The Supreme Court on Friday 6th July discharged the Senate President Bukola Saraki of the remaining three count charges of false assets declaration and money laundering. It will be recalled that the Code of Code Tribunal (CCT) had earlier acquitted Saraki of all the eighteen charges that were brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for lacking in merit. However, the Federal Government felt displeased with the judgement and appealed it at the Court of Appeal where prima facie was said to have been established against Bukola Saraki in three out of the eighteen count charges initially brought against him.
Meanwhile, Dr. Bukola Saraki had made it known at the beginning of his trial in 2015 that he was only being persecuted for emerging as the Senate President against the interest of certain highly connected individuals. "As I said in my first appearance at the CCT, this is a politically motivated case. The case was trumped up in the first instance because of my emergence as the President of the Senate against the wishes of certain forces", said Saraki.
The trial which precisely began on September 22, 2015 at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and lasted for 1018 days was no doubt extremely convoluted for the Senate President. Nonetheless, justice had prevailed at the end with the vindication of Bukola Saraki. Earlier, the Court of Appeal had partly agreed with the CCT in its January 14, 2018 ruling that Saraki had a case to answer in counts 4, 5, and 6, which had to do with his purchase of properties in the Ikoyi area of Lagos State.
But, the Apex Court in its wisdom demonstrated that the judiciary is indeed the last vestige of hope for the oppressed citizenry. The lead judgement that was delivered by Justice Centus Nweze was fair, instructive and clearly served the best interest of justice. He ruled in clear conscience that there was no basis for the Court of Appeal to have asked Saraki to defend himself on charges 4,5 and 6 because the entire evidence of the prosecution were a product of hearsay.
Justice Nweze also added that the Court of Appeal judgement was akin to forensic summersaults and it was capable of making ill of jurisprudence. "This court will not lend its jurisdiction to such a charade and caricature of justice. It carries grave error in holding that a prima facie case has been established against the appellant," held the court.
A five man panel of the Apex Court had in the unanimous judgment agreed that the failure of the Federal Government to call vital witnesses in the trial of Saraki was fatal and thus rendered it nugatory.
"The prosecution is duty bound by law to call all key witnesses to be able to establish prima facie case against anybody," held the court.
The Supreme Court also agreed that all those who have knowledge of facts were not called to testified in the matter and thus held that those who tendered documentary evidence against Saraki during the trial were not makers of the document, hence, their evidence on the documents were hearsay and lacked probative value. It was equally held in the judgement that the Court of Appeal made a caricature of its judgment when it found as a fact that the entire evidence presented by the prosecution was hearsay and manifestly unreliable and still went ahead to agree that prima facie case was established against the Senate President in three out of the 18 charges.
The triumph of Bukola Saraki at the end of his trial should ordinarily be heartwarming for lovers of justice and good governance in the country. The Senate President's victory should be more heartwarming because it has become evident that the case was politically motivated from the beginning to achieve a pre-determined end. Although, it is quite disturbing that some powerful individuals could have attempted to pervert the course of justice with the singular aim of punishing an innocent citizen.
Nigerians and those in position of authority need to learn some useful lessons from the trial and eventual triumph of Senator Bukola Saraki. The earlier those in authority realize that the current lopsided anti-corruption war that is targeted against the political opponents and some perceived independent minded individuals within the ruling party, the better for the nation. We all agree that corruption can never be in the interest of any nation and it is desirable to wage total war against the scourge. However, trying to cow the opposition into submission to selective anti-graft war should be condemned by all.
The Senate President is not in any way opposed to the war against corruption in Nigeria, but vowed never to be a party to the selective application of the law or the rhetoric of an insincere anti-corruption fight. While reeling out his modest contributions to the fight against graft, Saraki said, " I believe in fighting corruption and I have made my own humble contributions to the fight against corruption in this country.
"As a presidential aide, I initiated the process that led to the enactment of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. I was the first governor to establish the Price Intelligence Unit which later metamorphosed into the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) at the federal level.
"In the history of this country, the highest fraud, the most brazen corruption has been the Fuel Subsidy scam. No one wanted to talk about it or confront entrenched powers. As a Senator on the platform of the ruling party at that time, I sponsored a motion on the floor of the Senate calling for investigation that led to the unprecedented exposure of the massive corruption in the Fuel Subsidy regime".
Another important take away from the victory of Dr. Bukola Saraki is the need to enjoin all Nigerians to refrain from self help and keep absolute faith with the judiciary, even in the face of extreme and frustrating provocation. The Senate President never for once throughout the cause of his trial lose hope in the powers and competency of the judiciary. According to Saraki, "I have always believed in the infallibility of our Judiciary, secure in the knowledge that our courts – the last refuge of the oppressed - would never condemn the innocent. This outcome is also a vindication of my belief in the rule of law".
A key lesson from the triumph of the Kwara politician is the need to focus on national interest and avoid needless rift between the executive and the judiciary. All hands need to be on deck in the country to tackle the myriads of problems confronting the citizenry, rather than deliberate stoking of the embers of crisis. The Senate President had worrisome cause to lament his unfair vilification which resulted in avoidable disaffection between the executive and legislative arms of government. "Instead of working together in the interest of the nation and to seek to do better for our people, we are fighting one another and using legal instruments to mount baseless accusations against one another. Instead of exhibiting the need for unity and working day and night for that purpose, we are stoking the fire of division and rancour".
The victory of Saraki has again underlined the need to avoid waste of precious time and scarce resources on vengeful persecution of innocent citizens. It is without doubt that the desire of some individuals to nail Bukola Saraki at all cost had necessitated the frittering away of valuable time and huge resources in the cause of the trial by both the prosecutor and defendant. This is definitely not in the interest of anyone and the Senate President had good reason to lament.
" As a result of the war of attrition, various arms of government have wasted resources needlessly. It has been three wasted years across board in this country. Three years that would have been devoted to tackling issues affecting Nigerians, including: economic recovery, insecurity, youth unemployment and strengthening national institutions – were wasted on malicious prosecution" lamented Saraki.
Those behind the three years persecution of Bukola Saraki must have realized by now that the ensued legal battles were not any different from violent whirlwinds that would always leave tales of woos and lamentations after completion of its destructive assignments. This not withstanding, useful lessons ought to be learnt so that we do not take this regrettable route once again.