Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, will go down history as the first serving senate president to face trial while holding forth as the leader of the NASS. His emergence and the political tensions that trailed the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, are part of the defining moments of his leadership. In this report, TUNDE OGUNTOLA writes on his on-going trial at the CCT.
The case of discrepancies in assets declaration filed by the federal government against Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki has now got to the terminal and even critical stage as the Code of Conduct is set to rule over the No Case submission by the defense team in April.
The Senate President, through his no-case submission filed before the CCT on May 26, 2017, contended that none of the exhibits tendered and no evidence given by the four prosecution witnesses linked him to the alleged offences to warrant him to defend the charges. But, arguing the federal government’s objection to the no-case submission on Thursday June 8, 2017, the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), said there was “serious prima facie case” against the Senate President.
The chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, after hearing both the defence and the prosecution said the date for the ruling would be communicated to the parties soon. The decision will be whether to sustain the claim of the defence team headed by Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, and thereby throw out the case or to reject the claim of Saraki’s legal team and then compel them to open their defence proper.
Consequently, the public interest aspect of the case at this point is that as the Tribunal takes a decision, it must situate its ruling in the context of what will best serve the national interest between upholding the plea of the defence team or affirming the submission of the prosecutors who had spent the last 23 months seeking to justify their case.
Saraki has consistently claimed that the CCT case against him represents persecution rather than prosecution and that it was just a mere fall-out of the contest for office of the Senate President which he won last week. At this point, Umar and his colleague, Peter Atedze, have the opportunity to examine that claim more dispassionately.
Adopting the defendant’s written addresses before the CCT recently, the lead defence counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), said the petition which precipitated the charges had nothing to do with his client.
Agabi said the charges, especially counts 1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16, had disclosed no valid offences. He said, “Our submission is that the prosecution has not made out a case warranting an answer from the defendant is dated May 21, 2017, and filed on May 26, 2017.
“Our reply on point of law is dated June 7, 2017. Let me elaborate very briefly as follows: We were told by the prosecution that the charges were precipitated by petitions tendered as exhibits 10, 11, 12, and 13. My lord should read the petitions. We beg your lordship to read them; they have nothing to do with the defendant. Let us assume the petitions were investigated, where is the report? Who are the writers? Why are they not here?
“The second point is that in counts 1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16, the defendant was charged with ‘making false declaration by making no declaration’. There is inconsistency in the charges. I urge your lordship to hold that is not an offence,” Agabi said.
He also contended that only an authorised person could declare the statement of a public officer to be false and argued that the failure of the prosecution to disclose the name of the said authorised persons in the charges had rendered the charges invalid. He also said two of the prosecution witnesses, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, an official of the Code of Conduct Bureau, and another operative of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Michael Wetkas, had only given hearsay testimony as evidence.
He however, urged the court to take note of the defence’s list of witnesses, whom the prosecution ought to call but failed to.
Saraki himself stated his side of the story during the sitting of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), in Abuja. While he sat inside the accused box at the tribunal, he said: “I just want to make this brief introduction to show you that I believe in the process of the rule of law. Section 3 (d) of the CCB and Tribunal Act state that: ‘if there is a breach in asset declaration, the CCB shall refer the matter to the CCT, after giving a defendant an opportunity to either confirm if those facts were true or not, then the matter shall be referred to the tribunal.’ I felt that the CCB should have called me according to the law because we have been talking about new Nigeria. We have been talking about Nigeria moving forward.
“Mr chairman, as a layman, I should know why I should be punished like this. We are all watching. We are all before the world not only before Nigerians. I will conform myself to due process. That is why I have come to subject myself before this tribunal. I strongly believe I am here today because I am the senate president. So, as I stated before, I want to say that I am not guilty.”
Saraki really spoke intelligently. However, this will not appeal to his perceived enemies.
Also, since there have been suggestions in several quarters that diligent forensic investigation has not been done by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau which collaborated to bring the case to court, thereby occasioning sloppiness in the case of the prosecution, the tribunal has the opportunity to intervene at this point.
The intervention of the Tribunal would be to the effect of terminating the case and saving the nation of unnecessary tension, preventing wastage of public resource, averting travesty of justice and unwarranted heating up of the polity. To do this, the tribunal must demonstrate its commitment to justice. The two judges must be bold and ready to ignore the distraction which is sure to come down the line, if as usual, the game of blackmail resumes again with claim by a particular online publication claiming that the tribunal members had been bribed and influenced to deliver its ruling one way or the other.
It could be remembered that the trick of raising allegations against judges on the eve of delivering judgement was witnessed when the case filed against the entire proceeding came up at the Federal High Court and The Court of Appeal last year. There were instances where judges presiding over cases had to recuse themselves. The tribunal members must be ready to deliver justice, no matter whose ox is gored or whosoever interest it may serve.
The fact is that the ruling might go either way. One common factor in a case of quasi-criminal nature like this asset declaration matter is that the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. From the proceedings, it does not appear that the prosecution headed by Mr.
Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, has done this. There are reasons to believe huge gaps exist in the case of the prosecution.
While the star witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas, appeared in the witness box, there were people who pointed out some gaping holes and many thought they would use subsequent witnesses to tidy up the case to strengthen their evidence. However, subsequent witnesses turned out to be way below the Wetkas performance. If anything, the subsequent witnesses actually diminished the case of the prosecution.
It will therefore be surprising if on the basis of the performance of the prosecution, the case is decided in their favour. Whichever way it goes, this is definitely not going to be the end of Saraki. The worst is that if the tribunal rules against his no case submission, then the defence lawyers would go full blast to present his case.
That would be one long hell of trial. With full politics sure to commence early next year, it is unlikely that the trial will survive the political dynamics that may soon be emerging.