On Friday, the Federal High Court in Lagos dismissed the Senate president Bukola Saraki’s appeal to stop his trial at the Court of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Saraki is accused of a false declaration of assets and is currently facing trial at the CCT following a 13-count charge brought against him of alleged corruption and false declaration of assets in 2003. Justice Ibrahim Baba held that the court lacks the jurisdiction to hear the application.
The Federal High Court will be the fourth court approached by Saraki since the tribunal began his arraignment. An appeal court in Abuja had dismissed a similar petition last month and the Supreme Court has got a file from Saraki’s lawyers seeking to declare that the CCT cannot continue with the case, given the cited technicalities.
Saraki’s hearing at CCT took a dramatic turn on Thursday as his lawyers staged a walkout on the panel of the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja, in protest against a ruling that the trial must continue despite his appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal which affirmed the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the case.
The tribunal chairman, Justice Danladi Umar had refused to adjourn the hearing until the Senate president’s appeal before the Supreme Court is determined. Rotimi Jacobs, the prosecutor, speaking on the development, said: “The Appeal Court held that the charge was proper and the tribunal is properly constituted to sit with two members. We have the Certified True Copy of that judgment. This matter was adjourned till today for us to report the outcome of the proceeding before the appeal court and for continuation of trial. The appeal court, having disposed of the case before it, my lords we are ready to open our case against the defendant. Our witnesses are present.”
Saraki’s lawyer, Magaji, confirmed the ruling of the appeal court panel which he said was divided. He, however, told the tribunal that his client would like to make a fresh application.
“My lords, we have an application to make. It is true that judgment was delivered by the Court of Appeal on October 30. Sequel to that judgment, there was a split decision of the court of appeal. As a result of the dissenting judgment, the defendant filed a notice of appeal to the Supreme Court, challenging the decision of the Appeal Court”, Magaji said.
The Senate leader through his other lawyer, Ahmed Raji, SAN, argued that the only matter for the tribunal to decide was whether it could continue with the trial despite the appeal before the Supreme Court.
He said: “All we want is to let the head move the tail and not the tail moving the head”.
The tribunal however rejected Saraki’s application, and asked the federal government to directly open its case against him. Justice Umar said: “The tribunal has painstakingly analysed all the arguments from both counsel. However, as lawyers, we are ministers in the temple of justice and must at all times advice our clients accordingly and with the interest of justice at heart.
“This tribunal hereby in strength of the provision of Section 305(c) of the ACJA, which gives us the power to conclude trial and pass sentence but suspend execution until such time when an appeal before a higher court is considered and decided, order the prosecution to openits case.
“The essence of the ACJA is to ensure that criminal cases are expeditiously and judiciously thrashed within a short time. The tribunal hereby upholds argument of the prosecution. Moreover, the defendant will never suffer any injury, miscarriage of justice or harm in anyway if the proceeding continues. This tribunal is a sacred institution that took an oath to do justice to all and sundry. The prosecution is hereby ordered to open its case against the defendant”, he concluded.
As the prosecutor, Jacobs, SAN, tried to call his first witness, Saraki’s lawyer, Magaji, SAN, told the tribunal that all the defense lawyers would not be contented to take part in what he called “judicial rascality”. “I therefore hereby withdraw my legal services to the defendant”, he said.
Similarly, Raji said: “In my capacity as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, I have not seen where this kind of conduct will be exhibited against the apex court of the country and I don’t want references to be made in future that I was part of such proceeding. I find it most impossible to sit down here and participate in a proceeding whose legality is being challenged at the Supreme Court. We are asking for the indulgence of your lordships to leave,” an appeal to which Justice Umar answered: “You are all free to go.”
Saraki, speaking after all his lawyers left him, told the tribunal that he had little knowledge of the legal system, even as he asked for time to seek legal assistance.
“Mr. Chairman, I find myself in a new terrain. Firstly is the fact that my lawyers walked out on me. I need time to go and beg them to come back and in any event that they refuse, I need to look for best hands to defend me. I need to ask them why they did what they did today. If they refused to come back I will then know where to go from there,” Saraki pleaded.
Jacobs, the prosecutor, did not oppose Saraki’s request and advised the court to suspend the matter till either the following day or next week for trial, saying “what happened yesterday is a demonstration of the bad legal advice the defendant has been receiving since this matter started”.
Justice Umar adjourned the case till November 19 for hearing. The Senate president was accompanied to the court by senators from both the APC and the PDP.
Meanwhile, some civil rights activists have blamed the Senate leader of using Nigerian taxpayers’ time and funds to appear at his personal corruption trial.
Saraki reportedly subtly forced senators to support him at the trial via an SMS which allegedly was sent by the leader of upper legislative chamber to senators.
The Renaissance recalled that Sahara Reporters published a text message that Senate President Bukola Saraki allegedly sent to senators asking them to accompany him to his corruption trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja today.
Saraki had suspended the sitting of the legislative chamber until November 10, briefly after releasing the list of newly instituted committees of the Senate.
The leadership of the Senate has regularly closed down the Senate to allow senators to go to the tribunal in a show of solidarity.
In previous hearings, more than 60 senators accompanied Saraki at his hearings. A copy of the text message to senators, signed by one “Arthur,” who identified himself as “Director of Protocol to Saraki,” reads:
“Gdevenin Distinguishr. Wish to inform dt Buses are available 2moro mrnin to convey Senators wishing to accompany H/E d Senate President. Departure is at 9 am frm d house @ 22 Yesderan Str. by IGP’s House Maitama. Regards. -Arthur (dir’ of Prot. S/P). +2348077770119