Two interesting developing stories in the past week have thrown up the issues of legality and due process. Both involve high-ranking government officials. Senate President, Bukola Saraki, suddenly found himself struggling to extricate from allegation of breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers. Elsewhere, the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade, was brought down from his high horse with the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to shelve the invitation from Ayade to flag off the construction of two mega projects, citing failure to follow some conditions precedent to the commencement of such project.
In recent weeks, I had asked the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to put its acts together and give effect to the Code of Conduct for Public Officers by investigating and prosecuting breaches of the Code. I made the point that the main reason we still had the abuses is because the CCB had failed to take advantage of the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). As if acting on the suggestion, the CCB came up last week with the release of information to prosecute one big fish, president of the Senate.
Interestingly, Saraki’s alleged breaches occurred severally when he was governor of Kwara State (1999-2007) and during his earlier terms as senator. Many have queried why it took the CCB that long to act, therefore suggesting ulterior motives or political witch-hunt. There is a suggestion that Saraki’s travails come from the presidency. I have never been enamoured with such arguments, unless they go to address the real issues thrown up. Besides, there is no time limit to prosecute an alleged crime as this.
Last Thursday, however, Saraki did what many powerful citizens try to do in the face of prosecutions like this. He ran to the court to stop the proceedings. The argument is simply that he cannot be prosecuted because there is no occupier of the office of Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) who is the person authorised by law to commence any criminal prosecution. That makes sound sense. I had stressed that fact when I recently wrote about the failure of the president to appoint ministers, for which the AGF is one. Interestingly, the Senate, which Saraki presides over, is still the one to approve the list of ministers when the president eventually sends it.
In attempting to stop his prosecution, Saraki approached the Federal High Court by an ex parte application. Ex parte, by the way, means a case against a party without informing the party about it. In other words, this was done surreptitiously. But the judge directed them to come back on Monday, with notification to the CCB and CCT to also appear before his court to present arguments for or against Saraki’s application.
This is curious. Shouldn’t Saraki have appeared before the CCT, even if it meant entering a conditional appearance and then raise this fine argument? This is because the CCT is a specialised court with coordinate jurisdiction to a high court. With Saraki’s suit, it would suggest that the high court has supervisory powers over the CCT and this is not so. While we wait to see how this pans out, the one thing we would not want to see is the failure to consider and discharge these charges on their merit. The question still remains, is Senator Saraki in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers; and if he is, what should be the consequences?
For Governor Ayade, I had raised some concerns about his exuberance at governance right from his inaugural speech. On his inauguration on May 29, 2015, Ayade announced that he was a big dreamer and mentioned two projects as his ‘signature projects’. These are the ‘super highway’ meant to run from Calabar to Obudu, connecting the renowned Obudu Mountain Resort, and a ‘second seaport’ in the state. Those are two gigantic dreams, but they raised a lot of questions which I asked at different times and platforms.
Was Ayade talking about an entirely new road, different from the federal highway that already connects the entire state but which has been in terrible state? What if the state focused on repairing or expanding the current federal road? Given that there is an existing federal seaport in Calabar which is under-utilised, where was the second seaport to be located and what additional advantage would it bring?
My greater concern with Ayade’s dream is the seeming lack of tangible, popularly-agreed and known implementation plan. Despite this, he has been quick to announce the flag-off of the projects. He first claimed that the sites and designs for both projects were ready and all he needed was a date from President Buhari to visit the state to flag off construction. I wondered why the environmental impact assessment (EIA) was not in place, more so when the governor is an expert in environmental issues. Have the local communities in the project sites been mobilised? I equally asked where the funding would come from since the 2015 budget of the state did not provide for those projects. In fact, at the time Ayade was talking about this, the House of Assembly had not been inaugurated. Later, there was this media report where Ayade claimed he was now running the state with his personal funds. Whatever that meant, it was apparent that Ayade was on a solo run with his dreams.
While I kept asking those questions, I kept hearing many citizens say the governor means well and knows what he wants and should be allowed to just do it. Today, the presidency has raised issues about the same EIA and we hope it helps remind the governor that there are basic due processes to be followed in transferring dreams to reality.