BY DURO ONABULE
If before now, Muhammadu Buhari never believed his presidency was earmarked for a political showdown to determine who was elected three years ago to govern Nigeria, he must henceforth face that reality following the notice impliedly served on him by the National Assembly in a language that could not be starker.
The National Assembly notice followed police decision to have Senate President Bukunola Saraki’s side of the claim of some accused thugs in Ilorin, Kwara State, that he (Saraki) was always generous to them. The thugs had earlier been arrested as suspects in the armed robbery on a bank at Offa during which some 33 victims, including almost 10 policemen were killed. The swift action of the police in arresting the suspects couldn’t surprise observers since killing of policemen on duty always incenses their bosses into picking up the culprits by all means. What, however, shocked Nigerians was the claim of the suspected criminals of their ties with top politicians in Kwara State. In fact, the first time Nigerians knew of the prospects of such claims was when Senate President Saraki raised the alarm from his seat that he had been informed by his (home) state governor Abdulfattah Ahmed that the suspects arrested in Kwara were to be transferred to Abuja where, according to Saraki, relying on information given him by the Kwara governor that the purpose of transferring them to Abuja was to torture the suspects to implicate him in criminal activities in Kwara.
Other circumstantial events were conveniently marshalled to show that the police authorities were trying to have it back on the Senate President or that President Buhari was employing the police to humiliate the Senate President. There was a major armed robbery in Kwara State. Did the police stage-manage it? The unusually large number of fatalities compelled the police to vigorously investigate. Without the robbery, would there have been the need to arrest suspects? And when the suspects claimed Senate President Saraki was always generous to them, was it not only fair to all sides (especially Saraki and police authorities) to inform Saraki and request for his explanation? So far, there is no proof (except the allegation of the suspects) that Saraki even knows them or ever had any dealing with them.
The nearest of any of the suspects’ link with top politicians in Kwara was the implied admission of the state governor that its empowerment programme might have been exploited by beneficiaries for non-relief or even criminal purposes for which he said, neither he (the governor) nor any benefactor could be held liable or responsible. Quite a logical explanation. Instead of toeing that line, Saraki seemed to have panicked. First, there was the alarm he raised in the Senate that a trap was being set to incriminate him. Second, there was a Senate delegation (not clear whether he was among) to President Buhari perhaps to force him to stop the police Inspector-General from pursuing the robbery in Kwara to a logical conclusion. Obviously, talks broke down, and rightly too. Hence, the rushed joint session of the National Assembly. Despite all the pretenses of the series of convenient complaints, the real aim was the open arrogance of the National Assembly to invoke its powers.
To do what? That was left hanging for escape route through which to bargain in future for a settlement in the face of inevitable collapse of their aggression.
Meanwhile, Nigerians are being befogged with bogus patriotic concern for the Senate as an institution. Meaning what? That if an allegation was made about the Senate President, he should not be asked by the statutory authorities for his side of the story? It is cheap blackmail to confer a non-existing immunity. Which institution are we preserving? The Senate in Nigeria? In the last three year, the Presidency in three countries spread over Africa, Asia and Latin America has been sanitised out of criminal corruption. If the Presidents of South Africa, South Korea and Brazil were not interrogated for explanations on the allegations against them, how could they have been rendered equal before the law like their respective fellow citizens? So far, the Senate President has not been declared guilty of any offence but it is legitimate for police authorities to demand explanations against any allegations the suspects might have made against him. Saraki must help himself by coming out clean.
What is more, can the presidency of Nigerian Senate be more reverent than the British monarchy? Only two days ago (yes, two days ago), an inquiry into child sex of 18 teenagers in England between 1970 and 1990s demanded from Prince Charles of Wales a witness statement. The case of a bishop convicted as a paedophile was suspected to been softy handled by the Anglican authorities to enable the clergyman escape trial with ordinary caution. The matter is being reviewed following public complaint that police dropped their investigation of the bishop because telephone calls supportive of the bishop came from many dozens of people, including MPs, former public school headmasters, JPs, a lord chief justice, cabinet ministers and a member of the royal family Prince Charles was described as the bishop’s loyal friend but his (Charles’s) office issued a statement that, “Prince of Wales made no intervention in the judicial process on behalf of Bishop Peter Ball.”
Prince Charles is next in line to succeed his mother, Queen Elizabeth. He complied with the law without any false bogus claim of being persecuted or humiliated.
How valid are the reasons issued by the National Assembly to warrant the veiled threat of impeachment or invocation of their power against Buhari? Killings in the country should stop. Such killings are all over the country and cannot be denied. We have all been criticising Buhari. But must Nigerians, therefor, cover up the killings in the Offa bank robbery? That is why police authorities must not be hindered in the investigations into that case, or there would be more killings in other banks away from Kwara State.
National Assembly also demanded adherence to rule of law. By all means, it is embarrassing that those granted bail should enjoy that privilege and government can only render itself vulnerable to needless criticisms. It is also adherence to rule of law for any Nigerian, no matter how highly placed (except the President and state governors), to be subjected to all laws in Nigeria without let or hindrance.
Truly, a few of the National Assembly’s observations cannot be glossed over. President Buhari’s appointees must be held accountable for their actions. Similar observations had been made in this column on those suspended by ministers for questionable financial conflict but returned to office without any explanation or those involved in the futile attempt to clandestinely restore a refuge from law. But is this, therefore, a ground for impeachment of the President?
National Assembly rightly feels anti-corruption should not be selective. This seems a posture with the mob. Otherwise, National Assembly should have given specific names. Indeed, National Assembly seems to have a limited horizon on corruption. It is for example to pretend that only financial infraction constitutes corruption. It would, for example, have been selective and corrupt of Muhammadu Buhari to have hindered police from investigating either the robbery at Offa, Kwara State, bank or the confessions of the thugs already arrested. It is also selective and (perhaps unconsciously) corrupt of National Assembly members to assume they are superior to other Nigerians with their (National Assembly’s) stupid solidarity parade when any of them is facing criminal prosecution. Law courts should be allowed to do their job.
It will be unpatriotic of National Assembly to take domestic politics to international community. Does Nigeria intervene in such domestic issues of United States, Britain, Europe, etc? So, any of these countries would then prevail on Nigeria not to investigate or even prosecute bank robbery and thuggery? Do these people think? Hoping to collaborate with Labour and civil society organistions against unemployment and poverty? Part of the poverty in Nigeria is due to unearned and undisclosed salaries and allowances drawn by National Assembly members. Expecting starving poor Nigerias to help them (National Assembly members) preserve the criminal wealth of gluttons Nigeria is unfortunate to be bedeviled with now parading as champions of the poor in society?
And rather ridiculously, Buhari will be impeached if he fails to sustain the vote of confidence in Saraki, Dogara as well as the vote of no confidence on IGP Idris?
Now, suddenly, National Assembly members are the defenders of corrupt judges. Yet, these same fellows pretend to have a case against selective war on corruption? Have the judges themselves complained against humiliation? Hasn’t the National Judicial Council (NJC) been investigating and upholding allegations of corruption against judges? Hasn’t NJC been recommending corrupt judges for retirement or prosecution?
There are the arrogance and self-conceit of our National Assembly perceiving itself as a sovereign institution existing to rival the executive to govern the country. As long as that wrong-headedness continues, there cannot be peace or harmony on our political terrain. In the context of our constitutional set-up, only a President is elected to administer Nigeria. There is also the Vice President. National Assembly is, therefore, not even a deputy in administering the country but mere assistants or (along with the judiciary), traffic lights to alert on danger ahead.
Such are the confusion and frustration they are expressing to make them eye the Presidency and state governorships. Or why the inordinate ambition?