Nigerian workers, under the umbrellas of the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, have asked the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, to vacate his office pending the determination of his case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
The workers, who spoke across the country, said although Saraki is still on trial and has not been found guilty of the allegations against him, it is morally right for him to vacate his office as Senate President to defend himself.
The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation is prosecuting Saraki for alleged false declaration of his assets at the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Saraki had, last Tuesday, stepped into the dock at the CCT in Abuja, where he was arraigned for false assets declaration charges.
He pleaded not guilty to all the 13 charges slammed on him by the CCB and his trial has been scheduled to hold on October 21, 22 and 23.
Leaders of the NLC and the TUC, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, said it had become necessary for Saraki to step aside from Senate presidency to answer the charges preferred against him.
Organised labour had on, September 10, 2015, held nationwide protests against corruption, while seeking death penalty for public treasury looters.
Labour said it was only by killing looters that the anti-corruption crusade being championed by President Muhammadu Buhari could succeed.
President of the TUC, Mr. Bobboi Bala, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said Saraki has a moral burden to resign.
He said, “Resignation is a moral burden on people. But if somebody feels that he will carry his cross, go to the courts and try to exonerate himself, he should be given the opportunity. But it would be too bad if at the end of the day, he is found guilty. It does not speak well of public office holders.
“In other climes, as soon as such things happen, people tender their letters of resignation. Obviously, it is a moral burden on him. We hope all politicians will begin to know that no matter how highly placed they are, one day, they will definitely have to account for their stewardship.”
Several chapters of the NLC and the TUC across the states also asked for Saraki’s resignation on Saturday.
The Chairman, TUC, Ogun State, Mr. Olubunmi Fajobi, told one of our correspondents that if it were in a civilised clime, the Senate President would have stepped aside to allow for free and fair trial.
He said, “As it were, the Senate President is sitting on a delicate seat. If it were a civilised society, he would have stepped aside to allow for a fair trial, so that he won’t allow his official position to influence the decision of the tribunal.”
Also, the Ekiti State Chairman of the NLC, Mr. Raymond Adesanmi, advised Saraki to step down from office.
He said, “If it were in other climes, he would have resigned. My advice for him would be to step down as the Senate President to answer the charges against him. If at the end of the day he is not found guilty, he could return to his position.”
Adesanmi’s TUC counterpart in Ekiti, Mr. Adesoye Adedayo, corroborated him.
He said, “Although the case against him has political undertone, I would advise him to resign to prove his innocence.”
In Cross River State, the Chairman of the TUC, Mr. Clarkson Otu, who noted that labour unions had yet to meet to take a definite position on Saraki’s trial, said the Senate President should resign his position.
He said, “This whole thing is politics. The said irregularities allegedly discovered in Sariki’s assets declaration are issues before the CCT, but having got himself involved in this controversy, he should quit as senate president based on moral grounds.
“If he does not quit, he will keep battling to retain that position. This is my personal view and not that of the TUC.”
The factional Chairman of the NLC in Delta State, Mr. Williams Akporeha, the state chapter of the union was in support of Saraki’s resignation.
“We are saying that he should step aside because he is facing trial that borders on allegations of fraud and misinformation. He should resign on a clean slate instead of his continued stay in office in shameless aberration,” he said.
In the same vein, Chairman of the TUC in Delta, Mr. Myke Arinze, said, “Senator Saraki should resign and set the record straight because he cannot be facing trial and be dictating as Senate President.
Second Republic Governor of old Kaduna State and Chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, Mr. Balarabe Musa, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, also urged Saraki to step down as Senate President as a show of respect for his office.
Musa said, “First of all, it depends on his conscience. If he knows that the allegations against him have anything bordering on genuineness and if he knows that he has not done anything above board, he should succumb to his conscience.
“In honour of the institution he represents, it is therefore best for him to resign in order not to undermine the position of the judge.
“If he knows that there are elements of truth in the allegations against him, he should not cost the government so much in court and thereby undermine the integrity of the bench; he should just resign. He is still young; he still has a lot of opportunities.”
Also, the Coalition against Corrupt Leaders called for Saraki’s resignation.
The Executive Chairman, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said, “He should resign for now. If he is found to be innocent, then Nigerians would have reason to apologise to him and his dignity will be restored. If he continues to hold on to power, he is likely to lose more dignity; nobody will respect him for doing so.”
Similarly, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project described Nigeria as a peculiar place, where issues of probity, integrity and adherence to the rule of law would be questioned and politicians would continue to remain in public office “as if those things don’t matter.”
According to the Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in saner climes, when public figures would have such burden on them, the first thing to do would be to get off the seat to clear their name by virtue of the rule of law and due process.
Mumuni said, “If people are saying he should resign, I also support that move because as the number three man in Nigeria, he has not set a very good example. It is not a question of ‘If I was not declared senate president, nobody will remember what I did 10 years ago.’ Why didn’t he declare his assets when he was governor?
“If we are talking about equity, then we must be able to come to equity with clean hands. That is the way I see it. I have never been a subscriber to the idea of witch-hunting. Why can’t they just follow the law? The question of witch-hunting, to me, is neither here nor there. Did they comply with the law? I don’t believe in the idea that they have enemies somewhere.
“Why shouldn’t we do what is needful and proper and we now start talking about witch-hunting? Matters of criminal infraction don’t have limitations. I have never seen a defence to an infraction of law where one would say, ‘Some people were not dealt with, so I cannot be dealt with.’”
Also, the Convener, Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, faulted those who call Saraki’s trial a witch-hunt. He said the Senate President should resign.
He said, “I believe it will be good for the Senate and the country – for political responsibility – for Bukola Saraki to resign. Unless that is done, his political influence will interfere in the process.”
In the same vein, the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform said even though Saraki remained innocent until the tribunal finds him guilty, it had become morally necessary for the Senate President to resign from office.
Convener of CODER, Chief Ayo Opadokun, who was the General Secretary of the National Democratic Coalition and an ex-Secretary-General of the Afenifere, said it was not possible for all lawbreakers in the country to be tried at once. He said, “They have to be picked one by one.”
He said although other lawmakers in the National Assembly might have committed similar offences on assets declaration, Saraki’s trial would serve as a good lesson to others.
Opadokun said, “Saraki’s trial has more fundamental dimension because of the fact that someone crookedly emerged as leader of the Nigerian legislature and he has been charged for false declaration (of assets), which is a criminal offence and which carries significant punishment fashioned by the Nigerian criminal law system.
“He should resign to face the charges against him. He should have resigned long ago.”