All is set for the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on 13 counts of alleged false assets declaration to begin today (Friday).
Saturday PUNCH had reported that the prosecution, led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), had proposed 13 prosecution witnesses to testify in the case.
The Supreme Court, through its judgment delivered on February 5, 2016, had paved the way for the trial to begin after dismissing the Senate President’s objection to the validity of the charges and the jurisdiction of the CCT to hear the case.
The Danladi Umar-led tribunal subsequently fixed March 10 for the commencement of the trial, but it later shifted the date to March 11, following a request by Saraki’s new lead counsel, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN).
According to a statement issued on March 1 by the Head, Press and Public Relations of the CCT, Mr. Ibraheem Al-hassan, Agabi pleaded with the tribunal for a shift in the trial date to enable him to attend to other urgent matters.
The CCT spokesperson said Agabi conveyed his request to the CCT in a letter dated February 26, 2016.
Saraki was arraigned on 13 counts of false assets declaration on September 22, 2015.
In the charges instituted by the Federal Government, Saraki was accused of making false assets declaration in his forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau as a two-term Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
The Senate President, who was said to have submitted four assets declaration forms investigated by the CCB, was allegedly found to have “corruptly acquired many properties while in office as the Governor of Kwara State but failed to declare some of them in the said forms earlier filled and submitted.”
He also allegedly made an anticipatory declaration of assets upon his assumption of office as governor, which he later acquired.
He was also accused of sending money abroad for the purchase of property in London and that he maintained an account outside Nigeria while serving as a governor.
Saraki initially refused to appear before the tribunal, prompting the CCT to issue a bench warrant against him.
He voluntarily submitted himself to the tribunal before the arrest warrant could be executed.
The tribunal rejected his request for the quashing of the 13 counts shortly after he was arraigned on September 22, 2015.
He appealed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, against the decision of the CCT to continue the trial.
But by a two-to-one split decision of its three-man bench, led by Justice Moore Admein, the Court of Appeal dismissed the Senate President’s appeal.
Saraki, in his further appeal to the Supreme Court, asked the apex court to quash the charges filed against him, citing among his seven grounds of appeal, that the CCT lacked jurisdiction to try him as it was constituted by two instead of three members.
But a seven-man panel of the apex court presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, unanimously ruled in its judgment on February 5 that Saraki’s appeal against the jurisdiction of the CCT and the competence of the charges lacked merit.
Justice Walter Onnoghen, who delivered the lead judgment, dismissed all of Saraki’s seven grounds of appeal, affirming that the charges instituted against him were valid and that the tribunal was validly constituted with requisite jurisdiction to try him.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, and other members of the full panel of the apex court, comprising Justices Tanko Muhammad, Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Chima Nweze and Amiru Sanusi, also consented to the judgment.
Meanwhile, Justice Abdukadir Abdu-Kafarati of a Federal High Court in Abuja, had on March 1, fixed March 22 for his judgment in a fundamental human rights enforcement suit, through which the Senate President is asking for an order to stop his trial before the CCT.
But at the hearing of the case on March 1, Jacobs, who represented the Federal Government’s agents sued as respondents to the suit, urged the court not to grant Saraki’s prayer, as that, according to him, will amount to overruling the judgment of the Supreme Court.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, represented by Mr. Suleiman Abdukareem, also adopted Jacobs’ contention in opposing the Senate President’s suit.
But Saraki’s lawyer, Mr. Ajibola Oluyede, urged the court to stop the CCT trial on the grounds that the Senate President’s right to fair hearing was breached during the investigation of the allegations leading to the charges preferred against him.
Oluyede argued that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission usurped the powers of the Code of Conduct Bureau to investigate the details of assets declared by the Senate President and filed charges relating to the infraction discovered.