Lawyers Divided Over CCT’s Insistence On Saraki’s Trial
MIXED reactions yesterday trailed the insistence of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to proceed with the corruption trial of Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki despite a pending appeal at the Supreme Court over the matter.
Lawyers’ opinions are also divided over the decision of the Senate President’s team of 26 lawyers to walk out on the tribunal when it refused to grant their application to suspend proceedings.
During Thursday’s trial, the defence team, which included three Senior Advocates of Nigeria – Saka Issau, Mahmud Magaji, and Ahmed Raji – had applied to the tribunal to suspend the hearing pending the Supreme Court’s determination of an appeal filed on November 2.
But the tribunal rejected the defence’s application on the grounds that no date was fixed yet for the hearing of the appeal and that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 in Section 306 prohibits the granting of a stay of proceedings in a criminal trial.
Reacting to the development, a constitutional lawyer, Prof. R.A.C.E Achara yesterday condemned the attitude of the Senate President’s team of lawyers, saying that “walking out” on a court was a bad precedent for the nation’s judiciary.
Speaking with The Guardian in Enugu, Achara said insisting that Saraki’s trial should not go on over a mere appeal at the superior court was not enough reason for any senior lawyer to walk out on the court.
He said there were rules and regulations guiding the operations of the court, stressing that a lawyer who feels highly unsatisfied with the conduct of a judge should appeal such attitude tha “embarrassing the court through walk out”.
Achara added: “A pending appeal is not a stay of proceedings and in that regard, I condemn their behaviour as embarrassing to the court. This is the kind of reaction you get when people feel every decision should be in their favour. The law is that when there is an appeal and there is a motion for stay of proceedings, the lower court should not proceed with the matter, but in this case, they have not filed a motion for stay and there is no order against the proceeding in their case. So, you cannot say that they have behaved well and I call on the legal practitioners committee to take action.
“It is a disgraceful conduct and not an action expected of senior lawyers because I know that the younger lawyers are watching and unless we abolish such behaviour, we may end up causing chaos in the legal system.”
A constitutional lawyer, Fred Agbaje in his reaction, said the decision of the CCT to continue with the trial amounts to judicial impertinence. His words: “A Judge of a tribunal or that of a court cannot, I repeat, cannot run a concurrent jurisdiction with the Appeal Court. That would amount to judicial impertinence as held by the Supreme Court in Olawunmi versus Mohammed in 1987.”
On the walk out of Saraki’s lawyers on the CCT, Agbaje noted: “When you walk out on a court, your client suffers. We were never taught in the Law School to walk out on a Judge no matter the provocations from the Judge. Instead, turn the heat on the Judge through citation of contemporary cases beyond the acknowledgement of such a Judge which will force such a Judge to adjourn.”
In his own remarks, a lawyer and former National Chairman of Labour Party (LP), Chief Dan Nwanyanwu accused the CCT and the prosecution counsel of debasing the Nigerian judiciary.
Nwanyanwu told The Guardian yesterday that he did not know or understand why the CCT and the prosecution counsel were in a hurry to subvert well known principles of law and decisions of higher courts on issues relating to matters before Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
He said: “They have shown the world that they appeared to have a written script they wanted to execute irrespective of the clear position of the country’s law.
“Time has come for Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), National Judicial Council (NJC) and even the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) to call the CCT and the prosecution counsel to order. This is because what they are doing is not in accordance with the dictates of the Nigerian constitution.
On the walkout by Saraki’s counsels, Nwanyanwu stated that the walkout was in order. “Any reasonable lawyers would have walked out on the CCT judge who has refused to act within the ambit of the law. There is urgent need for caution and constitutionalism to prevail. The country is currently in a democratic setting and the rule of law must prevail,” Nwanyanwu said.
President of Global Coalition for Defence of Human Rights, Frank Agbedo, said there was need to exercise caution on the matter. According to Agbedo who is also a lawyer, “the CCT cannot proceed with the trial because if they do so, they will overreach the outcome of the proceedings before the Supreme Court.”
He added: “Without prejudice to the proceedings before the CCT, there is every need to exercise some caution irrespective of the political coloration to this matter. I say this with every sense of responsibility because justice is not a one-way traffic. Justice is a three-way traffic — justice to the complainant, justice to the defendant and justice to the society whose interest will be protected at the end of the trial.
“Now, if what is going on before the CCT is about justice, then that justice must satisfy that three-way test. It is not just justice to the complainant; there has to be justice to the defendant and also the people, the ultimate repository of justice.
Now, if it is about quick dispensation of justice, it is true that delay defeats equity. However, justice rushed amounts to justice crushed. By this I mean that you cannot sacrifice fairness and due process on the altar of speed. It is trite law and elementary legal principle that when a superior court of competent jurisdiction is seised of a matter, a lower court is bound in law to halt its proceedings affecting the subject matter pending the outcome of the appeal before the superior court. This position of the law is even more germane in view of the nature of the appeal, which is challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to undertake the trial of the defendant. The issue of jurisdiction is fundamental and must be determined first before any further proceedings in the matter.
Section 305 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015 is subject to the provisions of Section 28 of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution and therefore cannot override the appellant’s right of appeal to the Supreme Court in interlocutory proceedings.”
On the walk out of Saraki’s lawyers during the CCT proceedings on Thursday, Agbedo said their action was in order. “People should not be sentimental about the issue. Other lawyers had done it in the past. During the trial of the late Niger Delta activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, his lawyers stormed out of the court because they were not satisfied with the conduct of the tribunal. Is this case different? People should not politicise matters of justice.
What the lawyers simply did is that they want to preserve the integrity of the superior court. They did not want to be part of the proceedings against which there is a pending appeal in a superior court by the same party. As far as I am concerned, the lawyers were just exercising their professional right under the constitution. They have the right to defend their client to the best of their ability within the rules of court and professional ethics,” he noted.
Also speaking on the matter, a prominent People’s Democratic Party (PDP) politician and lawyer, Chief Ebenezer Babatope describe the development as unfortunate and pathetic in a democratic setting.
I don’t see how the CCT will continue to conduct Saraki’s trial when there is a pending appeal on the matter at the Supreme Court. The Supreme court should be allowed to deliver judgment on Saraki’s appeal. Why the hurry to try Saraki without due process?,” Babatope said.