Fellow Nigerians, I thought the ancient tradition of nailing people considered enemies of persons or the State to the cross had long gone into antiquity and extinction, but I was wrong. The most famous crucifixion in human history was that of our Lord Jesus Christ, of course other lesser mortals have been crucified including the thieves who died on either side of Jesus Christ on the Appointed Day. I have decided to borrow this imagery and metaphor to describe what is currently happening to Nigeria’s Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS), at the moment. And it is so tragic. Before I go into the meat of my epistle, please, permit me to provide some background information on what I want to call the ABS saga.
My personal admiration for, and relative closeness to, ABS was largely influenced by two friends of mine. The first was the Publisher of Thisday newspapers, Nduka Obaigbena, while the second was the then Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (CRA). Several times in the years of ABS as Governor of Kwara State, I had the chance of speaking with ABS on the phone, because Nduka would always ask me to speak with ABS anytime they were together. I loved his gentle mien and comportment. We also met at functions several times and he carried himself with confidence, grace and poise. He always looked like someone so meek and mild and could easily be underrated. I actually think that is his greatest strength and weapon.
ABS was a very powerful and influential Governor. He was self-assured and assertive. My good friend, Amaechi, or CRA for short, was very close to him and he actually took over from him as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. Their love and synergy were very infectious. I remember one afternoon I visited CRA at the Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos. After our meeting, I asked when he would be going back to Port Harcourt and CRA told me he would have to wait for ABS to come first. I was impressed because they had a relationship that made them look like lovebirds. I also appreciated how they combined powerfully in support of Major General Muhammadu Buhari. They gave their lives, energy and resources to the Buhari cause. Of course, one cannot ignore the epic support given by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and some stupendously wealthy businessmen who donated generously to give Buhari a lifeline at the fourth time of asking!
I witnessed Saraki’s total commitment to Buhari and the Change Project on several occasions in his Ikoyi home. He mobilised a lot of his extensive network, especially in the business world, and they met as regularly as possible. I saw Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola, CRA, Wale Tinubu, Muyiwa Bakare, and others brainstorm on not only supporting Buhari, but also their desire for a prosperous and safe Nigeria. They all wished and hoped that Buhari would step in as a father-figure to all and play the Mandela option in Nigeria, come to heal the wounds, unite Nigeria, provide enabling environment for business, banish the security problems and grow the economy. It was expected that the war against corruption would be fought differently and more professionally with more action and less noise, by identifying the culprits and going after their loot wherever they are kept and bring this back into the coffers of Nigeria. The old system of using the so-called anti-corruption war to witch-hunt perceived and imaginary enemies of government was supposed to be a thing of the past.
ABS provided a formidable base for Buhari during the APC Primaries in Lagos. He galvanised his entire staff of very young and brilliant guys to work sleeplessly and sort out Buhari’s logistical needs. I will never forget the dare-devilry of CRA and ABS. They played their last cards. I was an eye-witness.
After the primaries, CRA as Director General of the Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation, and his friend, ABS, worked as if they were on a suicide mission. Their personal sacrifices inspired someone like me to give my little support for Buhari. I was also encouraged by the choice of Professor Yemi Osinbajo as Vice Presidential candidate, a man I expected to give the intellectual backing that was lacking in the Presidential candidate. Everything went well until individual ambitions and rumour-mongering crept in. People told Amaechi that he was betrayed by his friend Saraki who, as it went, told Buhari not to pick Amaechi as Vice President because of his tempestuous character. Unknown to both friends, some fifth columnists were out to destroy their beautiful tag-team so as to weaken their influence and indirectly weaken the new Presidency. There was also the talk that ABS wanted to be the Senate President desperately. Personally, I didn’t see what was wrong with anyone pursuing his dreams in life within the ambits of what is legal. After all, President Buhari himself did this and got lucky at the fourth attempt.
Let’s fast forward. Buhari won the election and we were all very elated. The next issue was how to select the principal officers of the National Assembly. Saraki obviously had eyed the Senate Presidency even before the elections were concluded. Tinubu’s camp that already had the Vice Presidency in its kitty but also wanted the number four slot for Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker, Federal House of Representatives. Tinubu, it was alleged, similary wanted the number three spot of Senate President for his candidate from the North East Region. Members of the New PDP felt they were being left in the lurch. Interestingly, the President was playing elder Statesman by holding himself above the fray. He did not champion anybody from his CPC faction of APC for any of these Principal Offices. Meanwhile, CRA and ABS were no longer as chummy as before. Their combination would have been lethal, but their enemies had succeeded in driving a wedge between them and this was tearing them apart. It thus became a case of “everyone for himself and God for us all.”
I was in Abuja the day ABS was elected Senate President. I called on CRA and asked if he had congratulated his friend ABS, his answer was negative. We agreed to have breakfast the following morning at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja. I asked CRA again about ABS, he said he had called him. I could see the reticence and reluctance in his attitude. For me, it was okay that he managed to fulfil all righteousness. I went in to see ABS at home to congratulate him on his victory. I was not happy that ABS and CRA were no longer close. This was their biggest undoing. Those who separated them knew what they were doing; the alliance had to be weakened, and they both became like orphans. Meanwhile, Tinubu’s gamble and opening gambit in the new administration had failed to win his faction of the APC the number three and four positions. Tinubu was livid and he felt ABS was treacherously elected and must be punished severely.
Unknown to Tinubu, the cabal didn’t want such avuncular power for him, that would presumably enable him to control the numbers two, three and four positions in the new government. As a matter of fact, the cabal were all out for him. Before one could say Jack Robinson, they created a gulf between the President and Tinubu. The interaction between the two kept dwindling. Not content with that, they also launched a major offensive against the Senate President at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The aim was to weaken the other two strong factions of the APC so the President’s confederates could hold sway in all the necessary areas of the executive and the legislature. I wrote copiously and warned about the demonisation of Saraki. I also granted an interview in the Vanguard newspaper in which I admonished Tinubu not to join in the attempt to annihilate Saraki. From available evidence, I knew the case against Saraki was very weak and not sustainable in the court of Law. All that would happen would be to send some gullible people on a wild goose chase by portraying Saraki as the greatest enemy of Buhari and the nation. The strategy worked wonders, momentarily. Saraki knew no peace from then. His assailants wanted him to resign or be removed, by fire, by force. The few of us that openly declared that his travails were political also came under savage and rabid attacks from fiendish quarters. For three years running, Saraki has been on the cross.
He eventually won his case at the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Just before then, as if suspecting he would win, his enemies had erected another cross ready for him to bear, when the Nigerian Police alleged that they had linked him to a most terrible, heinous and very bloody armed robbery case in Offa, Kwara State. The Police sounded like he was definitely responsible for the dastardly operation. The Police are best advised to rise above partisanship and conduct their investigations in a transparent manner. That has not been the case so far and the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, should not see this as an opportunity to exact revenge and pursue a personal vendetta that he believes may exist between him and the leadership of the Nigerian Senate. The sad thing in our country is that no one protects your innocence. You are tried and convicted summarily on the pages of newspapers, electronic and social media. There are more than enough people, who are not very busy, ready to carry out their nefarious attacks on you, whether innocent or not.
Saraki has suffered indeed. I don’t mind if I’m the only one willing to ask that he be allowed to prove his innocence instead of the mob attack in the print electronic and social media. What happened to our Christian and Muslim souls? What about the entrenched constitutional provision that a man is innocent until proven guilty. This debilitating bitterness will ultimately cripple Nigeria, not because Saraki is infallible, but because this kind of attitude and approach cannot augur well for our nascent democracy. This kill-and-go method to conflict resolution will hurt each and everyone of us at different stages. Buhari will leave power one day, if not next year, may be in 2023, which is just like the day after tomorrow in the eyes of God. Must we destroy everyone because of transient power. What shall it profit a man who wrecks an entire citizenry just to stay in power? Saraki’s latest headache seems easily traceable to his decision to join the Presidential race, which is not the birth-right of anybody. Whether he will actualise this decision by carrying on to the end is immaterial. The beauty of democracy is in allowing everyone to have a say and choice. When tomorrow comes, the seed of bitterness we sow today would be harvested by those close to us.
Before our very eyes, Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, late Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Olusegun Obasanjo (again), Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and now Buhari (also again), all ruled or governed. Minus Abacha and Yar’Adua, all these once powerful men are alive, but see how much almost all of them, bar Obasanjo, have diminished in status, stature and public reverence. No matter how long, all leaders, including Saraki, will leave the stage and end up the same way, unless they follow a path that will chart an enduring legacy. So why all the gra gra of gods with feet of clay? If we all remember tomorrow, we’ll pause for a moment and work on developing our nation instead of entrenching ourselves in power, as if that is all there is to life.