By Bukola Saraki
My dear brother Dele, let me thank you most sincerely for your article last weekend, “My Candid Letter to Saraki.” I take everything you said in that article to heart and I must commend you for your candidness indeed and the sincerity of your intentions.
As you said in your article, you are someone I have known more by reputation than by any personal relationship, until recently when we struck up some personal acquaintance based on our shared political interests, especially during the last presidential election. However, I understand why you had to sound so defensive for knowing me at all and had to publicly map the boundaries of our relationship. We have got to that point in our country when we no longer believe that anyone could stand for anything based on principles and convictions alone. Moreover, in the growing culture of media crucifixion and presumed guilt; it is rare to find a voice like yours that calls for fairness and justice.
I would have simply sent you a text message or call you up for your candid advice to me, which I take seriously. But I feel the need to make some clarifications on some of the issues you raised. One of them was that in seeking to be Senate President, I struck a deal with the PDP and made it possible for one of them to be the Deputy Senate President. I know this is the dominant narrative out there, but it is far from the truth.
I did not do any deal with the PDP. I did not have to because even before the PDP Senators as a group took the decision to support my candidature on the eve of the inauguration of the 8th Senate, 22 PDP Senators had already written a letter supporting me. What I did not envisage was a situation where some members of my party would not be in the chambers that day, especially when the clerk had already received a proclamation from the President authorizing the inauguration of the Senate. Pray, if a team refused to turn up for a scheduled match and was consequently walked over, would it be fair to blame the team that turned up and claimed victory? I believe those that made it possible for PDP to claim the DSP position were those who decided to hold a meeting with APC senators elsewhere at the time they ought to be in the chambers. What the PDP Senators did was to take advantage of their numerical strength at the material time. They simply lined up behind Senator Ike Ikweremadu while those of us from APC voted for Senator Ali Ndume. It was a game of numbers, and we were hopelessly outnumbered. If the PDP had nominated their own candidate for the Senate Presidency position that day, they would have won. It was as simple as that.
Secondly, I don’t know if you were aware that in the build up to Senate inauguration, the National Working Committee of the APC sent two signals. The first signal specified how leadership positions in the National Assembly have been zoned. While we were trying to give effect to this decision, the second signal came, which contained names of people to which these zoned position had been allocated. What was not acknowledged was that the President of the Senate is not an executive president. He is primarily one of 109 senators. Therefore, I cannot decide by myself who gets what in the Senate. Therefore, when they said I defied party directive in the choice of principal officers, they are invariably ascribing to me the power that I did not have.
My dear brother, most people talk about the Senate Presidency position, but this was not my only offence. I have also been accused of helping to frustrate some people’s opportunity to emerge as President Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate. But I have no problem with anybody. My concern was that it would not be politically smart of us to run with a Muslim-Muslim ticket. I doubt if we would have won the election if we had done this, especially after the PDP had successfully framed us a Muslim party. I felt we were no longer in 1993. Perhaps, more than ever before, Nigerians are more sensitive to issues of religious balancing. This, my brother, was my original sin. What they say to themselves, among other things, was that if he could conspire against our ambition, then he must not realize his own ambition as well. For me however, I have no regrets about this. I only stood for what I believed was in the best interest of the party and in the best interest of Nigeria.
Now to the substantive issue of my trial. As you rightly noted, this trial is not about corruption. And I am happy that since my trial started, people who have followed the proceedings have now understood better what the whole thing is about. I have had opportunity to declare my assets four times since 2003. Over those years, the Code of Conduct Bureau had examined my claims. There was no time that they raised any issues with me on any item contained in my declarations over those twelve years. This is why you should be surprised that while I am being tried by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the witness and the evidence supplied against me were all from EFCC.
Like you, I have an abiding faith in the judiciary. May God forbid the day that we would give up on our judicial system. However, the onus is not on me to prove that I have confidence in the judiciary; the burden is on my prosecutors to prove to the world that justice is done in my case. If the process of fighting corruption is itself corrupt, then whatever victory is recorded would remain tainted and puerile!
Some people have wondered, why has Saraki been “jumping” from one court to another instead of facing his trial? To those people, I would say that I have only gone to those courts in search of justice. Strange things have happened, and they are still happening. For example, Section 3(d) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act states that the Bureau shall refer any breach or non-compliance to the Tribunal. However, where the person concerned makes a written admission of the breach, no reference to the Tribunal shall be necessary. It was on this basis that the case against Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was dismissed in 2011, by this same judge in this same Tribunal on the grounds that he was not given an opportunity to deny or admit to any breach before he was brought before the tribunal. This was the ruling that I relied on in making my case. But what did the judge say? That he had judged in error in 2011 and he had since realized his error and departed from it. My question is whether a Tribunal of first instance has the power to reverse itself. I should expect that everyone would be worried if justice is applied differently to different people. However, in spite of my fears, I remain hopeful. Why? Because the judiciary does not end with this Tribunal.
Do you know the genesis of my real problems with President Goodluck Jonathan? I have had a touchy relationship with him, but the turning point was in September 2011 when I moved a motion on the floor of the Senate that exposed the N2.3 trillion fuel subsidy racket. I remain proud that I was the Senator that blew the lid on the most elaborate corruption scheme ever in this country. But after that I became a marked man. My security was withdrawn. I was invited and re-invited by the EFCC and the Special Fraud Unit. I was even declared wanted at a point. I believe I am still one of the most investigated former governors in this country. I have no doubt that if the Jonathan government was able to find anything against me, they would not have allowed me to go unpunished.
Let me make this point clearly. I do not expect to be shielded from prosecution because of my contribution to APC, if there was genuine basis for such action to be taken against me. But I have every reason to expect not to be persecuted by the party that I contributed so much to build. The New PDP may not have given APC victory in 2015, but it was an important factor in the dynamics that produced that victory. And with all sense of modesty, I was an important factor in the formation of New PDP; in leading that group to the APC; in ensuring our group’s support for the candidate during the primaries and in mobilizing substantial resources for the election. For these, I have not expected any special compensation. Rather, I only expect to be treated like every loyal party member and accorded the right to freely aspire!
Some people have complained that I have been taken Senators with me to my trial. But I did not force them to follow me. The Senators have freely accompanied me to the Tribunal not because they are loyal to me as Abubakar Bukola Saraki, but because they are committed to the principle that produced me as the President of the Senate. The same principle that produced Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President and produced Ali Ndume as Majority Leader. They see all of us in the Senate leadership as manifestation of their jealously guarded right to freely choose their own leaders. Because they know they made us their leaders without any external interference; they are confident that they retain the power to remove us whenever they so wish. They also know what this trial is all about. They believe I am being victimized because they have expressed their right to choose their own leadership. This is why I am not in any way perturbed by my absence in the chambers during this trial. Because I was not imposed on the Senate, I feel confident that the Senate will protect its own choice whether I am present or not. It is never about me. It is about the independence of the legislature. It has always been so since 1999. It is so today and it would be so in 2019, it would be so in 2023, and as long as we practice a democracy that operates on the principle of separation of powers.
My dear brother, let me end by observing that I am not alone in this trial. On trial with me in this process is the entire judicial system. On trial with me are our entire anti-corruption institutions and our avowed commitment to honestly fight corruption. On trial with me is our party’s promise to depart from the ways of the past, a promise that Nigerians voted for. And I dare say, on trial with me is our media; and their ethical commitment to report fairly and objectively. In the end, it is my earnest hope that whatever we do will ultimately ennoble our country.
- Dr. Saraki is President of the Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria