Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

It is a very huge disservice to Nigeria that the political atmosphere is so fouled up and what should have been a salutary development in the quest for purity in public service has been tainted by its origins in intrigues and clash of ambitions. Even so, for the reasons of decency, of self-respect, of a sense of propriety, and consideration for best practices in public office, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki should step down from that office and clear his name before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He should do so to save from further denigration, his person, the office he holds, the institution of the National Assembly which he heads and all Nigerians as a people. This does not in any way mean he is not innocent of all the charges until proven guilty. But this act will put him down in history as having been a statesman when the times call for such. And should his innocence be eventually proven, his stock with Nigerians will rise beyond measure.

Saraki is on trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on allegation of false declaration of assets. He tried, through his lawyers, to stop his trial, relying on extant laws of the country, but the courts, including the Supreme Court, have all ruled that he should go and have his day in court. This is fair enough.

Saraki’s emergence as Senate President is widely considered controversial and he is claiming this to be the reason for persecution by opponents within his own political party.

The Senate President has emphatically put word out that he is not contemplating any resignation. Rather, he would surely have his day in court. This again is quite reasonable given his innocence until proven guilty in the eyes of the law.

Against the backdrop of his ongoing trial, it is, however, worrisome that the Senate has begun a process to amend the laws that govern the activities of the two federal institutions directly involved in his case, namely the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). This, even if not meant to favour Saraki as has been submitted, hints, at the very least, at inappropriate and wrong timing. It is a move that can only reinforce an enduring public perception of federal lawmakers as self-seeking and insensitive to public feeling.

Granted that, in the context of the rule of law that underpins constitutional democracy, Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) confers on accused persons the rights of fair hearing and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, no one should lose sight of Section 23 which lists ‘integrity’ as a national ethic. No one should fail to note that the oath of office of a member of the National Assembly which Saraki took, concludes with the commitment, on oath, to ‘abide by the Code of Conduct contained in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution…’

Election to public office is a trust; people who offer themselves for leadership at any level must, as a principle, earn by their integrity, the trust to lead and in turn, the right to be followed. Integrity, public trust, and leadership role are less matters of law and far more matters of morality. Indeed, to adapt from the words of an eminent political leader, high office such as the Senate Presidency is preeminently, a place of moral leadership. This is to say that no one should occupy for one moment his public office whose integrity is in doubt.

It is a deeply distressing sight beamed to the world of the No. 3 citizen of the Federal Republic sitting in the dock, labelled ‘Accused.’ This is not just about law. And it is most embarrassing to Nigerians that this should continue. For this reason, Saraki should, therefore, step down and clear his name first. It may well be true that this is the ultimate goal of his so-called traducers, yet, he owes himself this sacrifice as a way of claiming the moral high ground.

Saraki’s trial, while he remains Senate president, has largely overshadowed the legislative activities and the functions of the chambers. And, at a huge reputation cost, it also continually puts the Senate in particular and National Assembly and Nigeria in general, in the global limelight for a very wrong reason. Many wonder what manner of a country and a people allow, without raising objection, a man to migrate with regularity from the lofty seat of Senate President to the dock.

To vacate his seat in the face of this trial would speak much for Saraki’s personal values, his esteem of the institution he heads, and of Nigeria, his fatherland. He would convey the noble message that his personal interests are not above any other consideration and that his ambition does not outweigh the good of the country.

To step down would be the stuff of a statesman. If he really cares for his name now and in the future, for the Senate, and for Nigeria, he should sacrifice his office even if temporarily, and face this trial to its logical conclusion. By so doing, his personal stature will be enhanced beyond a self-seeking politician driven only by naked ambition or attractions of an office. He would show that Nigeria’s political culture is maturing and the country he is so determined to serve will not forget his sacrifice upon the establishment of his innocence. This will be his proof of patriotism and will determine his place in the political history of Nigeria.

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