……..okays indefinite adjournment to await S-Court’s ruling
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, on Thursday, suspended its judgment on the criminal charge the Federal Government preferred against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The Mr. Danladi Umar-led two-man panel tribunal announced its decision to “tarry for awhile” in the matter, on a day both FG and Saraki appeared through their lawyers to adopt their final briefs of argument for judgment to be delivered in the case.
When the matter was called up, the CCT Chairman, Umar, said the tribunal was hesitant to take further step in the case in view of two pending appeals before the Supreme Court.
He however asked both the prosecution and the defence lawyer to address the panel on the propriety or otherwise of the tribunal proceeding to deliver judgment on a subject matter that is already pending before the apex court.
“This matter was fixed for today to enable parties to adopt their final written addresses. However, there is an issue that this tribunal, me and my colleague, decided we should raise suo-motu.
“Eventhough the defendant previously wrote to draw attention of this tribunal to two appeals on this matter that are pending before the Supreme Court, we were surprised that counsel kept silent on that letter and proceeded to open his defence.
“However, at this juncture, we feel it is germane to call on the prosecution and defence to address us on the way forward since issues have been canvassed before the Supreme Court.
“You should address us on whether it is not proper for this tribunal to await the decision of the Supreme Court on issues that parties have raised with respect to counts 4, 5 and 6 of the charge before us.
“We want to know if it will be right to proceed and deliver judgment in this case, not minding the appeals filed by both parties”, Mr. Umar stated.
In his response, FG’s lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, urged the tribunal to go ahead with the case, contending that suspending further proceeding would amount to granting Saraki’s desire.
He said: “Ordinarily we would have said your lordships should tarry awhile to protect the authority and integrity of the highest court, but the prosecution will urge the tribunal to proceed inview of the position of the law today.
“Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, enjoins the court not to entertain any application for stay and the Supreme Court has also interpreted that section in Metuh vs FRN, delivered on June 9, 2017, SC/457/2015.
“The appeal before the Supreme Court is not an issue of reference as envisaged in section 305 of the ACJA.
“We took this position bearing in mind that the defendant wrote a letter on January 19, 2018, wherein he notified the tribunal of the pending appeal.
“He requested the court to defer hearing as any decision will render the outcome of the appeal at Supreme Court nurgatory and foist a fait-acompli on the parties.
“But since the same defendant proceeded to open his defence to the charges, we urge my lords to also go ahead with the case”.
On his part, Saraki’s lawyer, Mr. Kanu Agabi, SAN, commended the CCT panel for acknowledging the superiority of the apex court, saying there was need for further proceeding to be suspended in the matter to await the outcome of the appeal that was lodged by his client and a cross-appeal that was filed by FG.
Agabi said: “This is the initiative of the tribunal not ours, so we commend you for that.
“How will we react tomorrow if the Supreme Court ask us why we went ahead to litigate on a matter that is already pending before it, what will be our answer?
“We urge my lords to stay this proceeding and let us go back to the Supreme Court”.
After they had listened to both sides, the CCT, in a bench ruling by its Chairman, said it was minded to adjourn the case sine-die (indefinitely).
The tribunal based its decision on section 36 of the 1999 Constitution which it said provided for fair hearing and right of appeal to all the parties.
“The tribunal is not insensitive about circumstances in which the defendant was asked to return by the Court of Appeal to answer to allegations in three counts of the charge.
“Since the Supreme Court is already giving accelerated hearing to the appeals before it, we at the tribunal will be hesitatant to proceed further when the Supreme Case is already seized with facts of the matter.
“Therefore, this tribunal has decided to tarry awhile so that integrity of the Supreme Court will not be toyed with.
“This tribunal has decided to adjourn the continuation of the adoption of the final addresses sine-die to await the outcome of the appeals”, Mr. Umar ruled.
It will be recalled that the Court Appeal had in Abuja had in a judgment on December 12, 2017, restored three out the entire 18-count charge that was earlier dismissed by the tribunal on the premise that FG failed to establish a prima-facie criminal case against Saraki.
The appellate court overruled the tribunal and directed Saraki to defend counts 4, 5 and 6 of the amended charge against him.
It 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.
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.
Similarly, Saraki, on February 6, closed his defence after he called only when witness to substantiate his claim that his assets were duly declared before the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
Meantime, while Saraki is in his appeal, praying the Supreme Court to uphold the earlier decision of the CCT that quashed all the charges against him, on the other hand, FG is praying the apex court to order him to enter his defence to all the 18-count charge.