Embattled Senate President Bukola Saraki Heaves A Sigh Of Relief As Supreme Court Suspends His Trial At The Code Of Conduct Tribunal
Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Olubukola Saraki, seems to have off-loaded a nagging burden, though he still lives with the moral questions they raise, as the Supreme Court ruled that theCode of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) could not continue with his trial while an appeal he filed was still ongoing. The Supreme Court gave the ruling while deciding on an appeal brought before it by Saraki, following refusal of the Court of Appeal to hold similar opinion on his CCT trial.
An embattled Saraki, who has been battling to get the CCT matter off his back, had challenged the powers of the tribunal to commence his trial for alleged breaches of the asset declaration law while holding office as governor in Kwara State.
Efforts to halt the trial at the tribunal, following a hid-and-seek adopted by the lawmaker, failed as the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, assumed jurisdiction despite contests by the accused that the tribunal was not properly constituted.
Saraki’s challenege at the Court of Appeal also failed after the court, through Justice Moore Adumein, leading two other justices, held that “the CCT is a court of criminal jurisdiction, albeit limited jurisdiction,” the court had stated. “The immediate question is whether it is a court or not.
There is no inherent difference between a court and a tribunal. The only difference is that tribunals in most cases handle special cases. “The tribunal has power to impose sanctions according to the law. It is a court with specific criminal jurisdiction”. But reading the decision of the Supreme Court yesterday, Justice John Fabiyi, said “further proceeding at the CCT should be stayed pending the hearing of the appeal”.
He however did not announce a hearing date but said “hearing date will be communicated to all the parties”. With the latest development, the Senate President who was billed to appear at the CCT on 19 of November will no longer appear at the tribunal for the trial.
Prior to the ruling, prosecution councel, Rotimi Jacobs, had made a u-turn by appealing to Justices not to make pronouncement on the practicability of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
He had submitted that the decision of the Apex Court may not augur well especially in the trial courts where such decision can be abused to grant stay of proceedings even when there was no need for such. Instead of making pronouncement on the practicability of section 306 of ACJA, Jacobs begged the Apex Court to allow the two parties go into the main appeal instead of trading on stay issue.
He made undertaking that the federal government will not do anything until the Supreme Court has made final decision on the appeal issue. Earlier, counsel to Saraki, Joseph Daudu (SAN), who led seven other Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to argue Saraki’s case, had urged the apex court to stop the proceedings at the CCT pending the hearing of the substantive appeal.
Daudu told the court that the appellant is challenging the jurisdiction of tribunal and the legality of his trial at the tribunal.
Among others, Saraki claimed that the tribunal was not properly constituted with two members instead of three as required by law.
He submitted that the apex court should put the trial at the CCT on hold pending the final determination of the main appeal. Justice Fabiyi while ordering the proceedings at the CCT stopped, also gave seven days each to both parties to file and exchange briefs of their arguments on the substantive appeal.
In line with the undertaken of Jacobs, the court ordered nothing should be done at the CCT level on the pending trial of the Senate President. Justice Fabiyi announced that a date for hearing of substantive appeal will be communicated to parties as soon as the date is fixed.
Speaking with journalists after the brief ruling, Saraki’s lead counsel Mr. Joseph Daudu SAN said that the decision of the court and that of Jacobs had vindicated the decision of the lawyers who last week left the tribunal abruptly after obtaining the leave of the tribunal to withdraw from the trial.
Saraki is standing trial on 13 charges of breaches of the asset declaration law. Some of the charges reads: “That you, Dr. Olubukola Abubakar Saraki whilst being the executive governor of Kwara state, on or about 16th September, 2003 within the jurisdiction of this honourable tribunal did make a false declaration in the assets declaration form for public officers on assumption of office as governor of Kwara state by making an anticipatory asset declaration in that you claimed to have owned and acquired No 15A and 16B McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos through your company Carlisle Properties Limited in the year 2000 when the said property was in actual fact sold by the implementation committee on federal government landed properties in year 2006 to your companies Tiny Tee Limited and Vitti Oil Limited for the aggregate sum of N396,150,000.00 and thereby committed an offence under section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act…”.
Another of the charges read that Saraki “failed to declare a loan in the sum of N375,000,000. 00 obtained from Guarantee Trust Bank in February 2010 the proceed of which you converted into Great (Britain) Pound Sterling in the sum of 1,516,194.53 GBP and remitted to Fortis Bank SA/NV as full and final of mortgage redemption for undisclosed property you purchased in London and you thereby committed and offence contrary to Section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act…”
The charge also accused Saraki, as governor, of operating a foreign bank account when he “transferred the sum of $73,223.28 from your Guarantee Trust Bank Plc domiciliary account No 441441953210 to the American Express Services Europe Limited No. 730580 for onward credit to your American Express Bank, New York card account No: 374588216836009 and you thereby committee and offence…”
Meanwhile, disagreeing with the tribunal, lawyers representing the ambattled Senate President made up of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Alhaji Mahmoud Magagi, Ahmed Raji and Saka Abimbola Isah on November 5, staged a walk out from the tribunal, in protest over alleged bias. Following the development, sources close to team also hinted of plans to petition the National Judicial Council (NJC) over alleged biased conduct of the tribunal.
The angry lawyers, in company of about 100 others, withdrew their services in the defence of Saraki accusing the tribunal of open bias against the Senate President and displaying what they say is “judicial rascality” in the handling of the case.
-Tony Ailemen, Abuja