By Clifford Ndujihe, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Olayinka Ajayi
…declines to quash charge against Saraki
ABUJA — The Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, declined to quash the 13-count charge preferred against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, by the Federal Government.
The CCT said both the law that established it and the 1999 constitution, as amended, conferred it with the jurisdiction to hear and determine the case against the defendant.
This came as legal luminaries, including retired and serving Supreme Court justices, picked holes in the trial, stressing that the CCT had no judicial powers to try criminal matters.
The erudite lawyers, who insisted that the CCT was flouting provisions of the 1999 Constitution in the manner it had handled the trial so far, included former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Salisu Alfa Belgore; Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN; former Supreme Justice, Justice Samson Uwaifo; Justice George Oguntade; Justice Nnoruka Udechukwu; Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN; Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN and Chief Solomon Asemota, SAN, among others.
They spoke at the inaugural Constitutional Law Conference of the Ben Nwabueze Centre in Lagos. The conference was themed: “The code of conduct enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria and its crucial importance in the fight against corruption.”
Also present at the conference were serving Supreme Court Justice, Justice Bode Rhodes Virour, Chief Ziggy Azike, Mr Michael Orobator, Brig-General G.O Adesina, who represented the Chief of Army Staff, Mr Emeka Ugwu-Oju and Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mosediq Adeniji Kazeem.
CCT has powers to handle code of conduct breach —Umar
Relying on the decided case-law in FRN vs Atiku Abubakar, 2007, 8-NWLR, the tribunal said it was vested with the powers to handle allegations bordering on breach of code of conduct by public officers.
However, Justice Umar admitted that the tribunal took an erroneous decision in a similar case that involved the former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Ahmed Bola Tinubu.
He said: “The tribunal has since realised that the decision it made on the case between FRN vs Tinubu was in error and has clearly departed from it.”
On Saraki’s contention that the Federal Government waited for over 13 years before instituting the charge against him, the CCT held that there was no time frame for the prosecution of a criminal offence.
Justice Umar said: “It is not out of place for the prosecution to charge the defendant now. The application to quash the charge is hereby refused. The tribunal hereby re-enforce its jurisdiction in line with the constitution and Section 3(d) of the CCB and Tribunal Act.
“Accordingly, the prosecution is hereby ordered to produce its witnesses for the trial of the defendant to commence immediately.”
However, by consensus of both the prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, and Saraki’s lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, the tribunal subsequently adjourned the matter till April 6.
Uwaifo, Ozekhome, Nnoruka, others fault CCT chairman
However, the leading lawyers, who said their disagreement with the CCT’s moves so far did not mean they were against President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft war, noted that all they wanted was for the war to be waged within the rule of law.
Delivering his paper, Justice Uwaifo cited relevant authorities and said that the CCT was not right in refusing to grant Saraki’s request for stay of proceedings in the case; the presence or bias or likelihood of it and lack of impartiality on the part of the CCT chairman, who is facing bribery allegations could vitiate the proceedings of the tribunal.
Citing Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, he said “the Code of Conduct tribubal cannot come into focus under criminal justice administration, not being a court in any sense. It follows as well that the tribunal could not rely on the Administration of Criminal Justice Act to refuse to grant stay of proceedings.”
Also speaking, Justice Nnoruka said the CCT was not a court and did not enjoy the status of a court as provided in the constitution.
According to him, the CCT does not have judicial power and so any judicial activity it undertakes is null and void.
Agbakoba concurred with Uwaifo, saying the CCT was not one of the judicial bodies enshrined in the constitution as such does not have jurisdiction to trial criminal matters.
EmekaNgige said the National Judicial Council, NJC, should have called the CCT chairman to order when he started going beyond his bounds because he is not a judge.
Saraki’s trial’ll test our judiciary, democracy —CLO
Lending its voice to the issue, the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, said the outcome of the Saraki trial will determine the faith of Nigerians in the judiciary and democracy.
In a statement, President of the organisation, Igho Akeregha, warned that the courts must not allow the hallowed chambers to be used by politicians to settle scores but ensure that justice was not only done but also seen to have been done.
He said: “The CLO, therefore, urges the CCT, handling this case, to be fair and upright in its adjudication by not giving in to any form of intimidation, inducement or harassment. Anything to the contrary poses a grave danger to the judiciary and the nation’s democracy.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the CLO believes and supports the drive to combat corruption in all its ramifications from our polity but we recognise that there are imperfections that have increasingly come to the fore as a result of its prosecution. It is our, duty as one of the gatekeepers of democracy in Nigeria, to ensure that the processes of governance are not distorted by Dr Saraki.
“We make haste therefore, to applaud this administration for its courage in bringing to the courts one of its principal actors, the President of the Senate. We acknowledge that this is part of the administration’s effort in stamping out corruption and all its vestiges from our national life.”