Ibadan — No, it will be delusional to describe Bukola Saraki's recent acquittal by the Supreme Court as pyrrhic. The man took his critics (which INCLUDED this writer - emphasis on the tense here, please) and political adversaries (which INCLUDE President Muhammadu Buhari, Leader Bola Tinubu, Governor Ibikunle Amosun, IGP Ibrahim Idris and all those noisemakers in Kwara State - emphasis on the tense here too, please) to the cleaners in a resounding victory. The principal charge against Saraki was that he filed a false assets declaration form some 15 years ago. Part of the arguments presented by the prosecution was that he futuristically padded his assets declarations in anticipation of amassing assets he could claim he already owned. At the time the charges were first filed in September 2015, they seemed like "open and shut" arguments. Saraki was clearly going to jail. I was so sure about it that I predicted prison term for Saraki in this piece: http://saharareporters.com/2015/09/22/kirikiri-future-saraki-abiodun-ladepo.
Excerpt from the piece:
"By his own admission, Saraki, in 2003 had N51.5 million in Nigeria, 2.9 million pounds sterling and $400,000 dollars in his domiciliary accounts. He owned at least eight properties in Nigeria worth more than N2.2 trillion. He also owned eight properties in London - all purchased about the same time in 2003 and worth more than $12.6 million. These did not include 15 automobiles (bought between 1997 and 2002) ranging from a Ferrari to 10 Mercedes Benzes, with four of his vehicles being bullet-proof - all valued at more than N263 million. In short, before (and I mean BEFORE!) he became governor in 2003, Saraki was worth a whopping N10.2 billion! This, for a man who did not own a single factory and was not manufacturing anything! After that, Saraki governed Kwara State for eight years. Your guess is as good as mine as to how much more he made while in charge of Kwara State funds in the middle of the oil boom."
I was wrong that Saraki was headed for jail; dead wrong. Saraki dexterously wrong-footed all of us all the way. From the start, Saraki claimed victimization because of the way he emerged Senate President. Those who did not like the way he emerged Senate President were obviously Buhari, Tinubu and all those who had angled for various leadership positions in the Senate and all the perks accruing therefrom. People like me - then ardent Buhari supporters - who wanted the government of Buhari to hit the ground running, also hated the way Saraki emerged Senate President. But the man argued that the role he played in bringing down the Jonathan administration, helping to form the APC and the eventual election of Buhari were contingent upon him being promised the Senate President's position. And that after giving his blood and sweat, some people (read Tinubu) wanted to cheat him out of his just due. People like me didn't believe him. I chalked it all to his barely disguised vaulting ambition to vie for the country's presidency soon - a desire that was clearly inimical to the ambition of other powerful politicians (also read Tinubu).
When he was acquitted last Friday, Saraki returned to his statement of innocence:
"As I said in my first appearance at the CCT, this is a politically motivated case. The case was trumped up in the first instance because of my emergence as the President of the Senate against the wishes of certain forces... "
He then lamented the waste of resources on the attempt to rubbish and politically castrate him:
"As a result of the war of attrition, various arms of government have wasted resources needlessly. It has been three wasted years across the board in this country. Three years that could have been devoted to tackling issues affecting Nigerians, including economic recovery, insecurity, youth unemployment and the strengthening of national institutions were wasted on malicious prosecution... " Ouch! Ouch! Ouch Buhari! Saraki affirmed his belief in the anti-corruption fight but added he will "never be party to the selective application of the law or the rhetoric of an insincere anti-corruption fight". Lord have mercy on Buhari's administration.
But Saraki was not done. He twisted the knife: "People were ready to trade off three years that would have been devoted to fostering cooperation, unity and economic progress for selfish ends. It is my hope that those behind my persecution (Buhari?) will see the handwriting on the wall and leave me to do the work for which I was elected... "
Lobatan! E don finish!
I hope so too. I hope his persecutors will now leave him alone to do the job for which he was elected. (But wait a minute... .how about that Offa armed robbery case in which suspects were alleged to have fingered him as one of their sponsors? That's another matter for another day. Let's deal with this asset declaration victory first.) Could it be true that the charges against Saraki were trumped up? Three years of going in and out of court, of his wife being stripped politically naked in the real court and the court of public opinion, of being docked like a criminal, of huge legal bills paid to several SANs, of sleepless nights and emotional turbulence, of stoning at public gatherings, of curses and verbal insults? Three years of walking around in shame and not being able to speak with credibility on issues of character as the number 3 citizen in the country? If the charges were trumped up, who did it?
The President reportedly reacted promptly to Saraki's acquittal with a statement:
"I have seen many instances where individuals and groups seek the destruction of the judicial institution in the foolish thinking of saving their skin, instead of going through the painstaking process of establishing their innocence. "In the case of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, I have seen him take the tortuous path of using the judicial process. He persevered, and in the end, the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, says he is not guilty as charged.
"This is what I have done in the three elections in which I was cheated out, before God made it possible for me to come here the fourth time I ran for the office," We are not talking about your serial electoral defeats here, Mr. President. And let's not trivialise this issue by making it about you and your eventual electoral victory. We are talking about the possible deliberate deployment of state resources to ruin the lives of innocent political opponents.
That is a very serious charge. And you, Mr. President, whose only stock is INTEGRITY, must set forth to unravel the mystery surrounding this man's alleged persecution. If it was a lowly person like me that was so charged, I would have rotted in jail because I wouldn't have been able to so vigorously defend myself. Only God knows how many more innocent people have been so railroaded because of political differences. Is it possible that Dino Melaye too is being persecuted? Whose idea was it to bring charges against Saraki in the first instance? How did they settle on Saraki as opposed to other politicians? Who investigated the charges? Who reviewed the files and approved prosecution? Who approved the appeals? These decisions were not made by robots. They were made by human beings.
President Buhari needs to go beyond praising Saraki for the "tortuous" process he endured. He needs to step up to the plate as a man and as a true Muslim to redress the injustice done to another man. Let us have a commission of inquiry to determine how the country's Senate President was subjected to so much ridicule and such ruinous legal fees. We must deter future callous witch hunting.
Lastly, a lot of people have accused Buhari of fighting a selective war against corruption. They have cited all sorts of examples of those in Buhari's kitchen cabinet who seem immune from prosecution or even charges in the face of glaring accusations of graft. If anybody knows about the "selective application of the law or the rhetoric of an insincere anti-corruption fight", it would be the leader of the highest law-making entity of a country. Buhari needs to sit down with Saraki and find out what he really means by "selective application" and "insincere anti-corruption fight." Otherwise, the battle really may have just begun.
- Ladepo wrote from Ibadan, Oyo State.