By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja has ordered a day-to-day hearing on the 13-count criminal charge pending against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
Justice Danladi Umar who made the order shortly before he stood down the matter for hearing by 12noon today, based the decision on provisions of sections 376 and 315 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015.
“Let me state it here for both the prosecution and the defence that the trial of the defendant shall proceed on a day-to-day basis till the conclusion of this matter and it will begin from 10am to 6pm”, Justice Umar held.
However, the Judge said the court would on each day of the trial, go on break at 1pm and 4pm.
Meanwhile, the case was stood-down following the absence of the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, who was said to be handling another matter at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.
Consequently, a lawyer that held brief for Jacobs, Mr. Gabriel Esegina, begged the court for an hour stand-down to enable his principal to personally conduct the trial.
Even though the CCT Chairman initially rejected the application, he eventually succumbed to pressure from both Esegina and Saraki’s lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN.
“My lord I want to beg that you accede to the prosecution’s request for a stand-down. I understand their application even though they never understood mine”, Agabi jokingly added.
Remarkably, the day-to-day trial order is coming on the heels of an intensified bid by the Senate to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal Act, a move that has continued to elicit negative reactions from different quarters.
Meantime, protesters, this morning, besieged the road leading to the CCT premises, chanting solidarity songs for the Senate President.
The protesters who were mainly youths, brandished several placards, among which read “Leave Saraki Alone”, “Say No To Political Witch-hunt”, “Who Is Afraid Of Saraki?”, among several other inscriptions.
The protesters were however barred from gaining access to the CCT by armed security men.
It will be recalled that FG had on April 6, called its first witness before the CCT to testify against Saraki, even as it tendered 17 sets of evidence against him.
The star witness, Mr. Micheal Wetkass who is a Detective Superintendent with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in his evidence-in-chief, told the tribunal that Saraki collected salaries as the governor of Kwara State, four years after his tenure had elapsed.
He said investigation by the anti-graft agency revealed that whereas Saraki’s tenure as governor of the state ended on May 29, 2011, he stopped collecting salary on August 31, 2015.
Mr. Wetkass was the head of a three-man crack team that investigated six separate petitions that culminated to the 13-count criminal charge the Senate President is facing before the CCT.
The charge preferred against Saraki by the federal government borders on false/anticipatory declaration of assets, operation of foreign bank accounts while in office as governor and allegation that he acquired wealth beyond his legitimate earnings.
More details soon.