By Abiodun Esan
Residents of Kwara, including prominent indigenes of the state, on Tuesday engaged in heated debate over the probe of the allegations made against Senate President Bukola Saraki by suspects arrested over the April 5 Offa bank robbery in which no fewer than 33 persons were killed.
The police had initially invited Saraki for interrogation before soft pedalling to request for only a written explanation within 48 hours.
Also linked to the bloody robbery incident in which nine policemen were killed was Gov. Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara following alleged claims by the suspects that they were political thugs working for the duo.
But the senate president and Ahmed had both dismissed the allegations as an attempt to frame them.
Many Kwarans, however, expressed support for the police in the ongoing investigation and have called on Saraki to respond to the allegations made against him in order to clear his name.
Others dismissed the allegations, saying they were aimed at tarnishing the image of the senate president and the governor of his home state.
The respondents spoke to NAN in separate interviews in Ilorin.
Dr Amuda Aluko, an elder statesman, said it would be better for the senate president to respond to the police request in order to clear his name.
Aluko, the Tafida of Ilorin, who was of the view that Saraki could never be involved in robbery, however, said it had become expedient for him to clear his name since he was allegedly mentioned by the suspects.
He said his Kwara Liberation Group had spoken out about a week ago urging Nigerians to allow the police carry out their duty on the case of cultists transferred to Abuja from the state.
Prof. Suleiman Abubakar, a former Minister of National Planning, was of the view that “ if the senate president has no skeleton in his cupboard, he should honour police invitation to clear his name.’’
According to him, the claim by the suspects that they have links with the senate president makes it imperative that Saraki avails himself of the opportunity offered by the police to clear his name.
Prof . Abdulwahab Egbewole of the Department of Law, University of Ilorin, on his part, warned against “ the politicisation of the lives of Nigerians.’’
According to him, the police have the right by law to investigate everybody.
“From the trajectory of the matter, it is not regarded as purely a legal issue. It has some fundamental political undertones, ” he said.
The don said that from the alleged confession of the Offa robbery suspects, it was revealed that Saraki gave a vehicle to a suspect.
“They also alleged that he gave them guns; they, however, stated that he did not tell them to rob,’’ he said.
He also argued that this may be seen as being an accessory to a particular crime in law.
Egebwole, however, pointed out that the anti-cultism law in Kwara put in place by the Saraki administration was the most stringent in the country.
He wondered how “ a person who puts in place such a law will now go against it,’’ adding that ” Saraki after all had said he is ready to comply with the directives of the police during the course of investigation.’’
Mr Iyiola Oyedepo, the PDP Chairman in Kwara, urged the police to carry out a thorough investigation into the Offa robbery incident.
He also expressed doubt that the senate president would support the suspects to engage in robbery.
Oyedepo, however, said Saraki has a moral duty to clear his name.
He advised the senate president to honour the police request by sending his statement so as to clear his name.
“Did Saraki give them vehicle? Did Saraki provide them guns, are they his political thugs?
“All these questions should be answered by Sen. Bukola Saraki to clear his name,” Oyedepo said.
The chairman called on the people of the state to rise up and demand justice so that the case would not be compromised.
In his reaction, Rafiu Hotonu, the State Secretary of the National Union of Local Government Employers (NULGE), said there was nothing wrong with the police request asking Saraki to respond to allegations.
“He should honour the request to clear his name. NULGE wholeheartedly supports the police because the suspects confessed that they work for the senate president, so he needs to clear his name.
“No matter how highly placed you are in the society, once the police invite you, you are bound to honour the invitation,” Hotonu said.
An Ilorin based legal practitioner, Mr Isaac Oladele, said there was no crime in a police invitation, urging Saraki to use the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
Oladele, who noted that the police had even said the senate president need not appear in person, also adds: “ This is an opportunity for Saraki to clear his name of all the allegations of sponsoring cultists as thugs and having a link to the Offa robbery.
” Nobody is above the law, whether you are rich or poor. The law is no respecter of anybody. I will advise the senate president to honour the invitation and clear the mess on time.’’
But another lawyer, Mr Tunde Jimoh, appealed the public to stop politicising the matter and allow the police to conduct their investigation.
” Nigerians must allow the police to do a thorough finding. They must stop the different protests and distractions on social media.
“Enough of interference from the external forces; there is no need to mount pressure on the senate president and the Nigeria Police in order not to complicate the matter.
“The fact that the suspected robbers mentioned Saraki’s name in their confessional statements doesn’t mean we should jump to conclusions.
“Nigerians must be patient and give room for thorough investigation and fair hearing from both parties rather than drawing conclusions, ” he said.
For Funsho Aina, another legal practitioner, the senate president must respond promptly to the matter “ because of the sensitive position he is holding. ‘’
” It is still an allegation for now and he is not yet found guilty. The best for him (Saraki) is to honourably make his statement on the matter available before it turns to another thing.
“If there is the need for him to step down from his post as senate president to clear his name, he can do so for the sake of his integrity and that of the National Assembly, ” Aina said.
Mr Bayo Adeyipo, a resident, said there was need for the ruling party to close ranks and imbibe unity while shunning acts capable of derailing its future plans.
Adeyipo stated that the initial invitation extended to the senate president bordered on a criminal act and should not be subjected to political debate.
“If anybody in power is found wanting, he should be ready to give necessary explanation by way of clearing his or her name of any wrong doing.
“The police have laid out their facts, the onus is now on the person so accused to explore all avenues to clear his name of criminal allegations and maintain his or her integrity,” he said.
The Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (lEDPU), a soicio-cultural organisation, however, described the police action as “ a calculated attempt to tarnish the image of the senate president.’’
Amb. Usman AbdulAzeez, the National President of the union, said the invitation of Saraki in connection with the robbery incident was a ploy to discredit him.
“The lEDPU, which is non-political, strongly condemns the invitation of our illustrious son who is the number three citizen of the country in connection with the robbery case,’’ he said.
He described the initial invitation as an attempt to drag the name of the ancient town of Ilorin in the mud, stating that the senate president could not be involved in robbery.
Alhaji Busari Adebayo, a community leader in Ipetu, also described the development as “political witch hunt ‘’ which could heat up the polity.
“As the 2019 general elections draw nearer, the political class should imbibe tolerance and close ranks in the interest of moving the country forward.
“The invitation to Saraki over Offa Robbery is a direct fall-out of the power play as the processes toward the 2019 general elections gathers momentum.
“What the country needs most is absolute peace and unity to achieve the sustenance of our democratic system,” he said.
Mrs Motunrayo Aboyade, a civil servant, believes the current travails of Saraki is part of the on-going superiority tussle among APC leaders ahead of the 2019 general elections.
“The case of armed robbery levelled against Saraki will not hold water; it is a result of the powerful tussle at the top.
“You can see that the invitation has now been replaced with a written explanation, that is to tell you that the whole thing is just a power game and the drama will continue to unfold with time,” Aboyade said.
A lawmaker in the Kwara House of Assembly, Hon. AbdulRafiu AbdukRahnan condemned the police over the initial invitation to Saraki, saying it has negative political implications.
Bisi Owolabi, the APC Chairman in Irepodun Local Government Area, on his part, sees the development as “ continuation of the persecution of Saraki since the inception of the present administration.’’
He maintained that the persecution, if continued unchecked, was capable affecting the fortunes of the party in future elections.
“Saraki worked for the success of the party by winning all available position in the state and he is still very much committed to the party’s principles and ideas,’’ he said.
Another resident, Victor Peter, urged public institutions to “ refrain from playing to the gallery because of politics.’’
“The police cannot continue like this; convicting people in the court of public opinion has never worked. They should do better; Nigerians deserve that.
“Now that they have made a U-turn about their initial planned invitation to Dr Saraki, let’s see how it all plays out, but as usual, I am confident that this case is dead on arrival,’’ Peter said.