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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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The Buhari Question

Don’t give up! This phrase has become the mantra of motivational speakers, spoken regularly to millions the world over. Many at their wits end have found life in it.

If there is anyone who has become a living example of this message, it is none other than the retired General, Muhammad Buhari.

Buhari won the ticket to run as presidential aspirant for the Buhari-11All Nigeria People’s Party. He lost to his ex-military colleague, General Olusegun Obasanjo, polling 32% of votes.

Buhari was presidential aspirant on the platform of ANPP. Polling 19% of votes, he lost to PDP’s Umar Musa Yar’Adua.

Buhari contested the same number one position as flag bearer for CPC. He lost to PDP’s Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the incumbent Nigerian president.

Again, Buhari is listed as one of the the key aspirants ‎contesting for the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential ticket.

Buhari started contesting for the presidency when he was 61 years old. At 72 years of age, 11 years and 3 tries later, he is still running – for the same position.

The question that lingers in the minds of many Nigerians is: ‘why?’ Why is Buhari running for the same position over and over again? Does this reveal a quest for ultimate power by any means? Did he forget something in the State House? Is he suffering withdrawal symptoms?

Recall however that this same man has ‎led the country as Military Head of State (Dec 1983 – Aug 1985). Prior to that had served as Military Governor for the North-East, Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Chairman NNPC and Chairman PTF. Buhari is not new to Federal power! Been there, done that, with a much talked about record of integrity.

From the foregoing, it seems unlikely that the retired General is power-craving.

So is he bored? ‎Or does he still feel shortchanged, having been sacked barely two years into his sojourn as Head of State in 1985?

Is there something the retired General knows that we do not? Does he hold the magic wand to the peculiar art of governance in Nigeria, ready to wave it on being voted in?

On assuming power via a military coup on the last day of December 1983, his speech commenced with what could be considered a mandate: “In pursuance of the primary objective of saving our great nation from total collapse…” He referenced Nigeria’s dwindling economy, national insecurity, legislative largesse, financial indiscipline, economic mismanagement, and a corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership. Is today’s Buhari driven by the same urgent call of duty to ‘intervene’ and save the nation from imminent collapse? An analysis of Nigeria today reveals a country unchanged from 1983. Politics is still a life or death game, legislative largesse goes without saying, financial indiscipline is still rife, corruption has escalated to sophisticated dimensions.

Is Buhari joining the race, again, because he thinks he has the capability and experience to fix Nigeria? What did he fix 1983 – 85?

The reality of that first stint in the presidency, thirty years ago, is worth exploring. It was tainted by public perception of his initiatives as being extreme and authoritarian. His ‘War Against Indiscipline’ (WAI) program, though noble in its intent, was brutish in experience. Nigerians were forced by whip-brandishing soldiers to queue up at bus stops; tardy civil servants were subjected to ‘frog jump’ punishment, and press freedom restricted.

In a bid to grow the economy, import bans were put in place, causing a rise in commodity prices, ultimately resulting in inflation.

Subsequently however, his stint as chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) between March 1995 and May 1999 demonstrated a level of prudence, and strength in financial management.

The general perception is that Buhari managed the excess oil revenue fund with transparency and efficiency, successfully executing projects nationwide, regardless of the impression that they may have been skewed towards the Northern region.

It ultimately remains unclear what exactly underpins General Buhari’s determination to return to power, what fuels his passion for dusting himself off again and again.

Why is Buhari running… again? Perhaps the weeks ahead will make that clear beyond doubt…

How to Join a Political Party

Information is power… a commonly referenced phrase. The world, at large is said to be in the information age. Clearly, knowledge is king in these digital times. An individual’s wealth of information and knowledge can very well distinguish him or her. Where it remains difficult to access knowledge, the bane of societal transactions results… information asymmetry. Information, in today’s world, must be available, accessible, verifiable and reliable.

Every now and then, one hears this question thrown to the public fore – “How do I join a political party in Nigeria?” “What’s the process to follow?” Naturally, when people require such information nowadays, a Google search does the trick, yielding as many results as possible, meeting the information need. However, a quick Google search for the process of joining a political party in Nigeria yields little or no information. Link to link, page to page, there is hardly a well laid out process for joining. So, for the politically minded Nigerian youth, interested in getting involved at the minimal level of party membership, information asymmetry is the first bottleneck.

According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) website, there are currently 25 registered political parties in Nigeria. 7 of these have listed websites, but only 2 are functional at the moment – PDP and ACN. Websites have become a basic and primary information channel. The PDP website alone includes a page on ‘How to Join’, detailing eligibility for membership and steps to follow at Zone, State, Local Government and Ward levels. No other party website provides this information. In a country with up to 135 million connected GSM lines as at December 2012, such information ought to be widely spread and readily available online and perhaps on mobile devices. The inadequacy of reliable and clear information in this regard has resulted in people depending on ‘word of mouth’ as an alternative source of information on how to join a political party.

The generally accepted and verbally communicated process of joining a political party in Nigeria is as follows: Interested individuals are advised to visit the respective party headquarters at their Wards and seek the attention of the Ward Secretary (Each Local Government Area is subdivided into Wards for political purposes). The individual will fill a party registration form and provide supporting documents and payment as may be required by the party. Once registration is judged to be complete, a membership card will be processed and issued to the individual as confirmation. Then, the individual is referred to as a ‘card-carrying member’. Political parties typically hold weekly Ward meetings which members are expected to attend. A simple process, yet, requiring increased awareness and widespread documentation.

The least expectation is that each political party manages a functional website, publishing therein its national structure – a breakdown of Zones, States, Local Government Areas and Wards with contact details for party officials at each level. An individual who seeks to join a political party should be able to pick an internet enabled mobile phone, browse the website for the party of interest, navigate the national structure down to the Ward closest to him/her, copy details of the responsible party official, make an inquiry call and/or physical visit. Information should be at the public’s beck and call. So, while the PDP site provides initial information on ‘how to join’, it needs to incorporate information and contact details down to the Ward level. It currently lists PDP State Chairmen with few of their contact numbers but excludes details on LGA and Ward officials.

The Lagos State Government has been kind enough to publish via its website, the list of all Lagos State LGA’s, respective Wards and contact details of the Chairman and Vice Chairman – a ready-made template for each political party to adopt. The Oyo State Government website has a similar list of LGA’S within the State. Unfortunately, there is no breakdown of the Ward structure for each LGA, neither are contact details included.

Moreover, each political party should fully explore and execute the option of online registration for prospective party members. The Action Congress of Nigeria seems to be the trailblazer with this concept and may be testing it already via its Join ACN Today link.

In enhancing our growing democracy, information on political processes and requirements for partial or total involvement must become readily available to the average citizen. The ease and speed of accessing reliable information are key success factors to increasing and improving political involvement especially for Nigerian youth.

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