The Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, is in the news once again for wrong reasons. He is going back to court to face criminal charges. It is not surprising that his reappearance at the CCT has generated tension within the Senate, especially among the like-minded Senators who supported his election, and the Senate unity forum, consisting of Senators who supported Senator Ahmed Lawan, the establishment candidate. Beyond the senators, however, sharp divisions have also developed among lawyers, civil society groups and the general public.
The divisive issue is whether or not Saraki should remain the President of the Senate of the Nigeria while answering charges on corruption and false declaration of assets. Those who insist that Saraki could, and should combine the roles of Senate President and criminal defendant rest their case on his presumed innocence until proven guilty. They are largely Saraki supporters, who put self interest over the public interest. True, there are also Senators, who want Saraki out of the way so that they could install their own man as the Senate President. The majority of those who advocate for his resignation are more concerned about the public interest.
Let's be clear about the 13 count charges as they are not light. They include false and anticipatory declaration of assets; contravention of the law prohibiting public officials from operating foreign accounts and fraudulent conversion of public funds for personal use. The international community is replete with examples of public officials in Saraki's position who resigned. Some did even before they were officially charged with wrongdoing, being swayed by considerations on public probity, integrity and national interest. Last year the Egypt prime minister and the entire cabinet resigned, following a corruption scandal, which led to the arrest of the minister of agriculture who had resigned even before his arrest. The government resigned in connection with allegations that some government officials took bribes to help businessmen illegally acquired state land.
Similarly, Michael Martins, Speaker of the House of Commons in the Parliament, resigned as Speaker and as a Member of Parliament, not because he was alleged or indicted but because the Parliamentary expenses scandal broke under his leadership.
It would now appear that Saraki views his job differently as the Senate President. Rather than seek to protect the institution of the Senate Presidency, he sees his job as holding on to the office and dragging it to court with him. Yet, there are local precedents for him to emulate. Two of his predecessors in office, namely Adolphus Wabara and the late Chuba Okadigbo, were indicted for corruption charges but they both resigned from the exalted seat before trail.
True, Saraki should be presumed innocent until proven guity, but he should fight for his innocence as Saraki, not as Senate President. Its shameful for Saraki. Its shameful for the Senate and the entire National Assembly. And it is shameful for the nation.
Article by: Olajide Beke