Friday, April 15, 2016 11:18 pm
By Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja
For Senate President, Bukola Saraki, it was another end game on Friday as his latest attempt to stop his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over charges of false/anticipatory declaration of assets failed spectacularly at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Justice Abdul Kafarati, in a judgment that lasted under 40 minutes upheld the preliminary objection of Federal Government to the suit without considering the merit of the case.
The Judge also described the suit as an abuse of court process as the applicant had filed several cases at different courts, including the Supreme Court and judgment delivered.
The Supreme Court had on 5 February 2016 affirmed the juridisction of CCT to try the Senate President over charges of false assets declaration.
The apex court also affirmed the validity of the charges against the Senate President.
But in one of his numerous ‘shopping’ across the judicial system to halt his trial following his arraigment before the CCT in September last year, Saraki had in November last year filed a suit asking the Federal High Court to halt his trial by Justice Danladi Umar, the Chairman of the Tribunal.
In the case filed on his behalf by Ajibola Oluyede, his lawyer, the Senate asked the court to restrain the respondents to the suit including the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN),from arresting or prosecuting him, based on the offences he allegedly committed while serving as Kwara State Governor.
Other respondents were the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission and the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, the CCT; the CCT chairman, Justice Umar; the second member of the CCT panel, Ataedzeagu Adza, Code of Conduct Bureau chairman, Sam Saba; Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Diri; and a Deputy Director in the ministry, Mr. Muslim Hassan (now a judge of the Federal High Court)
The Senate President also argued that the charges preferred against him before the CCT had infringed on his right to fair hearing.
He therefore urged the court to make an order nullifying the charges and the proceedings of the CCT on the grounds that they fell short of the requirements of Article 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution.
Specifically, the Senate President said he may not be able to get justice from the CCT as currently constituted.
Saraki said Justice Umar who he claimed is being investigated by EFCC may not be able to act independently and this will be detrimental to his case.
“It is our argument in the suit that the Code of Conduct Tribunal cannot act independently the way it is currently constituted because we believe Its Chairman, Danladi Umar, who is currently under investigation by the EFCC, cannot be independent in deciding a case being prosecuted before him by the EFCC.
“We have also contended that the EFCC, by admitting that the investigation of the case against our client was done by a special task force, as against the requirement by the provision in Schedule 3 of the Constitution, has usurped the exclusive duties of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). It is on that basis we argued that our client cannot get justice under the current arrangement and asked the court to quash the charge,” Oluyede, who is the lawyer to the Senate President said.
In essence, Saraki asked the High Court to disqualify Justice Umar from presiding over his trial at CCT and challenging the legality of the charges.
This was despite the fact that the Supreme Court as well as the Tribunal itself had in separate rulings before validated the charges against the Senate President.
Saraki’s lawyer had applied for ex parte motion in which he asked the court to grant his client an interim injunction that would halt the trial of his client at CCT trial pending the conclusion of the suit.
But the Judge rejected the request. Instead, he asked respondents in the suit to appear before him to show cause why the prayers sought by Saraki in his ex parte motion should not be granted.
Federal Government had on 8 January filed a preliminary objection in which it asked the court to dismiss Saraki’s suit. Rotimi Jacobs who filed the suit on behalf of Federal Government argued that the suit “constitutes an abuse of court process” and that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear it.
The suit had become even more controversial with allegations that the Judge has been influenced to sway judgment in favour of the Senate President. However, the Judge not only denied the allegation, he also returned the case file to Justice Ibrahim Auta, the Chief Judge of Federal High Court in protest.
However, following petition from Saraki’s lawyer that the judgment should be delivered as the parties were not complaining, the Chief Judge of Federal High Court asked Justice Auta to deliver his judgement.
While upholding the preliminary objection to the suit, Justice Abdulkadiri Kafarati said the fear by Saraki that he will not get justice at the CCT was speculative, misplaced and has no place in law.
He also ruled that it was too early for the Applicant (Saraki) to have brought such issue of his fundamental rights to fair trial when the Tribunal has not concluded its findings on the falsification of assets charges brought against him.
According to Justice Kafarati, Saraki was erroneous to have raised the issue of fundamental rights to seek nullification of trial when his case did not fall within chapter 4 of 1999 Constitution and the African Charter on People and Persons Rights.
In the same vein, the Judge held that the court will not interfere with the statutory duties of the respondents in the case as doing so will amount to violation of the Constitution.
In his words, “A careful examination of the reliefs sought showed that if granted it will amount to interference with the powers of the respondents.
“The prayers are not captured under Chapter 4 of the Constitution.
“I cannot also do anything that will interfere with the powers of the respondents to prosecute crimes which the Constitution has given them the power to do.
“Since the apex court has ruled that the prosecution of the applicant before the Code of Conduct Tribunal is in order, it is not appropriate for the respondents to approach this court to seek reliefs quashing the charges.”
Justice Kafarati also aligned with the defence counsel, Jacobs(SAN), that the suit constituted a gross abuse of court process as the applicant had canvassed the same issue at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Court of Appeal and even Supreme Court, where judgments were given against him.
“The suit is liable to be dismissed and it is accordingly dismissed,” the Judge ruled.
The Senate President has also filed another suit against his trial by the CCT at the Court of Appeal.It is scheduled for hearing on 26 April.
His loyalists in the Senate had also initiated suspicious moves to amend the law establishing the Code of Conduct Tribunal as well as the Administration of Justice Act, ACJA 2015, the two legislation they believed had not helped his numerous attempts to halt his trial.
With damaging allegations of how he allegedly looted the Kwara State treasury to buy properties which he failed to declare in the assets declaration forms he filled while in office as governor as his trial progressed at CCT, there have been calls on Saraki to resign his position as Senate President.
So far he has rebuffed all the quit calls.
Whether he has other tricks in the bag remains to be seen as his trial at the CCT continues next week,