By Oladele Raji
After the Supreme Court decision that the Code of Conduct Tribunal as it is presently constituted has the jurisdiction to continue with the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, the case has continued in earnest. Since then, several legal luminaries like Prof. Ben Nwabueze, SAN, former Justice of the Supreme Court, Samson Uwaifo, Mr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, and many other leading lights of the legal profession have faulted the judgment by the apex court on the grounds that it established a wrong precedent as the CCT was not meant to prosecute criminal matters. However, it appears that those legal opinions have been treated as merely academic and therefore do not really matter now. The decision of the Supreme Court is final and anyone who seeks a redress from the apex court, would have to turn to God.
And so, the trial of the Senate President has returned to the tribunal where it all began. But what manner of justice should Senator Saraki expect to get from the tribunal? Given what has transpired so far, I don’t think the camp of the Senate President should expect any dramatic turn of fortune. This case is crystal clear, and one thing it is certainly not about is corruption.
If anyone ever thought for a moment that this case was going to be determined by sound interpretation of the law, what happened at the last sitting of the tribunal must have cured that illusion. This case is not about law. It is a sinister act in the ultimate drama of the ‘game of thrones.’ The plot may thicken, it may twist and turn, but it inexorably leads to only one predetermined outcome: the script has been written. Like anyone who has followed that TV series would recall, in a game of thrones, there is no middle ground; you either win or you die!
The defence team had asked that the case against Senator Saraki be dismissed on the ground that he was not invited to clarify issues raised over his asset declaration before he was dragged to the tribunal. Their argument was based on the provision of Section 3 (d) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, which states that on receiving “complaints about noncompliance with or breach of this Act and where the Bureau considers it necessary to do so, refers such complaints to the Code of Conduct Tribunal established by section 20 of this Act in accordance with the provisions of section20–25 of this Act: provided that where the person makes a written admission of such breach or noncompliance, no reference to the tribunal shall be necessary.”
In a layman’s term, this means that the Code of Conduct Bureau is required to invite a public official to clarify any suspected breach or non-compliance before he or she may be charged. In fact, it was on the basis of this that the CCT dismissed the charges against Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos and one of the leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2011.
However, while delivering his ruling on the Saraki case, Mr. Danladi Umar said, to the utter astonishment of everyone present, that his decision in the Tinubu case was made par incuriam, that is, made in error. To any dispassionate observer, this is not only distasteful but in far more serious terms, a mockery of Nigeria’s judicial system. This willful abnegation is till date the strongest indication, that Mr. Danladi Umar may himself be an unwilling pawn in a political chess game that he himself probably does not fully understand.
If Umar was not the judge in the 2011 Tinubu case, it would probably have been easy for him to depart from the ruling and move on to put himself in whatever service he desires to. But fate is a terrible thing. And like the late Uthman Dan Fodio famously declared, conscience is an open wound, and only truth can heal it. The Danladi Umar that I saw deliver that infamous ruling last week is still a good man. But it takes a conscience that is still alive to torture its owner so much whenever he decides to act contrary to its dictates.
The brutal truth is that those that are determined to get Saraki down would not relent until they have accomplished their insidious mission. Saraki is a smart politician. He has survived many battles. But this time, it appears he has taken on too many enemies who would give him no quarter. The moment he appeared president of the senate on June 9, 2015 contrary to the wish of some ‘principalities’ within his party, he became a marked man. Dragging him before the CCT was just a way of giving his career a decent burial. In Danladi Umar, they found a hangman, who either eat or gets eaten!
Saraki’s legal team have the opportunity to appeal the ruling of the CCT on jurisdiction based on section 3(d). They probably would. It is ordinarily within the discretion of justice Umar to continue with the case, while the appeal is pending or waits for the appeal to be decided. My guess is that the CCT would rely on the Administration of Justice Act to continue the trial. Saraki’s lawyers would speak all the laws they know, act all the drama that they have mastered, and apply all the tricks in the legal bag, but ultimately, there would only be one outcome. Saraki would be convicted. Once convicted, whether rightly or wrongly, the judgment would be executed. Yes, Saraki and his lawyers would appeal the judgement, and they would probably most certainly get the ruling upturned, but by then, the job would have been done. Truth, they say, would eventually catch up and overtake a lie. But truth’s victory would only be puerile, because by the time it catches up, the lie would have done its damage.
Those who are after Saraki do not have even the slightest interest to punish him for the crimes they claim he has committed. His real crime was the seat he won without their permission. Once he is shot down from that seat, he could as well go home and enjoy whatever they now claim he has wrongfully acquired.
However, like they say, when you leave a man with no options, you leave him with no choice. It appears that the only option left for Saraki now is to fight back. This is where the generality of the APC as a political party should be worried. I believe those who are hell bent on cutting Saraki down now are well aware of what he is capable of. They know he can give as much as he can take, almost in equal measures. That is why they won’t blink until they see his back. However, sometimes wisdom lies in leaving that small room of escape for your enemy. No one should underestimate a man whose only way of staying alive is to fight to the death.
No matter what happens to Saraki in the end, this period would go down as a dark chapter in our judicial history. It would be remembered as the time, when the court was conscripted by powerful politicians to fight in their battle for power. The ultimate loser in the dirty fight is our democracy and the rule of law that undergirds it.
Raji writes from Ikoyi, Lagos.