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CCT Trial: Saraki’s Second Coming To Supreme Court

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Supreme Court had adjourned sine dine on March 12, 2018 for all parties to file all their remaining processes for the apex court to fix a date for final hearing on the appeal entered by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the cross-appeal filed by the Federal Government in respect of Saraki’s trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for false asset declaration. The 5-man panel led by Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad of the apex court sitting on the appeals had adjourned on February 21, 2018 indefinitely, but subsequently fixed last Thursday March 12 to  further hear  arguments by counsel of both parties in the appeal. The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal had in its judgment delivered on December 12, 2017 restored three out of the 18 counts bothering on false assets declaration earlier dismissed by the Danladi Umar-led CCT in June 2017.

Saraki had subsequently filed a seven-ground notice of appeal before the Supreme Court against the part of the Court of Appeal’s judgment which restored the three counts. The Federal Government had also filed a cross-appeal of 15 grounds before the apex court against the part of the judgment which affirmed the dismissal of the 15 counts. It began when the Federal Government had filed a charge marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, against Saraki who was a twoterm governor of Kwara State between May 2003 and May 2011, and a Senate President from June 9, 2015. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari wants him tried for breaching Section 2 of the C‎CB and Tribunal Act while he was a governor, an offence punishable under Section 23(2) of the Act and Paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. Consequently, Saraki on September 22, 2015, pleaded not guilty to the charge which he said was grossly incompetent and ought to be quashed. Refusal of the tribunal to hands-off the trial resulted to Saraki’s lawyers staging a walk-out on the tribunal on November 5, 2015, after they accused the panel of engaging in acts of “judicial rascality”.

In a related development, Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court in Abuja had adjourned to March 22, 2016 to deliver judgment on another suit that Saraki filed with a view to disqualifying Justice Umar from handling his trial. Saraki had in the suit contended that Justice Umar was not fit and proper to try him considering that the judge also has a criminal allegation hanging on his neck. He told the court that Mr Umar was being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), over allegations bothering on corruption. Saraki said he would not be accorded fair-hearing by the tribunal, alleging that the charge pending against him before the CCT was instigated by the anti-graft agency. He argued that Mr Umar, in a bid to save himself from prosecution, would dance to the tune of the EFCC which he said usurped the responsibility of the CCB by recommending his trial for an offence that was allegedly committed years back.

He therefore sought an order nullifying the charge and the proceedings of the CCT on the grounds that they allegedly fell short of the requirements of Article 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution But following online media report (SaharaReporters), Justice Kafarati suddenly recused himself from the case on March 22, 2016 claiming his reputation had been impugned upon. But the intervention of the then CJN, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, led Justice Kafarati to deliver judgement in the suit on April 15, 2016.  Justice Kafarati held that he lacked jurisdiction to entertain Saraki’s suit, filed under the fundamental human rights enforcement rules, claiming it constituted an abuse of court process. Justice Ibrahim Buba of a Federal High Court in Lagos had about that time declined jurisdiction in another suit Saraki filed before him against the matter in CCT. The defense team had wanted the tribunal to suspend the trial and allow the Supreme Court to pronounce on the competence of the proceeding. Though the CCT declined to stay proceeding on the matter, on November 12, 2015, a Supreme Court panel headed by Justice John Fabiyi (now retired), directed the tribunal to “tarry for a while” to enable them to look into Saraki’s appeal. ‘’Learned senior counsel for the respondent has given an undertaking that no unusual step will be taken on behalf of the respondent. It is imperative to say it that parties, as well as the trial Code of Conduct Tribunal, should tarry awhile. In effect, further proceedings before the CCT should be stayed pending the hearing of the main appeal’’, Justice Fabiyi held. This Justice Fabiyi-led panel ruling was greeted by uproar and the panel was subsequently disbanded. The then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, took over the case and reconstituted a seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court that heard the appeal.

This new panel led by Justice Mahmoud Mohammed had Justices Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Chima Centus Nweze and Amiru Sanusi  Nevertheless, in a unanimous judgment on February 5, 2016, the Supreme Court dismissed Saraki’s appeal, even as it ordered his prosecution before the CCT. The apex court which said it was satisfied that the Senate President has a case to answer before the tribunal, affirmed an earlier verdict of the Court of Appeal in Abuja which on October 30, 2015, gave FG the nod to open its case against Saraki. In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Onnoghen, he held that, ‘’there was no order of the Federal High Court staying the proceedings of the tribunal which was disobeyed by the tribunal. Ihold the view that the instant issue is an attempt at intimidating the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which is ver unfortunate ‘’In the circumstance I find this issue, like the others already considered of no merit and is accordingly resolved against appellant (Saraki).

In conclusion, I find no merit in the appeal which is accordingly dismissed. ‘’The judgement of the lower court delivered on October 30, 2015 dismissing the appeal of appellant against the ruling of Code of Conduct Tribunal of September 18, 2015 is hereby affirmed. Appeal dismissed’’, Justice Onnoghen held. Supreme Court is sitting on appeal filed before it by Saraki over his trial at the CCT for false asset declaration for the second time around. If the apex court deliver judgement in this appeal in favour of Saraki, it will mean it has reversed the judgement delivered by the former CJN Justice Mahmud Mohammed-led 7-man panel on February 5, 2016. If the apex court affirms judgement of the Court of Appeal delivered on December 12, 2017, one needs not ‘’ifa’’ or ‘’crystal ball’’ to fore-tell that this will not mark the end of appeal being front-loaded on this trial to the apex even  before the substantive appeal is remitted by either Saraki or the federal government to this final court. Meanwhile, the CCT, on March 8, 2018 suspended its judgment on the false asset declaration charge or the three- count charge FG has proffered against Saraki at the CCT. 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.

However, EFCC on March 3, 2018 filed a two-count criminal charge against the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar, trying Saraki on an allegation of false assets declaration. The charge numbered CR/109/18, dated January 25, 2018 and signed by Festus Keyamo (SAN) accused Umar, who is presiding over a case with Charge No. CCT/ ABJ/03/12, involving one Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo demanding for a bribe of N10 million from Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo, sometime in 2012, in Abuja. According to the charge, the alleged bribe was for procuring favourable judgment for Taiwo, an offence, the EFCC said, goes contrary to Section 12(1) (a) & (b) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2003. But the same federal government queried Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the EFCC, and Festus Keyamo (SAN), over the corruption charges filed against Danladi Umar, chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Magu was asked to explain what informed the filing of corruption charges against the tribunal chairman having being cleared of corruption allegations on two occasions. Like Magu, the senior Lawyer was given till February 20, 2018, to furnish the office of the AGF in writing the detail of who engaged or issued him with authority to file the corruption charges.



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