By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has failed to persuade the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja to suspend further hearing on the 16-count charge the Federal Government preferred against him.
Saraki equally lost his bid to disqualify Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar, from further presiding over the case.
In a ruling on Wednesday, the two-man panel tribunal dismissed the fresh application Saraki filed through his team of lawyers led by a former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, as an abuse of judicial process.
Justice Umar who read the ruling, noted that Saraki had earlier filed a similar application which was dismissed on April 28.
Specifically, Saraki had in his fresh application, urged Justice Umar to hands-off his trial, accusing him of bias.
His lawyers contended that remarks the judge made in the open court clearly portrayed his prejudice against the defendant, saying they were no longer confident in ability of the panel as presently constituted, to accord fair hearing to their client.
According to them, Justice Umar, had in the course of the proceeding, threatened to ensure that Saraki was made to face the full consequences of the charge, no matter whatever delay tactics he chose to employ in the course of the trial.
Saraki’s lawyers maintained that the statement eroded the confidence they had in the ability of Justice Umar to determine the case objectively.
Consequently, they asked the CCT chairman to not only step aside, but to also halt further proceeding on the matter, pending the constitution of a new panel for the tribunal.
The application was vehemently opposed by the federal government, which through its lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, sought its dismissal.
In its ruling, the Justice Umar-led panel held that Saraki’s allegations were founded on “mere conjectures and alleged sensational statements that have not been verified”.
The panel held that the defendant has enough avenues to ventilate his grievances against Justice Umar.
“It is not for the defendant to ask the Chairman to disqualify himself which is tantamount to terminating further hearing of the case.
“The CCT is the only court that is constitutionally empowered to hear the charge brought against the defendant. The Chairman is the tribunal, without the Chairman the tribunal will collapse.
“The Chairman can be disqualified but such action must be based on overwhelming evidence and not by mere conjecture or a frivolous application.
“For the allegation to succeed, the accused must establish his allegation.
“Allegation of bias is a very serious attack on integrity of a judge. For such allegation to succeed it must be supported by concrete evidence”, Justice Umar held.
He berated Saraki for raising allegations he said was capable of destroying public confidence in the judiciary, adding that whatever comment he made in the course of the trial was without prejudice.
“We will certainly give account of our deeds to God on the resurrection day. We must therefore be fair and just in anything we do on earth”, Umar added.
Meanwhile, the tribunal has fixed November 7 for continuation of the trial.
FG had in the charge before the tribunal, alleged that Saraki made false/anticipatory declaration of assets, operated foreign accounts while in office as Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011, as well as collected governorship salary four years after his tenure had elapsed.
It had on April 6, opened its case by calling its first witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas, a detective with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to testify before the tribunal.
Wetkas was the head of a three-man crack team the anti-graft agency constituted in 2014 to investigate six separate petitions against Saraki.
Meantime, the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal will on Thursday, commence hearing on Saraki’s appeal.
Saraki had gone before the appellate court to query the legal propriety of the criminal charge pending against him before the CCT.
The appellate court panel headed by Justice Abdul Aboki had earlier asked Saraki to respond to FG’s motion for the appeal to be struck out.