There is no doubting the fact that corruption has plagued Nigeria for so many years and this has ultimately brought the country to her knees, corruption in all shades and forms, which has diverse colourations, oozing putrid odour that stinks to high heavens, and there was no silver lining in the horizon until the coming into power of President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB).
Lately the anti-graft searchlight beamed on the senate leadership, this has generated unnecessary polemics and needless brouhaha from different quarters, as corruption is also fighting back and desperate to remain relevant in the scheme of things in the country.
Institutional corruption is too well entrenched in the country, making corruption to be more or less the official policy of the state, which make its cumbersome for corruption to be decisively dealt with over the years, it is for this reason that, one of the former rulers of this country said boldly that, stealing is not corruption, in those days of impunity, corruption went on unhindered and it was a matter of how much an individual could steal, but PMB is now saying, corruption is the worst form of human rights violation, noting that, if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria, it is to this end, that the present administration is not leaving any stone unturned, in a bid to tackle corruption and ensure that things in the country are carried out in accordance with international best practices.
We as a nation can ill-afford to carry on like this, any country that elevates corruption to place of pride cannot make any tangible progress and this is a fact of life. PMB is not afraid to take on corruption at any level and in any place in the country; this is of course predicated on one of the underlying principle rule of law, which is equality before the law, there are no sacred cows, as nobody is above the law. In times past, the case of alleged forgery in the senate would have been treated as a family matter, conveniently swept under the carpet and condemned to the dustbin, as relics of history. But PMB has taken the bull by its horns in fight corruption and he should be commended for it.
As a matter of fact, the 8th Senate led by Senate President Bukola Saraki is enmeshed in a protracted crisis that has divided the chamber since inauguration on June 9, 2015. The two groups that fought hard to secure leadership of the Senate last year have remained at loggerheads over allegations of illegal amendments to the Standing Rules that purportedly aided the emergence of Saraki as President of Senate and Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy President. Reports of alteration to sections of the Senate Standing Rules have been causing ripples in the Nigerian political landscape since June 9, 2015.
The replacement of ‘open’ with the ‘secret’ voting system, among other amendments to the rules, have set the stage for the prosecution of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, on allegations of conspiracy and forgery.
The charge preferred against Dr. Bukola Saraki and others, signed by the principal state counsel, Federal Ministry of Justice, D. E. Kaswe, reads thus, “That you, on or about June 9, 2015, with fraudulent intent, forged the Senate Standing Orders 2011 (as amended) causing it to be believed as the genuine Standing Orders 2015 and circulated same for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate when you knew that the said order was not made in compliance with the procedure for the amendment of the Senate orders. You thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code laws.”
It is important to know that the amendments to the main provisions regarding the mode of election of the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President. A fundamental amendment to the rule is on the method of voting provided in sections 3 (3e) (i & ii), (f) and (k). The 2011 Standing Orders provides in section 3 (3e) that “When only two senators-elect are nominated and seconded as presidents of the Senate, the election shall be conducted as follows; (i) the Senate shall divide with proposers and seconders as Tellers; (ii) voting shall be conducted by the clerk-at-the-table using Division List of the Senate with the Tellers in attendance. The Clerk of the Senate shall submit the result of the division to the Clerk of the National Assembly; (iii) the clerk shall then declare the senator-elect who has received the greater number of votes elected as President of Senate.”
But the controversial Senate Standing Orders 2015 as amended introduced electronic voting and secret ballot system to the procedure. The document provides in section 3(3e) that “when two or more senators-elect are nominated and seconded as Senate President, the election shall be conducted as follows; (i) by electronic voting, or (ii) voting by secret ballot which shall be conducted by the clerks-at-table using the list of the senators-elect of the Senate, who shall each be given a ballot paper to cast his vote, with proposers and seconders as Tellers. “(iii) The Clerk of the Senate shall submit the result of the voting to the Clerk of the National Assembly, who shall then declare the senator-elect who has received the highest number of votes as Senate President-elect.”
The voting pattern proposed by the Senate Orders 2011 provides an election process where all senators are required to openly declare support for the candidate of their choice, while the allegedly forged 2015 version provides for secrecy in the voting procedure.
Another contentious amendment is the right of all senators-elect to vote during the inauguration sitting. Section 3(3k) of the Standing Rule 2011 provides that “all senators-elect shall participate in the nomination and voting for the president and deputy president of the Senate.” But the 2015 amended version provides in its Section 3(i) that “all senators-elect are entitled to participate in the voting for Senate President and Deputy Senate President.”
This provision is another major point of disagreement in the 8th Senate as some of its members did not attend the inauguration session. It would be recalled that Saraki emerged as the Senate President unopposed as his main rival, Senator Ahmed Lawan and several other APC senators were at the International Conference Centre (ICC) for a purported meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari when the Upper Chamber was inaugurated. They did not take part in the elections that produced Saraki and Ekweremadu as presiding officers.
Furthermore, the police, after conducting its investigations, concluded that the amendment to the Senate Standing Rules was illegal as it failed to follow laid down procedures provided by Section 110 as amended. In his statement to the police, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business in the 7th Senate, Senator Ita Enang, said the standing order was not amended. Enang told the police that the committee proposed the amendment of the 2011 standing order, but up to the expiration of their tenure, the proposal was not debated and approved or rejected at any sitting.
Procedure for amending the Senate Standing Orders Section 110 of the Senate Standing Order 2011 provides that “(i) any Senator desiring to amend any part of the rules or adding any new clause shall give a notice of such amendments in writing to the president of the Senate, giving details of proposed amendment; (ii) the president shall, within seven working days, cause the amendment to be printed and circulated to the members.
Thereafter it shall be printed on the Order Paper; (iii) the mover or movers of the amendments shall be allowed to explain in details, the proposed amendments; thereafter the Senate shall decide by simple majority votes whether the amendment should be considered; (iv) if the decision is to consider the amendments, then another date shall be set aside by the Rules and Business Committee, whereby an opportunity would be given to senators to further propose amendments, but must strictly be confined to the original amendments; (v) two third majorities shall decide the amendments, and such amendments shall form part of the Rules of the Senate.”
The practice where some senators amend the rules of the Senate without following legal procedures is not only criminal but portends danger for our growing democracy. It should be discouraged. Before now, this kind of issue would have gone unnoticed, there would have been several cover ups and it would be treated as a family affair, some would even have the temerity to say, it is not an act of corruption, but this a clear cut case of graft, where a group of people clandestinely met to illegitimately change well established rules and regulations, in order to gain undue advantage over others in the contestation for political offices, thereby frustrating the efforts of co-contestants, no matter how legal.
This will indeed be a test case for the fight against corruption in the country, one of the propagandas dished out by traducers of this government is that, the fight against graft is selective and one-sided, but the point that must be made is that, the issue of corruption will be handled step by step after due investigations must have been carried out, the recent cases of retired air force high-ranking officer, Mohammed Umar and Governor Ayo Fayose corroborate this basic fact.
It is well know that Mohammed Umar is a close ally of PMB, that that did not stop the EFCC from doing its work, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, recently, docked former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar, before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja over alleged N4.8 billion fraud.
Umar, who pleaded not guilty to a seven-count criminal charge the anti-graft agency preferred against him, was alleged to have used funds he siphoned from accounts of the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, between September 2010 and December 2012 to purchase six choice property in Abuja, Kano and Kaduna states. In the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/92/ 2016, EFCC alleged that Umar transferred N66 million into the Stanbic IBTC account No. 9202077424 belonging to Capital Law office from NAF operations account domiciled at UBA Plc, for the renovation/improvement of a house at 1853, Deng Xiao Ping Street, Off Mahathir Mohammed Street, Asokoro Extension, Abuja. EFCC alleged in count-four that Umar, between September and December 2012 in Abuja, used the dollar equivalent of N500 million removed from NAF account to purchase a four-bedroom duplex with boy’s quarters at Road 3B, Street 2, Mabushi Ministers Hill, Abuja.
The ex-NAF boss was further alleged to have in year 2011, used the dollar equivalent of N250 million to purchase a property situated at 14, Audu Bako Way, G.R.A. Kano State. Former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar (retd) at the Federal High Court, Abuja, recently. He was in count-seven alleged to have used N700 million withdrawn from NAF account to purchase a property at 14, Vistula Close, off Panama Street, Maitama, Abuja. The prosecution maintained that the defendant committed an offence contrary Section 15(2) (b) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011, as amended.
In the same vein, the anti-graft agency was alleged to have ordered Zenith Bank to freeze Governor Ayodele Fayose’s personal account numbers 1003126654 and 9013074033 for alleged money laundering running into N1.2 billion being money allegedly taken from the $2.1 billion arms fund from the office of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Bello Dasuki. It would also be recalled that, Fayose is standing trial for alleged diversion of N860 million public funds meant for Ekiti Poultry Project during his previous tenure as governor of the state.
Before the advent of the PMB led government, the recurring issue in both local and international media about Nigeria is the failure of leadership in the country as well as the proclivity to categorize and label Nigeria as a failed or failing state as the case maybe.
It is so sad and disheartening that with the avalanche of human and material resources, the mixed crop of politicians had not only failed woefully to rise to the challenge of leadership by providing credible, effective and transparent leadership that could have put smiles on the faces of the teeming Nigerian populace, but also failed to deepen democracy and democratic ethos in the country. But alas, what do we have? A confused and inept leadership; polarized and rudderless political class; visionless socio- economic cum political agenda; which is inimical to the collective national interest and values of the Nigerian state.
Furthermore, those who are corrupt must be brought to book; there must be no two sets of law in the country, one for the rich and the other for the poor. Those who ran foul of the law must brace up to the consequences of their misdemeanour. Then, at all levels of government and society, there must be exemplary leadership by example.
Hence, the PMB led government should be commended and not vilified on the issue of war against corruption. The preliminary pronouncement on the case by the law court was predicated on technicalities and not the substance of the case, regardless of the propaganda and cover ups, the truth will ultimately prevail, if indeed the standing rules of the senate was manipulated, falsified or doctored to gain undue advantage, the perpetrators of such an ignoble definitely have questions to answer, the anti-graft war must be total and unrelenting; and the point must be made that justice delayed is justice denied, no matter how long, indeed, the long arms of the law will sooner than later catch up with criminals, no matter how highly placed.