One is the Senate President of the most populous black nation in the world. The other is the current Prime Minister of the world’s sixth largest economy – The United Kingdom. Both are well read, seasoned politicians who had served in various capacities in government before attaining the (current) peak of their political careers. While Bukola Saraki was elected as the Senate President of Nigeria in 2015, David Cameron was re-elected as Prime Minister in the 2015 general elections in the UK. However, what the two men have in common at the moment is their indictment in the Panama Papers scandal which has earned them the unenviable tag of being two of the most controversial public officers in the world.
Nigeria’s number 3 man, Dr Bukola Saraki is a drowning man fighting for his political life. The former Kwara State Governor who has already tried to extricate himself from the claws of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to no avail, leading to his subsequent prosecution by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (the first time in Nigerian history that an arrest warrant would be issued for a sitting Senate President) over his alleged failure to declare his assets in full has once again found himself entangled in another hidden asset scandal as revealed in the Panama Papers report published by German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung. The report said to be the biggest leak ever in the history of data journalism reveals at least four assets belonging to the Saraki family which were tucked away in secret offshore territories.
David Cameron whose only sin regarding the Panama Papers apart from being the offspring of one who was directly involved appears to be bad crisis management. His poor judgement of failing to control the narrative as soon as the news broke, by attempting to shut out journalists from prying into what he insisted was a private matter backfired, as it only succeeded in fueling speculations that he had something to hide. Even though nothing that has emerged suggests that the Prime Ministers’ family broke any rules, the fact that he benefited from his late father’s offshore investment company has not gone down well with a section of the British populace. Hence, the barrage of criticisms, protests and even calls for his resignation that he has had to deal with.
The crux of this piece is the way the two men (who by the way, are only two of the many heads of government, politicians and businessmen named in the Panama Papers leaks) have handled their troubles, and the contrasting public reaction to their alleged involvement. Cameron chose to take full responsibility for his involvement (however minimal) in the less-than-honourable situation, by first of all admitting that he could have handled his initial response to the situation better and finally tackling the issue head-on by addressing the allegations in a statement. A statement where he tried to take control of the narrative of the matter and also promised to be the first prime minister and major political leader to publish his tax returns. He was also careful to avoid saying anything concerning calls for his resignation in order not to further incense an already agitated people.
Senator Saraki on the other hand has claimed that the assets – which includes landed property and businesses registered in his wife’s name belong to her family, and as such he could not have declared them as part of his assets since the law only requires a public officer to declare assets belonging to them, their spouse and children under 18 years of age. The question is, since these assets were registered in Mrs Saraki’s name, shouldn’t they have been listed as part of her assets so as to avoid an embarrassing situation (such as this) in the future? Again, unlike Cameron, Saraki chose to respond to calls for his resignation by declaring that he has no intention to resign his position as Nigeria’s Senate President. Insisting that the calls for his resignation were from detractors sponsored by politicians who are bent on circumventing the country’s judicial system.
Now, anyone with a fair knowledge of the history of Nigerian leaders and politicians in general would hardly find the senate president’s decision to stay put in office while he battles demons on many fronts surprising. Nigerian leaders don’t resign. No, there is no explanation for it. Or may be there is. The perks and appurtenances of office in this part of the world are far too tempting to be thrown away on the “much vaunted” altar of dignity and integrity. It really doesn’t matter if they are caught red-handed in an unscrupulous act, they will waste the time and resources of the public by claiming innocence in a court where cases are adjourned until the public moves on to a new “side-attraction.”
While it is true that a man is presumed innocent before it is proven otherwise by a competent court, it is also true that the problems confronting the senate president at this time are humongous. Between his case with the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the Panama Papers revelations, Saraki’s hands are too full for him to be capable of leading the National Assembly in the right direction. Therefore, the honourable course of action to take would be to step down. But, that’s just wishful thinking.
As revelations in the offshore business dealings of world leaders and politicians continue to unfold, it is yet unclear if any or both of these men will survive its aftermath. But, as we wait, the contrast in the responses of the men is another pointer to why Nigeria still grapples with many of the problems that have plagued her for years on end.
With leaders who would rather blame perceived adversaries for their self-inflicted problems and a docile people who turn their eye away when a scandal involves their kinsman or political affiliate, there’s little wonder why we are where we are today.