Saraki’s acquittal: ‘Dance of twist’ at CCT

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The judgment of the Code of Conduct Tribunal of June 14, 2017, discharging and acquitting the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, of charges of false asset declaration, is a U-turn from the tribunal’s ruling and the judgment of the Court of Appeal earlier delivered in the course of the 21 months’ trial,

On September 22, 2015, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, finally surrendered himself to the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja, for arraignment on 13 counts bordering mainly on allegations of false assets declaration.

In the course of the trial which lasted 21 months, between September 2015 and June 2017, the charges were, about three times, amended to 18 counts.

The charges, according to the prosecution, were offences Saraki allegedly committed while he was the Governor of Kwara State between May 2003 and May 2011, and after becoming the senator representing Kwara Central in June 2011.

In a bid to seek protection from prosecution, the Senate President filed a suit before the Federal High Court, Abuja shortly after the charges were instituted against him on September 14, 2015.

As the legal battle continued at the Federal High Court, Saraki stayed away from the CCT while his legal team held forth for him.

His continued absence from the CCT forced the tribunal to issue a warrant for his arrest on September 18.

After failing to get any positive order from the Federal High Court and in order to avoid being arrested as a result of the warrant issued against him by the tribunal, Saraki finally appeared before the CCT on September 22.

When he appeared before the tribunal, his lead counsel, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, maintained that the tribunal lacked criminal jurisdiction, therefore, the Senate President was not under any obligation to go into the dock.

Opposing Daudu’s contention from the other side was the Federal Government’s lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), who submitted that the tribunal possessed the requisite jurisdiction to carry on with the trial.

Ruling, the tribunal agreed with Jacobs, dismissed Daudu’s objection and directed Saraki to proceed into the dock.

The defendant pleaded not guilty to the 13 counts read to him and the CCT adjourned for trial.

But before the scheduled trial dates, Saraki had rushed to the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, to further challenge the jurisdiction of the CCT.

As a result of the appeal, proceedings before the CCT were suspended and the situation remained so even after October 30, 2015 when the appellate court delivered its judgment, dismissing Sakari’s appeal and affirming the CCT’s jurisdiction to try him.

Saraki had gone before the Supreme Court to try his luck but his hope of quashing the charges was again dashed when a seven-man panel of the Supreme Court, led by the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed (retd.),on February 5, 2015, again dismissed his appeal and upheld the CCT’s jurisdiction.
CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar

Delivering the lead judgment of the apex court, Justice Walter Onnoghen, now the CJN, ruled among others, that although Daudu was right by contending that the Danladi Umar-led CCT should be composed of three members, the tribunal was still validly constituted by two members.

The apex court held that Daudu was wrong to contend that the charges were incompetent because they were filed by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, when no one had been appointed to occupy the office.

With the Supreme Court’s judgment, the coast was clear for Saraki’s trial to continue before the CCT.

Ex-AGF’s ‘dance of twist’

But soon after the Supreme Court’s judgment affirming the CCT’s jurisdiction, Saraki, for reasons not disclosed to the public, sacked Daudu as the lead counsel of his defence team.

In Daudu’s place, the Senate President hired and brought in a former AGF and Minister of Justice, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), to lead his legion of defence lawyers, including many senior lawyers.

Though Daudu never appeared in person in the case again, the strategy of the defence did not change.

With Agabi now in charge, the defence team launched another attack on the CCT’s jurisdiction.

But in this case, Agabi adopted the reverse side of one of Daudu’s earlier major arguments against the jurisdiction of the CCT.

Contrary to Daudu’s earlier argument, Agabi, in his motion filed on March 14, 2016, contended that the AGF lacked the powers to file charges before the CCT.

He contended that the Code of Conduct Bureau ought to be the one to “refer” the complaints against Saraki to the CCT and not the AGF.

But the prosecutor, Jacobs, opposed Agabi, submitting that Section 3(d) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act relied on by the defence was inconsistent with Paragraph 3(e) of the Third Schedule, Part I of the 1999 Constitution.

In its ruling, the CCT upheld Jacob’s argument and dismissed Agabi’s motion.

In dismissing the motion, the tribunal described Agabi’s stance that the AGF lacked the power to prosecute at the CCT as a ‘dance of twist’.

The tribunal chairman, Umar, who read the ruling of the CCT on March 24, 2016, reminded Agabi of having, as the AGF in 2000, personally filed charges and prosecuted a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Lt. Gen. Jeremiah Useni (retd.), before the CCT.

The tribunal chairman said, “He (Agabi) personally signed the charge on behalf of the Code of Conduct Bureau and even appeared before the tribunal to prosecute Lt. Gen. J.T. Useni (retd.); how then can the learned SAN now approbate and reprobate at the same time? That is what we call ‘Dance of Twist’. This is not correct and cannot stand. The Attorney General of the Federation can initiate criminal proceedings.”

EFCC’s involvement validated

Another leg of Agabi’s contention, in his motion before the CCT, was that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission usurped the CCB’s constitutional roles by taking on Saraki’s investigation.

Again, Jacobs opposed him, submitting that the EFCC did not usurp the role of the CCB when it investigated Saraki and submitted its report to the office of the AGF, which, in turn, forwarded the report to the CCB for prosecution at the CCT.

Jacobs argued that there was nothing wrong in the collaboration between the EFCC and the CCB in Saraki’s case.

In its ruling, the tribunal agreed with Jacobs and validated the pre-trial process as presented by the prosecution.

The CCT panel held, “It is also to be noted that government agencies, especially those anti-corruption agencies, collaborate between themselves (synergy) for effective curtailing of corruption and financial crime-related matters.

“So, it is not out of place if the EFCC supplied the evidence and vital information to the CCB for further investigation and for possible prosecution before the Code of Conduct Tribunal since the EFCC does not have authority to institute action directly before the tribunal.”

On the defence’s complaint of absence of any complaint against Saraki to activate the filing of the charges, the tribunal ruled that it was premature to raise such issue at that stage of the trial.

The defence had also contended that the tribunal should be bound by its decision in Federal Republic of Nigeria V Bola Ahmed Tinubu in 2011, when the CCT dismissed the case against the former governor of Lagos State on the grounds of the CCB’s failure to invite Tinubu to affirm or deny the allegations against him before the filing of the charges.

But the CCT held that it was no longer bound by its decision in Tinubu’s case as the said decision was made in error, adding that it had since decided to follow “the prescription of the Constitution in the case of FRN V. Emil Lemke Inyang in Charge No: CCT/ABJ/02/2012.”

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