If there is an award for a politician with the most corruption cases around him, very few people will be in contention above Bukola Saraki, President of the Nigerian Senate.
Since he schemed his way to become the number three citizen of the country in a legislative coup that demonstrated how some Nigerian politicians put personal ambition above party and national interests, his past sins have continued to trail him.
Corruption and felony charges have dogged him and turned his tenure as senate president into the most uneventful in the history of Nigeria’s democracy. For almost three years of his tenure, he attended more court hearings than legislative plenary, dragging the senate unfortunately down with him into the gorge of infamy.
While he has used his questionable wealth to save himself from going to jail up till now, tales of graft have continued to trail him. Last Thursday, one of his aides, Gbenga Makanjuola was docked at the Federal High Court in Lagos over charges of N3.5 billion fraud.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had preferred an 11-count fraud charge against Makanjuola, a Deputy Chief of Staff to Saraki, Melrose General Services Ltd., Obiorah Amobi, (Operations Manager at Melrose), and Kolawole Shittu, (a cashier).
They were accused of conspiring to disguise the unlawful origin of the sum of N3.5 billion paid into the account of Melrose. In the charge, EFCC alleged that the accused persons committed the offences in December 2016. According to the prosecution, the accused took control of the sum which was transferred from the Nigeria Governors Forum’s account, into an Access Bank account operated by Melrose.
The prosecution said that the accused ought to have known that the sum represented proceeds of unlawful activities. The offences contravened the provisions of Sections 15, 15 (2), 15(3), 18, and 18 (a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Amendment Act 2011. The accused were first arraigned on October 3, 2018, and had pleaded not guilty to charges, while the court had granted them bails in the sum of N250 million each, with sureties in like sums.
Saraki had expectedly ensured a formidable legal team for the accused led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Paul Erokoro.
Anyone can easily guess where the trail of the said N3-5 billion fraud would lead. That is why it is not just those mentioned in the charge sheets that are on trial. The ubiquitous schemer of Kwara certainly knows he’s the one on trial and would use all available legal maneuvers his lawyers can sell to him to escape justice again.
Therefore, the rule of law favours criminals and frustrates the crusaders. The law looks for evidence of crime and puts the burden of proof on the accuser. Thus, even when the accused knows he committed the crime, and in anticipation of the law smartly erases those proof, the court has no capacity to deliver justice.
Unlike in religious jurisprudence where verbal testimonies of some eye witnesses to crime are good enough to proof guilt of crime, our law is based on evidence. This is why politically exposed persons like Saraki are in love with our laws. That is why he and his colleagues have frustrated effort of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to have new legislations that would make prosecution of corruption cases faster and less cumbersome.
Those who admire personalities honed in self-preservation rather than collective progress have touted Saraki as an accomplished politician adversaries underrate at their own peril. Some even envied his “coup’ against his own party when he traded the deputy senate president seat in a deal with the opposition PDP to become senate president.
But there is a limit to the elasticity of even the most redoubtable political schemer. Sooner or later, he would reach breaking point, which is where Saraki has now found himself. He has boxed himself against a stone wall and the only option left for him is to fight back or wait until he’s crushed.
This is why Saraki jumped at the offer to become the Director General of the Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign a few days after coming third in the PDP presidential primary. He admitted this much in an audio recording that went viral recently when he addressed some of his loyalists in Ilorin. He revealed the 2019 election was a battle he was prepared to fight, even if he was alone.
Saraki sounded in the audio like a political godfather that had been humbled, and now had to resort to stirring empathy for himself because, in his own words, he is a victim of persecution.
But Saraki can no longer fool his supporters or the people of kwara who have become wiser after reading all the charges of graft against the “Leader”. This must have become obvious to him and his hangers-on in view of his travails in his home state of recent.
Everywhere he goes now in Kwara State, he is trailed by shouts of “ole” “ole”(thief thief) to the chagrin of his supporters. It is worse for him in Kwara South Senatorial District of the state where police have linked him with the unfortune robbery incident in Offa which led to the death of 33 persons, including police officers and pregnant women.
The robbers, who had been arrested and interrogated, allegedly confessed that they were political thugs of Saraki, and that he supplied them weapons. They further revealed that Saraki used them to rig elections in Kwara State. The case against Saraki is still in court.
Now with a fast retreating political base, and with his election-rigging machine now in police custody, Saraki is has suddenly become a pathetic underdog, a David fighting Goliath but lacking the righteousness of David. He has become a drowning man that will clutch at anything that feels like straw. Unfortunately for Saraki, he suffers the same fate with the products he has been asked to sell to Nigerians. His candidate is as bad a product as the chief marketer. That is why he has to employ lies and half-truths as marketing strategies.
But Nigerians have seen too much of him in the last three years to be bamboozled by his lies. They know that when the problems of this country in the last four years are listed in order of magnitude, Bukola Saraki’s name would not be outside the top five.
Babatunde Fowler: The zero sum game in political appointments, By Abubakar Ismail
9th Senate Presidency race: Why Danjuma Goje is the man to beat
At no time since 1999 has the race for the senate presidency been so competitive in a robustly healthy manner. Unlike in 2015 when some ambitious senators-elect ignored the ruling party’s zoning arrangement for the National Assembly, this time senators-elect are sticking with the party.
Barely a month before the inauguration of the 9th Senate, the race for the senate presidency is too close to call. Although the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, had zoned the seat to the North East and anointed Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State, returning and new senators are yet to officially endorse hm.
If the APC expect a coronation for Lawan when the next senate is inaugurated, it may be in for another shocker as it was in 2015. This is because whether the APC admits it or not, the emergence of Bukola Saraki as senate president in 2015 showed that legislators want to choose their own leaders and may not tolerate a third party doing that for them.
This is why in my opinion, despite the choice of Lawan by the party, forces in the National Assembly and outside of it have thrown up other candidates for the throne. Alli Ndume, the senator representing Borno Central was the first to challenge the choice of Lawan as soon as it became public knowledge after senators-elect met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Villa shortly after the general elections.
Ndume, as expected, boasted he was the most qualified person for the position and that he enjoined the support of his colleagues. But a few days after he declared interest, some senators and groups started calling on Danjuma Goje, a senator from Gombe, to declare interest in the senate presidency. These senators worked underground to sell the candidacy of Goje to all the senators-elect.
Goje was a two- term governor of Gombe State who transformed the infrastructure of the state. He put Gombe State in the national limelight with his aggressive performance as governor. His cool-headed, progressive leadership style endeared him to the electorate who fondly called him “Limamu Change” (leader of change).
Among leaders of the APC in the north, no one did more for the party than Goje. Despite the fact that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP,was in power in his state, he staked everything to ensure the people voted APC in the presidential election of 2015 and 2019. It is a mark of high he is in the estimation of his people that he has won re=election to the senate twice.
The fact that he is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation is a strong indication that his colleagues in the senate hold him in high esteem. Unlike Ndume who has remained a controversial member of the senate, Goje has remained focused on his legislative duties and keeps a clean record. It is incredibly admirable that Goje has also managed to avoid getting involved in any legislative scandal despite heading a critical committee.
This is why it is not surprising that he is the only senator from the north east that has been endorsed by different groups and individuals who are not in the national assembly. The support he has enjoyed from people and groups outside the national assembly clearly show that the people strongly believe he is the only one among the three contenders who could properly represent their interest in national affairs.
If the APC is smart, it should give Goje all the necessary support to ensure he becomes the senate president in June. The party should be thinking of 2023 and the leaders who could ensure victory for the party in all zones of the country. Clearly, none of the three contenders have the political clout of Goje in the north east zone. Given him the senate presidency would help APC consolidate when Buhari is no longer in the equation. This is what smart parties do to keep their party in power.
Several groups including the North East Consultative Forum (NESF) and five other groups in the geo-political zone, had endorsed Goje and asked him to declare his intention to contest for the office of the Senate president.
The groups including North East Elders Mobilization Forum, APC national youth caucus, Borno Discussion Circle, Gombe Political Associations and North East Youth Awareness for good governance, urged Goje to run.
The group followed up with a letter to the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole on their endorsement of Goje. In the letter, dated 17th April, titled: “North East stakeholders endorse Goje,” the conveners, Barrister Mustapha Saidu and Alhaji Bello Ambo, commended APC for zoning the Senate Presidency to the North East.
They said the zoning of the position to the geopolitical zone was a confirmation of the party’s commitment to reward hard work, following the zone’s contribution to the party’s victory in the just concluded general elections.
“Following very wide consultations among stakeholders, party members and North East Consultative Forum and after careful assessment of his contribution to the party and Muhammadu Buhari’s led administration, we hereby present to you, Senator Muhammad Danjuma Goje as the choice of the people of the North East for the Senate President of the 9th Assembly.”
Since that letter became public knowledge, no group or individuals in the north east has contradicted the claims contained in it.
Feelers from lobby groups in the national assembly show that Goje is the man to beat in the race for the senate leadership. More and more legislators are said to be jumping on the Goje train. His admirers are impressed that he has an unblemished administrative and legislative record after so many years in governance. Not many are able to pull this off.
Compared to Lawan or Ndume, Goje would undoubtedly bring prestige and integrity to the office of the senate president. These are the attributes the next senate president must bring to the office if the national assembly wants to be taken seriously by Nigerians and the world.
-Mr. Anufor writes from Abuja
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