constitution that guarantees the rights of an accused described earlier that also confers the attorney general with the unfettered discretion, to prosecute or not prosecute any person and for what? Is it ever a valid defence in law, morality or religion for an accused to say “why me and not the others”? Even agreeing with Saraki, for one moment that he owes his travails to his office, what about the well-known adage that “if you live in a glass house, you don’t throw stones”? Are there many bigger glasshouses in Nigeria than that of the office of Senate President?
In the context of the No.1 and No.2 citizens having publicly declared their assets (though some would contend that the “publicly” part was forced), is subjecting the asset declaration of the No. 3 citizen to judicial scrutiny, an act of leadership by example and a loud manifestation of the “no sacred cows” “I belong to everyone and belong to no one” mantra or a political witch-hunt?
Let’s go back to the beginning. The man and the office are two different persons. Saraki, the man, is wholly different from Saraki, the Senate President though they are both embodied in one human being. Saraki, the man, took an oath when he was being sworn in as Senate President that he would not permit his personal interest to conflict with his position and duties as Senate President. Given that oath, should Saraki have resigned as Senate President as soon as he (Saraki, the man) was charged, regardless of his proclaimed innocence or allegation of political victimisation, to save the office of Senate President from the public odium that necessarily goes with the trial? Has any disrepute being brought to the Senate, if as it is in this case, Saraki sits on the chair of Senate President on Thursday, and on Friday, he sits in the dock as an accused person? Or since he (Saraki the man) is undoubtedly innocent until proven guilty and the charges against him are in any case politically motivated, the Senate and the office of Senate President can or should withstand that ignominy? Or is it even ignominy at all?
Finally, whom do the Senators that attend court with Saraki really represent when they do that? Is it their constituents (who may or may not even know who Saraki is) and who, in any event, never voted for him? Is respect and integrity of the Senate what is being preserved? It is Saraki, because he is the Senate President? If it is because Saraki is Senate President, could he (Saraki) not have made that representation unnecessary by simply resigning? Or is it for self-gratification and reward, past, present or future?
While the Code of Conduct tribunal bears the sole responsibility for determining the guilt or innocence of Saraki, each one of us, ordinary citizens, has a duty to make a judgment on the overall circumstances. I know what mine is, what is yours?