Posted by News Express | 21 July 2017 | 1,718 times
President of the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki, reminds me of the infamous Al Capone. Al Capone was a notorious criminal whose crime was that he went the extra-mile, or better still, made extra-effort in ensuring that Americans had their booze, which the “saints” had prohibited. To Al Capone, it was a simple demand and supply issue. At least, that is how he saw it. But the authorities didn't see it as such. Naturally, there was a deadly confrontation between the bad guy and the puritans. And it wasn't only booze that Al Capone provided the people. Despite the prohibition, he also gave them women, but at a price. The situation was pretty bad for Al Capone, who believed that he was conveniently demonised by the media and law enforcement agencies, because they needed a fall guy.
He believed that they created a larger than life image of him so that they could bring him down and earn promotion, and advance their political career, which was what happened. But Al Capone didn't find it funny. He said: “Every time a boy falls off a tricycle, every time a black cat has gray kittens, every time someone stubs a toe, every time there is a murder or a fire or the Marines land in Nicaragua, the police and the newspapers holler: ‘get Capone’.” A frustrated Al Capone also mockingly declared himself guilty of every death or murder committed in the United States, except for those of the two world wars. He had to make sense of the terrible and incomprehensible situation.
Saraki, like Al Capone, has been accused of every imaginable crime – plundering the resources of Kwara State, benefitting from the Paris Fund refund, running his family’s Societe General Bank aground, etc. Some uncharitable opponents hold him responsible for the death of his father. His political opponents have successfully woven around him the toga of a desperate politician who can go to any length to achieve his ambitions. Though never convicted of any crime by any competent court, Saraki would live with that burden of being perceived as a very bad guy, like Donald Trump would say. And he must take blame for lacking a functional media or investing in one. My ‘political opponent’, Yusuph Olaniyonu, his Special Adviser, is definitely overwhelmed defending his boss, who reminds me of ‘Soapy Willie’ in One Week, One Trouble, by Anezi Okoro. Hardly a week passes that Saraki, like soapy Willie, doesn't run into a storm - true or false, real or imagined. But Olaniyonu must find that time to articulate some of the great efforts of Saraki.
Saraki, like Al Capone, would in quiet moments laugh at all the high crimes attributed to him and, probably conclude, like Al Capone, that he is responsible for all the ills bedevilling Nigeria and, maybe, vacate the Senate presidency, so Nigeria will get everything right. But considering all he has gone through, it is doubtful if Saraki would abandon his ultimate goal – the presidency of Nigeria, the goal of his opponents. The difference today is that like a gold fish, he longer has any hiding place. He is not going to take them unawares again, and so he will know no respite.
Though Saraki was discharged and acquitted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on all 18-count-charge of false assets declaration, there are those who still believe that Bukola Saraki is guilty as charged, and should be jailed; even when Bola Tinubu was discharged and acquitted by the same tribunal over a similar case. The tribunal was unequivocal that Saraki was unfairly treated, as he was never invited to address the allegations against him. Worse still, the evidence proffered against Saraki by the Federal Government was, according to the tribunal, “bereft of probate value and manifestly unreliable to hold the charges against the defendant.” An appeal has been filed challenging his acquittal.
Some Nigerians have disdain for the National Assembly, especially the 8th Senate, in spite of its productivity. When Senegal abolished its Senate, there were shouts of joy and an uncoordinated campaign, funded largely by those close to the disgraced Secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, seeking a similar treatment for the Nigerian Senate. Some see the Senate as an institution that can be done away with, that we don't need. The Senate and, indeed, the National Assembly deserve some blame in the way they have responded to certain situations. But the truth is that many critics of the National Assembly have not been fair to them. Unlike the Executive, every fight of theirs is in the open, while the high walls of Aso Rock conceal the wars among ministers, some of who barely tolerate each other.
But the Senate that is being demonised uncovered the fuel subsidy scam. Ironically, it is Saraki ‘the villain’ who, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, moved the motion that unraveled the scam running into trillions of naira. This was at great personal risk. As Special Assistant to President Obasanjo on Budget, he initiated the establishment of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission. The importance of the commission is so obvious. The fiscal responsibility regime - which came into force in 2007 with the signing into law of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 by late President Musa Yar’Adua - is a product of Saraki’s endeavour. The fiscal commission is charged with identifying policies to improve and, in the long run, achieve fiscal sustainability. As usual, while Brazil and Canada have gone a step further by enshrining fiscal legislation into their constitution, Nigeria has chained hers. The progress they are making is evident and a confirmation of the necessity of the fiscal regimen.
The National Assembly haters should ask the Executive why it has refused to implement the International Financial Reporting Standards, which President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration approved in 2010. The administration approved the adoption of the provisions of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and the International Public Sector Accounting Standard (IPSAS) for the private and public sectors. The Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) did a substantial job that culminated in the production of a Standardised National Chart of Account (COA) that is IPSAS compliant. The COA was designed in line with the provisions of Government Financial Statistics (GFS) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning has consistently refused to use the approved format for budget preparation and implementation. This explains why the 2015, 2016 and 2017 budgets are washouts, and the results are so obvious.
But, for the reconciliation that united the Senate, Nigeria wouldn't have benefitted from the wealth of experience of Senator Kabiru Marafa. The work of his committee forced the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to recover more than N130 billion. Kudos must be given to the President who, as Minister of Petroleum, gave them the political cover to go after NNPC. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) was also “smartly broken up”, after previous attempts at wholesome passage failed. Currently, Marafa is investigating another subsidy scam running into trillions. His DNA is Buhari, which was why he fought Saraki to a standstill.
The latest allegation against Saraki and some senators was that on the 4th of July 2017, they attempted a coup against Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. Even when the votes and proceedings doesn't support the narrative, it has gained an alarming currency. And Saraki, as usual, has been tried, convicted and sentenced to infamy. Even Senator Kabiru Marafa, whose Order 53(4) saved the day, has equally been tagged a “co-coup plotter.” The votes and proceedings of 4th July, which are readily available, absolves Saraki and his colleagues of the high crime of coup-plotting. There is no way the proceedings of that day can be tagged a coup.
What commentators have dubbed a coup arose from a joke on the All Progressives Congress (APC) by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe. I quote him: “I simply want to bring to the attention of this chamber and all Nigerians, and to ask the question, the Acting President is the person who is at the head of government now. But we have a serious problem in Nigeria today. We have nobody in Nigeria who is at the head of the government.” Though joking, Abaribe raised a fundamental question which, because the Acting President was out of the country on official engagement, we should actually have asked: Did the Acting President inform the National Assembly leadership of his trip? That is a pertinent question Nigerians must ask. And, if only the Office of the Acting President had taken pains to officially communicate to Nigerians, that while the Acting President was out of the country, the Senate President who is next in the line of succession would be acting, the country would have been saved the unnecessary storm in a tea-cup.
When former United States’ President George W Bush went in for a surgery, because it would involve anesthesia, he signed off his powers in line with the amendment of 1967 that made it compulsory for him to, as he was going to be temporarily disabled and he wasn't going to be in any position to perform the functions of his office. Life moved on. Americans were sure that in the event of an attack, there will be someone to respond.
Senator Marafa literally saved the day by stopping Abaribe's introduction of extraneous issue - leadership vacuum - into the debate at hand, which had nothing to do with succession, contrary to the Senate Rules that forbids it. Coming by the way of Order 53(4) of the Senate Standing Rules, he stopped his colleague Senator Abaribe, who was clearly poking fun at the APC, that there was a leadership vacuum. Marafa had noted: “Mr President, my distinguished colleagues. It is the abuse of our sensibilities, and that of Nigerians everywhere, to make the assertion that there is no head of government in Nigeria and that there is a vacuum in the leadership of Nigeria. The Constitution is very clear. If the President is out of the country, the Constitution is clear as to who is the head of government. If the Acting President is out of the country, the Senate President is the next in the line of succession. You should desist from making this unwarranted attack.” It is baffling how such a profound contribution would amount to a coup plot!
But what is bad about discussing succession? Is the word a taboo? Is it not within the competence of the Senate to, and if need be, effect necessary amendments to line of succession? The Senate used the Doctrine of Necessity to navigate the tricky situation Nigeria found herself during the Umaru Yar'Adua administration. But it is doubtful if the necessary legal backing has been given to that arrangement. Thankfully, the Electoral Act has been amended, to take care of the puzzle created by the sudden death of Abubakar Audu of Kogi State that taxed Nigerians.
If Buhari was not the President of Nigeria, I’m not sure how many of those tagging people “coupists” would care about him, talk less of worry about his health status. Just as I don't think all those who talk about Buhari's health wish him ill. I think they do genuinely worry, precisely because he is our President and that an Acting President is, at best, a glorified spare-tyre who can't take certain decisions. Nigerians, for instance, are not worried about the health conditions of the former president Ibrahim Babangida. And the reason is simple: he is not directly in control of the affairs of 180 million Nigerians. I pray God heals the two men. Amen. Why is it difficult for the Acting President to swear in the ministers, from Kogi and Gombe states, already cleared by the Senate?
When we plan, like we should for eventualities, it is not that we pray for such outcomes - like war or fire. The military, for instance, trains not because there is a war, but that in the event that there is one, they should be fit to prosecute it. The Boko Haram insurgency caught the armed forces napping, as they never trained for asymmetrical war.
Badly handled, succession can mark the end of political careers, as Al Haig found out in 1981. When President Ronald Reagan was shot, the then vice-president George H W Bush was airborne to Texas, meaning America was technically a ship without a captain. Acting in line with the Succession Act, he took charge. Someone must always be in charge. Haig said: “Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice-president and the secretary of state, in that order, and should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice-president, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the vice-president, and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check up with him.”
Nature, they say, abhors vacuum. As much as we love our President and wish him well, we must think of his love for Nigeria. We must remember that he has shown real grace by handing over power to his vice-president whenever he had to go seek medical help, in line with the constitutional provisions. This is a radical departure from the Yar'Adua era. These are signposts that will guide us as we navigate a tricky period of our national life. We must consistently ask, in times or such circumstances that we are, how would Buhari want us to act? His love, for Nigeria, like that of Olusegun Obasanjo, without Matthew, is not in doubt.
The proceedings of 4th July 2017 does not bear out the tales by moonlight coup plot of how Saraki wanted to overthrow the Acting President, working with the cabal. It must have been a coup in the fertile imagination of those behind it, the kind of stuff you will see in Nollywood. If the Acting President didn't inform Saraki of his trip outside the country, that would be bad manners and a shame, considering that Buhari has always treated him decently. So, the plot failed when Saraki ‘suddenly’ realised that Osinbajo had returned from Ethiopia, where he attended the African Union Summit is also a poor plot, which a strategist like Saraki would not commit. The movement of the Acting President would never be a top secret that would be difficult for the Senate President to know. In fact, unsolicited favour-seekers will tell him whatever he wants to know.
Hate or like the National Assembly, we must come to terms with their powers. For appropriation, the powers are clearly spelt out in Sections 4, 59 and 80(4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. While Section 4, empowers the National Assembly to make laws for good governance of the federation, Section 59 confers on the National Assembly the last word on the budget. Section 80(4), states: “No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the federation, except approved by the Nation Assembly.”
•Emmanuel Ado writes from Kaduna. He can be reached through email@example.com
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