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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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Aregbesola, Soyinka, others suggest ways to Nigeria’s greatness

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The Osun State Governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola; Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; ex-governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba; popular poet, Odia Ofeimun; and a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) on Wednesday, suggested ways the country could attain greater heights.

They spoke in Lagos at a colloquium titled, ‘A bright future for Nigeria and how to get there,’ organised in honour of the Executive Director of The News/PM News, Mr. Kunle Ajibade, who turned 60 on May 28.

The military junta of the late Sani Abacha in 1995 jailed Ajibade for life alongside some suspected coup plotters. He was released on July 18, 1998, after the demise of the despot.

At the event, Aregbesola called for concerted efforts in building the country to achieve its potential, stressing that it was important to ensure that the country became a model in Africa.

 

Urging young and aspiring journalists to emulate Ajibade’s professional ideals, Soyinka stated, “Forget the fact that he is a jailbird; sometimes, that can be a badge of honour.”

Also, Osoba, who chaired the event, said the media industry was proud of Ajibade’s contributions to the profession.

Ofeimun stated that after two former generals and two civlian heads of state attempted to change the country after post-military politics, it seemed Nigeria was running towards mess and anarchy.

He said, “It is sponsored by the sheer incomprehension of those who claimed to have found a solution. Rather than moving forward, we are like a country merely poaching the dated pursuits of yesterday.”

He added that the goals of Nigerians stood on the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s ‘People’s Republic’ seeking a united, strong and self-reliant nation, a great and dynamic economy, a just and egalitarian society, a land full of opportunities for all and a free and democratic society.

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An Insight into the Killer Herdsmen Menace

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By A. Bello

Few weeks after the Chibok kidnapping in 2014, by thedreaded Boko Haram, during an interview, a highly venerated American Congress man, Sen. John McCain described the Jonathan’s government as thus: “……a country, where there’s virtually no government in existence….”;and I quivered over his diction to have referred to Nigeria so bluntly.

With high expectation to salvage the Boko Haram menace, the current administration was voted in, but in a disastrous twist from the Boko Haram crusade, emerged a deadlier elusive terrorist group, “Killer Herdsmen”.

As a kid, I grew up to know the Fulani Herders in southern Nigeria, going about freely and peacefully with their cattle in every nook and cranny of the region, without any restrictions or questions being asked.

Recently, the Herdsmen we grew up to know have metamorphosed into two types; the “Fulani Killer Herdsmen” and “Fulani Herdsmen”….. The former shows no mercy to its victims, with their style of butchering, while the latter is still believed to move on with their ways of life. But, differentiating the both nowadays is a difficult task, as both carries a common ethnic identity; ” Fulani”!

The prior responsibility of any government is to protect the lives and properties of her citizens. Three years down the lane, there have been gruesome killings in many parts of the country, whether north, or south; but one word has now become a cliché in the tongue of every Nigerian, in connection with these untold atrocities perpetrated on innocent lives: “Fulani Herdsmen”

One state of Benue has taken exception in this spate of killings, with attacks frequently carried out, close to a thousand must have died in the past two to three years, and nothing concrete to curb these attacks have been seen from the government that rode to power, through campaigns onsimilar occurrence from the past administration…… I see no reason why the military could not be deployed to hunt down these elusive terrorists in a state that’s just about 20,000km² in size, or for how long shall condolence letters be written, without decisive and prompt action? My heart bleeds, and my soul is overwhelmed with a pang of disappointment, in a government I so much supported and defended with every effort; not because of other reasons, but its inability to put a halt to incessant killings of innocent citizens everyday!….and this has always made me to reminiscent on Sen. McCain’s phrase on Nigeria after four years.

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Nigeria’s acting president must step on some necks

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The federal government has granted to Lagos State the authority to reconstruct the International Airport Road from the Murtala Muhammad International Airport (MMA) into neighbouring Oshodi.

That road, as all international travelers into Nigeria know, is the first real warning that all is not well with Nigeria.  Three months ago, Lagos Governor Akinwunmi Ambode expressed embarrassment about its awful condition.  He said it was a national disgrace requiring immediate attention.

Also concerned that the road was inconsistent with the new image of the state his government wanted to develop, he lamented the refusal of the federal government to approve his reconstruction proposal, for which he had a design ready.

With the relevant Federal Ministry being headed by Babatunde Fashola, Mr. Ambode’s predecessor as Lagos governor, a tense situation had arisen.

Enter Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who last week okayed the proposal.  This means that given the six months’ time-frame Governor Ambode has in mind, the road could be ready by the end of 2017.

It is good to see two men who are eager to get things done, and I compliment the AP and the governor.  And you too, Mr. Fashola!

For those who may have forgotten, the battle between both levels of government over the failure of the federal authorities to maintain its roads is a battle that has raged nationwide for a long time.  In some cases, particularly Lagos, the state has often had to step in, but the federal has neither changed its ways nor paid its debts.

Lagos is Nigeria’s richest government.  It is also the one best exposed to the world’s eyes, including those of the press and the international financial institutions interested in doing business in Nigeria.  Governor Ambode seems determined to take advantage, and I am with him.

He explained: “…In the spirit of the regeneration and urbanisation that [the Lagos] administration has set out to achieve, we believe strongly that the image that is exhumed by the decadence of that road must be repaired and we took it upon ourselves to appropriate the 2017 budget that the House of Assembly should approve the total reconstruction…”The Lagos legislature agreed.

But because a road is not simply a road, a few questions arise.  Among them: Has the federal government merely granted permission for this reconstruction, or did it also approve of the design?

According to Ambode, the Lagos design features a 10-lane road that opens to Oshodi with an interchange and flyover “that would drop you towards the Local Airport.”The idea sounds good, but a real response would require more than one interchange and one flyover.

Nonetheless, the perennially-crowded Oshodi bus station has also received considerable attention from the Fashola and Ambode administrations, so it seems the new International Airport Road construction might feed into that and help improve the overall transportation network.

It is significant to remember that in August 2016, Rotimi Amaechi, Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation, identified the Lagos-Kano rail modernization among projects his government will complete next year. That ties in with the Lagos-Ibadan rail, as well as the Lagos rail, and there is no reason why any MMA-related project should not feed into them.

But it is no longer enough simply to complete and commission.  The project must be durable, and must be first-rate.  Only last month, remember, the same MMA was embarrassingly flooded following a short rainfall.  In the General Aviation area, passengers could not get to the bus meant to take them to their aircraft: a common scene at our airports despite expensive so-called reconstructions.

Around the world, airports and the infrastructure which serve them are being increasingly designed to last not only for many years, but to serve growing populations.  They are also maintained on a continuous basis.  If your airport is a small, cluttered outpost, you atrophy on your own into a negligible culture and economy.

In other words, as well-meaning as Governor Ambode is, he cannot and ought not to do the MMA road on his own, or as a favour to the country.  It must be meticulous in design and implementation, with clear emphasis on drainage, security and functionality.  And not only must the new road feed into federal plans for the airport, including hotels, shops and parking, it must be clear who will have responsibility for its maintenance.

It is also important to look at what else the new road will accomplish.  On one side, it will empty into the Oshodi-Apapa expressway, which is also weeping for redemption, having fallen into disuse a long time ago.

On the other, it will expose the MMA, as an airport which continues to be run for the benefit of layers of touts.  Last week, for instance, so-called security agencies at the airport simply ignored a new executive order signed by Mr. Osinbajo ending the manual search of passengers’ luggage in preference for screening machines.

I met a traveler out of Lagos on Friday who spoke about how each of his suitcases was ransacked by those agents as they demanded bribes and removed foodstuff they claimed to be illegal.  But a vigilant white staffer of his carrier stepped forward and retrieved the foodstuff for him, affirming they were not illegal!  Still, Nigerian officials asked him for bribes at least four times before he boarded.

Our reluctance as a people to do what is right in favor of our selfish objectives has left us with a nation that does not work, and in which we drift only towards division and conflict.

Think about it: last Wednesday, the federal government admitted that N423bn worth of projects the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs contracted between 2009 and 2015 were ripped off.

According to Usani Uguru, the Minister who spoke to journalists, some of the contractors did not even appear on the sites at all, while others implemented only 12 per cent of the projects for which they were paid.  This amount does not include contracts by other intervention agencies.

Which goes back to a warning issued by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), in September 2008 when the Ministry was created.

Arguing that a Ministry was not the answer, MEND forecasted that it was destined to become another avenue for corruption and political favouritism, citing Ministries which have never benefited Nigerians.

“Some examples of moribund ministries include Energy; with its epileptic power supply, Health; with hospitals that have turned to dispensing clinics such that even the president prefers to be treated in Saudi Arabia or Germany, Works and Transport; responsible for the untimely deaths and maiming of road users due to poorly maintained roads and bridges in spite of availability of funds, Education; with the elite losing confidence that their children study in foreign tertiary institutions, Special Duties; with a minister that has been made [so] redundant that he spends his time in office watching television.”

How prophetic!  It is little surprise that Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s former President, supervised Niger Delta budgeting and spending for most of its life.

It is the Nigerian way of life, the nation bursting with uncompleted projects, 12,000 federal entries of which were listed by Mr. Jonathan himself.

But what if we were to document, rather like Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, Nigeria’s unimplemented laws and regulations since 1960?

Acting President Osinbajo can buck the trend by stepping on a few necks at MMA.

· sonala.olumhense@gmail.com

· Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense

 

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