By Tope Ajayi
The Senate President Bukola Saraki case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal may end up becoming the most controversial case in the history of our nation. At every point, new twists and turns come up. Last week, we saw how the defence team filed an application accusing the Tribunal Chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, of bias and calling on him to recuse himself from the case. The motion was predicated on a 2012 case of bribery involving Umar and his Personal Assistant, Gambo Abdullahi.
The Tribunal Chairman was alleged to have demanded a bribe of N10 million from a defendant who had a case before him. The complainant, Mr. Rasheed Taiwo, a retired Deputy Comptroller General of Customs, was said to have paid N1.8 million to Umar through the Personal Assistant, Abdullahi. Umar has been on administrative bail granted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) since then.
It was on this basis that Saraki’s lawyers filed a motion, last week, asking Umar to recuse himself from the Saraki case because of his relationship with the EFCC, which renders him vulnerable to manipulation by the agency, especially given that the preponderance of the evidence being used in the prosecution of the Senate President and the principal witness are supplied by the EFCC. And the commission is the one prosecuting the Saraki case.
However, on the day Saraki’s lawyer, Ajibola Oluyede, filed the motion against the Tribunal Chairman, Umar rushed to the EFCC and a 2015 report signed by a former Chairman of the agency, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, was allegedly repackaged and issued as a certificate of clearance to him. The letter was originally written to the then Secretary to Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim. The report, dated March 5, 2015, was titled, Re-N10 Million Bribery Allegation Against Chairman, Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja, and has a file no EFCC/EC/SGF/03/56. In the report, the Commission stated as follows :
“We refer to your letter ref. No. SGF.19./S.24/11/451, dated 23rd February 2015, on the above mentioned case reported by one Mr. Rasheed Taiwo (DCG retd) against the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar, and his Personal Assistant, one Gambo Abdullahi.
“The complainant, who is facing charges at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, alleged that Umar made direct demand for N10 million to quash the charges sometime in 2012. He disclosed that he was compelled to pay N1.8 million after persistent inundation with phone calls from Umar, who received the bribe through the Zenith Bank account of one Ali Gambo Abdullahi, his personal Assistant, in December, 2012.
“Investigation was extended to one Hon. Justice G.A Oguntade (retd), who confirmed that the complainant informed him in 2012 of the issues he had at the tribunal and the demand being made by Umar. He disclosed that Umar denied the allegation when he called him.
“There are indications that the Tribunal Chairman might have demanded and collected money from the complainant through his said Personal Assistant.
“However, efforts made to recover the telephone handset used by Umar proved abortive, as he claimed that he lost the telephone in 2012. This has made it impossible to subject it to independent scientific analysis with a view to corroborating the allegation.
“In the same vein, the complainant could also not make available his telephone set for analysis on the grounds that he had lost it. Umar also admitted that he met privately with the complainant in his chamber at the tribunal. This is a most unethical and highly suspicious conduct on his part.
“There is a prima facie evidence to however prosecute the Personal Assistant, Abdullahi, who could offer no coherent excuse for receiving N1.8million into his salary account from Taiwo, who is an accused person standing trial at the tribunal.
“The full money has been recovered from him in May 2014 and aptly registered as exhibit. The fact that he made two contradictory statements on the reason he was paid the money is clearly an attempt to cover up on the reason the money was paid to him. He has accordingly been charged to court in charge no. CR/137/2015 pending at the High Court of FCT, Abuja.
“However the facts as they are now against Umar raised a mere suspicion and will therefore not be sufficient to successfully prosecute him for the offence” .This was the letter that was re-validated on the day Saraki’s lawyer filed the motion calling on Umar to recuse himself from the case. What EFCC simply did was to write a new cover letter to the same 2015 letter and forwarded it to the current SGF. The new letter, signed by Emmanuel Adegboyega Aremo, Secretary to the Commission, was titled, ‘RE: Investigation Report RE: N10million Bribery Allegation against the Chairman Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja’, and has a reference NO: EFCC/P/NHRU/688/V.30/99, dated 20th April, 2016. It reads:“We would like to reiterate the Commission’s position in regard to this matter as earlier communicated to you and stated that the allegations leveled against Justice Umar were mere suspicion and consequently insufficient to successfully prosecute the offence.”
These are the letters Umar was eagerly flashing in the tribunal on the morning that Saraki’s lawyer proposed to move his motion. However, the letters raised many questions. We did the EFCC consider it compelling to issue this ‘clearance’ to Umar at this time, and on the same day that a motion was filed on the issue? Can the EFCC, which was simply instructed by the Office of the Attorney General to investigate a case, issue a clearance? Does the assignment given to the Commission not terminate at the point where it submitted its report to the Attorney General?
Is the decision to prosecute or not, not that of the Attorney General? Can the EFCC clearance override the recommendation of the AG to then President Jonathan that, based on the suspicion and the admission of ‘unethical conduct’ established against Umar by the anti-graft agency, he is no longer fit to sit as Chairman of the CCT? Is it not trite law that any cloud of reasonable suspicion of a judge invariably put to question the integrity of his court? And, quite significantly, how many suspects referred to the EFCC for investigation have been issued this type of curious clearance? Does this action of the Commission not justify the belief in some quarters that the EFCC is being used by some forces to prejudice Umar and use him to nail Saraki?
However, there are other conducts of Umar on the procurement of the ‘clearance’ letter that makes him look like just another politician. The moment he obtained the letter, he quickly distributed it to the newsrooms and allegedly deployed publicists to promote the story of his newly acquired redemption. It would be recalled that the same Umar once granted a media interview on this case and allegedly recruited columnists to write about his innocence of the allegation.
All these point to one inevitable conclusion: Umar cannot do justice in this case. Many judges had disqualified themselves from cases even on lesser grounds. Umar should do the honourable thing and step down from this case.
*Ajayi is resident in Lagos.