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Saraki trial: The drama, the inconsistencies, the intrigues

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

If there is anything that is not lacking in the ongoing trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, it is drama.

From the day Saraki was docked before the tribunal, September 22, 2015, till the last adjourned date, April 21, 2016, it has been one form of drama or the other, with the last episode culminating in the Chairman of the CCT, Justice Danladi Umar, directing armed police men to arrest one of the defence lawyers.

So far, if there is anything that has been consistently inconsistent in the trial, it is the testimony of the star prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas.

Wetkas is a lead investigative officer with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

He was the head of a three-man team the anti-graft agency constituted in 2014 to investigate six separate petitions lodged against Saraki in 2012.

The witness told the tribunal that prominent among the petitions was the one filed by a group under the aegis of Kwara Freedom Network, which, he said, requested for investigation into how Saraki managed funds that accrued to the state under the Universal Basic Education, UBEC, when he held sway as governor between 2003 and 2011.

Though Wetkas, in his evidence-in-chief, insisted that the petitions were filed by valid persons, under cross-examination, he made a u-turn, saying they were filed by “whistle-blowers”.

He said the ‘whistle-blowers’ wrote the petitions to the then Chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, who okayed  investigation into the matter.

Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki during his ongoing trail on false asset declaration at the code of conduct Tribunal in Abuja. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan
Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki during his ongoing trail on false asset declaration at the code of conduct Tribunal in Abuja. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

The PW-1, however, insisted that it does not amount to investigative-malpractice for “intelligence reports” to be produced from petitions by “fictitious persons”.

“Most times, the people that bring this information request that their identities be protected,” he stated.

“Most times when they come, they go to the highest authority to pass this information. What happens is that if we are assigned this task, what we are expected to do is to investigate with a view to finding out the relevance and genuineness of the information.

“In this particular case my Lord, I say this under oath, documents were handed over to my team during the briefing.

“Those documents formed the take-off point for my team to commence the investigation.

“These documents were skeletal. They came with the intelligence report. Some of the documents included the personal accounts details of the defendant, telex transfers as well as reports stored in the system of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU.

“I did not see the intelligence report that led to the investigation but I was briefed.

“The one my team investigated was based on the intelligence and we were also told that there were ongoing investigation by other teams in respect of this same defendant.

“That was why I said that those people that handled other aspects of the investigation will be more competent to tell this court about their findings.

“I did not say we received any petition against the defendant about assets, but I said, in the course of our investigation, we came across assets that were illegally acquired by the defendant, so we teamed up with the Ministry of Justice and the CCB to carry out further investigation.

“I think the investigation in 2006 involved several governors, though I cannot confirm if it involved all the 36 governors”.

In his testimony on April 18, Wetkas told the tribunal that his team never investigated any petition that was lodged against Saraki from Kwara State.

He said it was the prosecution that instructed him to make the statement before the tribunal.

The statement was made one month after the charge was filed.

Whereas the charge was filed on September 14, 2015, the witness made his statement on October 30, 2015, a development that led Saraki’s lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, to query how the statement became part of the proof of evidence before the CCT.

However, Wetkas, who had, in his testimony, alleged how Saraki, who was Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011, continued to collect salary both as governor and  senator, four years after his tenure had elapsed, said he never investigated such petition.

He said his team was only handed “an intelligence report” to investigate Saraki, after which it was discovered that whereas the defendant’s tenure as governor ended on May 29, 2011, he stopped collecting salary on August 31, 2015.

“At the completion of our investigation, I made a statement which is part of the proof of evidence before this court. In the statement, I did not make reference to any petition from Kwara Freedom Network or any other group,” Wetkas stated.

“I however referred to an intelligence report that was received by my team. The statement was just a summary of what I did. It was the prosecutor who said  I should make a statement in this matter”.

Proceedings of the day did not go without drama as Justice Umar, against the passionate plea from both Saraki and over 60 sympathetic senators that accompanied him to the tribunal, ordered day-to-day hearing on the 13-count criminal charge before it.

The order followed the intensified moves by the Senate to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal Act, a bid that  has now been  aborted by adverse public opinion.

The tribunal said it would sit from 10am to 6pm, with a break period between 1pm and 4pm.

At the resumed sitting, Wetkas denied that he investigated the petition that money was missing from either Kwara State coffers or the pension scheme of the state.

“I did not also investigate the pension of the defendant. I was not the one that investigated that aspect.

“I do know that the petition by Kwara Freedom Network was investigated by Team 2 of the Economic Governance Session of the Commission”.

While Agabi maintained that the assets declaration forms his client filled and submitted were duly examined by the CCB, the witness said he never saw such report in the course of their investigation.

The witness said Saraki had, sometimes in February 11, 2010, obtained a loan of N375m from GTB, which, he said, the defendant wired to his pounds sterling account for the acquisition of a property in London.

On April 20, the drama took a twist, as Wetkas, who had  been in the witness box since April 5, told the tribunal that the bulk of evidence linking the defendant to money laundering, an aspect of the ‘intelligence report’ his team investigated, burnt to ashes.

The witness, who made the disclosure while being cross-examined by one of Saraki’s lawyers, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, said the burnt evidence would have provided a detailed analysis of how the defendant transferred funds from his Guarantee Trust Bank, GTB, account to a foreign account he operated with America Express Bank, New York.

Narrating that the directives of the former EFCC Chairman, Lamorde were carried out, the witness said when his team discovered that there were “suspicious fund transfers” involving the defendant, it wrote to GTB, requesting for all the telex  of the transfers.

He told the tribunal that  GTB responded by supplying the Certified True Copy, CTC, of some of the requested documents with evidence of the instructions the defendant gave for the transfer of the funds to the foreign account.

However, Wetkas said the bank provided a police report where it was indicated that most of the requested documents were burnt.

Meantime, the drama continued, last Thursday, as the Chairman of the CCT, Umar, ordered police to arrest one of Saraki’s lawyers.

Umar ordered armed security operatives to whisk the lawyer, Mr. Richard Oluyede, away from the court room after he insisted on moving a motion that sought to disqualify the judge from presiding over Saraki’s trial.

At the resumed hearing, Oluyede, who was not previously part of Saraki’s legal team before the tribunal, stood up and announced his appearance, even as he drew the attention of the CCT panel to the pending application he filed on Wednesday.

At the time the case was called up, none of Saraki’s lead counsel,  Agabi and Usoro, was present in court.

Due to the development, another lawyer in Saraki’s camp, Mr. Adebayo Adelodun, SAN, took over the leadership of the defence team.

However, shortly after Adelodun finished announcing names of other lawyers in the team, Oluyede stood up and attempted to move the motion against Umar.

“My Lord, we have a pending application asking you to excuse yourself from this matter”, Oluyede started.

At that juncture, the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, interjected, contending that Oluyede lacked the locus to move such application.

Jacobs told the court that he confronted  Agabi earlier on Wednesday after Oluyede attempted to serve a copy of the motion on him.

He said  Agabi told him he was not aware of such application.

“Was that not the same motion that was dismissed by the Federal High Court?”, Umar asked.

“Yes my Lord! It was the same frivolous issue this same lawyer raised before the High Court, which Justice Abdul Kafarati accordingly dismissed as grossly lacking in merit. I know that this fresh motion is based on false premise. Even the lead counsel was not aware of it”, Jacobs replied.

The prosecution equally notified the tribunal that, as at the time the said application was brought before the tribunal, Oluyede was not a member of Saraki’s defence team.

Immediately, Oluyede stood up again and insisted that he has a right to be heard by the tribunal.

His action infuriated the CCT Chairman who ordered him to sit down.

“My Lord, I will not sit down! I have a right to be heard by this tribunal!”, Oluyede fired back.

“It is our position that you have too many cloudy relationship with the EFCC, that is why we are asking you to disqualify yourself from this case”, Oluyede bellowed.

Turning his attention to other senior lawyer in Saraki’s team, Umar described Oluyode as a busybody.

While the judge was still speaking, Oluyede, who was on his feet all the while, made another attempt to claim his right to address the tribunal.

At that point, Umar lost his temper.

“I say sit down! I will commit you for contempt for not allowing me to do my duty. Where are the police? Please, take him away from this court room!”, the judge ordered.

Promptly, about five armed police men sandwiched Oluyede and were about to drag him out of the tribunal when the prosecuting counsel, Jacobs, intervened.

“My Lord, please forgive him. I am begging you to temper justice with mercy. I am very sorry on behalf of the defence”, Jacobs pleaded.

Following the plea, Umar allowed Oluyede to remain in the court.

 


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