By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—THE Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, quashed the entire 3-count criminal charge that was preferred against the erstwhile governor of Lagos state and leader of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu by the federal government.
The former governor was charged to court on allegation that he violated section 7 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap C15 LFN, 2004, as amended, by operating10 foreign accounts whilst he was in office between 1999 and 2007.
In a unanimous ruling of a 3-man panel of justices of the CCT led by its chairman, justice Danladi Yakubu Umar, yesterday, the ex-governor was discharged on the premise that the charge against him was legally defective.
The tribunal not only declined jurisdiction to exercise further jurisdiction in respect of the case, but also accused the federal government of abusing judicial process by dragging the accused person to court without recourse to the rules governing criminal prosecution.
The panel maintained that the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, which recommended the ex-governor for trial, ought to have in-line with the Act that established the CCT, granted the accused person the necessary facilities that would enable him to properly defend himself over the allegations, saying the manner in which the 3-count amended charge was brought before the court amounted to “trial by ambush.”
According to Justice Umar who read the ruling yesterday, “There is condition precedence before this court that the accused person ought to have been invited by the CCB before this charge was filed, though the prosecuting counsel tendered the initial one-count charge dated March 22, which it eventually replaced with an amended charge dated September 19 but filed on the 20th, as an exhibit before this court, it however failed to adduce evidence of invitation it extended to the accused person prior to the charge.
“Consequently, it will be proper for me at this stage to seize further exercise of jurisdiction since the condition precedence was not met before the charge was filed.”
On the contention that the charge amounted to an abuse of judicial process, the panel insisted that the federal government circumvented the rules by serving both the tribunal and the accused person a copy of the amended charge right inside the courtroom.
Justice Umar maintained that the prosecution failed to follow the due process, adding that failure to attach a proof of evidence or an affidavit in support of the charge rendered it legally incompetent.
The court held that the leave it earlier granted to the complainant was in respect of the first charge, which was withdrawn, and not on the amended charge.
“To determine whether prima-facie case has been established, this court has to look at the totality of the proof of evidence before it considering that this is a criminal trial where the liberty of the accused person is at stake.
“An amended charge constitutes a fresh matter altogether and is different from the one the court considered before it issued a summon against the accused person on September 6.
“How can this court hold that a proper case has been meted against an accused when there is no proof of evidence before this court? Having looked at the amended charge, there is no reason for this tribunal to proceed with this case. I am of the opinion that the federal government did not follow the proper procedure. It should have submitted copies of the said amended charge to the tribunal for analysis.
“That would have helped us to determine if a prima-facie case has been established or not. The charge here is an abuse, this court has no option than to dismiss it, and it is hereby dismissed”, the tribunal held.
On the substance of the charge itself, the tribunal, noted that the foreign bank accounts the federal government said was operated by the former governor while he was in office, were not opened in his name, stressing that there was nowhere in the charge that he was accused of operating foreign accounts by proxy or through a trustee or an agent.
“I therefore hold that this tribunal has no jurisdiction to try the accused person on the basis of the amended charge and it is hereby quashed and the accused discharged.
Nevertheless, the tribunal dismissed as irrelevant and frivolous, the contention of the former governor that he ought to have been tried in Lagos state rather than in Abuja, saying the jurisdiction of the CCT is nationwide and not territorially confined.
Meanwhile, the federal government yesterday requested for a certified true copy of the ruling, even as it has vowed to test its validity at the Court of Appeal.
A chief prosecutor from the federal ministry of justice, Mr Ismaila Abas Rimi, who made the disclosure immediately the ruling was delivered yesterday, said the complainant was sure the accused person still have a case to answer.
Among those in court yesterday were the governors of Lagos and Osun states, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN and Rauf Aregbesola, as well as serving lawmakers under the platform of the ACN.
It would be recalled that the former governor had at the last adjourned date, October 26, declined to either mount the dock or enter his plea to the charge, arguing that he should have been tried in Lagos state where he allegedly committed the said offence.
Arguing through his lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Tinubu had told the tribunal that while he was a governor, “some forms for declaration of assets were brought to him from the Code of Conduct Bureau, at its office in Lagos. The said forms were filled, completed and deposed to at the High Court of Lagos Registry and same duly returned to the CCB in Lagos”, stressing that he did not have any personal dealing with the CCB in Abuja.
Besides, the ex-governor through his team of lawyers comprising of over 15 Senior Advocates of Nigeria, maintained that he “is being accused and/or charged before a Tribunal which is not known to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (as amended).
Referral of complaints
According to him, “the mandatory conditions precedent for the referral of complaints by the CCB to the CCT and the subsequent exercise of jurisdiction by the said Tribunal, have not been complied with.
“The amended charge is an abuse of court/judicial process, as an earlier charge with No: CCT/NC/ABJ/02/07, dated 5th March, 2007, containing similar particulars like this present one, is still pending.
“The counts contained in the amended charge are vague, ambiguous, unspecific and nebulous. The charge does not link the applicant to the commission of any offence. The counts do not disclose any prima facie case against the applicant.”
Relying on the provisions of sections 36(6) (a) (b), 36(12) and paragraph 15 of the Fifth schedule of the 1999 constitution, section 3 and paragraph 1 of the Third schedule of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Tinubu beseeched the tribunal for an order quashing and/or striking out the 3-count charge dated September 19 but filed against him the next day.
He listed 10 grounds and attached four exhibits that should be considered by the panel in granting him the reliefs.
However, the federal government vehemently opposed his application, insisting that he must face trial in Abuja.
The prosecuting counsel, Dr Alex Iziyon, SAN, who tendered two exhibits in support of a counter-affidavit he filed in opposition to the suit, said the CCT has the requisite jurisdiction to prosecute the former governor over the charges pending before the court.
According to FG, “the offices of the Code of Conduct Bureau established in the states of the federation are for administrative convenience and do not affect the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
“The accused person/ applicant in this present charge is not protected by the provision of section 308 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 199 as he is not occupying the office of Governor presently.
“The accused/applicant knows the case against him and knows how to prepare his defence as he has been aware of same since 2007 when the earlier charge was filed.
“He knows as a fact that this honourable tribunal is one of summary jurisdiction. The CCB invited the accused/ applicant severally regarding the complaint leading to this charge but the accused refused to appear and was evasive.
“The counts disclosed in the charge clearly disclose a prima facie case against the applicant, this application is frivolous and should be dismissed”, it added.
In the meantime, the embattled ex-governor yesterday described the ruling of the tribunal as a victory for democracy, saying the verdict has further re-affirmed the position of the judiciary as the bastion of hope for the common man.
Lagos ACN Lauds Code of Conduct Tribunal Verdict on Tinubu.
The Lagos State chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria has applauded the Code of Conduct Tribunal for dismissing the charges brought up against the National Leader of the ACN, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The party says that by that ruling, the tribunal has demonstrated that justice is still obtainable even in an atmosphere of petty politics and funny contrivances.
In a release in Lagos , signed by the Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the ACN, Joe Igbokwe, the party said the court ruling was a vindication of its National Leader whose fault is that he is seen as a threat to PDP’s desire to hold the country hostage till eternity. The party said that the ACN will remain undaunted in its mission to end the bad rule of the PDP despite the scheming of the party.
“We are gladdened that the Code of Conduct Tribunal has dispensed justice without fear or favour in this frivolous case, meant to slow down the desire to do away with the misrule of the PDP. We see this as a reinvigoration of that desire and state that nothing will stop our great party from its determination to replace the PDP, which has led the rapid degradation of governance in a well endowed country as Nigeria .
“By dismissing this frivolous case, nurtured and cooked in the chambers of vindictive and petty politics, the Code of Conduct Tribunal has shown a desire not to be employed as a hatchet to prosecute the selfish partisan battles of the PDP, we are happy that the tribunal is showing that signal at a crucial stage of our national life when the nation longs for a fresh air from 13 years of unmitigated misrule. We salute the courage of the members of the tribunal and we state that by this ruling, the tribunal has shown the way on an impartial approach to issues.
“We congratulate the National Leader of our great party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for his latest victory, which is just one out of the strings of victories that he has recorded against those that hold Nigeria by the jugular. We salute his raw courage and audacity to lead the time honoured quest to rescue Nigeria from the hands of rapacious political predators that want to keep Nigeria hostage till eternity. We want him to see this as just the beginning of the battle for the soul of Nigeria , as we pledge our unalloyed support to him.”
Also reacting to the development, former Senator Omololu Meroyi a chieftain of the ACN in Ondo State described it as a vindication of the fact that the judiciary in Nigeria is still alive to its responsibility.
“This is a clear case that the judiciary in this country is alive to its responsibility. We must have only one set of laws for everybody in this country, we cannot have two sets of laws one for some and another for others and I am happy that with this that there is still hope for the common man in this country,” Meroyi said yesterday as he congratulated Tinubu over the victory.