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The Trials of Bukola Saraki

Bukola-Saraki-1It was a day of joy and relief for the camp of the Nigerian Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on Wednesday June 14, as the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) ruled in his favor, discharging and acquitting him of any charges. The office of the Attorney General (AG) of Nigeria had in September 2015, filed an 18-count charge against Saraki before the CCT, accusing him of false and anticipatory declaration of assets and operating foreign bank accounts as a public servant.

The Code of Conduct Bureau is empowered by the CCB Act to “establish and maintain a high standard of morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behavior of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability”. The functions of the CCB include “receiving, examining and taking custody” of asset declarations by Nigerian public officials.

As such, where there are issues around asset declaration by public officials, the CCB is empowered accordingly and the AG’s office was not out of line in filing this case.

First, a timeline of events…

May 29, 2003      Bukola Saraki sworn in as Executive Governor, Kwara State

                               Assets declared in compliance with CCB First Schedule, Section 15

May 29, 2007      Re-elected and sworn in as Executive Governor, Kwara State

May 29, 2011      Elected to the National Assembly as Senator representing Kwara Central

May 29, 2015      Re-elected to National Assembly

Jun 9, 2015          Elected President of the Nigerian Senate

Sept 11, 2015      Office of Attorney General of FGN files 13 count charge before CCT

Saraki challenges jurisdiction of the CCT, files for stay of proceedings and termination of trial at High Court (filed thrice), Court of Appeal, Supreme Court

Oct 30, 2015        Court of Appeal affirms jurisdiction of CCT to conduct trial

Feb 5, 2016          Supreme Court upholds Court of Appeal ruling

Apr 27, 2016        FGN amends charge. Files 16 count charge against Saraki before CCT

Feb 8, 2017          FGN amends charge. Files 18 count charge before CCT

Jun 14, 2017       CCT concludes trial. Rules that Saraki has no case to answer over charges

 

The facts we know

All Progressives Congress (APC) is the ruling political party in Nigeria, having won the 2015 elections, putting an end to 16 years of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the helm of affairs. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is a card-carrying member of the APC.

An APC led government filed a corruption case against a top APC official, within 4 months of assuming power.

In September 2015, there was no Attorney General of the Federation as President Buhari was yet to appoint cabinet members. Ministers (including the current Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami) were officially appointed/assigned in November 2015, six long months after the President assumed office.

The initial 13-count charge filed from the office of the Attorney General was prepared by the Deputy Director, M.S Hassan.

Saraki declared assets worth N10 billion to the CCB when elected executive Governor of Kwara State in 2003. His assets then included cash, real estate and stocks. He also declared his assets to the CCB in 2007 and 2011.

Questions for the gods

Why on earth will an APC led Federal Government file a criminal case against one of its high-ranking office holders, barely 4 months into their tenure? Typically, would this not have been treated as a “family affair” as is common with internal party squabbles? What was different?

Why did the office of the Attorney General (suddenly) decide in 2015 to revisit asset declarations that were done between 2003 and 2011, about 4 to 12 years after the fact? There is no publicly known query to the asset declarations done by Saraki in 2003, 2007, 2011. What was different about 2015 that triggered dusting up old papers?

Recall that Saraki became President of the 8th Senate in June 2015, after being voted in unanimously by 57 senators, in the absence of most APC senators. Nigerians will vividly remember the political drama that ensued that day. 51 APC senators had left the chambers of the National Assembly to attend a truce meeting allegedly set up by the party leadership at the International Conference Center, Abuja. The party preferred candidate at the time was Senator Ahmed Lawan representing Yobe South district. It was easy to conclude that Saraki might have played Maradona on his party leaders! Was this the trigger?

Who instructed the DD, CCB to file charges? Was it an action item from years of review and investigation or was there external political influence?

Did Saraki falsely declare assets before he got them? Did he operate foreign bank accounts while serving the nation? We know from the ruling of the Supreme Court that there was no proven truth beyond reasonable doubt. Regardless, what are the unproven truths? For example, what is the truth about when Saraki acquired the Ikoyi property (No. 15A & B, Macdonald road)? Were they bought in 2000 as declared or in 2006 when sold by the Implementation Committee on FG landed property?

 

The problem

As has become the norm with several occurrences within the Nigerian political sphere, we are witnessing another story with a beginning but without a definite end. For Saraki, it ended with the CCB’s ruling and acquittal. For Nigerians, it’s probably not so. How is it possible for the nation’s foremost anti-corruption agency (in the public service) to end up with a ‘no case’ ruling?  Was it deliberately sabotaged? The Federal Government was represented in court by Senior Advocates of Nigeria but they ended up with ‘no case’. Surely there is more to this than meets the eye.

The end?

Our questions will continue to linger, rumors and theories will loiter the political space, and one common saying will unfortunately prevail… the more you look, the less you see!

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A President on leave: AWOL or ALLOWED ?

Buhari-11It’s no longer news that Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, left the shores of the country on January 19, 2017, to commence a 10 day vacation in the United Kingdom.   There is nothing wrong with this as the President is entitled to annual vacation. The 2008 Public Service Rules specify a 30 day annual vacation for the highest grade level. These rules apply to the President as far as there is no inconsistency with the constitution. As is expected, President Buhari wrote the National Assembly, following due diligence, to hand over power to the Vice President in his absence. During his 10 days off, he planned to ‘undergo routine medical check ups’… almost typical of the average upper middle class Nigerian… leveraging their vacation abroad to conduct health checks. No prizes for guessing why this happens. He was due to resume February 6, 2017.

On the eve of the tenth day of his leave, the President communicated again to the National Assembly, extending his vacation “in order to complete and receive the results of a series of tests recommended by his doctors”. He did not specify how long this extension would last. Again, nothing particularly wrong here. Due process was followed and his vacation duration has not exceeded the annual allowance.

Let’s work this backward a little bit. To resume on Monday February 6, after 10 working days off-work, means the first day of vacation should be Monday January 23. His letter to the National Assembly also corroborates this. However, what was the effective start date of his 10 day vacation?

A quick look at section 145 of the constitution which was referenced in his communication to the National Assembly – Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation… until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”

When did he transmit to the National Assembly? January 19. Has he issued a written declaration to the contrary? No. So may we infer that according to law, the President’s functions were transferred to the Vice President on January 19, hence his vacation commenced same day and by same inference, his original vacation duration was 12 working days and not 10 days as widely publicized? Did our incorruptible President tell an inadvertent lie?

The interesting thing is that this is not the first time Nigeria is being thrown into a moment of uncertainty regarding the whereabouts and state of the President.

In the early hours of January 15, 1966, Nigeria’s Prime Minister, was abducted from his residence by coup plotters and led away to an unknown destination. For 5 days, no one knew the state or location of the Prime Minister. Within this period, the coup attempt had fallen through with Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi taking over leadership after some form of ‘agreement’ with the Council of Ministers, so there really was no lacuna at the top administratively… but the whereabouts of the Prime Minister remained uncertain. Unfortunately, he was discovered dead in some bush along the Lagos – Abeokuta road.

Similarly, in July of the same year, Nigeria witnessed the infamous 1966 counter coup. The plotters arrested the then Head of State, and led him away similar to the January occurrence. Several days after, the state and location of the Head of State was unknown, despite the fact that a semblance of leadership had assumed the seat of power. You may argue again that there was no real vacuum in leadership but there was uncertainty about the erstwhile leader.

Fast forward to November 2009 when the serving President was flown out of country urgently for medical treatment. This case is peculiar as it presented both public uncertainty and a lacuna in leadership. For over 2 months, his status was shrouded in some form of secrecy leaving Nigeria to drift in stormy waters like a rudderless ship. His omission to formally write the National Assembly and transfer the duties of leadership left Nigeria in the hands of a corrupt and treasury looting cabal. Unfortunately, it took his death for uncertainty to give way. With the eventual intervention of the Nigeria Bar Association, Supreme Court and the Senate’s ‘doctrine of necessity’, power was transferred to the Vice President in a bid to set the nation on the right path.

Today, there are still similarities. With the President transferring power legally to his Vice, he commendably averted a leadership void. However, there are quite a few uncertainties. What is the true status of our President, beyond being ‘hale and hearty’? Besides being located at Abuja house in London, where is his true location? Is he more in the hospital, taking pictures only at convenient moments or are those just rumors and imaginations? Did he request and announce a 10 day vacation when it was actually 12 working days? Is he entitled to 30 calendar days or 30 working days of leave or an unlimited duration? 30 calendar days was exhausted February 19. 30 working days will be exhausted March 1.  So.. is this really ‘annual leave’ or  ‘sick leave’? How long is a serving President allowed to be away from duties before we are forced to ask whether he remains capable of resuming work to discharge his duties?

The clock is ticking, the opposition is raging, the world is watching. Will the political class join hands to intervene (like the doctrine of necessity) or insist on strict observance to extant laws regulating how long a public servant can be away from work? Time will tell and history may just be the best guide to answering these questions.

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