By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Respite came the way of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, yesterday, as the Supreme Court, quashed the assets falsification charge the Federal Government preferred against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT. In a unanimous decision by a five-man panel of Justices, the apex court, vacated the Court of Appeal judgement that ordered Saraki to enter his defence to three out of the 18-count charge FG entered against him.
The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal had in a verdict it delivered on December 12, 2017, said it was satisfied that Saraki had a case to answer with regards to counts 4, 5 and 6 of the charge.
The Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson led appellate court panel however dismissed 15 counts of the 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.
Dissatisfied with the verdict, Saraki took the case before the Supreme Court, praying it to reinstate the June 14, 2017, verdict of the Mr. Danladi Umar-led CCT panel that previously discharged and acquitted him of all the allegations against him. Saraki who had since closed his defence before the CCT inline with the appellate court’s judgment, insisted that FG failed to establish a prima-facie case against him.
He argued that the decision of the appellate court to sustain three charges against him, amounted to a miscarriage of justice.
Saraki’s lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, maintained that the charge FG entered against his client was in bad faith. He contended that only the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, was empowered under the constitution to investigate and prosecute cases bordering on asset declaration.
Agabi, SAN, decried that charge against his client was based on an investigative report that was produced by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. However, FG, through its lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, equally filed a cross-appeal asking the Supreme Court to set-aside the aspect of the appellate court’s veridict that struck out 15 counts of the charges against Saraki. FG said it successfully established a criminal case that required Saraki to offer explanations before the CCT.
Delivering judgment in the matter on Friday, the apex court upheld Saraki’s appeal, saying the Court of Appeal committed “judicial equivalent of forensic somersault”
When it ordered the appellant to open his defence to the charge, even after it noted that all material evidence FG adduced before the CCT, lacked probabtive value. The Supreme Court which noted that the appellate court had in its judgement, dismissed the entire evidence of four witnesses that testified against Saraki as “heresay”, stressed that going ahead to prosecute the appellant on the basis of such evidence would amount to “making caricature of justice”.
Justice Centus Nweze who delivered the lead judgment, wondered why the lower court, having held that totality of the proof of evidence were inadmissible in law, still ordered the appellant to go and defend himself on three counts in the charge, based on the same evidence. He held that FG could not have established a prima-facie case against the appellant on the basis of hearsay and inadmissible proof of evidence.
Besides, the apex court panel held that the lower court was right when it observed that FG failed to produce witnesses that had direct knowledge of facts of the case, to testify before the CCT. “When evidence lacks probabtive value, it cannot be relied upon”, Justice Nweze held.
While concurring to the lead judgment, head of the apex court panel, Justice Mohammed Dattijo, said it was not in doubt that allegations against Saraki bordered on alleged acts of corruption.
“However, it is imperative that whenever we proceed against any person on allegations of corruption, it must be done according to the law”, he added.
Another member of the panel, Justice Amina Augie, held that the appellate court was already functus-officio to order Saraki to return to the CCT, having earlier invalidated the entire proof of evidence.
She said the fact that the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, signed and marked all the asset declaration forms Saraki submitted before it as “verified”, proved fatal to the case of FG. In a second verdict, the apex court panel dismissed FG’s Cross-Appeal, even as it relied on section 302 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, to discharge the embattled Senate President on all the charges against him.