African Press Association
Nigeria's senate president, Abubakar Bukola Saraki

Anti-corruption battle sets Nigeria ruling party at war

Nigeria's senate president, Abubakar Bukola Saraki

Nigeria’s senate president, Abubakar Bukola Saraki

from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA – NIGERIA’S much trumpeted war against corruption, dismissed in some sections as veil to justify the persecution of opponents of the ruling party, has left the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the verge of an implosion which is feared to thrust Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy into mayhem.

The anticorruption crusade took a new, grim twist this week as the APC-lead government laid charges of forgery against some of its own, Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Clerk of the Senate, Ben Efeturi and the previous Clerk of the Nigerian National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa.

The officials have escaped detention at the Kuje Maximum Prison in Abuja after appearing at the Federal Capital Territory High Court for allegedly illegally altering the Senate’s Standing Rule used in electing leaders and inaugurating the upper legislative chamber last year in June.

Saraki was last year elected unopposed as President of the Senate by an across the party alliance comprising APC Senators and their rival People’s Democratic Party (PDP) legislators.

He had faced stiff opposition from Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan who was a preferred candidate by a group of senators-elect within the APC.

Ekweremadu, emerged after a tightly contested election but it has since been alleged a forged senate standing order was used.

Saraki has been under siege since his election and has for the better part of his term been attending trial on separate charges, 13 in all, of corruption at the Code of Conduct Tribal.

He is accused of false declaration of assets, failing to declare some assets he acquired while in office as Kwara State governor, acquiring assets “beyond his legitimate earnings” and operating foreign accounts while being a public officer.

Critics, including those in the ruling party, have criticised these as trumped up charges to elbow him out of power as his election did not sit well with the executive, which preferred his opponent from the same party.

But the infighting characterising the APC have not been as overt as this week as for the first time since President Muhammadu Buhari’s ascension to power, his commitment to democracy has come from within his party.

A dictator in the 1980s, he was elected to power on a campaign premised on a pledge he was a reformed democrat committed to ridding the West African country of rampant corruption.

Sabi Abdullahi, APC member and chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, a position that makes him the official spokesman of the Senate, unprecedentedly lashed at Buhari, accusing him of undermining the power of the Nigerian Senate through “entirely false” and “unfounded” allegations against Senate leaders.

He argued the alleged persecution of the Senate leaders had relegated the war on corruption to a “veil” to justify the attacks on Nigeria’s “functioning” democracy.

“It is time for the international community to take note and condemn this undemocratic behaviour by the Nigerian Government. This is a time when the Nigerian people need leadership not petty in-fighting,” said Abdullahi.

“The Nigerian Government Executive is attempting to take democratic power away from the very people the Nigerian Senate represents.”

He urged Buhari to respect the rule of law and Nigeria’s constitutional democracy.

“I appeal to all lovers of democracy to condemn in strong terms, this latest assault on our democratic institution.”

Such sentiments have largely been synonymous with the PDP, which held power since the restoration of democracy in 1999 until its defeat by Buhari and the APC last year.

Saraki’s reaction to his latest tribulation suggest emotions are boiling over as he has over the months maintained a cool demeanour during the separate corruption charges.

“These trumped up charges is only another phase in relentless persecution of the leadership of the Senate that started over a year ago. It has become clear that there is a government within the government of Buhari who (sic) have seized apparatus of executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda,” Saraki said.

The New Nigeria Initiative (NNI), a pro-democracy organisation, warned Buhari’s government against “meddling with the Nigerian Constitution” following the laying of charges of forgery and conspiracy against Senate leaders.

“The NNI believes that the Nigerian Government Executive is attempting to influence the Nigerian Senate by disrupting its leadership team. In doing this, they are disregarding separation of powers and taking democratic power away from the people of Nigeria, who voted in order to be properly represented in the Nigerian Senate,” said Tracy Okoro, President of NNI.

“Whilst we agree with President Buhari’s attempt to eradicate corruption within Nigeria, it should be done in an objective and measured way that respects the rule of law and not be above it,” Okoro added.

But Adesina said the issue did not arise since the Presidency did not initiate his legal battle.

This week, the Presidency distanced the executive arm of government in the charges against Senate leaders.

“Senator Saraki’s legal battle was not originated by the Presidency in the first place. Thus, this issue does not arise,” Femi Adesina, Buhari’s spokesperson said.

Rochas Ikpeazu, an Abuja-based social commentator, warned chillingly, the current problems coincide with claims by a militant group some members of the military were planning a coup against Buhari.

APC National Chairman of the, John Odigie-Oyegun, said the ruling party did not interfere in judicial matters.

Rochas Ikpeazu, an Abuja-based analyst warned the differences between the executive and National Assembly could have ramifications for government coming at a time the country is faced with a Boko Haram crisis that has claimed thousands of lives and renewed militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

“All hands should be on deck to thwart these pressing issues than expending energy on trivial issues. A government faced by terrorists, militants and a depreciating economy cannot afford to make itself vulnerable than the current administration is doing,” Ikpeazu warned.

– CAJ News / APA