By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, has fixed Thursday, March 24, to determine the merit of the application seeking to stop it from commencing hearing on the 13-count criminal charge pending against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
Saraki through his lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, argued that he was never accorded the opportunity to clarify the alleged discrepancies that were discovered in four assets declaration forms he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, while he was in office as the governor of Kwara State.
He said the laws that established the CCB stipulated that any one perceived to have falsely declared his assets, must be summoned to give explanations.
“The defendant was never afforded such opportunity, not even a chance to kneel down and apologise”, Agabi submitted.
Saraki who was among other things, accused of declaring false assets, through his lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, challenged the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation to initiate the charge against him.
In urging the tribunal to hand-off the case, Saraki, who stormed the tribunal with 80 lawyers and over 60 Senators, insisted that his trial was politically motivated.
He contended that all the allegations against him were brought before the CCT in bad-faith, saying his trial was not in public interest.
Saraki argued that the AGF did not fulfil all the condition precedents capable of conferring jurisdiction on the tribunal to try him.
Consequently, he applied for the charge to be quashed and for the tribunal to discharge him.
Agabi insisted that his client was not granted fair hearing, saying the instant application was totally different from what was earlier decided by the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the prosecution, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, asked the tribunal to dismiss the application which he said was only aimed at scuttling the trial of the defendant.
Jacobs relied on sections 220, 221 and 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, and argued that the law provided that such applications must be considered along with the substantive case, and ruling delivered at the end of the trial.
“It is unfortunate that the defendant is making every effort to turn this trial to child’s play. His argument before was that there was no Attorney General of the Federation when the charge was filed, now that there is an AGF he had turned round to argue that the AGF has no power to file charge against him.
“It is our position that this application has no merit whatsoever, and same should be dismissed with substantial cost”, Jacobs added.
The prosecution equally faulted the defence lawyer for citing the provision of 1979 constitution, which he said had gone obsolete with the enactment of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
The two-panel tribunal headed by Justice Danladi Umar, adjourned for ruling after it entertained arguments from the federal government which is prosecuting the case, and Saraki’s lawyer.
Meanwhile, Justice Umar, noted that in view of the fact that the application borders on the issue of jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the matter, he said there was need to determine its merit first.
Saraki who was a two-term governor of Kwara State between May 2003 and May 2011, was in the charge before the CCT, marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, 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.
Aside allegation that he falsely declared his assets, as well as, made anticipatory declaration of assets,Saraki, was also alleged to have operated foreign bank accounts while in office as a public officer. He was alleged to have acquired assets beyond his legitimate earnings.
FG, among other offences, alleged that Sarakiclaimed that he owned and acquired No 15A and 15B Mc Donald, 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, 00.
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.
Saraki had on September 22, 2015, pleaded not guilty to the charge which he said was grossly incompetent and ought to be quashed.