After two years of legal tussle, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on June 14, persuaded the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, to terminate further hearing on the 18-count amended charge the Federal Government preferred against him. Saraki was docked before the CCT on September 22, 2015, on a 13-count charge and latter re-arraigned on April 28, 2016, on an amended 16-count corruption charge.
Saraki FG subsequently added two more counts to charges against him. Specifically, Saraki was in the charge marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, alleged to have falsely declared his assets, contrary to the constitutionally requirement.
He was accused of deliberately manipulating the assets declaration form that he filed prior to his assumption of office as the Senate President, by making anticipatory declaration of assets, as well as, operated foreign bank account while in office as a public servant.
The offence was said to have been committed while Saraki held sway as a governor. He was also accused of breaching section 2 of the CCB and Tribunal Act, an offence punishable under section 23(2) of the Act and paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
FG, among other offences, alleged that Saraki, claimed that he owned and acquired No 15A and 15B McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos, through his company, Carlisle Properties Limited in 2000, when the said property was actually sold by the Implementation Committee of the Federal Government landed properties in 2006 to his companies, Tiny Tee Limited and Vitti Oil Limited for the aggregate sum of N396, 150, 000, 00. He was alleged to have made false declaration on or about June 3, 2011, by refusing to declare plot 2A Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which he acquired between 2007 and 2008 through his company from the Central Bank of Nigeria for a total sum of N325, 000, 000.
Similarly, Saraki was said to have refused to declare No1 Tagnus street, Maitama, Abuja, which he claimed to have acquired in November 1996 from one David Baba Akawu. Some of his alleged offence while in office as governor, which are said to be punishable under section 15(1) and (2) of the CCB and Tribunal Act, Cap C15, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, were allegedly committed between October 2006 and May 2007. His actions were classified as a gross violation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.
Nevertheless, in a unanimous decision, the two-man-panel tribunal headed by Justice Danladi Umar, held that FG failed to prove essential elements of all the allegations it levelled against Saraki. The tribunal held that oral and documentary evidence that FG adduced before it, were “so much discredited during cross-examination”, saying the proof of evidence was so”manifestly unreliable that no court or tribunal can rely on it to make any conviction”. The panel maintained that all the evidence FG tendered against the defendant lacked probative value and were primarily hearsay in nature.
The tribunal noted that four witnesses FG brought to testify against the defendant, gave contradictory evidence. Specifically, the tribunal Chairman, Justice Umar who gave the lead ruling, stressed that whereas the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, is the institution constitutionally empowered to prosecute allegations against Saraki, it observed that FG however placed much reliance on a report from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which it said was more of intelligence gathering than proper investigation.
Justice Umar said the evidence of third witness, PW-3, Mr. Samuel Madujemu, who is the Head of Investigation and Intelligence Department at the CCB, did not help the case of the prosecution. He observed that Madujemu admitted that contrary to provisions of the law, Saraki was not at any time invited by the CCB to make clarifications on discrepancies that were allegedly found in his assets declaration forms.
Justice Umar said that Madujemu had in his testimony also admitted that averrments he made in an affidavit he deposed in support of the charge against Saraki, were based on information supplied to him by his undisclosed team of investigators. “From the simple analysis of the evidence of the prosecution, we find it difficult to accept the seriousness of the witnesses. All the evidence were so discredited, unreliable that no reasonable court will attach probative value to them.
“In the light of the foregoing, and since essential ingredients of all the charges were not proved as required by law, this tribunal has no other option than to discharge the defendant. “The Honourable tribunal upholds the no-case submission and the defendant is accordingly discharged and acquitted”, Justice Umar held. While concurring with the lead ruling, the second member of the panel, Mr. Williams AtedzeAgwadza, held that FG failed to establish a prima-facie case capable of warranting the tribunal to compel Saraki to enter his defence to the charge against him.
Mr. Agwadza noted that the joint investigative team that probed Saraki’s assets, which comprised of operatives of the EFCC, the CCB and Federal Ministry of Justice was unknown to law as the team had no constitutional or statutory backing, adding that the entire charge was anchored on report of the said team. “Evidence to establish offence must be such that has probative value.
Another fatal error on the part of the complainant was the failure to obtain statement of the defendant”. Besides, Agwadza said that the prosecution failed to call vital witnesses, including the Accountant General of Kwara state to establish the allegation that Saraki received governorship salary while he was already a member of the National Assembly. “My humble conclusion is that the defendant in this case has no case to answer and is accordingly discharged and acquitted.
The Federal Government failed to link the defendant with the commission of offences as charged. Here say evidence is not admissible for purpose of establishing criminal liability. Governorship salary “Another fatal error is that prosecution did not get evidence of the defendant to show fairness.
It will be fundamentally erroneous for the tribunal to call on the defendant to prove his innocence to the charge”, Agwadza added. More so, the tribunal noted that a former head of fund transfer unit at Guarantee Trust Bank, GTB, Mr. NwachukwuAmazu, who was brought to establish how Saraki allegedly laundered funds to offshore accounts, admitted that most of the evidence were consumed by fire. It will be recalled that FG had on May 5, closed its case against Saraki after it called a total of four witnesses and tendered 48 exhibits in support of the amended 18-count charge.
Thereafter, Saraki, through his consortium of lawyers led by a former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, entered a no-case-submission, insisting that FG failed to establish a prima-facie case against him. Meantime, dissatisfied with Saraki’s acquittal, FG, quickly lodged an appeal to challenge the CCT’s verdict.
FG, through its private prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, raised 11 grounds of appeal wherein it faulted all the grounds on which the CCT predicated Saraki’s acquittal. According to FG, “The judgment of the lower tribunal is unwarranted, unreasonable and against the weight of evidence”. FG maintained that the CCT erred in law by upholding Saraki’s no-case submission “when the onus of proof” was on the Senate President to show that there was no infraction in the Code of Conduct Forms.
“By the provisions of paragraphs 11 (2), (3) and (13) of Part 1, 5th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), once the Code of Conduct form filled by the public officer is investigated and found to be false or that some assets are beyond the legitimate income of the public officer or that the assets were acquired by means of corrupt practices, the public officer concerned is deemed to have breached the Code of Conduct and it is for him to show to the tribunal that there is no infraction in the form.”
“The honourable tribunal wrongly placed the onus of proof on the prosecution contrary to paragraphs 11 (2), (3) and (13) of Part 1, 5th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) clearly excluded the presumption of innocence on the allegation of infraction of the Code of Conduct by public officers and the Tribunal wrongly applied the presumption of innocence contrary to the constitutional requirement. “The tribunal’s decision is unconstitutional and without jurisdiction.” Consequently, FG prayed the Court of Appeal in Abuja for; “An order setting aside the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal delivered on June 14, 2017 upholding the no-case submission raised by the respondent (Saraki) at the close of the prosecution’s case. As well as, “an order calling upon the respondent to enter his defence.”
It told the appellate court that the CCT failed to analyse and evaluate the evidence of prosecution witnesses before reaching the conclusion that there was no case made against Saraki. However, Saraki had since dismissed the appeal as a joke, boasting that he will still defeat FG at the appellate court.
Though no date has been fixed for commencement of hearing on the appeal, Nigerians are however following the case with keen interest to see how the entire legal drama will end, probably at the Supreme Court.