Why Saraki’s predicament might serve as a deterrent to potential public office holders

Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has been in the news for quite some time now, especially in the few weeks after his ascent to the office of the Senate president. However, his popularity is not because of his position, but as a result of his run-in with Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for a false declaration of his assets. For a man who has spent more than 10 years as a public officer, being told to declare your assets in any administration was usually not a problem, until now that is. To be honest, it is very likely that it will be a big deal for many from now on.

Bukola Saraki, prior to being nominated as Senate President by his peers in the Nigerian Senate, was the Governor of Kwara state of Nigeria for two terms between 2003-2011. This indicates that he would have had to declare his assets twice in his time as a governor. After his stint as governor, he was then elected to the Nigerian Senate to represent the central senatorial district of the state in 2011, another position that would require him to declare assets. His trial before the CCT, since September 2015 last year for incomplete declaration of assets, now calls into question his last three terms as a Nigerian public officer. It seems the CCT has been overlooking transgressions of public office holders, but has now received new power due to the peculiarity of the present administration.

President Buhari’s anti-corruption war has seemingly given a breath of fresh air to different anti-graft agencies including the CCT. The foremost Nigeria anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), established by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has looked toothless since Obasanjo left office in 2007. However, the strings of revelations and arrests since Buhari was inaugurated as president in 2015 means it has once more being “freed” by the presidency. The CCT, established in 1989, has mostly been as toothless as its counterpart, the EFCC. Originally established to “to establish and maintain a high standard morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standard of public morality and accountability,” many Nigerians could be forgiven if they claimed ignorance to what its activities are. Now, like the EFCC, it also seems to have finally found a purpose. Its issuance of arrests warrants, twice, for Bukola Saraki late last year was unprecedented in the history of Nigeria’s public service. It was the first time arrest warrants were issued for a sitting Nigerian Senate President.

With the way Bukola Saraki’s trial is progressing at the tribunal, it appears to be a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ he would be removed from his position, especially now that new reports have emerged about his offshore dealings in the #panamapapers. Whether his trials are as a result of a political witch hunt or his own sins, what is becoming clear is that that Nigeria is having a deeper look into how its public officials acquire wealth, which is probably the root cause of their status as one of the most corrupt amongst their peers around the world. The CCT is quickly making public offices look unappealing for corrupt Nigerians. Peter Godsday Orubebe, Nigeria’s former Minister of Niger Delta is another of Nigeria’s public office holders in the stocks now.

This type of public shaming is new in Nigeria and would definitely make Nigerians thinking of entering politics to have a rethink. “Do I have possessions that I didn’t acquire by illegal means, that I can readily declare? Yes? Check. Do I have offshore dealings in shell companies in tax-havens around the world? No? Check. Then that means I can contest for that political office.” If not, stay away as Nigerians are really tired of these types of leaders. One thing is clear now, corrupt Nigerian politicians are becoming an endangered species in their country. The honey pot that used to be Nigeria’s public office is now a becoming a mouse trap.

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