It is politically correct to defend Bukola Saraki’s indefensible acquittal on lack of diligent prosecution by his accusers. But to do that, we must first ignore the judicial match-fixing that was at play during the entire duration of his trial.
There are important lessons to learn on the challenges of institution building in developing democracies like Nigeria. In countries with weak institutions, leaders put themselves above institutions instead of submitting to its check and balances. Saraki’s acquittal is a stark reminder to the challenges posed by forces of the status quo against the change Nigerians yearned and voted for.
Right from the beginning of his trial, Saraki has employed every means to subvert the institution of the CCT, from attempts to grant himself immunity to those purporting to amend the CCT Act to bring it under the Senate’s control; from summoning/bullying the CCT judge to blackmailing the presidency using Magu’s confirmation.
That’s the typical nature of politics in Nigeria where the incentives for such subversive behaviour far outweigh the risks. Saraki cheated his way to the Senate presidency and is now using the institution of the Senate to cheat his way all the way to the very top. Because in Nigeria, it pays to play rogue.
Nigerians had hoped that with the election of President Buhari the country will go about fixing its institutional deficit. Instead, we are grappling with a politically naive president who believe more in intentions than appearance, a national assembly (and a political class) that came to power wearing fake progressive robes, and a judiciary whose hands are muddled in all the infamies of our recent democratic experience.
Institution building faces two horrible fates in all fledgling democracies. If they are not being manipulated by those in power, they are being exploited by those in opposition. It is a democratic dissonance, one that is being aided and legitimised by a sheepish and bewildered citizenry. Sheepish because it is too docile to react with the cumulative anger of past grievances and bewildered because it is too divided and pulverized to pursue a common struggle.
We have two ample examples from South Africa where Jacob Zuma is bullying the institutions and dismantling all the progress made post-Apartheid and in Brazil where Dilma Roussef was bullied and impeached by a crooked Senate of vested interests.
This explains why we need strong individuals to build strong institutions, individuals who by sheer force of power and personal charm can push their backward nations forward. But more than anything, we need smart, efficient and ruthless visionaries who can get the job done against all odds.
It is one thing to build institutions and another thing to guarantee their survival and resilience. And that brings me to the most important aspect, which is the citizenry. Institutions are built, nurtured and sustained by a vigilant and patriotic citizenry. It is the citizenry that is the perfect reflection of the collective political, social and cultural makeup of every society. The elite class is merely its derivative.
Therefore, we can cry all we want. But as long as our society elevates corruption to a status approaching statesmanship, as long as we approach leadership with the mentality to gain rather than to offer, we will continue to lament at the balance of power tilting towards the bad guys. And we have only ourselves to blame.
Because a nation is only as good as the people that form it, a leaderhsip is only as good as the people it leads, and not better. — Engr Ramat