By Kunle Olasanmi, Ahuraka Isah, Solomon Ayado, Abdullahi Olesin
22 months after he was arraigned, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) yesterday discharged and acquitted Senate President Bukola Saraki of the 18-count charge of false declaration of assets brought against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
Saraki who was arraigned in September 2015 by the federal government had pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him.
Before the tribunal judgment yesterday, the Senate President had filed a no case submission, asking the tribunal to dismiss the charges against him.
In his judgment, the tribunal chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, held that the allegations proffered against Saraki by the federal government was bereft of probate value and manifestly unreliable to hold the charges against the defendant.
The tribunal said the prosecution, at the close of the case, failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendant.
Umar said the four witnesses called by the prosecution to testify in the matter gave contradictory evidences that were manifestly unreliable to convict the defendant or order him to enter his defense.
He specifically referred to the evidence of the third prosecution witness, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, to the effect that oral investigation was conducted on Saraki and that there was no written report on Saraki by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
The tribunal chairman added that such evidence has no probate value upon which the tribunal can hold the charges against the defendant.
According to him, Madojemu as Head of Investigation and Intelligence Department of the CCB did not in any way help the prosecution in his evidence when he (Madojemu) claimed that all his averments in the affidavit in support of the charges against Saraki were based on information supplied to him by an undisclosed team of investigators.
Umar further said that the report of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) put at the disposal of the tribunal was more of intelligence gathering than conventional investigation.
He said that to worsen the case, the defendant was never invited or made to make statement so that truth could be unearthed if there are allegations against him.
To this effect, the chairman of the tribunal ruled thus: “From the simple analysis of the evidence of the prosecution, we find it difficult to accept the seriousness of the witnesses. All the evidences were so discredited, unreliable that no reasonable court will attach probate value to them.
“Since the essential ingredients of all the charges were not proved as required by law, this tribunal has no option than to discharge and acquit the defendant in view of the manifestly unreliable evidence of the prosecution witnesses”.
In his supporting ruling, the second member of the panel, Mr. Williams Atedze Agwadza, said that he was persuaded by the ultimate conclusion of the chairman of the tribunal on the no case submission.
He said a careful perusal of the four witnesses and 48 exhibits tendered by the prosecution showed grave defectiveness as no prima facie case was established to sustain the charge.
“The formulation of the 18 count charge was based on the affidavit evidence of Mr. Samuel Madojemu of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). His testimony and affidavit evidence later became affliction and epidemic that befell the prosecution because they were based on mere hearsays”, he stated.
He said sections 37, 38 and 126 of the Evidence Act were violated with manifestly inadmissible exhibits and testimony.
He further said that the team referred to by Madojemu and which comprised of the operatives of the EFCC, DSS, and CCB is unknown to law as the team has no constitutional or statutory backing to do what they did, thereby making the charge against Saraki incurably defective and capable of causing miscarriage of justice against the defendant.
“Evidence to establish offence must be such that has probate value. Another fatal error on the part of the complainant was the failure to obtain statement of the defendant”, he added.
Besides, Agwadza said that the prosecution also failed by its inability to call vital witnesses, including the Accountant General of Kwara State to establish the alleged collection of salary by Saraki long after he left office as governor of the state.
“My humble conclusion is that the defendant in this case has no case to answer and is accordingly discharged and acquitted”, he ruled.
The federal government had in September 2015 slammed charges of false declaration of assets, operating foreign accounts and collecting salaries from Kwara State government on Saraki, years after he left office as chief executive of the state.
I Have Cleared My Name – Saraki
Reacting to the judgment, Senate President Bukola Saraki said by submitting to the trial he has cleared his name with the tribunal’s discharge and acquittal verdict.
In a statement personally signed by himself, Saraki added that the conclusion has not only vindicated his position at the beginning of the trial way back September 2015, but has also renewed the nation’s faith in the judiciary that it could indeed provide sanctuary for all those who seek justice.
He said, “After undergoing the crucible of a tortuous trial, my vindication today calls for celebration. It is my belief however that if there should be any celebration at all, it should be a celebration of the hopes that this judgment gives us as citizens that despite all the challenges that we face as a country, we are well on our way to building a country where the innocent needs not be afraid.
“I therefore urge all my supporters to refrain from any unbridled triumphalism. The challenges that our country faces today are enormous and do not allow for wanton celebration. Instead, we should all reflect on the significance of this moment and what it meant for our democracy”.
Saraki continued: “On a personal note, I harbour no grudge against anyone, regardless of the role they might have played in the persecution that I had endured in the last two years.
‘’I believe that If my trial had in anyway given hope to the common man that no matter the forces arraigned against him, he can still get justice in our courts, then my tribulation had not been in vain”.
It Is Victory For Democracy- Ekweremadu
Meanwhile, Senate deputy president, Ike Ekweremadu, has described as victory for democracy the discharge and acquittal of the Senate president by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Ekweremadu who presided over Senate plenary yesterday remarked that the Tribunal’s verdict did not come to him as a surprise given that, like the trumped up forgery and conspiracy charges slammed against himself and the Senate President which was later withdrawn by the federal government, the CCT trial was hatched in the coven of evil politics and was, therefore, bound to fall like a pack of cards.
He said, “This is another sweet victory for the 8th Senate in particular, separation of powers, rule of law, and the nation’s democracy. The trial, just like the arraignment of the presiding officers of the Senate on trumped up charges of forgery of Senate Standing Rules, was political vendetta and manipulations taken too far.
“It was never built on any iota of truth, but on the quicksand of falsehood and was, therefore, condemned to sink under the weight of law and justice”.
Gov Ahmed Hails Conduct Tribunal
Also, Kwara State governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, has hailed the Code of Conduct Tribunal’s judgment on false assets declaration case against Senate President Saraki,
Ahmed’s reaction was contained in a statement issued by his chief press secretary. AbdulWahab Oba.
The statement reads: “The no case verdict is a testimony and a vindication of the incorruptibility of Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki which some of us who are privilege to work with him have always known him for. He has always been selfless in his services to good people of Kwara State and Nigeria at large.
“The judgement has also shown that his colleagues in the upper chamber of the National Assembly made the right choice by returning him unopposed as the Senate President.
Reactions Trail CCT Verdict
Meanwhile, mixed reactions trailed the verdict of the Code of Conduct Tribunal which discharged and acquitted Senate President Saraki in Abuja yesterday.
Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay, said he received the report of the CCT ruling with shock, even as he expressed optimism that the verdict will be appealed.
Speaking to our correspondent on phone, Sagay said he was terribly shocked by the verdict, noting that “I followed very closely all the materials that were made available to the court and to say there is no prima facie case means I don’t know any law”.
He, however, noted that the CCT verdict and similar other ones which dismissed cases of alleged corruption against some Nigerians does not suggest that the war on graft was failing.
Sagay said the latest verdict notwithstanding, the anti-graft war is recording some successes, just as he expressed optimism that the war on corruption will be won.
“But that does not mean that one is complacent about these recent verdicts. Everybody has to go the drawing board to find out what the problem is. Whether it is the problem of inefficient presentation of the case or it is the Nigerian factor”, he stated.
Another legal luminary, Norrison Ibinabo Quakers (SAN), called on all agencies with prosecutorial powers in the country to sit up and do their work professionally.
Quakers said, “I think what this has gone to show is that prosecutorial agencies have to do their work without political interference. They should ensure that prosecutions are not seen as political vendetta.
“If an excruciating and gruesome trial that started in 2015 and which was finally determined in 2017 resulted into a defendant being discharged and acquitted based on a no case submission, it means that taxpayers money to a large extent has been wasted.
“This happened because from the onset, what ought to have been done was not done. How can you go to court and prosecute a case that you are not sure of? This incident is a wake up call to the prosecutorial agencies to sit up”.
In his reaction, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), however, commended the Code of Conduct Tribunal for what he described as a bold and courageous verdict.
He said, “The Code of conduct tribunal headed by Mr Danladi Umar was bold, courageous and upright, in spite of visible executive interference and manipulation, to have discharged and acquitted Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, on all the counts of false declaration of assets levelled against him.
“I had predicted last year, on television and my two weekly columns in the Sun and Telegraph newspapers, after a calm reading of daily media reports of the case, that Saraki will win, be discharged and acquitted.
“This Nostradamic prediction was anchored simply on the premises that no scintilla of evidence was being led by any of the four prosecution witnesses to prove the legal ingredients of the alleged false declaration of assets by Saraki.
On his part, the executive chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) Comrade Debo Adeniran maintained that Saraki’s victory had put Nigeria in an “embarrassing situation in the international arena.
He stated that it suggested that that country is “not a serious country when it comes to fighting corruption.”
Adeniran said, “Well, we know that it’s for political expediency, not because there’s no evidence against him.
“So many pieces of evidence have been provided but what we are having in Nigeria is a situation whereby the law that is supposed to be a leveller for everybody, where everybody will be equal before the law has been made to appear differently for the leaders and differently for the governed.
“It is unfortunate that there have been a dilly-dally reader situation since the case began. The one (case) at the EFCC could not proceed and now the one at CCC is over. Remember also that the National Assembly made several efforts to outmuscle the court of justice by intimidating even the President of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, indicting him for a kind of contrived offenses because they wanted to outmuscle the court of justice”.
Wild Jubilation In Ilorin
Meanwhile, wild jubilation erupted in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital yesterday, following the discharge and acquittal of Senate President Saraki at the CCT.
The ‘I Stand By Saraki’ group led by a former woman leader of the All progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Alhaja Sarah Adebayo, coordinated the jubilation rally.
Amidst sounds of drums, singing and dancing, Saraki’s supporters, including members and executives of the APC, members of state executive council, women and youth groups marched from the party’s secretariat at GRA to the palace of the Emir of Ilorin in the heart of the town.
The Saraki’s supporters wore multicoloured customised T-shirts to celebrate Saraki’s victory at the tribunal.
Addressing the mammoth crowd, the state chairman of the APC, Hon. Ishola Balogun Fulani, expressed happiness on the development, saying allegations against Saraki were politically motivated.
“The entire APC members and all peace loving people of Kwara State are very happy. We knew that these were politically motivated charges but God has vindicated us, and it is a plus to democracy. This also allows us to have confidence in the judiciary of Nigeria”, he said.
Also speaking, former APC woman leader and chairperson, Kwara State local government service commission, Alhaja Sarah Adebayo, said the judgement was a welcome development.
“We appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari for doing justice to the whole issue. The judgement is a welcome development to Kwarans as a whole. We appreciate everyone that stood by us when the case lasted”, she said.