So, by the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, standing trial for sundry assets declaration charges for two years now is blameless. The crimes, for which he had been making rounds at CCT for two years now, never happened. Or is it that they happened but Bukola Saraki was not the culprit? So who is the culprit or do we agree with the CCT that the charges were a fluke? Not being a lawyer, my limited understanding of the grounds for which Saraki was freed by the CCT was that the trial was in error. That is my layman’s understanding of the upholding of the no-charge –submission with which Saraki walked free of very obvious crimes against the state. He was never even allowed to have his day in the courts by giving his defense. The prosecution made its case, Saraki’s lawyers cross-examined it and Saraki simply entered a no-case-submission and pronto, the CCT granted his prayers and dismissed the multiple charges against him! Holy Moses! Indeed, a Daniel (Danladi) came to judgment!
But if Justice Umar Danladi should simply wave off Saraki’s two-year trial the way he did on June 14th, why then had Saraki been crisscrossing Nigerian courts several times for two years to ensure his trial never happened? If Saraki had no case to answer, as Justice Danladi affirmed, why then was Saraki fortuitously window-shopping for a reprieve for two years now, up to the country’s Supreme Court? If Justice Danladi feels that Saraki’s case needed not be entertained, as his ruling showed, why then was Saraki going round and round the courts to frustrate what amounts to a non-issue in the first place? Why was Justice Danladi in a rigmarole, pretending he was entertaining a suit when he was merely waiting to slap Saraki on the wrist and tell him to go and enjoy himself? Would it not have been good for Danladi to have even offered an apology to Saraki for wasting his precious time? Did Danladi award costs to Saraki against the state for dragging him around the courts for two years like a common criminal, over a case that never should have been the first place? If he did not, why did he refrain from doing so?
However, what happened at the CCT last Wednesday was meant to be another victory for the forces ranged against the present Buhari anti-corruption war. Saraki’s victory was yet another recent slap on the face of the anti-corruption war-and there have been loads of such slaps in recent times. Coming some few days after the National Judicial Council surprisingly re-installed the judges standing trial for various corruption charges, the acquittal of Saraki was meant to give the Buhari anti-corruption war a red nose. It was a deft effort by the judiciary to serve Buhari a notice that it is ready to go the whole hog in its battle to frustrate his anti-corruption war. It was meant to serve notice that the pro-corruption brigade is alive, kicking and deeply entrenched in the system despite President Buhari’s gra gra. It merely reaffirmed a deliberate resolve of the judiciary to ensure that the present scourge of corruption is frustrated through the instrumentality of the law. The Saraki acquittal just served notice to the Buhari administration that he has to take extraordinary measures to tame corruption and that must include measures to fumigate the judiciary.
If we inquest deeper, the flurry of acquittal of corruption cases we have been seeing recently in our courts is not ordinary. It is deliberate and it is a systematic way to arrest the war on corruption. It shows us that a strong-willed President and cabinet with the resolve to fight corruption must also be prepared to battle a stained and heavily compromised judiciary which has notoriety for whimsically dispensing justice to the highest bidder. The recent hitches that have hit the fight against corruption in the courts is not because the prosecutors are ill-prepared as is often sold but because our judicial system has been structured to offer comfort to the rich, the powerful, the politically exposed thieves who have stolen enough to buy off justice at every level. Pray, how come that the prosecutors of corrupt cases against the poor are always perfectly competent while prosecutors against rich thieves and powerful criminals are always inept? What is it in our law, except the purchasable instincts of our judiciary, which ensures that cases against the biggest thieves always flunk? Truth is that with the present democratic structure where the judiciary and the legislature are heavily occupied by tainted people, the executive can do all the groundwork to nail corrupt people but the judiciary waits in the wings to offer these rogues reprieve through such highly questionable judicial decisions as has benefitted Saraki. You can say this is the rule of law, which means that we do not need such questionable rule of law which protects and guards corruption.
Nigerians note the particularly irking indisposition of the National Judicial Council to punish reported cases of corruption in the judiciary. During the recent clampdown on compromised judges, Nigerians watched in awe as the NJC tried desperately to shield the judges from punishment. It took the public outcry for the NJC to reluctantly suspend those judges. It was a grudging decision and such reluctant tenor was proved by the way and manner the body recalled the judges when they have not been wholly cleared of the allegations against them. So a judiciary that is heavily decked with purchasable hustlers, deploying questionable judgments, is perhaps the greatest threat to an anti-corruption battle. A judiciary that manages to put up a face in the midst of very obvious reeking filthy charges remains the single most potent danger to any war against filth. As Caesar’s wife should be above board, the judiciary ought to be above board but when you have a judiciary that fiercely protects the many cases of misdemeanor against its members, then the entire country is on dangerous straits.
Also, the dangers of an acquiescing legislature, rammed to the brim with members that have questionable pedigrees, to the fight against corruption is very obvious. Truth is that the country’s federal legislature looks like a refuge to all manners of corrupt people and as such, the legislature has found it extremely difficult to carry out conducts that depart from tainted and corrupt ways. Buhari’s anti-corruption battle needs the legislative backup that could imbue it with the needed strength to take out the corrupt and hang them in the public square but from all seeming indices, the present Nigerian federal legislature looks like corruption’s own storm trooper, with an undisguised mission to ensure that corruption does not ever come to harm’s way. Being peopled mainly by corrupt people, it carries its conduct in a manner that sees the fight against corruption as a war against it. They went through the entire length with Saraki and threw balls after his questionable acquittal. It is debatable if such legislature can ever work for the annihilation of such putrid acts for which Saraki was hauled to the courts. In a so-called democracy, where you have the combo of a tainted legislature and a sordid judiciary marched against the executive, what you get is what we are getting in Nigeria today except the executive goes out of its way to rout this deadly combo.
By the foregoing therefore, Nigerians who had previously bayed for a strong leader to lead the fight against corruption and who have gotten one in President Buhari, with his famous aversion to corruption, are now seeing the hitherto-hidden vista that the fight against corruption in a democracy can never be won with the other two arms of government showing open aversion to the anti-corruption war, as we are seeing today. Buhari is no longer the military leader he was in 1984 when he took a frontal battle against corruption and was not weighed down by a corrupt judiciary and legislature. Today, he leads an executive that has to battle the staunch determination of the judiciary to protect its hideous covens and a legislature that is sworn to the protection of its ethically-compromised members and these two arms are in the firm grips of the corrupt and well-entrenched cabal in Nigeria. In the present war, it is one arm of government, ranged against the other two and Buhari can do little except an extraordinary battle is done to sanitize the two other arms and free them from the influence of compromised players. This new, extraordinary paradigm is what is needed in Nigeria today and I hope the Prof. Itsay Sagay-led Presidential Committee Against Corruption takes important note of this.
The new paradigm to fight corruption must, therefore, factor the need to go out of the ordinary to retool and re-equip the anti-corruption war. Such extraordinary steps need not be encumbered by the nonsensical rule of law that has ensured that the rich, the most corrupt and the most powerful escapes justice while the poor gets caught in corruption trials. If need be, this demands that we ride roughshod over some aspects of the rule of law that protects the biggest thieves and correct the feeling that rule of law is for the protection of the most corrupt. The new paradigm must aim to mobilize the masses to fight a deeply entrenched system that is eternally primed to help the rich and powerful to continue pauperizing them. The new paradigm must be revolutionary enough to go directly at the balls of the judiciary, with a view to prising open its hidden covens and emptying them to free the justice system from their vice grips. The new paradigm must go for the jugular of the legislature to free it from the clutches of the corrupt and make it work for the people. The new paradigm must be so deep that it should be ready to rusticate most members of the present judiciary and replace them with incorruptible persons that will dispense justice without fear or favor, no matter who is involved. It must also block the ways of corrupt people to the legislature and most importantly, arm the masses to monitor the system for better results.
The present anti corruption war must not be allowed to falter, despite the odds ranged against it. It needs more buffers. It needs more traction and it needs the country to go out of its way to sidetrack the unintended outcomes of the existing judicial system which frees the most corrupt from the grips of the law. If we allow the judiciary and the legislature to derail the fight, Nigerians will be the ultimate casualty which is why Nigerians must stand to provide props to the anti corruption fight even with the noticeable predilection of the present legislature and judiciary to derail it.
Peter Claver Oparah
E-mail: [email protected]