| By Dan Agbese |
IN a perverse way, the 80 or so senators did the honourable thing by giving the senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki, their vote of confidence. It would have been dishonourable for them to throw their leader under a moving vehicle by denying him their support in his current ordeal when he needs their support most.
Their vote of confidence may not necessarily be an indication they believe he is innocent of the allegations against him but it tells the rest of us that the bond of legislative solidarity is an important protective device. There is honour among big men, you know. What they sought to do was to re-assure Saraki that he can count on the support of the majority of his colleagues not to listen to those who want him to resign, let alone they pressing for his resignation. They might have reasoned that if they desert the man and he goes down on account of the allegations against him, it could open sluice doors and probably sweep off other lawmakers and indeed, public other officers down the gutter.
I think it is a good thing, what they did. And I think it is a messy thing, what we face.
Sure, a case can be made against those, including the NLC, who want Saraki to resign as senate president just because he is on trial. It is a given that our laws, scrappy as their interpretation often is by the courts, says a man is innocent until proven guilty. Saraki is on trial. He remains innocent of the charges against him until the court has had its say. Would it be fair to jump gun and possibly bring him down from his enviable perch as the number three citizen to a numberless citizen like yours sincerely? Perish the unholy thought.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan used this same hoary argument to impose former governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, on PDP as its national chairman. Not long after he left office in 2007, EFCC dragged Mu’azu to court for allegedly freely helping himself to the people’s money while in office. His trial has not gone anywhere – and it won’t. Jonathan, in his wisdom, did not think that Mu’azu’s trial alone was sufficient reason to prevent the former governor from being called out to carry out an important national assignment such as leading his party and probably leading it to victory in 2015. He failed on the last count, thank goodness.
Again, Jonathan used the same argument to bring Ayo Fayose back as governor of Ekiti State. The man with an unbridled appetite for chickens was removed from office for alleged corruption over, you guessed it, chickens. EFCC promptly slapped corrupt charges on him. The case is stuck, of course, in the court where cases against big men collectively gather dust. But Jonathan did not think it disqualified Fayose from being fielded in the election as a PDP governorship candidate. He won the election and has since given free reins to his unreconstructed nature.
Perhaps, if Jonathan did not so cynically treat Mu’azu and Fayose’s cases as he did, Saraki’s trial, however it came about, would not once more raise a slew of fundamental issues about our quest, if not ambition, to replace a nation of big men with a nation of laws. Big men are quite often the targets of other big men. It is quite possible that Saraki is a highly placed victim of the mutually assured destruction common to and among big men. But it says nothing about the worryingly moral deficit in our political system.
Yes, Saraki is a brave and astute politician. He knows how to survive in the shark-infested waters of our national politics. He has the requisite credentials – two time governor of Kwara State, three term senator and, to boot, a king maker in his state. He looks impregnable.
But his controversial election as senate president has been mired in controversy. So far, he has warded off all attacks and survived. Indeed, the possibility of his removal from office on account of his current trial is remote. The case is likely to drag on through the courts on the back of a tortoise. The wheels of perverse justice move slowly. Anyone who expects otherwise is ignorant of the Nigerian system.
Still, it seems to me that we should worry about the unwillingness of our political leaders to accept responsibility for their personal problems with implications for our national interest and the possibility of impugning the integrity of the system itself. Moral integrity is a premium in societies ruled by laws, not by men. In such a society no man need be persuaded to put public interest above his own when he is in trouble with the law.
The Nigerian system, fiercely protective of those who have made it, is its own worst enemy. Personal integrity is rated so low as to be ignored. Nigerians big men are to loathe to accepting personal responsibilities for question marks that rise like a dark cloud over the moral content of their integrity. When we ignore the question mark, we undermine the fight against corruption; and indeed, the fight, such as it is and has been, simply blows in the wind.
I do not think the national assembly has a provision for its members who are accused of wrong doing to step aside until they can clear themselves. That makes Saraki’s position a little messy. He was pelted with stones and called thief at the Eid prayer ground in Ilorin last week. Probably, the young men were induced by his political enemies to embarrass him. But they embarrassed him. I am not too sure he is standing that tall any more. The longer this drags on, the more some more mud is splashed on his immaculate baban riga. It is not good for him and the high office he occupies as the nation’s number three citizen and thus one of the most powerful politicians in the country today.
I am not going to ask him to resign. My view, however, is that he should accept personal responsibilities for his current problem. And believe me, I do sincerely sympathise with him. But for him to continue to blame his political opponents and hang on does not just cut it.
There is always something to be said for leading by example. In the eighties, the late Tai Solarin, a corps marshal, was arrested for driving without his driver’s licence. He promptly resigned although the law allowed him to produce the licence within 24 hours. He needed to show that Nigerians can and should behave like people elsewhere who resign their public and even private offices once their integrity has been called into question. It takes one man to set such an example.
I would love to see Senator Bukola Saraki set that example. It would be costly to him and his political future but it would help bring the change, no matter how small, in our national system. That would be no mean achievement for him.
— Oct 5, 2015 @ 14:30 GMT