OPINION: The Trail of Saraki and the Anti-Corruption War: A Litmus Test for Buhari. By Abubakar Baba Sulaiman

Date: 2015-09-20

Facts abound that this government is not leaving anyone in doubt that no stone will be left unturned when it comes to standing up against the menace of corruption in the Country. The steps taken thus far are not in contest with the reality of the seriousness. The collapse of all government's accounts to one Treasury Single Account, TSA, public declaration of assets, setting up of Presidential Anti-Corruption Committee, among others, are all supporting the stance that it will not be business as usual in corruption management in this country.

Nigeria is on the threshold of a new creation, where impunity is stripped off immunity and class of status enjoys zero privilege of stratification, hence, no "special treatment". There is no doubt in the fact that, if the tempo is raised and the flute is blown louder, even those deaf criminals who have never heard the sound of the whistle blowers will hearken the call "sharp sharp".

While it may be argued that the zeal of the anti-graft agencies have recently been on the high side, we cannot contend the fact that the case at hand, Saraki's trial, is the biggest litmus test for Buhari's sincerity on the fight against corruption.

Before now, it would be a herculean task if not an effort in futility to see a figure like a sitting senate president on trial for corruption when he hasn't been impeached. Rare still, for a court to order the arrest of a senate president is to say the least, change has truly come. In those dark days of impunity and judicial conspiracy, it will amount to "fanning the embers of war" for the executive or its agents to attempt to enforce the law of the land where a prominent member of the National Assembly is a suspect. They are always quick to jump at us to describe their criminal acts as being in tandem with "legislative autonomy". The yet to be resolved senate rule forgery is a case in view.

Ironically, on this matter, so far, not even a member of this senate find it excusable for the suspect in question to attend to any other business different from answering to the charges of false assets declaration at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Paradoxically as we can all see it, the senate president who has recently decorated himself as a holy advocate of anti-corruption fight is now grudgingly answering to trial call on him for his dubious past. Rather than attend to his trial, he is busy putting the Code of Conduct Tribunals "on trial" on the pages of newspapers. This is now known to be his style - once he is under scrutiny by any agency of the government, he blackmails that agency. His rush to Federal High Court to stall his trial and the recent orchestrated petition against the EFCC are facts in hand.

Nigerians can now understand better while the suspect Bukola Saraki was the first to come out to antagonise President on his (Buhari) suggestion then that asset declaration should be made mandatory for all elected office holders in order to curb corruption. It is on record that Bukola was the only voice that resisted that suggestion, claiming that asset declaration "cannot work". We can now understand why and where he is coming from. A man who has so many secrets to keep has a lot to fear. I do not sympathise with his eventual doom, he should have seen this coming, he deserves the nemesis.

Hitherto, there is no gainsaying that Nigerians have virtually lost hope in the diligent fight against corruption, just as their interest in any government doing so has so depleted. However, recently, like a rejuvenated geriatric, there is a loud applause and approval everywhere, chanting "mukeso" and praying for this government to drive and arrive safely on this destination. Take a sample of an average Nigerian now and ask the general question on their opinion on the present administration's fight against corruption, one would be glad to observe that the public opinion in favour of Federal Government activities, especially on this is higher in percentage.

The infinitesimal dissenting opinions you might faintly hear are going to be made either by those who are guilty of the offence or those so sympathetic to the cause of the guilty ones because they do get their pot belly filled with the drop of wine from the corruption bottle. Those are the dissidents that would see legal and legitimate prosecution of a crime as "political vendetta", those who will want to bring down the wall of rule of law because they have earlier breached the rules and are afraid of the repercussions.

While acknowledging the resolve of this administration to face the carnage of corruption head-on, Nigerians are not oblivious of the likely "traditional" decoy of detractors to paint the fight "political". Today is not the day to ask them what they mean by "political", but their defence cannot be substantiated by mere retribution of witch-hunting when they have not been able to disprove the allegations with material facts. The law is no more blind.

Having said this, in the course of this sincere fight against corruption, Nigerians will want to see how President Buhari will "charge" all the agencies of law enforcement to stand up to their responsibilities in the enforcement of the laws in line with the constitutional provisions.

One of the problem militating against the successful fight of corruption is the lack of political Will and compromise on the part of the enforcers. Considering the fact that the Tribunal has ordered all the Security Agencies, especially the Police to arrest and bring Bukola Saraki before it on Monday, 21st of this Month, it will be dereliction of duty for these agencies to fail to arrest him as ordered. This is the first litmus test for this administration. Woe betides any other "ordinary" citizen suspect should the same order be made on him; he would be brought into the court in legs and wrists "band". What is good for the geese is good for the gander. Neither law nor convention would have been broken if the senate president is brought into the court room in handcuffs.

Let me take us back to the memory lane. During President Obasanjo's reign, when it was the time for him to show IGP Tafa Balogun on how not to be police man, he was dressed in bracelet around his wrist, when Sunday Afolabi (of blessed memory) juggled the NIMC Fund, he wasn't spared a space at Kuje (before his demise); even when Mike Adenuga was suspected of conniving with a government official to defraud the Federal Government, he was called to account for how his Glo Company got the take off capital. In the midst of all these, there were rants of "political witch-hunting" everywhere, yet, Obasanjo went ahead to enforce the law and heaven didn't fall. This current noise of the so-called "political victimization" will soon die a natural death, as long as the true course of justice is followed. So, the government should not be deterred by this side comments.

However, should the Police fail to arrest the suspect (Bukola Saraki) as ordered, Nigerian will be right to suggest that there are two laws made for the rich and the poor and that Buhari is promoting enforcement dichotomy in our criminal system.

A lot has been said and heard about the sacrosanct resolve of President Buhari, especially on the fight against corruption, nonetheless, Nigeria will be doomed for it should this current trial of Saraki ends in futility. Unarguably, Saraki is the singular Nigeria politician whose crimes, before, in and out of office rotate around documents forgery, corruption, money laundering, false declaration of assets, identity question, illegal conversation of government properties, etc. Interestingly, there are hard and impeccable piece of evidence against him on each and everyone of these crimes. If Bukola should beat around the System and get off the hook, inspite of all these evidence, this govt should forget about fighting corruption, Nigerians will never trust the government again in this regard.

This indeed is a litmus test for President Buhari's government, Nigerians are waiting to see how sincere he is to his pledge. On rule of law we stand, no crime should go unpunished. This matter stands as the first, it shouldn't be the last.

Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria



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