Thursday, March 24, 2016 1:15 pm
By Ayorinde Oluokun/ Abuja
Dr. Bukola Saraki, Nigeria’s Senate President and two time governor of Kwara State practices the Islamic faith. But his wife, Toyin is not only a Christian, but also a member of one of the most popular pentecostal churches in Nigeria, the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
It will therefore be expected that the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, popularly known as Easter is also celebrated in the Saraki household.
One man that has the ability to make this year’s Easter celebration a bleak or very joyous one is Mr Danladi Umar, Chairman Code of Conduct Tribunal, CTC. And he just fouled things up in the household of Nigeria’s Number 3 Citizen.
This morning, Umar smashed Saraki’s hope of stopping his trial at the Tribunal.
Umar ruling on the jurisdiction challenge by Saraki’s counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, said the tribunal has the power to hear the case of false asset declaration against the Senate President and will thus proceed to hear the case.
Umar agreed with the defence counsel that the issue of jurisdiction must first be tackled before the commencement of hearing but affirmed that the constitution empowers the attorney-general and Justice minister to file the charges.
The trial proper will have started immediately as the prosecution said it was ready, but Umar provided a sop of sort to the embattled politician, by giving him up till 5 April to get ready for his defence.
Saraki is facing a 13-count criminal charge preferred against the Senate President by the Federal Government.
He was alleged to have falsified the assets he declared while in office as the Governor of Kwara State from 2003 to 2011.
A sliver of hope was ignited last week, when his lawyer, Kanu Agabi, a former attorney-general of Nigeria argued forcefully that he should be allowed to go home.
There were some expectations in Saraki’s camp that Umar would grant Agabi’s request.
If that had been the case, there is no doubt that Umar would have added some shin to to the Easter celebration in Saraki’s household during the long holiday which begins on Friday. A contrary ruling has made the celebrations a gloomy one for the family.
Agabi, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation who led 80 other lawyers had, among others,urged the Justice Umar to discharge his client the same way it did for Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State who was arraigned before it in 2011.
The lawyer noted that Tinubu was freed by the Tribunal then because FG failed to fulfil necessary condition precedents capable of conferring jurisdiction on it to hear the substantive charge.
According to Agabi, the tribunal had in the case against Tinubu, noted that the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, which recommended the prosecution, ought to have invited the defendant to clarify discrepancies in the assets he declared, before the charge was initiated and consequently discharge him.
Agabi said his client, like Tinubu, was also not invited to clarify the allegations against him.
“My lord he has not been invited up till now. That was the same reason you gave for allowing Tinubu to go home, on the ground that ten other governors were invited by the CCB to make clarifications on discrepancies in the assets they declared.
“But till now, the defendant here, who is the Senate President of this country has not been invited. It is our position that the law is not discriminatory”, Agabi submitted.
He also argued that the laws establishing CCB mandated it to summon any one perceived to have falsely declared his assets to give explanations.
“The defendant was never afforded such opportunity, not even a chance to kneel down and apologise”, said Agabi who added that the charge was politically motivated and instituted in bad faith.
Failure of the Bureau to summon Saraki to give explanations, Saraki argued was fatal to the charge.
Agabi also contended that Saraki’s fresh application was totally different from the earlier decision of Supreme Court that the Tribunal has powers to try the Senate President.
In addition, the Senate President’s lawyer also questioned the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation to institute the charge.
The responsibility, he said was legally vested on the CCB to the exclusion of any other anti-graft agency in the country.
He therefore urged the tribunal to quash the charge against his client and discharge him accordingly.
But while opposing the arguments, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, the Federal Government prosecutor urged the tribunal to dismiss the application.
Jacobs argued that the application was based on issues which had earlier been decided on by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
According to him, the fresh application by Saraki’s lawyer was aimed at scuttling the Senate President’s trial also urged the Tribunal to hear the application with the substantive suit.
He also argued that sections 220, 221 and 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015 stipulated that objections like the one put forward by Saraki’s lawyer must be considered along with the substantive case and ruling delivered at the end of the trial.
Also, the Prosecution Counsel argued that ex governor Tinubu was discharged in 2011 by error because the Tribunal was misled to rely on the provisions of the 1979 Constitution which he said has been amended in the 1999 Constitution.
Jacobs also argued that the AGF has powers to institute charges against the defendant as he argued similar cases instituted by the lead defence counsel when he occupied the office of the AGF.
Beyond this, the CCB also argued that it has monumental evidence of corruption against the Senate President which the Tribunal should allow it to prove by allowing the trial to go on in a counter-affidavit deposed to by one of its operatives, Peter Danladi.
In opposition to Saraki’s motion, the Bureau said it has gathered evidence that as governor of Kwara State between 1999 and 2007, the Senate President obtained huge bank loans and paid back the loans with funds sourced from the coffers of the state.
CCB also argued that investigations by operatives of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission who conducted investigations into various petitions written against the Senate President between 2010 and 2012 revealed Saraki used the bank loans running into billions of naira to acquire landed assets in Lagos, Abuja and London.
“That I was informed by Mr. Yahaya Bello, an operative of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in our office on March 14, 2016 at about 11am and I verily believe him that:
“The EFCC received various petitions against the defendant/applicant between 2010 and 2012 alleging acts of corruption, theft, money laundering etc.
“The EFCC conducted its investigation of the various petitions and made findings which showed that the defendant/applicant abused his office while he was Governor of Kwara State and was involved in various acts of corruption as the governor of the state.
“The defendant/applicant borrowed huge sums of money running into billions from commercial banks, particularly GuarantyTrust Bank and used the proceeds of the loan to acquire several landed properties in Lagos, Abuja and London while he was Governor of Kwara State.
“As against the defendant using his own legitimate income to defray the loan, he took public funds running into billions from Kwara State Government and lodged same in several tranches and in cash into his GTB account in GRA, Ilorin, Kwara State.
“The defendant/applicant’s account officer in GTB confirmed that the defendant/applicant gave him several cash in government house to lodge into the account and in some occasions, the defendant sent his aides from government house to give him the cash for lodgment into his account.
“When EFCC submitted its report to its legal department and the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Federal Ministry of Justice formed the opinion that the offences revealed from the investigation, particularly as they relate to the properties acquired by the defendant/applicant while he was Governor of Kwara State and various monies sent into his various accounts outside Nigeria can be better investigated and prosecuted through the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal.
“The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation then sent the findings and the evidence gathered during investigation by the EFCC as a complaint to the Code of Conduct Bureau for investigation and that the operative of EFCC would collaborate with the officers of the bureau for effective investigations,” Danladi said in the affidavit.
Saraki’s trial was stalled when it was due to begin on Friday, 11 March as a result of fresh application brought by the Senate President challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the matter.
The Federal Government had filed a 13 count charge bordering on false assets declaration against the Senate President.
Though Saraki had pleaded not guilty when the charge was read to him after he was docked last September, he had however explored legal filibustering tactics up to the Supreme Court to stop the trial.
But the Supreme Court had in its judgement on 5 February, asked the Senate President to go and face his trial.
Thus, at the resumed hearing of the trial on 11 March, the prosecution counsel, had announced to the court that the business of the day was hearing and that his witnesses were in court.
He added that he had enlisted about 13 witnesses.
But the defence counsel, who led other 66 lawyers caught the prosecution off guard as he informed the court that he had filed an application challenging the authority of the Attorney General of the Federation to initiate a criminal proceedings and also jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the matter.
Jacobs however responded that the had not been served with the application and that such application was a plot to frustrate the trial as the all the courts up to the apex had asked the defendant to go and face his trial.
Agabi responded that the application was served on the Ministry of Justice and later tendered the proof of service to the tribunal.
He however noted that it is the Ministry of Justice that is delaying the trial on ground that it should have called the attention of the prosecution counsel to the application served on it.
Eventually, Justice Umar urged Jacobs to collect a copy of the application in court in order to proceed with the case after hot exchange of arguments between the lawyers.
After collecting the document, Jacobs requested for some time to reply.
In agreement with the parties, the tribunal later adjourned to Friday March 18 for hearing of the fresh application.
The new application which was argued last week was brought pursuant to Sections 36(6)(a)(b), 36(12) and Paragraph 15 of the First Schedule of the 1999 constitution: Section 3(1) of the Third Schedule of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Saraki is praying for an order quashing or striking out of the charges against him.
Ayorinde Oluokun [email protected]