Federal Government has proposed eight witnesses who will testify against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, when his trial on 13 counts of false assets declaration before the Code of Conduct Tribunal starts.
Contrary to widespread reports last year that the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, was part of the proposed prosecution witnesses, a court document obtained by our correspondent on Friday showed that the governor is not listed to testify against the Senate President.
The list obtained shows eight proposed witnesses who were said to have been involved in the investigation of the four forms in which Saraki had allegedly made false declaration of his assets between 2003 and 2011 during his two terms as governor.
The list of witnesses which was filed along with charges instituted against Saraki is dated September 11, 2015.
The document bears the signature of a then-Deputy Director of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Muslim Hassan (now a judge of the Federal High Court), who had also signed the charges.
The trial of the Senate President is expected to commence any moment from next week following Friday’s judgement of the Supreme Court affirming the validity of the charges preferred against him and the jurisdiction of the CCT to try him.
Following the apex court’s judgement, the Danladi Umar-led tribunal is expected to issue a hearing notice to parties to enable the prosecution, led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), to open its case by calling its proposed witnesses.
Those listed by the prosecution to testify against him are: Yahaya Bello, Michael Wetkas, Mustapha Abubakar Musa, Nura Ali Bako, Adamu Garba, Samuel Madojemu, Abdulrahaman Bayo Dauda and Nwachukwu Amazu.
Some of the witnesses were said to be detectives who investigated the four forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau by Saraki as a two-term governor.
The proceedings of the tribunal had been stalled by an earlier ruling of the Supreme Court staying the proceedings of the tribunal pending the hearing and determination of his appeal.
The five-man panel of the Supreme Court whose order had put Saraki’s trial on hold was headed by now retired Justice John Fabiyi.
But Friday’s judgement of a fresh seven-man bench led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, effectively terminated the order of stay of proceedings earlier granted by the apex court.
In the 13 counts instituted against Saraki, he was alleged to have “corruptly acquired many properties while in office as 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 is also accused of sending money abroad for the purchase of a property in London and that he maintained an account outside Nigeria while serving as governor.
Saraki initially refused to appear before the tribunal, prompting it to issue a bench warrant against him.
He later submitted himself to the CCT for arraignment on September 22, 2015 before the arrest warrant could be executed.
…as S’ Court orders senate president to face trial
The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the appeal by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, challenging the propriety of his trial on charges of false assets declaration preferred against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
A seven-man panel presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, unanimously ruled 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 judgement, dismissed all 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.
He said, “In conclusion, I find no merit in the appeal which is accordingly dismissed.
“The judgement of the lower court (Court of Appeal) delivered on 30th October, 2015 dismissing the appeal of the appellant against the ruling of Code of Conduct Tribunal of 18th September 2015 is hereby affirmed. Appeal dismissed.”
The CJN 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 judgement.
The judgement of the Supreme Court terminated an earlier order of the a panel of apex court presided over by now retired Justice John Fabiyi, which had on November 12, 2015, stayed proceedings in the trial of the Senate President.
The CCT is therefore expected to issue a hearing notice for the continuation of the senate president’s trial.
In the 13 counts initiated by the Federal Government, Saraki was said to have made 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.
He failed in his bid to get the Danladi Umar-led tribunal to quash the 13 counts, 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 on among his seven grounds of appeal, that the CCT lacked jurisdiction to try him as it was constituted by two instead of three members.
He also argued that the tribunal was not a criminal court and thus lacked the power to issue bench warrant or apply the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 in its proceedings.
Saraki contended that the charges preferred against him were incompetent on the basis that they were filed in the absence of the Attorney-General of the Federation in office.
He also canvassed as part of his grounds of appeal that the charges instituted against him had been rendered incompetent by being served on him in an “incurably defective manner.”
The senate president also contended that the Court of Appeal wrongly justified an alleged disobedience of a Federal High Court’s order to stay proceedings by the CCT.
Justice Onnoghen, in considering the appeal on Friday, condensed the seven grounds raised by Saraki, through his lawyer, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), into five issues.
All the five issues were resolved against Saraki and in favour of the prosecution –the Federal Government.
The apex court upheld the argument by the Federal Government’s lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) and held that contrary to Saraki’s contention, the Danladi Umar-led CCT was validly constituted by two members.
He held that while the Constitution under Paragraph 15(1) of the 5th Schedule provides that the CCT must be composed by the Chairman and two members, the law was silent on the quorum of the tribunal that could validly conduct its proceedings.
Affirming the contention of the prosecution to the effect that the chairman and one member of the tribunal could form a quorum for the tribunal, Justice Onnoghen cited the provisions of Section 28 of the Interpretation Act, which stipulates that the quorum of any tribunal, commission of inquiry, “shall not be less than two.”
Justice Onnoghen said, “From the above provision, it is clear that any sitting of the Code of Conduct Tribunal presided by the chairman and one member, as was the case herein, is valid.”
The apex court also dismissed the contention that the CCT lacked jurisdiction to issue bench warrant or apply the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 in its proceedings.
Though the Court of Appeal had described the CCT as “a tribunal with limited jurisdiction,” the apex court ruled on Friday that going by the subtitles in the Third Schedule to the Code of Conduct headed, ‘Code of Conduct Tribunal Rules of Procedure, it was safer to refer to the CCT as having “a quasi-criminal jurisdiction.”
Justice Onnoghen highlighted the subtitles to include, ‘institution of proceedings’; ‘order on an accused to appear’; ‘plea of not guilty or no plea’; ‘presentation of case for prosecution’; ‘procedure after presentation of evidence by the prosecutor’; ‘defence’, and so on.
“From the totality of the provisions, it is my view that it is clear that the intention of the legislature is to make the proceedings of the tribunal criminal proceedings to be regulated by criminal procedure,” Justice Onnoghen held.
On the issue of incompetence of the charges due to the absence of an AGF, Justice Onnoghen also held, “It is very clear that the power of initiating criminal proceedings by any officer of the department of the Attorney General of the Federation is not dependent on the office of the said Attorney-General of the Federation having an incumbent.”
The apex court also held that the argument by Saraki to the effect that he was improperly served was baseless, holding that going by Section 136(a) of the ACJ Act, “trials may be held not withstanding any irregularity, defect or error in the summons or warrant or in the issuing, service or execution of the summons of warrant.”
He also held that the CCT did not disobey any order of the Federal High Court staying its proceedings.
The apex court described as unfortunate an attempt by Saraki’s lawyers to intimidate the tribunal by raising the issue.
The apex court said, “In any event, there was no order of the Federal High Court staying proceedings of the tribunal which was disobeyed by the tribunal.
“I hold that the instant issue is an attempt at intimidating the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which is very unfortunate.”
The Supreme Court was, however, filled to capacity mainly by political associates of the senate president on Friday.
Many of them who could not find seats stood in all available spaces in the court room.
The supporters of the Senate President left quietly in disappointment after the judgement was delivered.
The Supreme Court had, on November 12, 2015 through a five-man panel, led by now retired Justice John Fabiyi, granted an order of stay of proceedings of Saraki’s trial before the CCT, pending the hearing and determination of his appeal.
After granting the order of stay of proceedings, the apex court ordered parties –Saraki and the Federal Government – to exchange their briefs of argument within 14 days.
A new panel headed by the CJN which heard the appeal on December 4, 2015 comprised Justices Walter Onnoghen, Tanko Muhammad, Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Chima Nweze and Amiru Sanusi.
The senate president, who was said to have submitted four assets declaration forms which were allegedly investigated by the CCB, was found to have “corruptly acquired many properties while in office as 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 is also accused of sending money abroad for the purchase of property in streak of property in London and that he maintained an account outside Nigeria while serving as governor.
Saraki initially refused to appear before the tribunal prompting it to issue a bench warrant against him.
He later submitted himself to the CCT for arraignment on September 22, 2015 before the arrest warrant could be executed.

Copyright PUNCH.

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