Saraki’s lawyers walk out on tribunal
SERAP condemns action
A DRAMA of sorts played out yesterday in the temple of justice when lawyers representing Senate President Bukola Saraki walked out on the two-man panel of the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja.
The walk-out was in protest against the decision of the tribunal to proceed with their client’s trial despite his pending appeal at the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) yesterday frowned at the conduct of lawyers representing Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), who staged a walk out on the CCT after it refused their application for stay of proceedings in the asset falsification trial against the Senate President.
Consequently, SERAP has called on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to “urgently investigate the conduct of the lawyers.
The Senate President, who was charged for alleged false declaration of assets during his tenure as governor of Kwara State, had, through his legal team made up of three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Mahmud Magaji, Saka Isau and Ahmed Raji, raised a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the matter
The tribunal, after hearing arguments on the said objection dismissed it, ruling that it had powers to sit over the matter.
Dissatisfied, Saraki approached the Court of Appeal, Abuja division seeking to upturn the tribunal’s decision, an appeal which also failed as the court affirmed the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the case.
When the matter came up yesterday, the Federal Government’s counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) told the tribunal the government was ready to open its case against the Senate President, noting that the Court of Appeal had on October 30, dismissed Saraki’s appeal against his trial and affirmed the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
“My Lords, the contention as to the jurisdiction of the tribunal has been settled. The Appeal Court held that the charge was proper and the tribunal properly constituted to sit with two members.
“We have the Certified True Copy of that judgment. This matter was adjourned for report and for continuation of trial, we are ready,” Rotimi submitted.
But Saraki’s counsel, Magaji drew the attention of the tribunal to a pending appeal at the apex court and accordingly prayed it to adjourn the trial and await the decision of the Supreme Court on the issue of jurisdiction.
He also reminded the court of an application for the stay of further proceeding on the matter pending the determination of the appeal at the Supreme Court.
He said that the CCT was notified of the pendency of the appeal before the Supreme Court via a letter that was addressed to its chairman on November 4.
“In essence, we are saying that we have a valid appeal before your lordships at the Supreme Court,” adding that the tribunal proceeding with hearing on the matter would amount to an affront and disrespect to judicial hierarchy.
In his ruling on the argument, the tribunal declined Saraki’s counsel’s request for an adjournment based on the provisions of the new Administration Criminal Justice Act, which it held was not in favour of adjournments over interlocutory appeals.
Reacting to the tribunal’s decision, Magaji announced that Saraki’s defence team was staging a walkout and described the decision to proceed with the trial as amounting to judicial rascality.
Dramatically, Magaji and his brother-SANs in the defence team led about 30 junior lawyers, who accompanied them to the proceedings, out of the court room.
The tribunal adjourned till November 19 for trial.
In a statement signed by its executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP said it believes “ that a lawyer’s duty to the court is a fundamental obligation that defines a lawyer’s role within the adversarial system.
Lawyers should at all times act to promote the rule of law and the public’s confidence in the administration of justice and not to be seen to undermine it or facilitate an infringement of the law.
“As we have seen many times, without the rule of law, the rule of the jungle takes hold and the economically and socially vulnerable fall victim to the strong and nobody is safe. The rule of law also creates a disincentive for would-be corrupt officials.”