Me­dia hys­te­ria over ac­quit­tal of Bukola Saraki

A right­eous in­dig­na­tion, al­beit steeped in ig­no­rance of the law, against cor­rupt politi­cians or a cor­rupt ju­di­ciary isn't go­ing to clean the sys­tem.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - A Fi­nan­cial Nige­ria colum­nist, Fun­mi­layo Odude is a La­gos-based le­gal prac­ti­tioner, and a public af­fairs an­a­lyst.

The dis­charge and ac­quit­tal of Nige­ria's Sen­ate Pres­i­dent, Bukola Saraki, by the Code of Con­duct Tri­bunal (CCT) on the 14th of June, 2017 was a dis­ap­point­ing end for many Nige­ri­ans who are ea­ger to see a 'pow­er­ful' politi­cian pun­ished by our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem for acts of cor­rup­tion. Un­sur­pris­ingly, there have been very strong out­bursts of anger on so­cial me­dia, with the ju­di­ciary tak­ing the brunt for what is per­ceived as an in­vid­i­ous rul­ing.

The public furore has in­cluded ac­cu­sa­tions and counter-ac­cu­sa­tions of bribery and at­tempt to in­flu­ence the out­come of the trial of one of Nige­ria's most power politi­cians. Sa­hara Re­porters pub­lished a re­port that the Sen­ate Pres­i­dent spent huge sums of money to bribe the Chair­man of the tri­bunal. Saraki's Spe­cial As­sis­tant on New Me­dia, Bamikole Omishore, re­leased an au­dio record­ing of Itse Sa­gay, Chair­man of the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee Against Cor­rup­tion (PACAC), al­legedly try­ing to in­flu­ence the de­ci­sion of the tri­bunal to en­sure Saraki was found guilty. (Prof. Sa­gay has ex­pressed his un­equiv­o­cal dis­plea­sure with the CCT de­ci­sion.)

Saraki's trial was a block­buster, filled with many le­gal twists and turns. Al­though he pub­licly main­tained a cool and un­per­turbed com­po­sure all through the trial, he showed his ap­pre­hen­sion through the dif­fer­ent strate­gies adopted by his le­gal team. The dif­fer­ent se­nior lawyers who rep­re­sented him at the var­i­ous stages of the trial adopted di­ver­gent strate­gies. This was ev­i­dence of how fright­ened the Sen­ate Pres­i­dent was.

We wit­nessed ob­jec­tions to the com­pe­tence of the charge and the le­gal sta­tus of the Code of Con­duct Tri­bunal. The case to stop the CCT trial went all the way to the Supreme Court. There was the suit filed at the Fed­eral High Court Abuja, chal­leng­ing the pro­ceed­ings at the tri­bunal. An ap­pli­ca­tion prayed that the Chair­man of the Tri­bunal, Mr. Dan­ladi Umar, re­cuse him­self. The cros­sex­am­i­na­tion of a pros­e­cu­tion wit­ness, Michael Wetk­las, went on for months. This was a fight to the fin­ish, in favour of Saraki.

This writer has re­fused to make com­ments or le­gal anal­y­sis on the de­ci­sion with­out read­ing the en­tire rul­ing. Notwithstanding, suf­fice to say from the re­portage of it, there are some le­gal points I agree with, while there are oth­ers I dis­agree with. This ar­ti­cle is, there­fore, not about the cor­rect­ness or other­wise of the rul­ing. My fo­cus is on the col­lec­tive re­ac­tion to the CCT rul­ing.

What trou­bles me as a cit­i­zen and a lawyer is not the fact that Saraki was dis­charged and ac­quit­ted, but that this is the sec­ond high-pro­file 'cor­rup­tion' trial in re­cent times that ended with the court, or tri­bunal as in this in­stance, up­hold­ing a 'no case sub­mis­sion.' The trial of a Fed­eral High Court judge, Jus­tice Adeniyi Ade­mola, came to the same end. This means that the de­fen­dants were not even called upon to put in a de­fence.

Any ap­peals that arise from these de­ci­sions, even if they were al­lowed by the ap­pel­late courts, would ask that the ac­cused be called upon to put in their de­fence. If the sub­sist­ing de­ci­sions were to be over­turned by the ap­pel­late courts, it would not mean that the de­fen­dants have been found guilty. There is a high prob­a­bil­ity that the cases would be sent to an­other judge or panel to be tried de novo (from the be­gin­ning). There­fore, though it is not a per­ma­nent loss, the pros­e­cu­tion suf­fered a great de­feat. What is wor­ry­ing is that I do not be­lieve we have learned much from these cases.

One of the surest ways to re­peat the same mis­takes is to learn noth­ing from them. Fur­ther­more, one of the surest ways not to learn from your mis­takes is to put the blame for the out­come of the mis­takes on other fac­tors ex­cept your­self. So, as a na­tion, we scream that cor­rup­tion is fight­ing back; we say the ju­di­ciary is cor­rupt and is aid­ing crim­i­nals who loot us to es­cape jus­tice.

If we work with the as­sump­tion that this is true, why are we fight­ing cor­rup­tion as if we ex­pect the 'cor­rupt politi­cians' and 'cor­rupt ju­di­ciary' to will­ingly sur­ren­der? The pros­e­cu­tion wants us to be­lieve it knows that it is tak­ing a cor­rupt politi­cian be­fore his cor­rupt judge-friend, and yet it still makes a point of do­ing a shoddy job. It would not be un­fair, there­fore, if one were to tag such pros­e­cut­ing team as be­ing part of the cor­rup­tion ring.

The al­le­ga­tions we make in the so­cial me­dia don't make it to the court­room. Even if they did, they would be de­stroyed un­der the scru­tiny of smart de­fence lawyers. In ef­fect, our use of the me­dia in the fight against cor­rup­tion has be­come shal­low, mostly char­ac­ter­ized by scur­rilous at­tacks on one an­other and vis­ceral re­ac­tions. This so­cial me­dia com­mu­nity of con­spir­acy the­o­rists and com­plainants has pro­duced an­a­lysts and com­men­ta­tors, in­clud­ing me.

When a scan­dal breaks in some parts of the world, it is of­ten in­ter­est­ing to watch be­cause doc­u­ments are pub­lished and

flashed across TV screens to both put things in per­spec­tive and the pow­er­ful in­di­vid­u­als in­volved in trou­ble. In my coun­try, the main­stream me­dia mostly has a po­lit­i­cal an­gle to their re­portage and it is usu­ally de­void of ob­jec­tiv­ity. I fear we have col­lec­tively lost some­thing im­por­tant as a na­tion in this fight against cor­rup­tion – and that thing is our sense of ob­jec­tiv­ity. We need to look at the facts of each case and each al­le­ga­tion ob­jec­tively. Let us stop these out­bursts of emo­tional re­ac­tions to ev­ery court de­ci­sion, al­leg­ing that cor­rup­tion is fight­ing back. There is no way we can learn any lessons and im­prove our so­ci­ety through hys­te­ria.

Many peo­ple who have made com­ments about the de­ci­sion of the tri­bunal do not have the facts of the case. As far as they are con­cerned, since Saraki was a two-term gover­nor of a state in Nige­ria, he must be guilty of some­thing, any­thing. I frankly share those sen­ti­ments. But is he guilty of what he is be­ing ac­cused of? And if he is, was the doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence placed be­fore the tri­bunal?

We are not both­ered about find­ing out the facts and why the tri­bunal gave its rul­ing. The tenor in the at­mos­phere is that once you are a politi­cian charged with al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, you are guilty. And a judge who has de­clared a politi­cian not guilty is cor­rupt. As far as we are con­cerned, an ac­quit­tal is tan­ta­mount to a com­pro­mised judge­ment, re­gard­less of the facts.

Ir­re­spec­tive of our ir­ra­tional re­ac­tions, the ju­di­ciary will not start to con­vict peo­ple for of­fences based on public sen­ti­ments no mat­ter how much bash­ing it gets. Per­mit me to do a lit­tle com­par­i­son with the Bill Cosby's sex­ual as­sault charge, which also ended last month in a mis­trial. It was ad­judged so be­cause the jury, com­pris­ing of reg­u­lar men and women could not unan­i­mously agree that he was guilty, de­spite months of me­dia cov­er­age of over sixty ac­cusers who had come out.

By the very na­ture of our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment, the suc­cess of the war against cor­rup­tion would al­ways be de­ter­mined by how you can suf­fi­ciently prove your case in the court­room. The pop­u­lar say­ing, “the devil is in the de­tail” is apt. We can only be­come truly ob­jec­tive and in­tel­lec­tual in our dis­course, and in prof­fer­ing so­lu­tions, when we are seised of the facts and sub­stance of each case, rather than by the gen­eral di­a­tribe that ev­ery­body is cor­rupt.

If we take each case at a time, scru­ti­nize the al­le­ga­tions, and weigh the ev­i­dence pre­sented, we would be able to de­cide for our­selves if our prob­lem lies with an in­ept pros­e­cu­tion, a cor­rupt or sim­ple­minded ju­di­ciary, or an over­bur­dened and ob­so­les­cent crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem filled with loop­holes for crim­i­nals to es­cape; or per­haps all of the above.

A right­eous in­dig­na­tion, al­beit steeped in ig­no­rance of the law, against cor­rupt politi­cians or a cor­rupt ju­di­ciary isn't go­ing to clean the sys­tem. We would only be mak­ing our­selves stooges in the al­ready re­hearsed and scripted the­atrics that makes it­self into our news cy­cle.

Nige­rian Sen­ate Pres­i­dent, Bukola Saraki

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