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Saraki’s Not Guilty Plea and the court of Public Opinion


The trial of Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki has been a burning issue in the court of public opinion, ever since his emergence as Senate President against political permutation of some chieftains of his political party, the APC. As a result of impact of media propaganda instigated by Sen. Saraki’s adversaries, a section of the public is already reaching a premature guilty conclusion on the case, even before the trial starts in Code Conduct Tribunal [CCT].

The recent Supreme Court verdict that empowered Code of Conduct Tribunal to commence this high profile trial has once again raised fresh discourse in the Court of Public Opinion. Whether the trial is seen as prosecution or persecution depends on the side of argument one belongs, but the timing validates the latter.

Not Guilty Until Proven Otherwise 

Senator Saraki pleaded not guilty when the charges were read for the first time at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. In furtherance of the argument of his defence counsel, not guilty is the plea of a person who claims not to have committed the crime of which he is being accused of. Everyone charged with a criminal offence is presumed innocent, until proven guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence. (Article II of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

The presumption of innocence sometimes referred to by the Latin expression; Ei Incumbit Protatio qui dicit, non qui negat (The burden of proof is on he who alleges, not on he who denies), is the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty. In practice, the presumption of innocence is animated by the requirement that prosecution prove the charges against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt. 

This school of thought falls in line with the fundamental tenets of our criminal justice system cum jurisprudence. It is explicitly elucidated in section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which provides that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until he is proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. 

Court of Public Opinion 

There is no doubt that corruption has dealt heavy blow on the growth and development of Nigerian nation. The people at the receiving end of this monster called corruption are always the masses. This necessitated the mob support being generated by the current anticorruption drive of the present administration led by President Buhari. 

The Nigerian populace have become so allergic and fed up with this menace called corruption, that has eaten deep into the fabrics of our nationhood, to the extent that any public official accused or charged with corruption, will get automatic conviction in the Court of Public Opinion, long before the trial begins at the court of competent jurisdiction.  Even when the said corruption allegation cum trial, is being driven by political exigencies cum persecution, the masses tend to form deaf ears and sealed lips, at the detriment of our laws that made the provision for “not guilty until proven otherwise” principle. 

The creeping danger associated with emotional reactions of the masses, as regards allegation against any highly placed public official, is that the potency of dictatorship is now being strengthened, using anticorruption fight as a smokescreen. Any discerning Nigerian, who insists on rule of law in prosecuting (persecuting) alleged corrupt officials, is seen as compromised accomplice of the accused. Personal ambition, which entails constitutionally, recognized freedom to vote and be voted, is at risk again. Rule of law which is the foundation of every democracy cum free society, is no longer being respected not only by those who want to install tyranny, but the same masses that may be later consumed by elements of authoritarianism.   

The fundamental right of the accused to defend himself and remain innocent until proven otherwise, as enshrined in 1999 Constitution (as amended),  cannot be eroded by uninformed Court of Public Opinion. Those trying hard to exploit moral aspect of Sen. Saraki’s trial, to pressurize him into resignation as Senate President, when the latter is still as free as every other  person, are implicitly or explicitly playing into the hands of political desperadoes, who are neither fighting corruption nor defending our collective interest as a nation. 

As part of the arguments being canvassed in the Court of Public Opinion, some Nigerians have equally; ignorantly though, accused Sen. Saraki’s defence counsel led by imminent jurist, former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Kanu Agabi (SAN), of buying time with his current application of motion that Code of Conduct Tribunal and Attorney General of the Federation lacked powers to proceed with the trial, after the Apex Court had given verdict on a related matter in favour of CCT. But what those of this school of thought failed to understand is that, it is still part of Sen. Saraki’s fundamental rights in the nation’s criminal justice system cum jurisprudence to question both the jurisdiction of CCT and its powers to trial him, if he feels that the CCT was not properly constituted ab nitio or is seen as being bias in its handling of the case. 

Some analysts on the bench of Public Opinion Court alleged that Sen. Saraki’s defence team is exploiting legal technicalities of our laws to prolong this trial, thereby paving way for political “settlement”, which may see CCT dropping those charges against the Senate President. Those making these assertions in have obviously passed the guilty verdict on Senate President Bukola Saraki, even before the commencement of the trial. They have turned upside down section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which provides that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until he is proven guilty Beyond Reasonable Doubt. 

It is also in agreement with Latin expression that says: Ei Incumbit Protatio qui dicit, non qui negat (The burden of proof is on he who alleges, not on he who denies). Those waiting to see Sen. Saraki convicted of this criminal charges, should also bear in mind that he has to defend himself using every legal options available.

Timing of Sen. Saraki’s Trial 

It is no longer news that the alleged offence was said to have been committed in 2003 when Sen. Bukola Saraki was the governor of Kwara State. The age of a crime though notwithstanding. The APC as then opposition party welcomed and celebrated him, when he defected to its fold prior to 2015 elections. It was the same set of individuals that shouted on top of their voices, accusing President Jonathan led the PDP government of witch hurting Sen. Saraki via corruption allegations for joining the APC. 

Be that as it may, and without mincing words. It is sheer hypocrisy and ironical on the part of the current anticorruption fight, that Sen. Saraki’s emergence as Senate President against the dictates of his party, removed all the Sainthood “immunity” he hitherto enjoyed for joining the now ruling party. And became a “prodigal” son of the party overnight, simply for expressing his constitutional certified right, not only to vote and be voted for as Senator, but Senate President. The quest to annexed legislative independence may also not be far from this trial.

Those of us in the Court of Public Opinion, that are of view that this case, has coatings of political vendetta and persecution in it, may end up being vindicated at last. The timing of Sen. Saraki’s trial says it all. That is why those that are of the opinion that Sen. Saraki should relinquish his position of Senate President on the bases of morality, should at the same time, juxtapose the timing of this trial with the argument of morality vis=a=vis section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which provides that any person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until he is proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Court of Public Opinion should rise above emotions, and take a look at this trial with objective lens, not subjective ones. I rest my case. 

Nwobodo Chidiebere wrote in from Abuja; Chidieberenwobodo@yahoo.com

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