By SOC Okenwa… The Nigerian National Assembly (NASS) is not one without scandals from time immemmorial. From 1999 when democracy was restored after the June 12 presidential imbroglio the NASS has not been short of embarrassing scandals. Both the upper and lower chambers have, at one time or another, embroiled in one fiscal or non-fiscal scandal (with some rocking the Houses to their foundation) or another involving millions of diverted or misappropriated funds or issues of moral shortcomings. The NASS members take home huge emoluments that were said to be the highest in the world! Yet majority of them are not only indolent but unproductive contributing very little or nothing to any debate or raising any serious issue of public interest worth voting into law. They commit permissive fraud by way of collectiing constituency funds that serve their fancies and not those of their constituents. At their convenient time they could take the executive ‘hostage’ over pay rise or budget differences always pampering themselves at the expense of those that ‘elected’ them into office.
The very worst scandals happened during the Obasanjo imperial presidency of 1999-2007. In 1999 ‘The-News’ magazine in Lagos broke an investigative news of forgery and perjury involving the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari. Buhari (no relation of the current President) was said to have lied on oath about his age and academic qualification. He declared fraudulently that he went to school at the University of Toronto which was found by the magazine to be untrue. ‘The-News’ wrote that Buhari was seven years younger than he claimed to be, making him too young to enter the House according to the constitutional requirement. The disgraced Speaker was the fourth in the country’s constitutional hierarchy! Faced with the mounting pressure from all corners he resigned amid tears!
During the same imperial presidency ‘Ghana-must-go’ bags filled to the brim with hard currency were thrown around on the floor of the legislative chambers as evidence of slush funds (or bribe money if you like) meant to actualise the failed third term gambit of Baba. Under OBJ as President the Senate especially witnessed changes in leadership through impeachments or resignations. From Evans Enwerem to Adolphus Wabara to the late Chuba Okadigbo it took the arrival of one Ken Nnamani to bring some sanity to bear on the upper legislative chamber.
Again just months after the end of ‘Babacracy’ one hitherto unknown beautician, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, suddenly came to national limelight by being ‘elected’ as Speaker of the House. The professional hair-dresser from Osun State had had a hectic time controlling the House dominated by men — some misogynists and others narcissists. She tried, amidst frequent crisis within, to maintain control but political forces overpowered her and her followers. There were dizzying moments, giddy moments of opposition and calls for a change in leadership became louder and louder.
Following allegations of sleaze occasioned by the funds she illegally spent on upgrading her official residence totalling some N620 million (about US$5 million) our cosmetologist was forced out. Her many adversaries won the battle to unseat Etteh, someone considered barely educated and a political lightweight. Senator Dino Melaye was in the lower chamber then and he was the leader of the ‘Etteh group’ and today he has ‘graduated’ to the upper chamber as a Senator doing the same thing to the embattled Senate President.
The Kogi contoversial man fought then for Etteh and today he is fighting for Bukola and his wife! During the ‘Etteh-gate’ Dino was once bloodied in the turmoil in the House where he played a Tyson and Bruce Lee combination on fellow members! But in the end he failed to save Etteh as the woman bowed out. Now Dino is yet into another losing camp — this time that of Saraki and wife and co. He escorts Mr and Mrs Saraki to different courtrooms providing unflinching support and pledging to remain a ‘Sarakist’ till he drops dead! With Melaye loyalty could have some importance in Nigeria indeed! But the problem is that he does it all for a fee; he employs his services for pecuniary gains.
Melaye has suddenly found wealth doing nothing in the Senate other than escorting Saraki’s wife to court for her trial for fraud and removing a tatoo bearing the name of his estranged wife! And operating a foreign bank account in clear contravention of the Senate rules and regulations. Many like him in the Senate are just there for purposes of immunity from prosecution or milking the system to satisfy their cupid yearnings. In this group you have thieves and fraudsters and those with skeletons of corruption in their cupboards.
The embattled Senate President is from a rich powerful political dynasty in Illorin, Kwara State. His late father, Olusola, was a former Senate leader and godfather-politician who ensured his chosen candidates got elected into government positions in his lifetime. Bukola is not barely educated; he schooled overseas and came out in flying colours. But it seems he not only went there to be taught good morals and how to become a responsible member of the society but he learned how to scam the system for his self-aggrandizement. Or how else do we comprehend the mountain of scandals trailing him ever since he left the government house in Illorin as Governor for eight uninterrupted years? For many years Bukola has been defrauding the system with impunity but now it appears his cup is full and the time for home truth has arrived at long last.
The late Saraki senior alias ‘Oloye’ brought the defunct Societe Generale Banque to Nigeria and wrecked it in a monumental fiscal heist that remained ingrained bitterly in the memory of helpless Nigerians who lost millions (if not billions) of their deposits as the bank went under. ‘Oloye’ became a prominent kingmaker in Ilorin a la Lamidi Adedibu in Ibadan with thousands of supporters thronging his country home for food or handouts. Bukola must have learnt a thing or two from his late father hence his determination to achieve ignominy by defying decorum and responsibility.
Bukola Saraki is still standing trial for deliberate false declaration of assets at the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja. He is equally accused of receiving salaries for years as Governor of Kwara State when he no longer holds such office. Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed must have reached some sort of accord with Saraki to continue to be remunerated as governor as a reward for installing him (Ahmed) as governor. The first Senate presidency coup d’etat took place in Abuja when Saraki, in collusion with the opposition PDP Senators, manoeuvred his way into office as Senate President even when some APC ruiling party Senators were absent in the Chamber. The APC national leadership initially kicked against the Saraki choice having chosen another Senator instead to fulfill that position. It was a smart political move only a con-man could pull off and till today it still stands though challenged at every given opportunity.
When “Panama Papers”, the largest link in history, was unveiled some weeks ago some Nigerian politicians featured in the details including one Bukola Saraki. A global leak of 11 million files from one of the world’s most secretive companies, Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The data covers nearly 40 years from 1977 to the end of 2015 and involves high-profile politicians (some still active and in office) businessmen and footballers like the ‘Ballon D’or’ Lionel Messi. From Vladmir Putin’s cronies to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron; from resigned Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson to President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine. From the King of Saudi Arabia to the former Emir and Prime Minister of Qatar. After ‘Wikileaks’ exposure that shook the world Panama Papers rocked the global power establishment.
Saraki is not the only Nigerian politician mentioned in the offshore tax-haven scandal. About him and his wife the Panama Papers revealed he did not declare at least four offshore assets listed under his wife’s name. Other notable Nigerians on the list included former Senate President David Mark, retired General Theophilus Danjuma, an oil magnate and Pastor TB Joshua of the Synagogue church fame. But our concern here is never TB Joshua, a man of God who heads a prosperous church and his fortunes. He is free to do whatever he pleases with his hard-earned money; it is not our business to know how or where he decides to invest or bank his wealth. But we must know how or where Saraki, Mark or Danjuma hide their ill-gotten wealth for the interest of accountability in governance.
In a sane clime this shameless man from Kwara State who parades himself as the Senate President ought to have thrown in the towel. Yes, he should have resigned since as a gentleman but Saraki is not a gentleman and a democrat even though he pretends to be one; he so much loves power and influence that resignation is out of the equation. With irresponsible Senators like Dino Melaye playing the sycophancy drum for him and his wife to dance to it is difficult to think about life outside the Senate presidency. He has said indefensively recently that his travails were traceable to political machination of the APC hierarchy because of his proposal against a muslim-muslim ticket during the last presidential poll. His loyalists had maintained all along that the trial of their principal is politically motivated but we refuse to take such balderdash.
Bukola Saraki is the face of both guber and senatorial fraud in Nigeria; an executive criminal feeding fat on our collective amnesia if not ignorance! In a decent organized society (one to which we aspire) such an unpatriotic character must not be allowed to bring our nascent democracy into disrepute globally. We cannot afford to continue to tolerate the Saraki nonsense, a conundrum in our hallowed chambers distracting our democratic evolution. The judiciary must expedite action towards his speedy trial and conviction. A guilty verdict ought to be returned or reached given the huge evidence on the ground. The sooner this is done the better for us all.
The National Assembly can do without the polarizing corrupt figure like Saraki. Enough is indeed enough!
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