By SUNDAY ODIBASHI
THE President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Abubakar Saraki, may be returning to the dock of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to continue his prosecution over accusation of false declaration of assets brought against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). The Supreme Court, in its unanimous judgment last Friday, turned down Saraki’s appeal questioning the jurisdiction of the CCT on his trial.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, held that the Danladi Umar-led CCT had jurisdiction in the matter and had the powers to try criminal matters and issue bench warrants against Saraki. “I find no merit in the appeal, it is hereby dismissed,” Onnoghen declared.
The Supreme Court further held that the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) was properly constituted to try the Senate President contrary to the argument of Saraki’s counsel, Joseph Daudu (SAN).
Senate President Saraki, however, expressed disappointment over the judgment of the Supreme Court, expressing optimism that he will be exonerated at the end.
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Yusuf Olaniyonu, Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Senate President, in a statement, disclosed that Saraki was disappointed with the judgement of the Supreme Court on the six grounds of his appeal. Olaniyonu explained: “He, however, will like to put it on record that the facts of the substantial matter are not before the Supreme Court since the apex court was only invited to rule on some preliminary issues in the process of commencing the trial.” He maintained that, “the Senate President believes he will have his day in the court to prove his innocence of the charges preferred against him during the trial proper.” The Senate President, thereafter, assured his supporters that truth will prevail and justice will be served at the end.
The Supreme Court judgment reopened the power tussle in the Senate. The opposition senators to Saraki that constituted the Senate Unity Forum (SUF), were gathered to have launched a renewed battle after the Supreme Court judgment, demanding the resignation of Saraki. They had contended that a person answering criminal charges cannot lead the Senate. Senator Kabir Marafa, speaking for the Forum, was said to have declared: “We have tried enough for him. We can no longer wait and watch someone who is answering criminal charges in court to come out of the dock always to preside over the affairs of the Senate.” He had added that, “at the moment, the image of the Senate is not worth anything in the eyes of Nigerians because of the attitude of its president, who ordinarily should have resigned in a sane clime.”
The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) had taken Saraki to the CCT on a 13-count charge of false declaration of assets. In suit number ABT/01/15, dated September 11, 2015, Saraki is being accused of offences ranging from anticipatory declaration of assets to making false declaration of assets in forms he filed before the Code of Conduct Bureau while he was Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
Saraki was also accused of concealing declaration of some assets he acquired while in office as governor; acquiring assets beyond his legitimate earnings, operating foreign accounts while being a public officer in two instances, namely, governor and senator.
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The offences, the prosecutor said, violated sections of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended. The embattled Senate President was further said to have breached Section 2 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and punishable under paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
The charges were prepared by M.S. Hassan, a deputy director in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation at a time President Muhammadu Buhari had not appointed Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
When the case commenced on Tuesday, September 22, 2015, Saraki pleaded not guilty to all the charges. He further cited subsection 3 of the Code of Conduct Act to detect some legal flaws in his arraignment, contending that he should not have been brought before the court rather the Code Conduct Bureau (CCB) needed to seek clarifications from him, thereafter, the matter ends there.
Saraki further decried the politicization of his prosecution at the CCT. According to him, “I am here today because I am the Senate President.” Apparently, Saraki’s trial at the CCT, became synonymous with the power tussle over the leadership of the Senate.
A major consequence of Saraki being found guilty by the CCT is immediate vacation of his office as Senate President, including loss of membership of the National Assembly, beside others.