Thursday, March 24, 2016 11:53 pm
By Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja
Gloom set in for Bukola Saraki, the President of the Nigerian Senate on Thursday, a day after he led the National Assembly to pass the 2016 Appropriation Act.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal spoiled the fun for Saraki who has been receiving commendations from his party chiefs over the passage of the budget as it refused the entreaties of the Senate President to quash his trial over the 13 count charges of false assets declaration preferred against him by the Federal Government.
Justice Danladi Umar, Chairman of Code of Conduct Tribunal had stopped the Senate President’s second attempt to stop his trial when it held that the charges preferred against him was valid and competent in law in his ruling on the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to try him.
The judge noted that the Act establishing the CCT as well as the 1999 constitution, as amended, conferred the Tribunal with the requisite jurisdiction to hear and determine allegations bordering on breach of code of conduct by public officers.
On Saraki’s argument that the FG waited for over 13 years before instituting the charge against him, Justice Umar held that there is no time frame for the prosecution of a criminal offence.
In asking the Tribunal to free him of the charges, the Senate President had cited example of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos State who was arraigned before it 2011, but was discharged after only two appearances at the Tribunal.
Kanu Agabi, the Senate President’s lawyer had argued 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.
Like Tinubu, Agabi said his client 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, Agabi argued was fatal to the charge.
But in his ruling on Friday, Justice Umar said the former Lagos State Governor was discharged in error in 2011.
” The tribunal has since realised that the decision it made on the case between FRN vs Tinubu was in error and has clearly departed from it”.
“It is not out of place for the prosecution to charge the defendant now. The application to quash the charge is hereby refused. The tribunal hereby re-inforces its jurisdiction in line with the constitution an section 3(d) of the CCB &Tribunal Act.
“Accordingly, the prosecution is hereby ordered to produce its witnesses for the trial of the defendant to commence immediately”, Justice Umar held.
“Tinubu’s case was based on 1979 law and the Tribunal having realised its mistake more than three years ago upturned the decision and said they made a mistake, that it was an error and that it was given without considering the 1999 Constitution,” Rotimi Jacobs, the Prosecution Counsel said while giving further elucidation to the Tribunal’s ruling to journalists.
Jacobs who had argued along this line to oppose Agabi’s request that his client should be allowed to go home based on the decision of the court on former Lagos State governor added that The Tribunal had in two other cases decided in 2012 and 2014 overturned the decision.
“If it was the Chairman of the Tribunal that was in error, should we follow the error? He has corrected it in two other judgments,” Jacobs who also said the Federal Government is ready to pursue the case against the Senate President at any other court added.