In this report, MUYIWA OYINLOLA writes on the travail of the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, as the Appeal Court orders the retrial of the case he had earlier been discharged and acquitted of by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT)
About two weeks ago, a three-man appeal court panel ordered the retrial of Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
The CCT had earlier in June this year discharged and acquitted the politician who had been standing trial since 2015 on an 18-count charge bordering on false declaration of assets brought against him by the federal government.
While discharging and aquitting him, the tribunal had held that the evidence proffered against him by the federal government was bereft of probate value and manifestly unreliable to hold the charges against the defendant.
Delivering ruling in a no case submission made by Kanu Agabi (SAN) on behalf of Saraki, chairman of the tribunal Danladi Umar said the prosecution at the close of the case failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendant.
He maintained that the four witnesses called by the prosecution to testify in the matter gave contradictory evidence that were manifestly unreliable to convict the defendant or order him to enter his defense.
But barely a month after his acquittal, the federal government again, precisely on June 22, filed an 11-ground notice of appeal against the June 14, 2017 judgement of the CCT acquitting Saraki of the charges.
When the case came up about two weeks ago, Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, who led the other judges in a unanimous judgement, said Saraki should return to the tribunal to face trial on three out of 18-count charge of false declaration of assets filed against him.
However, the Court of Appeal agreed with the CCT that on 15 counts of the 18 charges filed against the Senate president, it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that the evidence were based on hearsay that have no probate value. The court agreed with the Tribunal that the information supplied in the report used to prepare the charge by the Federal Government against Saraki did not link the Senate President directly with the charges as required by law.
The appellate court also held that the Federal Government erroneously came to the conclusion that 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 the judgement, the judiciary has once again dismissed all the salacious and sensational claims by the prosecution that Saraki was operating foreign account, collecting double salaries, made anticipatory declaration, failed to declare assets owned by companies in which he has shares.
However, pundits are curious that after sweeping gaffe identified in the case of the Federal Government, the Appeal Court still felt compelled to save three of the counts when the foundation for the entire case ought to have collapsed with the affirmation of the CCT judgement that the entire evidence presented by the prosecution is based on hearsay and a wrong assumption that the burden of proof of innocence of the charges lie on the defence.
It could be observed that counts 4, 5 and 6 which the Court of Appeal referred back to the CCT for Saraki to enter its defence, it is evident that the appellate court probably decided in spite of the full details of the facts availed the Tribunal.
Accordingly, it was gathered that the property, House 17A and 17 B, which forms the basis of counts 4 and 5 is one and the same. The counts are mentioning the discrepancies in the source of funds for the purchase of a property on House 17 A and 17 B as filled in different asset declaration forms. This, perhaps shows there is a duplication in the charge sheet. Consequently, count 5 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.
In the same vein, the Court referred the counts back for trial on the belief that the prosecution established discrepancies in the claims on the asset declaration forms as to how the two houses located in Ikoyi was acquired. According to the judge, 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, the fact is 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.
Recall that while it had been argued that the house may have been purchased with loan from the banks in 2006, it has been said that by 2011, the loan had been defrayed. Hence, after the repayment, it would be wrong to still say the source of the fund is loan. This perhaps might be why 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.
Recall that this submission was made at the CCT during the cross examination of the witness from GTBank who testified for the prosecution. And that perhaps was what informed the decision of the Tribunal to agree with the no case submission of the Defence even as related to counts 4, 5 and 6.
Besides, pundits also wonder that if the CCT with only one panel consisting two judges had delivered judgement that Saraki has no case to answer in respect of all the 18 charges and the Court of Appeal decided to refer three of the counts for retrial to the same judges, the appellate court may by so doing be putting the judges in a quagmire. Watchers of events are also waiting to see if the judges will now reverse themselves after giving reasoning as to why the case of the prosecution lack merit.
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.
Meanwhile, the present position of the Saraki case leaves the Senate President with two options. He either proceeds to the Supreme Court or be ready for a retrial in the CCT.
The dilemma the Court of Appeal has created for the CCT judges tends to lend credence to the suggestions in many quarters that the Saraki case is purely a political matter. There are suggestions that the powers that be do not want the case to be dispensed with before the 2019 polls. They want to use the case as a leech to keep Saraki off the presidential race or from jumping ship from the APC.
The calculation is that for as long as the asset declaration case remains there, Saraki 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 the political mess. It is almost certain Saraki would go to the Supreme Court to prove his innocence while the Prosecution Counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, has also hinted that he would cross appeal. That will present a good legal fireworks at the apex court or may be at the Tribunal, if need be.
Whichever way it goes, the case may end up presenting the Nigerian judiciary with a locus classicus on many legal issues.
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