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Senate President Case Ending in an Anti-Climax

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By Chukwuma from Oweri

It appears that the drama that have surrounded the prosecution of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal is about to end abruptly in an anti-climax. Anyone who followed the reports emanating from the sitting of the Code of Conduct Tribunal last week would not but wonder if those who had waited anxiously for the beleaguered Senate President to kiss the dust have after all, waited in vain.

Shortly after emerging as Senate President in June last year, Dr. Saraki was dragged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal by the Federal Government on a 13-count charge centered largely on false declaration of assets in relation to his time as governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.

At the commencement of the trial, he failed to appear before the tribunal twice. However, after he was threatened with a bench warrant, he decided to honour the invitation, only to launch a spirited challenge at the jurisdiction of the tribunal as well as its composition. He took his case from the High Court, through the Federal Court of Appeal and all the way to the Supreme Court. He lost at every stage as all the courts threw out his grounds for objection and ruled that he must face trial.

Saraki’s enemies had roundly celebrated his inability to stop the trial and believed that they finally had the former governor where they wanted him. Saraki himself had publicly claimed that his trial was political and had nothing to do with a fight against corruption. Even his most ardent detractor would be forced to agree with him. After all, it would be difficult to dismiss as sheer co-incidence that his ordeal at the CCT was coming just after he defied some powerful interests within his ruling All Progressives Congress, APC to emerge Senate President on June 9, 2015.

However, this did not translate into serious sympathies for the embattled lawmaker, especially among his political opponents in the National Assembly and within the party hierarchy. Even though majority of the senators had demonstrated their staunch support for him, which they have repeatedly expressed by trooping with him to the tribunal each time the case came up, not a few people believed that Saraki was fighting a lost battle.

What more, the combative prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs had left no one in doubt that he was not only capable of proving the charges against Saraki, he was also determined to see him punished accordingly. Despite Saraki’s army of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Jacob had been the star of the game. Each time he spoke, the tribunal listened and even at some point, appeared too willing to do his bidding. On one occasion, Saraki’s lawyers had to walk out in protest after what they thought was an obvious bias by the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, against their client.

However, all these appeared to have changed. Since Saraki brought in the former Attorney General of the Federation, Kanu Agabi, SAN to anchor his defence, the table had dramatically turned. Jacob was no longer the star of the tribunal. Beside Agabi, who was said to be his mentor and benefactor, Jacob seemed to have paled in confidence and competence.

The first indication that the prosecution’s case had started to fall apart last week when it was reported that the federal government was considering amending some of the charges against Saraki. According to the reports, the government was planning to drop counts 11 and 12, which accused the senator of operating a foreign account as a public official in violation of the law guiding the conducts of public officers in the country.

The prosecution was said to have come to the realization that the numbers quoted in the charges as those of the senator�s foreign bank accounts were actually credit card numbers. They found that the American Express Services Europe Limited, which issued the card was different from the American Express Bank. While the latter was a money deposit full-fledged commercial bank, the former was a credit/debit card services operating company only.

Since the story broke last week, many commentators had wondered how the prosecution could be so sloppy on such a high profile case. After all, a simple check with the American Express at the commencement of the trial would have clarified that the numbers were not those of a bank account. This grave error seem to suggest that perhaps in their hurry to nail Saraki, the prosecution did not do its basic homework. However, even as bad as this appeared, worse was to come.

At the sitting of the tribunal last week Friday, the defence counsel, Kanu Agabi asked the tribunal to dismiss the case and set his client free because a major condition for bringing a case to the tribunal was not fulfilled. He cited Section 3 (d) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, which says that before any case could be referred to the tribunal, the public officer concerned must be invited and given the opportunity to either deny or confirm any discrepancies observed by the bureau in his assets declaration. He argued that in Saraki case, this condition precedent was not fulfilled as his client was never invited by the Bureau before he was dragged before the tribunal.

Perhaps, more significantly, he referred the tribunal to its own ruling in an identical case that involved the former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, in 2011. Just like Saraki, Tinubu had also been dragged before the tribunal for violating the code of conducts Act. However, the same chairman of the tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar had dismissed the case on the grounds that the condition precedent under section 3(d) was not fulfilled. It was this ruling that Agabi relied on when he asked the tribunal to discharge his client, because, as he said, “what was good for the goose, should also be good for the gander.”

Rotimi Jacobs however countered that the CCT’s ruling in the case of Bola Tinubu was an error and should not be used as judicial precedence to grant Agabi�s request. Legal experts are however of the opinion that with this line of argument, Jacob may have fatally injured his case. According to them, only a higher court can set aside a precedent established by a lower court and a lawyer is not competent to declare the ruling of a court as an error. They argued that it would be a serious embarrassment to the judiciary if the tribunal should make two conflicting rulings on a similar matter.

Source : Gist Arena

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