By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, has fixed February 6 for the Federal Government to re-open its case against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The Mr. Danladi Umar-led panel of the CCT okayed resumption of hearing of the charge FG preferred against Saraki, in obedience to the December 12, 2017, judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
The Senate President who was hitherto answering to 18-count charge, will now enter his defence to only three charges.
The appellate court had in a unanimous judgment by a three-man panel of Justices led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, said it was satisfied that Saraki had a case to answer before the CCT.
The court dismissed 15 counts of the original charge on the premise that they were not supported with credible evidence capable of warranting the Respondent (Saraki) to be called upon to enter his defence to them.
Specifically, the appellate court panel directed Saraki to return to the tribunal to defend counts 4, 5 and 6 of the amended charge.
Whereas count 4 and 5 of the charge alleged that the Senate President made false declaration of his assets at the end of his tenure as Executive Governor of Kwara State in 2011 and on assumption of office as a Senator in 2011, when he declared that he acquired properties at No. 17A and No. 17B McDonald, Ikoyi Lagos on September 6, 2006, from the proceeds of sale of rice and sugar.
In count-6, FG alleged that the defendant made false declaration of his assets at the end of his tenure as Governor of Kwara state, when he failed to declare his outstanding loan liabilities of N315, 054, 355.92 out of the loan of N380, 000, 000 he obtained from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.
The Justice Akomolafe-Wilson-led panel agreed with FG that the CCT ought to have called Saraki to defend his claim that he repaid the loan he took from GTB to acquire the two properties through proceeds from his sale of Rice and Sugar.
The appellate court said the clarification was necessitated by the fact that public officers were by law, prohibited from engaging in any form of business venture apart from agriculture.
The court however dismissed counts 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the amended charge marked ABT/01/15.
Among charges dismissed by the appellate court included allegation that Saraki operated foreign accounts while in office as Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011.
Aside faulting FG for failing over to produce vital witnesses to substantiate allegations it levelled against Saraki in the 15 dismissed charges, the appellate court noted that four prosecution witnesses that testified before the CCT gave hearsay evidence with respect to the said charges.
It stressed that while FG had among other things, alleged that Saraki collected salaries four years after his governorship tenure had elapsed, it however failed to adduce any direct evidence from the Kwara State government.
The appellate court however dismissed Saraki’s contention that FG failed to tender into evidence, original copies of the six assets declaration forms he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
It held that under sections 104 and 105 of the Evidence Act, certified true copies of any public document was admissible in evidence, adding that Saraki failed to prove that the photocopied documents FG tendered as exhibits 1-6 were not genuine.
More so, the appellate court held that the Justice Danladi Umar-led CCT panel was wrong when it held that the joint team comprising officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the CCB, and officials of the Ministry of Justice, which investigated Saraki’s assets, was unkown to law.
The appellate court said there was nothing in the Nigerian law preventing the CCB from collaborating or acting in concert with any other organ of the law in the discharge of its mandate.
It held that the CCT, by declaring the investigative panel as illegal, unwittingly constituted itself to sit on appeal over a subsisting Court of Appeal verdict.
“In conclusion, I hereby remit the case back to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for the defendant to enter his defence in respect of counr 4, 5, and 6”, Justice Akomolafe-Wilson who read the lead verdict held.
It will be recalled that FG had gone before the appellate court to challenge the June 14 judgment of the CCT that discharged and acquitted Saraki of all the 18-count charges against him.
FG raised 17-grounds of appeal wherein it prayed the appellate court to set-aside the CCT verdict which it said was against the weight of evidence against the defendant.
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.”
FG had on May 5, closed its case against Saraki after it called a total of four witnesses and tendered 48 exhibits before the CCT.
Thereafter, Saraki, through his team of lawyers led by Mr. Kanu Agabi, SAN, filed a no-case-submission, insisting that FG failed to establish a prima-facie case against him.
He equally urged the appellate court to dismiss FG’s appeal for want of merit.
It was his contention that FG failed to discharge the burden of proof that was placed on it by the law, insisting 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.
Meanwhile, both Saraki and FG had since gone before the Supreme Court to challenged the appellate court’s verdict.
Whereas Saraki is praying the apex court to set aside the court of appeal judgment and reinstate the earlier verdict of the CCT that freed him.
In its own appeal, FG urged the apex court to also set-aside the aspect of the appellate court’s veridict that struck out most of the charges against Saraki.
FG maintained that it had successfully established a prima-facie case that would require Saraki to defend all the original 18-count charge.
The Supreme Court had yet to fix a date to commence hearing on both appeals.
It will be recalled that the CCT had previously held that FG failed to prove essential elements of all the allegations it levelled against Saraki.
The tribunal held that oral and documentary evidence FG adduced before it, were “so much discredited during cross-examination”, saying the proof of evidence was so”manifestly unreliable that no reasonable court or tribunal can rely on it to make any conviction”.
The panel maintained that all the evidence FG tendered against the defendant lacked probative value.
It noted that four witnesses FG brought to testify against the defendant, gave contradictory evidence.