The on-going trial of Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, former clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa and Clerk of the Senate, Ben Efeturi, is now one of the major issues dominating newspaper headlines in the country. A debate has emerged around the trial. Is it just a mere case of trying to get the court to punish some people for their infractions? Is there politics to the trial? Is it just another attempt to cleanse our political landscape and ensure that, no matter who is involved, anybody who commits a criminal act will be punished? Or is this a case of if the hen spills my spiritual concoction, I will also smash its eggs, as a Yoruba proverb goes? Is somebody trying to use the courts to achieve what they failed to make possible by voting in the Senate chamber? Many questions! Yet, no answers.
The relevant questions are: Is there any forgery of the Standing Order of the Senate 2015? If the answer is yes, who forged it? Who benefitted from the forgery? What role did the Senate President play in the forgery?
In answering the first question on whether there is forgery, one will want to know what constitutes forgery. It definitely will mean creating a fake form of an original document or unlawfully altering the content of an existing document. If we relate that to the Senate Standing Orders 2015 as amended, one will see that apart from the document currently in use now, there is no such document labelled as Senate Standing Orders 2015. So, no original document that can be said to have been unlawfully altered or faked. The 2015 Standing Order has no fake version. So, there is no forgery.
Also, if the Senate has decided since its members were handed the documents on June 7, 2015 during their registration that the document now in contention is their rule book and they have endorsed, accepted and ratified it, they have taken ownership of that document. The relevant question then is: can a man be accused of forging his own signature? No. A man can only change or vary his signature. He cannot forge his own signature. So, whatever the Senate says is their rule book is what it is. So, no forgery ever occurred.
Since the answer to the question of whether there is forgery has been answered in the negative, then the question of who the forger is can no longer be relevant. The mistake being made by analysts on the alleged forgery case is to believe that the 2011 Standing Order subsists in 2015 and that it ought to be used in conducting the inauguration of the Eighth Senate but was unlawfully altered before being distributed to the current Senators. The 2011 rule book has become moribund and died with the Seventh Senate.
It is the discretion of the Senate bureaucracy to produce a body of rules for the inauguration of the Senate as it is now convention and practice for them to do since 1999. After inauguration, the Senators will be free to apply the provision for amendments contained in Order 110 (1-5) to bring the Standing Order given to them up to their expectation. This amendment can, however, not happen until after the Senators-elect have elected their President and his deputy as well as take their oath of office. So, the clerk has forged no rule. He is not obliged to conduct that inaugural business of the Eighth Senate with the old or moribund rule.
To the question of who benefitted from the forgery, well that is a question that is no longer tenable as it has been proved that there is no forgery. However, if there were to be forgery, the order dealing with the nature of election, that is whether it should be by open or secret ballot is what is being complained about. It is also clear that in making Saraki Senate President, there was no election. He was nominated and affirmed unopposed. The candidate who would have opposed him, Senator Ahmed Lawan, and his supporters had gone on a journey of discovery to the International Conference Centre (ICC), instead of being present on the floor of the Senate as demanded by the proclamation by President Muhammadu Buhari.
So, what is all this hoopla about Saraki having not addressed the issue of whether he participated in any forgery or not? The fact is that there is no forgery and if somebody is hallucinating about and imagining one, Saraki has said he did not participate in it. All these trials are bad distractions and diversions for the Senate President. They are also bad for the country because the Senate has been unable to fully realise its potential to serve the nation, make significant contributions to the change agenda, contribute to national development and effectively check the excesses of the executive arm.
However, the distractions are good for those who want to keep the legislature in chain so as to make the executive free to behave the way it likes and act unchecked. The distractions are good for those who are using it to divert national attention from the problems facing the country for which the present administration has no answer. Well, as Ekweremadu said on the floor of the Senate during a debate on the case of alleged forgery, we should all remember that ‘no condition is permanent’.
Quassim writes from Abuja.