By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The Federal Government, yesterday, accused the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, of attempting to frustrate his ongoing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja. Government, which is prosecuting Saraki on a 16-count amended charge bordering on alleged false/anticipatory declaration of assets, accused the defendant of deliberately prolonging the cross-examination of the star prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas.
At the resumed hearing on the matter yesterday, government lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, decried that Saraki’s defence team, led by a former Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, had taken a total of 11 days to cross-examine the witness.
Wetkas, who commenced his evidence-in-chief on April 6, is an investigative officer with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. He was the head of a three-man crack team that investigated six separate petitions lodged against Saraki in 2014. Jacobs, SAN, urged the Justice Danladi Umar-led tribunal to compel Saraki’s team to round-off the cross-examination to enable the government produce other witnesses to testify against the Senate President.
“My lord this is very bad. The defence has used ten days to cross-examine this particular witness and if this matter is adjourned again today, that will bring the total number of days to eleven. It is obvious that they don’t want us to make progress in this matter.
“They have kept this man in the witness box for ten days and they have not even shown any sign of concluding with him. It is on record that three different lawyers in the team of the defendant have taken turns to cross-examine him. ‘’All they have been trying to do is to crush the spirit of this witness. This is quite frustrating. I urge my lord to adjourn this matter till Thursday so that they can conclude with this witness,” Jacobs submitted.
However, Saraki’s lead counsel, Agabi, SAN, urged the tribunal to disregard the submission which he said would only defeat the ends to justice.
“My lords should ignore Rotimi; I know the spirit driving him. I was a prosecutor myself before I was appointed an AGF. What the law has asked this court to do is to protect the defendant. That is basically the essence of trial, to ensure that an innocent man is not wrongly convicted. Rotimi is complaining about the witness, but he has said nothing about the defendant who has been in the dock for as long as the witness has been in the box.
“All the prosecution wants is for the tribunal to convict the defendant quickly. He does not want us to carry on with the cross-examination. That will not work!” Agabi stated. Meanwhile, insistence by the prosecution for further hearing on the matter to be adjourned till today, drew the ire of the second member of the tribunal panel, Justice Agwaza Atedze, who observed that the law did not provide any limit within which cross-examination could be conducted.
“Rotimi, the chairman has explained to you that this tribunal already has a case fixed for tomorrow (today) and will not be able to hear this matter, yet you want us to adjourn according to your wish. ‘’Are you saying that we should shut out the defendant from cross-examining the witness? Do you not appreciate the enormity of work this trial is making us to do? Or do you think when we leave here, we go to kiss a girl?” Justice Atedze queried in anger.
The tribunal subsequently adjourned the case till next Wednesday. Earlier, the witness, while being cross-examined by another lawyer in Saraki’s team, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, told the court that the defendant failed to declare his ownership of Plot 2482 Cadastral Zone A06, Maitama, Abuja, claiming that it belongs to one of his companies, Carlisle Properties & Investment Ltd.
He said that the property was originally allocated to one David Baba Akawo on August 1991 but was purchased by Saraki through his firm in 1993. The witness however admitted that Saraki’s name was not mentioned in the Power of Attorney for the transfer of ownership the property. He said: “Parties to the Power of Attorney were only two- Baba Akawo and Carlisle. It was made almost 10 years before the defendant became a governor. In the document, the defendant was not personally mentioned”.
Wetkas insisted that the said property was the same as No 1 Tragus Close, Maitama which was named in the charge, saying it belongs to the defendant. “My lord we believe it belongs to the defendant because Carlisle Properties & Investment Ltd is his company and he later declared the property as his own in further assets declarations he made before the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“We also had an interaction with the 2nd Director of the company, Oluwatoyin Ojora, wife of the defendant, who confirmed to us that the property belongs to the defendant. The 2nd Director which is Babs Trading & Manufacturing Ltd is also a company the defendant declared as his own.
“The position of the wife of the defendant that the company belongs to the husband was also confirmed by the Managing Director of Carlisle Properties & Investment Ltd, Mr. Kennedy Izuagbe. “However, going by Form CAC-2A, the defendant’s name was not mentioned”, the witness added. Nevertheless, Saraki’s lawyer Usoro, SAN, drew attention of the tribunal to count-six of the charge.
He argued that contrary to the allegation by FG that Saraki acquired the property in 1993, he said the facts were clear that the defendant was never mentioned in the Power of Attorney for purchase of the property.