Essays / The Pontifical Papers


ayo-sogunro-presenA lot of us have a poor understanding of democracy. For example, we appreciate the idea of majority rule, but we hardly mention the corresponding concept of minority protection. We admire the privileges of office, but we do not enforce the rights of citizens. Much of this ignorance is traceable to the systematic disempowerment of the masses through limited education, autocratic privileges for public officers, and class-based access to legal protections.

Hence, the system concentrates much power in the hands of public officers. Our theoretical democracy is, in practice, a civilian dictatorship with periodic elections. Political office is a base of power and not a tool of service. We keep breeding politicians who are willing to disrupt social cohesion to secure their positions of power.Mr Rotimi Amaechi, as governor of Rivers State, was an example of this type of public officer. Mr. Bukola Saraki, the current Senate President, is the most recent example.

The “sit-tight” attitude Mr. Saraki has displayed so far is appalling.  This is the attitude that public office, once attained, belongs to the office holder.  It is a mentality reminiscent of military megalomaniacs.

Mr. Saraki seems oblivious to the scandals following him like flies from a dunghill. He treats his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal like a periodic medical check-up. The “Panama Papers” might as well be a conspiracy theory to him. His colleagues even spited Nigerian sensibilities by their proposal to amend the law creating the CCT. One wonders what Mr. Saraki would have done if he had soldiers under his command.

Reasonable Nigerians understand the negative implications of Mr. Saraki’s attitude. It is unfair to Nigerians that moral uncertainty surrounds the person occupying the Number Three position. There is a sad irony for the country when the chief lawmaker is in trouble with the law. True, the tribunal has not pronounced Mr. Saraki guilty, but the man cannot ask Nigeria to wait while he bathes himself.  Nigeria is nobody’s valet.

It is instructional that, in similar circumstances, previous Senate Presidents resigned with little or no delay. In fact, there were five Senate Presidents between 1999 and 2007. To the credit of the Peoples Democratic Party during the Obasanjo era, legislators always rallied to remove indicted officials. It is ironic that under APC’s anti-corruption platform, Saraki continues in office.

To be clear, the original power tussle between Mr. Saraki and the core APC leadership is unimportant in the general scheme of things. As long as the issue was political, Mr. Saraki was entitled to ignore his opponents in the APC. But an overwhelming allegation of criminal conduct is a different issue. It is in the interest of social justice that we investigate and prosecute criminal conduct fairly.

I agree that Saraki’s prosecution might have originated from a political tussle. It is clear to any right-thinking Nigerian that his prosecution was cherry-picked.  Even worse, the nature of the Code of Conduct Bureau is hardly inspiring. Its processes are shrouded, it prosecutes discretionally, and it is accountable to the Presidency, not to the public.

On its part, the Code of Conduct Tribunal is a relic of the military’s disdain for the judicial system. The CCT spares high-ranking public officers from the “indignities” attached to trial in a regular court. It also creates a situation where the Presidency can indirectly influence the judicial process. It is correct to consider the CCB and the CCT as political tools rather than social ones.

Still, it is inappropriate for Mr. Saraki to cling to power at all costs. There is a danger to public affairs when personal ambition disregards public interests. It is in the public interest that we handle public office as a service and not as power. This is good governance, and it is in the interest of Nigerians.

A “docked” Senate President is an obstacle to good governance. A scandalous Senate President is an obstacle to good governance. A politician with a sense of entitlement is an obstacle to good governance.

This sense of entitlement is a serious problem. Our Constitution gives adult citizens a right to vote and be voted for. Winning an election confers a person with the privilege of office.  But it does not guarantee public office as a right against the citizens. This is why we can impeach or recall public officers and pressure them to resign from an office. Sovereignty belongs to the people in theory, and we have to observe this in practice. Nigerians have the right to remove anyone from office.

And so, this issue is beyond the ego-tussle in the APC or the pseudo-democratic nature of the CCT. This is now a social struggle against politicians with a sense of entitlement. This is about pushing the rights of citizens against the privileges of office.

Yes, there are people who want Saraki to stay in power. These are either those who depend on his patronage, or Nigerians who just cannot align with APC. There is little anyone can do about those dependent on Saraki, but the others have to wake up. This is not an APC v PDP issue. This is about the damage to our democracy by Saraki’s sit-tight approach.

Mr. Bukola Saraki and others like him are a danger to the development of our democracy. But, I don’t think he cares. He was born an aristocrat and he remains an aristocrat in his outlook. As for the rest of us: it may seem naïve to expect self-sacrifice from an African politician, but that should not stop us from pressing.

Originally published in slightly different form here in my weekly column for Sunday Punch.

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