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Saraki, CCT and administration of justice

Prince Eniola Ojajuni

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The judiciary is believed and portrayed as the last hope of the common person against arbitrariness and abuse of power. It is the bulwark of democracy and deals with matters brought before it based on extant legal provisions, the rule of law and good conscience. As an arm of government, the 1999 Constitution specifically provides for its powers and authority, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court of law and to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of natural and artificial persons.

Based on the doctrine of separation of powers, the courts and quasi-judicial tribunals should be free from interference, intimidation and extraneous influences in the adjudication of disputes brought before them. The judiciary is an arm of government that should be outside the influence of day to day mundane politicking. As an institution that is built on trust and confidence, officers and ministers in its hallowed temple are supposed to be of the highest decorum and ethics. But it seems that something strange and unbecoming is about to happen in the country. And Nigerians with their eyes wide open are watching the great judicial temple being gradually desecrated and eroded of its high nobility. No one seems to come to the rescue.

The media was awash last week with specific reports indicating that plans were underway to subvert the legal and judicial process in the trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, for false declaration of assets before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Beyond the CCT, an appeal brought by Saraki on the charges awaits the decision of the Court of Appeal. What is frightening is that these reports have not been denied and the specificity and details of the reports indicate that they may likely be true. It was reported that Saraki’s party, the All Progressives Congress, has offered a soft-landing to the Senate President which if he accepts would lead to the subversion of the judicial process at the CCT trial. The report indicated that a backroom deal brokered by the leadership of the APC had offered a political solution to the trial for false declaration of assets and this might pave the way for the emergence of Senator Ahmad Lawan as Senate Leader and Senator George Akume as his deputy. The present occupants of the offices are to be given “grade A committees” to lead in the Senate. The front page reports concluded that the refusal to toe the party line as to the leadership of the Senate was responsible for the charges preferred against Saraki. As if to confirm the veracity and accuracy of the media reports, Senator Ali Ndume, who is the current Leader of the Senate, came out strongly to state that no one could force him to resign from his position as the Senate Leader.

The foregoing has a lot of implications for the administration of justice and the anti-corruption war of the present administration. The first is that the CCT and the courts will become pawns in the crude politics of the dispensation. Courts will therefore lose their impartiality and integrity and will be compelled to dance to the tunes of the executive. Who needs such a judiciary or adjudication process that allows charges to be filed and withdrawn, not for the enforcement of the law or any noble purpose, but simply to compel an individual to toe a certain political path that has nothing to do with the rule of law? The second is that the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari is dead on arrival and may have been discredited. The intent and nobility of volition behind every action determines the ultimate outcomes and results. A situation, as happened in the Obasanjo regime when prosecution and the use of state apparatus were used to achieve political ends, will still leave us without a proper war against corruption. Why do we keep repeating the mistakes of the past and elevate them to statecraft? The third implication is that once it is clear the tribunals and courts can be manipulated for political purposes, anarchy may set in.

If these reports are true, Saraki stands vindicated in his affirmation that the charges against have nothing to do with the rule of law but simple raw politics and misuse of power. Is this the way to the future? Is this the way of change? Does change mean continuation of the abusive norm? Can insisting on doing things that are repulsive before God and man be the way of change? It will be a big shame if this is all the APC can offer in terms of change and showing the way to Nigeria’s greatness. If these reports are true, Nigerians deserve an unreserved apology from the APC for this insult to our sensibilities early in the day and so soon after it has been given a mandate to lead. It is outright impunity and contempt and disregard for the rule of law to lay charges for the purpose of achieving political ends. It is shameful for Nigeria in this day and age for officials of a ruling party to believe, contemplate and or take steps to influence the due process of legal proceedings before a tribunal.

The authorities are left with few windows of manouevre. We need the APC to come out with facts that show that these front page assertions by a couple of newspapers are not only false but maliciously concocted. We must not also see any senator being pressured to resign his position as a trade-off to the withdrawal of any administrative or judicial proceeding. Nigerians insist that the Saraki case must not be withdrawn but tried to its conclusion, following the due process of law where we all see, that justice has been done. Nigerians are watching to see how this high wire drama and politics plays out. The end of it will send a strong message, positive or negative, to all.

To the President, his credibility and that of the entire administration is at stake. The anti-corruption war stands endangered. He needs to redeem it by doing the right things. Let the rule of law be sacrosanct. Let changes in the leadership of the Senate be effected by the senators themselves, in accordance with laid down rules. There should be no arm-twisting or intimidation with judicial proceedings. For the judiciary, let the impression not be created that it is at the beck and call and can be manipulated by the executive. The Chief Justice of the Federation and the National Judicial Council should take special interest and monitor the dispensation of justice in the Saraki case. Nigerians and indeed, the whole world, are watching.