By Idowu Akinlotan
SENATE President Bukola Saraki will naturally dismiss any suggestion that the not-guilty verdict returned in his favour by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), before which he was tried for false asset declaration and other related offences, was concocted. His lawyers and supporters believe the decision of the two-man panel led by Justice Danladi Umar was fair, even though tortuous. Senator Saraki faced 18 charges. Through a no-case submission filed by his lawyers after the prosecution closed its case with 48 exhibits, the plucky but embattled senator escaped the state’s legal dragnet unhurt. The state has indicated it will appeal what it described as an absurd judgement, and from all indications, the matter may yet get to the Supreme Court.
Aside his lawyers, aides and supporters, it is unlikely anyone else in Nigeria thinks Senator Saraki innocent. The public followed the case avidly, watched the prosecutors’ and defender’s nuances closely, and, though unschooled in law, believed that enough evidence had been adduced to scupper the Kwara senator’s political career finally. But from a position of weakness and anxiety, not only in the law courts but also in the senate itself at inauguration, Senator Saraki has grown into a self-confident, pugnacious and exerting leader. He was famous for possessing an implacable hold on Kwara State; now he in addition enjoys a relentless, if not absolute, hold on the senate. Once in danger of falling from his Olympian senate heights, his career is now set to blossom so brightly that the rays are capable of blinding the best eyes.
The ingredients of exculpation were evident from the very beginning. First was his legal team’s obfuscatory and fancy footwork; then followed a cornucopia of give and take between the senate, which goosesteped behind Dr Saraki, and the presidency riven by internal dissension and abject lack of focus and judgement; and then, finally, surrender by the ailing president who after many months of duelling with young legislative phantoms suddenly discovered that he lacked both the will and the tactics to fight the senate president and win. Worse, with the senate remaining impenetrable, not to talk of anyone getting the chance to strew the chamber with banana peels, and the public wearied by the incessant adjournments of the case, of course in addition to the EFCC snapping at the heels of the trial judges themselves, the case against Dr Saraki simply became at once quixotic and toxic. Those who swore at the beginning, including this column, that the case would be a barometer for President Buhari’s anti-graft war, became harried by doubts. Doubts soon gave way to fear, and fear to suspicion of conspiracy.
Whatever the case, Dr Saraki is now really a free man. Using his well-known talisman, which libel laws will not allow this column to identify, he will tighten his hold on the senate, snicker behind closed doors at his disbelieving country, eye the vacillating Buhari presidency with a mischievous glint in his eyes, and speak condescendingly to party men whom he has long described as rivals or enemies. With this acquittal, it will require a legal legerdemain of unearthly proportions to get the appellate courts to reverse the CCT judgement. For about two years, it was impossible to summon the will in the senate to fight Dr Saraki. There will now be no one left in that inflexible and single-minded chamber eager to fight him. He had taken on the All Progressives Congress (APC) and won. Then he took on the presidency, and there is no dispute what the outcome of the battle is. Dr Saraki’s raison d’etre, as a confirmed feudalist, is fighting and scheming. He will look for a fight anywhere, for that is the ingredient upon which his political growth depends, and he will not shirk a fight.
He is rumoured to harbour interest in the presidency, especially because it will take a miracle to restore President Buhari to vibrancy. There is indeed every indication he will weigh his chances and throw his hat into the ring if the situation permits. Having worsted a few gladiators along the line, his adamant and less eloquent father not excluded, he will entertain no fear about the toughness of his future opponents. This is because he knows, like many other politicians in these parts, that Nigeria has a knack for producing presidents generally against the run of play, presidents so often unqualified as to appear to affront common sense. Dr Saraki doubtless feels invincible, and that supposed invincibility will egg him on to take on stiffer and more compelling challenges.
But while his fighting spirit sustains him, and his scheming talent nurtures his political advancement, including getting him judicial victories, there is really nothing else to the young gladiator. If President Buhari could campaign for high office and win on the strength of his truculence and obstinacy, why would Dr Saraki find it compelling to place premium on the virtue of ideas, philosophies, character, judgement and intuition? In his entire time at the senate, not to say his two terms as governor, not one original and innovative idea ever issued from him. As senate president, he is obsessed with holding on to office, whatever the cost. Perhaps he thinks ideas are laborious; or perhaps he feels ideas alarm the public. Indeed, going by those who form his immediate support base, such as the hysterical and inimitably comical Dino Melaye, there will be no ideas of any kind coming from Dr Saraki throughout his tenure as senate president. And should he attempt to vie for the presidency, it will, like others have shown, not be anchored on ideas or philosophies.
Dr Saraki’s victory at the CCT does not imply an end to President Buhari’s anti-graft war. The problem right from the beginning was that the campaign was poorly conceived and made to rest ungainly on military style and inspiration. Without prejudice to what the appellate courts will decide on the Saraki case, President Buhari and his team must plan the war afresh and establish a sound legal and constitutional foundation for it. But to do this, the president must reconstitute his team, both kitchen and general cabinets, make it national and knowledgeable, and re-engineer his own world view. At 74, the president can, however, neither acquire new ideas nor utilise them well. His first and natural instinct is to suspect new ideas. And at that age, and having failed over the years out of office to expand his horizon, it is hard to see him adopting the liberal and multicultural ideas necessary to govern a complex and impatient country.
The prosecution fought well, despite former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s infantile reservations about government prosecutors. And the case against Dr Saraki was fairly straightforward and admit of no stultifying detours and ambush. If the Buhari presidency does not rethink the anti-graft war and imbue the government with fresh, uplifting and nationalistic ideas; if it does not close ranks and prevent presidential aides from confecting outside alliances; if it does not think in terms of the country rather than in terms of one section or religion, it may yet lose many more cases, regardless of the brilliance of its prosecutors.
Dr Saraki may have won this round, and in the eyes of the law is thus viewed as innocent; but even if this victory lasts and clothes him with the aura of invincibility, it will, however, not transform him into the leader he imagines for himself, his hold on the senate notwithstanding. But unlike the ageing and ailing President Buhari, Dr Saraki has youth on his side, youth to revitalise himself and correct his politics. However, going by his antecedents and the facile manner politics in Nigeria rewards its exponents, the chances of using that youth to acquire the essentials of great leadership through rigorous thinking and hard work are indeed slim. In fact, as Senator Melaye and the majority of senators sworn to silence in the legislature have proved, the incentive to project disciplined politics and rest it on great and noble ideas simply does not exist.
Culled From The Nation