By Ariyo-Dare Atoye
The world is perpetually in conflicts and a battle ground for interests, resources and ideologies. Inherent in most of these struggles are the battle for control and survival. This is also applicable in politics where the only thing that is constant is interest, hence the popular dictum: no permanent foe, no permanent friend. But because human needs are insatiable, there is alway the tendency for crises and conflicts over limited opportunities and scarce resources. In Nigeria, note that that only one person each and per time will become the President of Nigeria, President of the Senate and the Governor of a State.
It is therefore germane for Nigerians to appropriately decipher the underlying interests in the ongoing trial of President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Most importantly, what should really be our uttermost concern as individuals, groups and organizations within the national interest of our country. This is a matter that has advertently drawn our attention and sometimes involvement. It touches on the emotions of millions of Nigerians, home and abroad, and therefore should be put in a proper context for the sake of our democracy.
I will do my bit to tell Nigerians that the ongoing CCT trial in Abuja is not really about Saraki and that is the bitter reality. Maybe if we pause a bit, look through history, do some soul searching and scrutinize the bigger picture, we could have a better understanding. This is not trying to be disingenuous or making excuses to exempt the President of Senate from the CCT. As long as the process of justice is fair, free and straight, no Nigerian is above the law.
Let us do some retrospect. The tensed political battle between former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former President Olusegun Obasanjo is a major historical reference that should guide our thinking. It was a bitter rivalry in which Obasanjo practically unleashed all the instruments of State at his disposal to undo Atiku. It was tensed and the disquiet could have have derailed our hard won democracy, if not for the firmness of the courts, support of the media, resilience of civil society organizations, as well as the unwavering spirit of many human rights groups and pro-democracy activists.
They rose to the occasion and defended the sanctity of democracy by not allowing Obasanjo to manipulate the system against his Vice President. Democracy was put to test; and not necessarily that Atiku was politically right or a saint, but Nigerians chose to look beyond the individual involved, they saw the bigger picture and rose in defence of democracy and rule of law. The concerns were palpable; the danger of allowing Atiku, a number two citizen to be brought down under a trump up arrangement.
Our nascent democracy was threatened through an obvious manipulation of the system. Obasanjo exhibited the tendency of a maximum ruler who can also use same measure to fight others. In addition, there was the fear of such autocratic action becoming entrenched in the country if Obasanjo is allowed to get away with his excesses unchecked. In the end, democracy won and we still have it till today.
But as a disturbing recurring decimal in Africa and some developing countries, there is always that danger of former military-rulers-turned-
Today, the target is Saraki, the number three man in the country. And as it was in the days of Turaki, so it is now – democracy is on trial and it is another major test. But sadly, majority of the civil constituencies that rose up to defend democracy, have now been compromised under the guise of a contrived anti-corruption campaign and an undefined change. It is on record that Atiku was not allowed a fair trial, and so also is Bukola Saraki, who has been denied a fair trial at the CCT. But Atiku survived because of the sincerity of democratic agents who stood his cause.
But in a 360 degree judicial somersault, same tribunal Chairman, Danladi Umar, in the same venue in Abuja, just four years apart, reversed his own ruling delivered in a similar case involving a former Lagos Governor, Bola Tinubu – who is coincidentally fingered as one of the persons seeking the removal of Saraki as President of the Senate. “The tribunal has since realised that the decision it made on the case between FRN vs Tinubu was in error and has clearly departed from it,” according to Umar. It is absolutely clear that Saraki cannot get a fair trial at the CCT as presently constituted. And this is the view of majority of Nigerians.
This matter is purely a political struggle between two camps in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), but of which State power is now being used to oppress and manipulate the system against the other. The CCT as a quasi judicial body has been found a willing tool to get at Saraki. And as it is, a significant section of the media and the civil society who should naturally fight this injustice are either for Tinubu or President Muhammadu Buhari who is also not disposed to Saraki’s Chairmanship of NASS. They can’t yet see the big picture.
While this case may not survive the apex courts’ hammer on appeal, unfortunately, the damage would have been done if the CCT is allowed to complete this ongoing hatchet job. The far reaching implication is not really about Saraki if these people succeed (God forbid), but the return of what we feared when we stood for Atiku. Remember, we now have a former military ruler who is gradually baring the fangs of a fascist, disobeying courts order and using the military to quell civil protest instead of the Police. It will be too much to allow him to bring down the number three man, manipulating the CCT to do so.
We will be making a grave mistake to isolate Saraki in this battle. Most dictators alway hide under anti-corruption fight and war against indiscipline to deal with perceived opponents. What we are witnessing in Nigeria now is not an exception. If it is so difficult for President Buhari (acclaimed saints by some diehard followers) to fulfill a campaign promise of making his assets declaration form public, why do you think they are sincere in the persecution of Saraki over alleged false assets declaration? The reason why the framer of the CCB Act inserted section 3D that exonerates Saraki and before now Tinubu, is because of the untidiness of our system. Even Buhari and Vice President Yemi Obasanjo may be found wanting in this.
So let us grapple with one fact, this matter is more about the battle for political control, relevance and struggle for 2019 Presidency, and not necessarily about a sincere anti-corruption trial. The tendency to crush all those that will stand in ‘their’ way is manifesting. But based on human limitations, I think Saraki has nothing to lose again in life having achieved so much in his political journeys. He may later get Justice at the Apex courts if the CCT succeeds, but Nigeria will later grapple with the consequences of allowing the judicial process to be manipulated.
This was published as a statement from Emeka Ezeife,a former governor of Anambra state, who was said to have been embarrassed alongside renowned economist, Prof. Pat Utomi in Awka, recently by officials of the Department of State Security (DSS).
“Those who talked to the young boys told them they do not like me and Pat Utomi playing a role in the launching. I called the Director of SSS and he told me that the directive was from Abuja, that it was a directive from above and that there was nothing he could do. He said that I should talk to the DSS in Abuja and I knew that they all travelled with the President. I tried to reach the operation officer and his phone would ring and would not answer. This is what is called humiliation in a very dehumanizing way.”
According to information, they were stopped from speaking at a book launch by the DSS who claimed to be acting on an order from the presidency. This is just one case out of many to come if we cave in and allow the judiciary to be totally undermined as the last hope of the civil world. The way of a dictator is like a wild fire in harmattan. You never can tell who the next victim is. Even Tinubu is not safe, became the table could turn in a matter of months.
Ariyo-Dare Atoye is a Public Affairs Analyst and Co-Convener Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution (CDNDC)firstname.lastname@example.org