BY CHARLES KUMOLU
The decision of the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja to send the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, back to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, to answer to three counts of false assets declaration, has set the stage for another round of high-wire politics in the polity.
This observation is so fitting that even those who may consider it as questioning the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction, would not help but concur.
A retrospection on the history of the case and its effect on the polity in the early period of this administration, leaves no one in doubt that the stakes have been raised once again by the court’s decision.
An evaluation of the grounds upon which the court said the Senate President has a case to answer, perhaps, leaves more questions than answers regarding the latest situation.
A three-man panel led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe- Wilson gave the ruling last Tuesday, saying the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,EFCC, had done enough to prove the three charges it referred back to the CCT.
Interestingly, the court agreed with the CCT that on 15 counts of the 18 charges filed against Dr. Bukola Saraki, it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that the evidence were based on hearsay that lack probate value.
Notably, it averred like the CCT, that the information used in putting together the charges against S araki by the Federal Government, did not connect Saraki with the charge s as demanded by law.
It further held that the Federal Government erroneously came to the conclusion that the onus to prove the 15 charges was on the defendant whereas it is established fact that the party that alleges must be the one to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
With these, the judgment seems to have literally punctured allegations of operating foreign account, collecting double salaries, anticipatory declaration, and failure to declare assets owned by companies in which he has shares.
The fact that the aforementioned allegations formed the fulcrum of all the claims against the Senate President, presents the argument that their dismissal by the court could as well have served as an acquittal of the entire issue.
Specifically, the educated thinking in some quarters is that having identified the flaws of the federal government, the need by the court to have saved three of the counts may not have been particularly compelling.
Those, who argue in that regard point at counts 4, 5 and 6 which the Court of Appeal referred back to the CCT for Saraki to enter its defence, stating that the appellate court probably, may have, in its invaluable wisdom, chosen to embark on a voyage of discovery.
In expounding the argument, the controversial House 17A and 17B, which formed the basis of counts 4 and 5 is one and the same.
Count 5 which is on non-declaration of a loan which formed the source of funds for the purchase of the property cited in counts 4 and 5, were also relevant.
Instructively, the Court referred the counts back for trial in the belief that the prosecution established discrepancies in the claims on the asset declaration forms as to how the two houses located in Ikoyi were acquired.
The judge said the Senate President needs to explain the discrepancies that the properties he claimed to have bought with proceeds from sale of rice and sugar in his asset declaration form were actually bought from loans acquired from a commercial bank.
However, information at the disposal of Sunday Vanguard suggests that the submission before the CCT that informed its decision was that while in the 2007 Asset Declaration form, the house was said to have been bought with a loan from the GTB, the 2011 form indicated that it was bought from proceeds of sales of rice, sugar and other commodities.
Indeed, it was learnt that the house was purchased with a loan from the banks in 2006, but by 2011, the loan had been defrayed.
Since the loan had been repaid, it was assumed to be wrong to still say the source of the fund was through a loan.
Perhaps, it was on that note that the next form stated the source of the fund as the proceeds from sale of rice and other commodities from which the original loan was repaid, Sunday Vanguard gathered.
This paper recalls that the aforesaid submission was made at the CCT during the cross examination of the witness from GTBank, who testified for the prosecution. And that informed the decision of the Tribunal to agree with the no case submission of the defence regarding counts 4, 5 and 6.
In the light of the salient issues, confusion may set in at the CCT that had, having delivered a no case judgment before.
The question in this regard is: Is the appellate court not putting the judges in a quagmire?
Another pertinent puzzle is: Will the judges now reverse themselves after giving sound reasoning as to why the case of the prosecution lacked merit?
A senior lawyer, who pleaded anonymity because of what he called political undertone, told Sunday Vanguard thus: “It is believed that the two CCT judges have given their decision based on the evaluation of the evidence and submissions before them. Any attempt to re-open the case before the two men will put them in a difficult situation.”
He also argued that the present position of the Saraki case gives the Senate President two options: Either to go to the Supreme Court or step down to subject himself to another round of retrial at the CCT.
Beyond the legal aspects of this matter which have put the judiciary on the spot once again, the timing of the judgement is believed to have corroborated notions that the case may begin to suffer the burden of the weight of politicisation.
This is made more real given the current political permutations in which Saraki is regarded as one of the men, who wield the influence to define 2019 polls.
Perhaps, it was on that strength that the powers that be do not want the case to be dispensed with before the 2019 polls.
It is already being argued in some political quarters that the case may be used to tame Saraki’s political tentacles especially his rumoured presidential ambition and likely defection.
Knowing how high-profile cases are used as tools for political bargaining in Nigeria, the projection could be that for as long as the asset declaration case remains, Sara ki can continue to be put under check and close control.
Whichever of the calculations is at play, many believe it is not right to drag the judiciary into a political battle.
Saraki is likely heading to the Supreme Court, Prosecution Counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, has also hinted that he would cross appeal.
The likely scenario would present an interesting legal firework at the apex court or at the Tribunal.
In all, the case may end up as a standard work that is cited as an illustration in Nigeria’s history especially on legal matters.