It is sobering to read that Bukola Saraki, the beleaguered Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in the dock for charges of fraud, theft and corruption, slips in and out of sleep, leaving the shell of his body as his consciousness intermittently escapes from and returns to the proceedings of his trial.
This popular Nigerian proverb easily explains his struggle: "the child who forces a vigil on his mother has likewise disqualified himself from a sound sleep." In Nigerian pidgin English, the proverb is often tweaked into a rhetorical question: "Pickin wey say him mama no go sleep, how himself go take sleep?"
And funny enough, the broken English version of that proverb constitutes the lyrics of the intro that prefaces Police Diary, an enlightenment program sponsored by the Nigerian Police and broadcast on Radio Nigeria network. The jingle essentially warns practicing criminals that they will always be wanted, haunted and hunted.
The picture of Saraki’s dozy face and closed eyes tells of a man in denial of his own physiological need. There is such a thing as hunger strike. It is a powerful statement of protest. Certain detained or accused persons, who consider themselves victims of witch-hunt or persecution, abstain from food to draw global attention to their plight and to foist shame on their supposed oppressor.
Saraki reckons himself a sufferer of political inquisition. But he has not elected to use the hunger strike option. He probably would have liked a sleep strike. But there is no such thing!
Sleep is irresistibly powerful. You can’t purport to exempt yourself from sleep. Sleep is certain to come by and tax you.
Saraki was practically caught napping in spite of himself. He dramatized the idiom!
The image of the dozing accused shows the foolhardiness of a man who is borrowing sleep from wakefulness and borrowing wakefulness from sleep…while the nation watches!
He has apparently taken to stealing some moments of sleep in the accused box because he is unable to get sufficient hours of sleep in his own bed.
Nigerian politicians are essentially nocturnal animals. They conduct their most consequential meetings and conspiracies in the dead of the night. And unleash their plot at the break of the day.
Saraki himself regaled the nation with the tale of how he bought the position of the senate at the price of a sleep. On the day of the inauguration of the 8th senate, he said he smuggled himself into the National Assembly before dawn and hid himself at the car park till 10 am. He ‘emerged’ the president of the senate from that hiding place!
It’s telling that he is ready to continue to be senate president by sacrificing as many nights of sleep as possible. His sleep in the dock confirms that he has been making the rounds of the houses of the senators, like a Nicodemus, seeking salvation for his damned political soul!
Saraki has vowed never to relinquish the No. 3 seat and concentrate on his trial. He swore to resign over his dead body. He had presumed that the defense of his putative innocence would not be mentally or physically tasking. He imagined that he could manage the tension of simultaneously being the head of the Nigerian parliament and an accused person and satisfy the demands of the two personas. In fact, in his thinking, he supposed that being the senate president would make being an accused an easier experience.
That inspired his request that the Code of Conduct Tribunal bow to his Senate Presidential majesty and grant him three out of the five weekdays to preside over senate plenary. The tribunal declined and told him that the senate was not on trial. He was on trial. And while the trial lasts, he would be under obligation to attend.
He asked for three-days-a-week leave of absence from the court, because he recognized that his nonappearance in the National Assembly over time, will eventually erode the faithfulness of his ardent loyalists, and make them come around to the imperative of hatching up the modalities for his execution.
The refusal of the tribunal to indulge him increased the necessity of him retaining the allegiance of the senators that are yet to desert him. The size of his supporters’ club has shrunk as his prospect of survival has dimmed. His chance of lingering in his position rests on plenty visitations. And for that walkabout legwork to be efficient, he has to do most of it at night.
This means Saraki has to spend all his daylight hours in court. After the court session, he pivots to spending his nighttime begging senators to stick with him.
That’s not life. It is hell!
But it is a self-made hell. Saraki, out of pride, ambition and sheer lunacy, has refused to separate his criminal self from the office of the senate president. No individual can unite both statuses in himself and not experience unbearable physical and psychological distress.
The picture of a sleep-starved Saraki making a show of himself compels pity. It moves you to regret that another human being, who lays claim to sanity, is ministering corporeal punishment on himself even before the court has come close to pronouncing him guilty!
Sleep is a basic animal function. All animals rest. Their biological requires it for normalcy. I regret that the aphrodisiac of power would make a full fledged human foreswear sleep. I didn’t know that holding some seat was so important an individual could fain sabotage his own health and physical wellbeing.
The picture of a sleep-starved Saraki sleeping in public and in the dock, the most humiliating space any decent citizen would want to occupy, shows that he is a hostage of power. He can’t deliver himself from the thrall of power. He is a doomed megalonomaniac.
I had assumed that stealing, the crime that brought this burden on Saraki, was inspired by vaulting self-love. That he robbed the people he was elected to govern in order to procure for self more creature comforts. That he loved life and life more abundantly.
Following the increase of voices asking him to resign, one had expected that he would be prompted to vacate the seat so that he would have the time, energy and presence of mind to focus on his trial. But Saraki is Saraki. He is dominated by an insatiable craving for power.
No one may have told him this: To resist sleep is to fight a lost cause. Sleep always wins whenever it visits. Sleep is only less powerful than death, its evolutionary elder!
Saraki would have wished he could assault sleep like he harassed around Nigerian courts. He would have gladly sent his battalion of lawyers after it. But he can’t.
He can’t so much as deflect it. Or defer it. Or defend himself against it. Sleep is an all-conquering phenomenon.
And it’s so natural it is not amenable to fraudulent revision. Saraki would have loved to ‘amend’ the ‘law of sleep’ to exempt himself. But, again, it’s not in his power to.
Sleep is as invincible as justice. And justice will sooner sneak on Saraki, like sleep in the night, and prostrate him.
Before then, somebody needs to wake him up. He can’t sleep through his trial. He needs to watch with open eyes and alert mind the denouement of his downfall. He has to be fully present at his own head-shaving!
Saraki ought to stay awake and see and hear the prosecution tell the court the fictional-sounding, but evidence-based story of his greed. He ought to stay awake and hear the prosecution witness tell of that day in his history when manna rained from heaven into his bank account. The day one of his aides, Abdul Adama, deposited lumps of money, between N600, 000 and N900, 000, fifty times into Oga’s account and Ubi, another domestic aide, (Saraki’s equivalent of Andy Uba!), made twenty cash lodgments into the same account.
Perhaps listening to the prosecution will stir his memory and help him recall the origin of that windfall and why he instructed his assistants to dump all of it into his account in one day.
He needs to stay awake during his trial. He owes himself that favor. He humiliates himself by subjecting himself to the indignity of sleeping in the dock.
We know that being the senate president is everything to Saraki. He is wedded to the title and the perks. He doesn’t care that he has become steeped in disgrace, that he is now a mockery to his seat, that his trivialization of the office of the senate president is a national outrage.
But the remnants of his friends should rouse him to reality and to his own self-interest. He can’t go on like this. He can’t persist in burnout.
He has capacity to do only one 'job' at such a time as this: And that 'job' is being an accused man on trial!