THAT the trial and travails of Senator Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) are the handiwork of the Nigerian variant of dirty politics cannot be gainsaid. It is difficult not to agree with Saraki that if he had not opposed the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC presidential candidate and had elected to be an ordinary Senator and did not aspire to become President of the Senate, the thirteen-count charge preferred against him would not have seen the light of day in the CCT. This because it is difficult to imagine how the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), of all institutions, would have come up with a thirteen-count charge against Saraki, thirteen years after he allegedly committed the offences of under-declaration and/or over-declaration (anticipatory declaration) of his assets.
It could be argued, however, that if Saraki allegedly committed these offences while he was Governor of Kwara State, a strict construction of the proviso to section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) might lighten, if not terminate, his trial and travails.
According to that section, no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted against a State Governor, etc. during his period of office nor shall the process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, be applied for or issued: “Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.”
Secondly, the questions have been asked appositely, first, whether the CCT is a court of law or not and secondly, whether the recent Supreme Court decision that the CCT is a court having jurisdiction to try the “offences” such as have been alleged, was not given per incuriam, and if not, what do we make of sub-paragraph (6) of paragraph 18 of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution: “Nothing in this paragraph shall prejudice the prosecution of a public officer punished under this paragraph or preclude such officer from being prosecuted or punished for an offence in a court of law”?
So, if, according to the Supreme Court, the CCT is designed to be a court of law to try criminal offences, how come it consists of three persons– a “Chairman (who must be a legal practitioner, qualified to be a Judge in a superior court of record) and two other persons (who may not be lawyers)? Can non-lawyers try criminal, or even civil, matters in a court of law? Besides, when the Constitution provides that three persons shall constitute the CCT, how can Supreme Court rule that two persons will suffice?
All the foregoing comments and questions notwithstanding, we are of the opinion that Saraki should, while the trial lasts, step down from his lofty position in the interest of his personal integrity, the integrity of the Senate, the integrity of the National Assembly and the integrity of the nation. It is not proper to see the Number Three man of this country being in the dock of a Tribunal, tagged “Accused”, hanging to office during his trial for alleged criminal offences. The notion of the President of the Senate, the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, remaining in office while being tried for criminal, even if civil offences, is odious. A trial for alleged offences may issue forth in a conviction or acquittal; either way, a person being tried for whatever offence(s) should not preside over the higher law-making Chamber in the country, even though section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that every accused person shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty.
Besides, the Nigerian electorate is not happy to see Senators, elected for law making, accompanying the Senate President to the Tribunal on a daily basis in illegal sympathy with their boss. Such Senators are not only wasting their time but are also shirking their responsibility for which they were elected. But it is enheartening that the Senators had dropped the self-serving idea of amending the CCB and CCT Acts to forestall the trial of the Senate President. It was the craziest move! That is why we applaud the Senators for being sensitive to the protests of the people by dropping the CCB and CCT Amendment Bills.