By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, on Tuesday, reserved its judgment on appeal the Federal Government filed to challenge the dismissal of the 18-count criminal charges it preferred against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.
A three-man panel of Justices of the appellate court, led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, adjourned to decide whether or not the case against Saraki should be re-opened.
FG had in its 11-grounds of appeal, prayed the appellate court to set-aside the CCT verdict that aquitted Saraki of all the charges it slammed against him.
It wants the court to direct Saraki to enter his defence to the 18-count charge.
It will be recalled that Justice Danladi Umar-led two-man CCT panel had on June 14, terminated further hearing on charges against Saraki on the premise that FG failed to by way of credible evidence, to substantiate any of its allegations against the defendant.
However, in its Notice of Appeal, FG faulted all the grounds on which the CCT predicated Saraki’s acquittal.
According to FG, “The judgment of the lower tribunal is unwarranted, unreasonable and against the weight of evidence”.
FG maintained that the CCT erred in law by upholding Saraki’s no-case submission “when the onus of proof” was on the Senate President to show that there was no infraction in the Code of Conduct Forms he tendered at various times, before the Code of Conduct Bureau.
According to FG, “By the provisions of paragraphs 11 (2), (3) and (13) of Part 1, 5th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), once the Code of Conduct form filled by the public officer is investigated and found to be false or that some assets are beyond the legitimate income of the public officer or that the assets were acquired by means of corrupt practices, the public officer concerned is deemed to have breached the Code of Conduct and it is for him to show to the tribunal that there is no infraction in the form.
“The honourable tribunal wrongly placed the onus of proof on the prosecution contrary to paragraphs 11 (2), (3) and (13) of Part 1, 5th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) clearly excluded the presumption of innocence on the allegation of infraction of the Code of Conduct by public officers and the Tribunal wrongly applied the presumption of innocence contrary to the constitutional requirement.
“The tribunal’s decision is unconstitutional and without jurisdiction.”
Consequently, FG, through its lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, prayed the Court of Appeal for; “An order setting aside the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal delivered on June 14, 2017 upholding the no-case submission raised by the respondent (Saraki) at the close of the prosecution’s case.
As well as, “an order calling upon the respondent to enter his defence.”
It told the appellate court that the CCT failed to analyse and evaluate the evidence of prosecution witnesses before reaching the conclusion that there was no case made against Saraki.
Meanwhile, the Justice Akomolafe-Wilson led panel of the appellate court reserved the case for judgment after the parties adopted their final briefs of argument.
Saraki had through his team of lawyers led by a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Kanu Agabi, SAN, urged the court to dismiss FG’s appeal against him for want of merit.
He maintained that FG failed to discharge the burden of proof that was placed on it by the law, adding that the prosecution was unable to establish prima-facie case that would have warranted the CCT to compel him to enter his defence to the charge.
Specifically, Saraki was in the charge marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, alleged to have falsely declared his assets, contrary to the constitutionally requirement.
He was accused of deliberately manipulating the assets declaration form that he filed prior to his assumption of office as the Senate President, by making anticipatory declaration of assets, as well as, operated foreign bank account while in office as a public servant.
The offence was said to have been committed while Saraki held sway as a governor.
He was also accused of breaching section 2 of the CCB and Tribunal Act, an offence punishable under section 23(2) of the Act and paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
FG, among other offences, alleged that Saraki, claimed that he owned and acquired No 15A and 15B Mc Donald, Ikoyi, Lagos, through his company, Carlisle Properties Limited in 2000, when the said property was actually sold by the Implementation Committee of the Federal Government landed properties in 2006 to his companies, Tiny Tee Limited and Vitti Oil Limited for the aggregate sum of N396, 150, 000, 00.
He was alleged to have made false declaration on or about June 3, 2011, by refusing to declare plot 2A Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which he acquired between 2007 and 2008 through his company from the Central Bank of Nigeria for a total sum of N325, 000, 000, 00.
Similarly, Saraki was said to have refused to declare No1 Tagnus street, Maitama, Abuja, which he claimed to have acquired in November 1996 from one David Baba Akawu.
Some of his alleged offence while in office as governor, which are said to be punishable under section 15(1) and (2) of the CCB and Tribunal Act, Cap C15, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, were allegedly committed between October 2006 and May 2007.
His actions were classified as a gross violation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.