The beauty of democracy in civilized society and the democratic system of governance we practice is that it is underpinned by the rule of law. One of the features of the rule of law is that justice is blind and should apply to everyone equally; it is impartial. So, while the Senate President is indeed not immune to prosecution for alleged criminal behavior, he should expect a fair judicial process based on cogent evidence and rigorous, plausible case.
This does not quite seem like what transpired at the code of conduct tribunal and the whole situation has been compounded by the Federal Executive’s insistence on appealing the tribunal’s decision.
The recent onslaught against the senate and senators by the Nigerian police should alarm any democrat or advocate of good governance. It appears that democratic arms of government which criticize or check the executive has been subjected to attacks and intimidation only seen in banana republics and brutal dictatorships.
Members of the forth estate, the judiciary, opposition members, vocal senators , ordinary Nigerians who on social media vent about their frustrations.
This attacks did not start today, perhaps it is important to take us back to where it started.
Immediately the leadership of the senate emerged and some very powerful people were not happy with the elected leadership, The Code of conduct tribunal started investigating the senate president, his wife was hauled to the EFCC as well, Nigerians riding on the anti corruption stance of the government that was elected to power cheered on while this strange persecutions were taking place.
The tribunals’ decision to affirm the Senate President’s No-Case Submission, after what was truly a shoddy showing by the prosecution, is now common knowledge. There were 3 prosecution witnesses each of whom was discredited for the following reasons – the first, from the EFCC, testified that they did not interview the accused or take any statement from him during their investigations. This is of course highly irregular and lends itself to the theory that the decision to prosecute was not really based on the outcome of an investigation but something else.
The second witness, from the bankers of the Senate President, testified that he could not tender any documents because all the ones relevant to the case had been destroyed in a fire. This is bizarre and suggests that the prosecution did not even bother to schedule preparatory meetings with its witnesses. The third witness, from the code of conduct bureau, testified that he had no firsthand knowledge of the bureau’s investigations, as they had all been carried out by his subordinates.
It beggars belief that the prosecution of such a high-profile government functionary, the third in the line of succession to the Presidency after the Vice-President could have been conducted with such incompetence and such disrespect for the taxpayers whose money funded the trial.
It is even more unbelievable that the government, knowing it is barred from presenting new witnesses or tendering new evidence on appeal, thinks there is much of a chance for the verdict to be overturned on appeal. If anything, it reinforces the widely-held belief that the Federal Executive is determined to keep the Senate President in court despite the weak evidence its agencies have mustered despite their best efforts.
This is not to suggest that the Senate President is blameless – he may well have a case to answer. But the system of criminal law we practice is one in which the burden is on the prosecutors to prove guilt and not on the accused to show innocence. If anything, the insistence of the Executive on appealing shows the inherent danger in a system that would require the accused person to prove his or her innocence. Prosecutions could very well become a real tool for harassing anyone the government of the day perceives as a threat or an enemy
Today all vocal senators against the executive are suspected of armed robbery and murder, just the other day, a senator who was suspended based on the senate rules came into the hallowed chambers of the senate with thugs and made away with the mace of the senate which is the symbol of authority. These could only have happened with the support of the law enforcement agencies.
Who can forget the dramatic way supreme court justices and other high court judges were arrested and up till date no one has been successfully prosecuted and most of the arrested judges complained that they were victimized because of bails granted to Nnamdi Kanu and El Zazaki, we must not forget that the NJC is the body legally empowered to discipline judges.
There is an added risk when it is friends of the government of the day that own the media houses conducting the trials-by-media, under which many have long since been convicted and sentenced. If the people who have the power to tarnish your reputation are in league with those who seek to use the law as a tool of oppression, less resilient targets that find themselves in the crosshairs could very well vanish without a whimper.
The police IG has refused to honor the senate summons which is a slap on our constitution and on the rule of law.
The executive chooses which court order to obey and which one to ignore, the head of the EFCC an agency that should be independent, was on TV the other day wearing a badge supporting the president for a second term.
The biggest question is, should ordinary Nigerian trust that the EFCC would be fair and impartial in handling corruption cases? The verdict is left to Nigerians.
A federal executive that came to office parading itself as the paragon of good governance, a federal executive that has probably the highest number of Senior Advocates of Nigeria at any one time must be extra careful about the appearance of politicizing justice. There is the ancient legal maxim that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.
It is critical that the custodians of our prosecutorial system must be seen to be doing real justice, if the institutions that hold up developed societies are going to be built in our country. If, as our national anthem states, we are truly looking to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign, prosecutions need to stop being tainted with even the faintest of political undertones.
Any strong and developed country has its foundation built on the rule of law and fidelity to the constitution.
Nigerians must resist any attempt to curtail the democratic space in the country.
Segun Awosanya is a futuristic Brand, Media, Tech, Research, Business & Strategic Consultant, who is also deeply involved in social engineering and Nation building via his numerous advocacies that have helped Nigerians find succor. He enlightens young Nigerians daily from his @segalink Twitter handle towards political awareness, socio-economic development, political participation and National integration.