By Fred Itua, Abuja
AT last, the trial of the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), over his alleged under-declaration of assets when he held sway as governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011, has commenced. Although it is still too early to predict where the pendulum will shift to at the end of the trial, interest groups are already aligning and plotting on how to succeed the embattled Senate President in the event that he is convicted by the tribunal.
Saraki’s trial kick-started on March 10, 2016, having failed to persuade the Supreme Court to save him from prosecution. Saraki, whose appeal was thrown out by a seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court on February 5, is answering to a 13-count criminal charge, bordering on his alleged false declaration of assets.
The apex court panel headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohamed, had in a unanimous judgement, maintained that Saraki had a criminal case to answer, even as it upheld an earlier verdict of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, which ruled that the Senate President should face prosecution before the CCT.
Saraki was in the charge before the CCT, marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, accused of breaching section 2 of the CCB and Tribunal Act, an offence punishable under section 23(2) of the Act and paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Beside the allegation that he falsely declared his assets, as well as, made anticipatory declaration of assets, Saraki, was also alleged to have operated foreign bank accounts while in office as a public officer. He was alleged to have acquired assets beyond his legitimate earnings.
FG, among other offences, alleged that Saraki, claimed that he owned and acquired No 15A and 15B McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos, through his company, Carlisle Properties Limited in 2000, when the said property was actually sold by the Implementation Committee of the Federal Government landed properties in 2006 to his companies, Tiny Tee Limited and Vitti Oil Limited for the aggregate sum of N396, 150, 000, 00.
He was alleged to have made false declaration on or about June 3, 2011, by refusing to declare plot 2A, Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which he acquired between 2007 and 2008 from the Central Bank of Nigeria through his company for a total sum of N325, 000, 000, 00. Saraki was also said to have refused to declare No.1, Tagnus Street, Maitama, Abuja, which he claimed to have acquired in November, 1996 from one David Baba Akawu.
Since his trial began, Saraki has repeatedly referred to it as persecution. According to him, he is being tried for daring to challenge some powerful forces within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). His supporters in the Senate, drawn from the APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are always quick to point accusing fingers at either the Presidency or the national leader of APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Saraki’s media office, headed by Mr. Olaniyonu Yusuph, recently re-echoed these sentiments when he raised the alarm over plans by certain elements in APC to stampede CCT judges to rule against the embattled Senate President.
Yusuph, who has been coordinating Saraki’s media offensive against perceived enemies, said recently: “Using the same scare-mongering methods that these devious forces have employed since the commencement of the case last September, they have employed an online medium known for its shady and unethical reputation, SaharaReporters, and another national newspaper to peddle inaccurate information aimed at prejudicing the coming case and forcing the actors in the case to take certain predetermined decisions.
“In their desperation, they have been heckling key aides and associates of the Senate President, using some unidentified individuals, who make phoney calls to the phone numbers of the individuals close to Dr. Saraki, trailing the movement of these associates and giving different interpretations to the actions of these associates, all in a bid to poison the minds of the public against Saraki and to muddy the waters before the case commences on March 11.
“In one of these desperate attempts, they have tried to set the tribunal members, prosecution and defence lawyers in the case against one another. Yet again, they have sought to intimidate journalists who they envisaged may be assigned to cover the case while also seeking to cause disaffection among loyalists of the Senate President.
“The people behind these machinations believe they have to intensify these external, dirty campaigns against Saraki as they see that more and more Nigerians now understand that the trial is about who occupies the office of Senate President and not about any campaign against corruption.
“We will like to recall that this same group of people, using the same set of media and style, have last year successfully forced a Federal High Court judge to withdraw from the case filed by Dr. Saraki at the early stage of the Code of Conduct case. They also blackmailed the Court of Appeal to abruptly postpone its judgement some minutes to the period scheduled for the delivery of the judgement. Similarly, they have waged a war of attrition against Supreme Court Judges shortly before the delivery of the Apex Court’s judgement on the appeal filed by the Senate President on February 5.
“In this smear campaign, the anti-Saraki forces, using their allies in the media have tended to rubbish reputations built by some individuals over several decades. One of such individuals was the respected former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Modibo Belgore whom they falsely accused of trying to bribe judges on behalf of Dr. Saraki when nothing like that ever happened.
“We, therefore, call on members of the public to disregard the antics of these desperate and devilish elements. We assure all Nigerians and other observers of the Nigerian situation to be rest assured that the Senate President is ready to have his day in court. His lawyers are ready to defend his right and prove his innocence.”
Perturbed that the clock may be ticking for Saraki, some few loyal lawmakers of the embattled Senate President, recently joined the long list of prominent Nigerians drumming up support for him. The few loyal Senators, like Saraki’s media team, have been refuting claims that a grand conspiracy was in motion to replace him. Against the obvious realignment in the Red Chamber, the few lawmakers insisted that Senators were solidly behind Saraki.
“The sponsors of anti-Saraki media war are simply undermining the judiciary by writing a story to pre-empt the outcome of a judicial process. They are playing God, forgetting that Saraki would not have been Senate President if God Almighty did not wish it. He is the only Senate President who in less than one year had votes of confidence passed by 85 of the 109 Senators. If we have a motion for confidence vote today, we are sure that 90 Senators will endorse the Senate President.
“Let us make it clear, our position remains the same. The case against Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal is not a case of corruption. It is a case of political persecution. Again, he remains innocent until the case has gone through the final floor of the judicial architecture. We have no doubt that the mischief will fail and so we are solidly behind him.
“In the mischievous report aimed at prejudicing the CCT trial, a method typical of detractors who are behind this persecution called prosecution, they sought to present a case of division in the rank of the supporters of the Senate President by mentioning a Senator from Kwara North, without giving the name of the Senator. We have spoken with our colleague from Kwara North, Senator Shaaba Lafiagi and we can say it that he remains a loyal supporter of Dr. Saraki. He also told us he has never heard of any discussion about having a replacement for the Senate President. He further described the news story as mere speculation.
“We want to alert members of the public that this is the typical method that those detractors of the Senate President have employed since the beginning of the case last September. They sponsor stories in some newspapers and online publications to blackmail and prejudice judges, and compel them to take decisions in a predetermined manner. This is another example of the same devious campaign. They think they can achieve outside the Senate what they failed to achieve on the floor of the Senate. They will fail. We continue to stand by Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki and nothing will change that,” the Senators, namely, Rafiu Ibrahim, Peter Nwaoboshi, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Isa Hamma Misau, Samuel Anyanwu and Lanre Tejuoso stated.
Since the trial began in ernest, stakeholders and political pundits have been brainstorming on the possible fallout from the planned replacement of Saraki by his antagonists in the Presidency, as well as in the ruling APC. The pundits are of the firm view that the opposition PDP, with a sizeable number of lawmakers in the Senate, may be the biggest beneficiary.
As of today, APC has 57 Senators, while the PDP has 46. Six seats, with three in Rivers, one in Imo, another one in Anambra and one in Kogi states are still pending. If the PDP is able to secure these vital seats, they would move closer to clinching the coveted seat if Saraki is eventually convicted and removed.
One of the observers, Dan Ojo, who spoke to our correspondent, said the PDP missed a golden chance during the inauguration of the 8th Senate. According to him, former Senate President, David Mark, would have been able to secure the seat if the PDP was desirous of the position. Mr. Ojo predicted that if the Presidency and APC leaders do not tread with caution in their renewed desperation to oust Saraki, Nigeria may go the way of the United States of America where the opposition Republican Party is in control of the Congress.
Ojo said: “The PDP may be in the opposition, but they still know how to be smart. For me, I think that they missed a golden opportunity during the inauguration of the Senate. They had about 49 members also. They also had people in the APC who were ready to support them. They should have cashed in on the crisis in APC to vote Mark in as president for the third time. I am sure they realised that late and that was why they quickly supported Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President.
“If the elections in Rivers, Imo, Anambra and Kogi should go as planned, PDP will end up having more than 50 Senators and you know what that means. Even without the prompting of the Presidency or the APC, PDP will make an attempt to take over the Senate. This is a possibility and people must be aware. The APC should not be in a hurry to return PDP to power by their own hands. This is my candid advice.
“One more thing. President Muhammadu Buhari cannot afford to have PDP take over the leadership of the National Assembly. Look at what happened when former president Goodluck Jonathan allowed it and Aminu Tambuwal defected to APC. That largely affected him. President Barack Obama has been having issues dealing with the Congress, which is under the control of the Republicans. They must be careful.”
With the trial of Saraki at an advanced stage and rerun National Assembly elections almost concluded across the country, new twists and dimensions of what to expect in the event that Saraki is booted out, will surface. For now, like spectators in a movie, Nigerians will have to sit back and enjoy the play.