….as Saraki closes defence with one witness
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – A commissioner and board member of the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, Dr. Ademola Adebo, on Tuesday, maintained that he did not sign any of the six assets declaration forms the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, submitted before the Bureau.
Dr. Adebo appeared as the first defence witness, DW-1, at the resumed hearing of the criminal charge the Federal Government preferred against Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Saraki had through his team of lawyers led by a former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, subpoenaed the ex-CCB board member to appear before the tribunal to give evidence as his first witness, following the December 12, 2017, judgment of the Court of Appeal that restored three out the entire 18-count charge that was earlier dismissed by the Justice Danladi Umar led CCT panel.
At the resumed proceeding, the DW-1 who was a member of the board of the CCB that was dissolved in June 2017, told the tribunal that he personally signed over 300, 000 copies of assets declaration forms that were submitted to the Bureau, saying Saraki’s forms were not among them.
The witness insisted that he remained a member of the CCB board despite his sack by FG.
He said: “I am a Commissioner in the CCB. I was appointed on April 10, 2010, under section 153 and Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, and I resumed work on April 30, 2010.
“Sometime in June 2017 there was an announcement on NTA disengaging me and other Commissioners from office, contrary to our letter of appointment.
“Because my appointment is constitutional, I went to court to challenge my purported removal from office at the National Industrial Court and there is currently a restraining order against the Federal Government. The matter is still pending”.
Concerning his line of duties at the CCB, he said: “My lord we recognised some ambiguities and lack of clarity in the Asset Declaration Form itself, that is Form CCB1. The declarants complained that they were not quite clear about what exactly was expected of them to declare.
“Based on that, the Bureau constituted a Committee and made me the Chairman, with a mandate to review the Form and make it less cumbersome for declarants generally.
“Part of our assignment was to digitalise the form and create assets declaration portal so that declarants can make their declarations without necessarily coming to the CCB office. The form has been reviewed and the portal created, but it is yet to take-off.
“In addition to that, I have in the course of my assignment in the CCB, supervised the administration and signed more that 300, 000 forms, and personally verified more than 3000 of those forms. The records are there in the CCB and can be verified.
“I was also a member of the CCB conference verification committee that consisted of commissioners, directors and other members of staff. The basic function of the committee was to carry out conference verification exercise on declarants.
“The first stage is the interactive stage where declarants are invited and questions asked on contents of their forms”.
The witness told the tribunal that Saraki was a tenured public officer that was required to declare his assets at the beginning and at the end of his tenure.
He identified Exhibit 5 as Assets Decalaration Form that Saraki filled at the end of his tenure as a governor in June 2011.
On the form, among assets Saraki declared included No 17A and 17B Mc Donald Ikoyi, Lagos, which he claimed was purchased with proceeds from sales of Rice and Sugar commodities.
The witness also identified Exhibit 26, which was the Assets Declaration Form that Saraki filled upon his assumption of office as Senator elect on June 6, 2011.
On the form, Saraki also claimed that the two Lagos properties that constituted counts 4 and 5 of the charge, were acquired with proceeds from sale of rice and sugar.
Similarly, the witness was shown exhibit 4, which was the form Saraki filled upon his assumption of office as governor on May 29, 2007. He made the declaration on July 11, 2007.
Saraki had in the said form, claimed that he acquired the two properties on September 6, 2006, through bank loans.
Though Saraki’s lawyer, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, initially wanted the witness to explain why there were discrepancies in the verified assets declaration forms, he later withdrew the question.
While being cross-examined by the prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, the witness told the tribunal that he was briefly into politics until 2010 when he was nominated into the CCB board.
Asked if it was the PDP government under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan that nominated him, the witness said he was nominated by late ex-President Musa Ya’adua.
“I have never been a member of the PDP and I was not nominated by PDP government”, he added
The witness said he was aware that the charge against Saraki, which was filed in September 2015, was the first case the CCT entertained that year.
“I am also aware that the tribunal can only entertain cases that are referred to it by the CCB”, Dr Adebo added, even as he denied allegation that the Bureau only targets poor public servants for prosecution.
“My lord it is not true. We also have a mandate to protect public officers.There is this wrong mindset in Nigeria that every public officer is corrupt, but part of the constitutional duty of the CCB is to protect public officials”, he stated.
He said he could not provide information about any former governor or lawmaker that was prosecuted by the CCB.
“I can only remember the former governor of Lagos state. I don’t also have data on number of lawmakers that has been referred to this tribunal for prosecution
“I have never headed the department in charge of referring cases. I am only familiar with the Education, Enlightenment, Services and ICT departments which was were I served under”.
Meanwhile, shortly after the witness concluded his evidence, Saraki’s lead counsel, Mr. Agabi, SAN, anounced the decision of his client to close his defence.
The defendant had at the beginning of the proceeding, said he had lined-up four witnesses to defend the charge against him.
However, after the DW-1 was discharged and the matter was about to be adjourned, Saraki beckoned on Agabi who went and had a brief chat with him in the dock.
When Agabi returned to his seat, he applied to close the defence of his client.
Consequently, the CCT panel adjourned till Febraury 27 for the prosecution and the defence to file and adopt their final written addresses to enable the tribunal to deliver its judgement on the matter.
It will be recalled that the Court Appeal had overruled an initial ruling of the CCT that held that Saraki had no case to answer with regards to any of the allegations FG levelled against him
The appellate court however 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.
FG had on May 5, 2017, closed its case against Saraki after it called a total of four witnesses and tendered 48 exhibits before the CCT.
Thereafter, Saraki filed a no-case-submission, insisting that FG failed to establish a prima-facie case against him.