By Clifford Ndujihe, Henry Umoru, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA – President Muhammadu Buhari has dissociated himself from the current travails of Senate President Bukola Saraki in the hands of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over a 13-count criminal charge preferred against Saraki on account of alleged false declaration of assets, saying the courts have a duty to perform.
This came as Abuja, the nation’s capital city hosts a web of high-wire intrigues and three-fold legal fisticuffs over the issue today.
Meantime, Saraki returned to Abuja after a short trip to Ilorin, the Kwara State Capital. Saraki and a host of senators were said to be meeting in Abuja, last night over the issue. Details of the strategic meeting were not available at press time.
Also, members of Senate Unity Forum, SUF, an anti-Saraki group in the Senate were, yesterday, engaged in a marathon meeting. It was gathered that the senators who met in Abuja in an undisclosed venue, were said to have gathered to strategize ahead of the resumption of the Senate.
According to a source, the meeting was a follow up to the one held by senators loyal to Saraki, weekend.
Leave Buhari out of Saraki’s trial-Presidency
While saying that it will not tolerate claims linking President Buhari to the matter, the presidency added that the speculation that CCB and CCT only act on external influence was unfounded.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu said: “There is no place in law that the Bureau and the tribunal should take instructions from any quarters.”
According to him, “as an independent institution equal to any superior court of record, the tribunal is set up by the constitution to determine the issue of default, false declaration or forgery in assets declaration.”
Shehu said that the matter was purely a judicial process and had nothing to do with the presidency. He advised the affected parties to also use the courts to acquit themselves of the allegations.
According to Shehu, the president cannot interfere with the judicial process by stopping the Judge. He reiterated President Buhari’s avowed commitment to the fight against corruption no matter whose ox is gored, saying that the President has sworn to protect the constitution.
“If anyone has an axe to grind with what they are doing, they should do it in a judicial manner by challenging those actions in a proper court of law. Let them hire a good team of lawyers to prove their innocence.
“Government has no desire to persecute anybody. The President has vowed to respect the rule of law and this is what he is doing by staying out of this matter. He has said times without number that the war against corruption has no sacred cows. Even if the President wants to help, there is no way he can do anything. Is he going to ask the judge to stop the trial?
“It is purely a judicial process, the type of which are routinely dealt with by the CCB and the CCT. There are many cases like this that are going on. The President has sworn to an oath to protect the constitution and will not violate that oath”, Shehu said.
Three-fold legal fisticuffs
One leg of the triangular legal battles will be at the CCT, where Justice Danladi Umar will be expecting the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase and other security agencies to produce Saraki for arraignment. Saraki refused to appear before the CCT on Friday and sent his team of lawyers led by former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. J.B Daudu (SAN) to file a memorandum of conditional appearance on his behalf. Justice Umar in issuing a bench warrant said that having sworn to protect the constitution Saraki should have shown respect to the tribunal and appeared.
The second leg will be at the Federal High Court Abuja, where Justice Ahmed Mohammed is also expecting the Ministry of Justice, the chairmen of the CCT (Justice Umar) and the CCB, Mr. Sam Saba over the charge against Saraki. Justice Mohammed had on Thursday summoned the trio to appear before him today after hearing Dr. Saraki’s ex-parte application.
And the third front is at the Court of Appeal where Saraki has gone to challenge the powers of the CCT to try him as well as the refusal of the tribunal to discharge the bench warrant for his arrest, adding that the CCT acted without jurisdiction by assuming jurisdiction over a charge that is being challenged at the Federal High Court.
Saraki returns to Abuja
Meanwhile, Saraki’s Spokesman, Mr Yusuph Olaniyonu, yesterday, dismissed as false, reports that Saraki was hiding. He said in a telephone chat: “No. we are just arriving Abuja from Ilorin. Why will he leave Nigeria? For what? We are in Abuja. At least you know where he lives, you can come and have dinner with him.”
Asked if the Senate President will appear before the CCT, he said: “I can’t answer that question. It is a legal matter, only his lawyer will answer but you know there are three angles to the matter. You have the Federal High Court, CCT and Court of Appeal.”
Saraki may appear before high court
A source close to the Senate President who spoke to Vanguard on grounds of anonymity, yesterday, stressed that Saraki would not be comfortable to appear before the CCT today, “having regards to the hurried way the Justice Danladi Umar-led panel issued a bench warrant against him on Friday based on a mere oral application”.
However, the source, who is part of Saraki’s legal team, but not authorised to speak on his behalf, said his client would rather prefer to appear before Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja who is presiding over the suit seeking to halt the proceeding of the CCT.
Justice Mohammed had on Thursday adjourned till today to hear Saraki’s suit against both the tribunal, the CCB, the Ministry of Justice and the deputy director in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. M.S. Hassan, who signed the charge against the Senate President.
“You will recall that whereas the CCT commenced its sitting on Friday, the same day it hurriedly issued a bench warrant against the Senate President, Justice Mohammed of the Federal High Court had earlier on Thursday delivered a ruling that ought to have put the proceeding of the CCT in abeyance.
“Justice Mohammed was categorical when he summoned the Chairmen of both the CCT and the Code of Conduct Bureau to appear before him today to show cause. When you are asked to come and show cause, it means that you should come and adduce reasons why you should be allowed to proceed with a planned action.
“The record before the Federal High Court which is a superior court to the CCT shows that the subject matter of the ex-parte motion marked FHC/ABJ/CS/775/15, bothers on the legal propriety of the proceeding before the tribunal.
“If a court of competent jurisdiction had asked you to come and show cause why you should be allowed to do a specific thing, and you are notified about the ruling of the court, yet you go ahead to do exactly the same thing the plaintiff is trying to prevent, does that not in itself epitomise lack of respect for a constituted authority?”
Meantime, effort to reach Saraki’s lead counsel, Mr. Daudu, SAN, yesterday, proved abortive. Similarly, repeated calls to the phone line of Mr. Mahmud Magaji, SAN, who also represented the Senate President at the tribunal on Friday, were not answered.
Some senators loyal to Senate President Saraki have decried Saraki’s travails, saying that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC was drifting Nigeria into a state of anarchy.
Commenting on the development, Senator Sonni Ogbuoji, PDP, Ebonyi South noted that the current travail of the President of the Senate was an indication that the APC has no programme of governance for the country but to use state apparatus to witch-hunt perceived political enemies, adding that the CCT was treating Nigeria to a “new form of Constitution”, whereby a deputy director instead of the Attorney-General of the Federation was the one that took Saraki to court.
Describing Saraki’s treatment as politically motivated, Senator Ogbuoji noted that those behind the saga were not fighting for the growth of democracy, but for their selfish interest, which he said was to the detriment of the country.
When asked whether he would advise the President of the Senate to resign in view of the dimension his opponents had taken to fight him, Senator Ogbuoji, who noted that there was no basis for anyone to demand for Saraki’s resignation, stressed that even if Saraki was eventually arrested and arraigned before the court, it would not remove him from his seat as the President of the Senate, adding that such would only be seen as a judicial process.
Also speaking, Senator Joshua Dariye (PDP, Plateau Central) who warned that the unfolding scenario was not a good development, however, suggested that the best way to handle the matter was for the warring factions to go for dialogue and resolve their differences, since the recent action against Saraki was still a fallout of the outcome of the formation of the leadership of the 8th Senate.
He said: “It is not a good development. Dialogue is the key to any success; so let them go into dialogue and settle their differences.”
Anti-Saraki senators meet
A source told Vanguard that members of the SUF, the group of Senators who are in support of the position of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the leadership of the Senate have continued their consultations in readiness for the fallout of the CCT trial of Saraki.
It was gathered that the SUF has decided to lie low and allow the ongoing trial get to a head, as they continue the consultations behind the scene. A source said that the senators cannot say for certainty what would happen during the week, but many of them were said to be banking on the government “handling the assignment for them.”
The SUF Senators: Abu Ibrahim, Kabiru Marafa, Ajayi Borofice, Olugbenga Ashafa, Suleiman Hunkuyi, Banabas Gemade, Ahmed Lawan and George Akume among others came up to support Senator Ahmed Lawan during the fight for the position of Senate Presidency, which Saraki won.
As members of SUF are consulting, Saraki’s supporters, mostly of the Like Minds Senators (LMS) were also moving to consolidate the Senate President’s hold on the red chamber.
According to a source, one of the forces against Saraki was pushing for an “Obasanjo option,” which would be to pull through the planned arrest and detention of the Senate President irrespective of the CCT order on the issue.
Those behind this agenda are claiming that the CCT is not lower than the High Court and that its orders can only be referred to the Court of Appeal.
It was also gathered that the position of this camp is that the CCT could be made to get Saraki “out of the way” while the issue of control of the Senate would be sorted out on resumption.
Others are, however, expressing caution that the “Obasanjo option” could look drastic and reduce the government’s democratic credentials, especially as the government is still trying to get off the fallout of the invasion of Akwa-Ibom Government House.
The source said: “The noise by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is also unsettling the plans. If the nation had remained quiet as it was before now, the authorities can go all out after the Senate President under the guise of fighting corruption,” a source close to the party said, adding that the two divides in the APC camp are weighing the best option going forward.
It was also gathered that loyalists of the Senate President have decided to hold a Unity meeting of all Senators on September 28, a day before the 29th resumption date.
CCB member faults trial
Meanwhile, there was a new dimension to the case against Saraki, yesterday, as a member of the CCB said that the entire trial was needless and in contradiction with the process stipulated in the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
The member of the Bureau noted that the Section of the Act was not complied with before the Senate President was charged before the tribunal, adding, “If it had been complied with, the man will probably not even need to get to court at all, even if he committed all we are charging him with. Once he admits the inconsistency and regularise them”.
According to the member who spoke on condition of anonymity said if the Bureau had followed the provision of Section 3(d) of its own law, it will not rush to trial, but invite Saraki to come and defend whatever inconsistency or infraction that may have been discovered in his asset declarations, adding that the normal procedure according to Section 3(d) of the Act was that the Bureau should set up a committee to determine whether an infraction has been committed by any public officer after submitting his/her asset declaration forms.
Section 3(d) of the CCB Act states that: “The functions of the Bureau shall be ….to receive complaints about non-compliance with or breach of this Act and where the Bureau considers it necessary to do so, refer such complaints to the Code of Conduct Tribunal established by Section 20 of this Act in accordance with Section 20 to 25 of this Act.
“Provided that where the person concerned makes a written admission of such breach or non-compliance, no reference to the Tribunal shall be necessary.”
The source recalled that it is this same refusal to follow procedure stipulated in his own law that led to the collapse of the case filed by the Bureau against Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in 2011, adding that members who observed this anomaly were dissatisfied with the unilateral action of the CCB chairman, Mr. Sam Saba who did not consult with other members before referring the matter to the tribunal.
Meanwhile, Senators have kept mum since the matter came up, even as the Chairman, Ad- hoc Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West has failed to issue an official statement from the Senate, even as Senators called to speak vehemently refused to make comments.
There are also strong indications that Senate President Bukola Saraki may not honour the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Solomon Arase should arrest and produce him in Court today.
Though, Senate President Saraki was said not to be in town, but when Vanguard contacted his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, he said the Senate President was in town.
Don’t be influenced IEDPU urges CCB
The Ilorin Emirate Descendant Progressive Union (IEDPU) has described Senate President Saraki’s current travails at the CCT as politically-motivated.
The union therefore cautioned the CCB against being used to achieve political gains, adding that the board should do its job devoid of external interference.
National President of IEDPU, Alhaji Abdulhamid Adi wondered why CCB failed to raise any issue concerning the Senate President’s asset declaration forms since 2003.
Alhaji Adi added that the 12 years interval to unearth the alleged issue by the CCB and the way the CCT is handling the issue is suspicious.
“I see it more or less as political persecution. It is purely political. Maybe there are some political opponents that are trying to get at him,” he said.
MEF begs NU, MBF to intervene
Also Group known as ‘Maja Elders Forum’ (MEF) has urged President Buhari to intervene.
In a statement, MEF Coordinator, Alhaji Kayode Yusuf, appealed to the Northern Union (NU) and Middle Belt Forum (MBF), the two bodies, Saraki’s biological father Olusola Saraki had brought into prominence in the nation’s socio -political landscape, to meddle in the “persecution of Bukola Saraki’s family.”
The statement which was entitled: ‘Save Bukola Saraki’s Life: a Passionate Appeal to President Buhari,’ the group believed that the recent invitation of Saraki’s wife Oluwatoyin by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and his attempted prosecution by the CCT might not be unconnected with the rising political profile of the former Governor of Kwara state.