Senators restate support for Saraki, stop review of CCT, CCB
• Chamber reconciles members, drops Marafa’s suspension bid
• APC says PDP lawmaker can’t replace Senate president
• EFCC’s witness admits Saraki not properly probed for trial
• Upper legislative body’s leader wants Umar to disqualify self
• Bank account documents burnt
Insisting on a fair trial for Bukola Saraki, lawmakers in the upper legislative chamber yesterday resolved to support the Senate president till the end of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
They reached their decision at a closed-door meeting that lasted for about three hours. At the meeting, they also began a move to reconcile their colleagues who had been on a war path since June 9, 2015 when the Eighth Senate was inaugurated.
Yesterday too, while maintaining a position that was similar to the one he held on Tuesday, a prosecution witness in the trial of Saraki said that the leader of the upper legislative chamber was not properly investigated on assets declaration before he was charged for trial.
Testifying before the CCT, the witness, Mr. Micheal Wetkas, an investigator with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), said Saraki was only investigated through his bank account on money laundering.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu who presided over yesterday’s session stated that the chamber had also decided to stop the amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and CCT establishment Act.
Senator Hope Uzodinma (PDP, Imo West) had shortly after the commencement of yesterday’s session raised Senate Order 43 which dealt with matters of personal explanation but insisted that the Senate should go into a closed-door session to listen to what he had to say.
When the meeting was over, it was announced that even the planned suspension of Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central) for alleged attempts at rubbishing the image of the Senate was stopped.
But the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition in respect of Marafa’s alleged destruction of the Senate’s image, was to be debated and adopted yesterday. The report had recommended Marafa’s suspension.
Ekweremadu also announced that it had been resolved that all senators who had taken the Senate to court on the issue of the alleged forgery of rule should withdraw the case.
It was equally agreed that a committee comprising two senators per zone be set up to consider other issues that caused the crisis in the Senate and recommend further measures to be taken.
It was gathered that the issue of imbalance in the distribution of committees was key among the causes of the crisis which the committee would consider.
Ekweremadu, in announcing the outcome of the closed door session said: “The Senate in a closed-door session discussed a number of issues affecting the smooth working of the Senate and I am happy to announce to our colleagues and the entire nation that after exhaustive deliberations and being sincere to ourselves, we have decided to put behind us all things that have divided us since the inception of the Eighth Senate and work as a united Senate in the best interest of our country.”
He continued: “We also agreed to suspend the discussion of the Committee on Ethics report on Senator Marafa. We agreed to suspend further deliberations on the amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and the Criminal Administration of Justice Act.”
According to Ekweremadu, “We agreed that this Senate should stand by the Senate President in his trial until proven guilty by the court, in accordance with our Constitution and democratic practices all over the world including South Africa, Brazil and Russia.
“We also agreed to set up a committee, two from each geopolitical zone to address all remaining issues. And as part of the reconciliation, those in court should consider withdrawing the cases. Further to agreement to set up the committees, the geopolitical zones have sent names of their representatives. They are: South- South: Godswill Akpabio, James Manager; North West: Sani Yerima, Suleiman Hunkunyi; North East: Buka Abba, Joshua Lidani; South East: Sam Egwu, Hope Uzodinma; North Central: Barnabas Gemade, Abdullahi Adamu; and South West: Monsurat Sumonu, Gbenga Ashafa.”
Meanwhile , the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun says the party cannot tolerate any member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the occupant of the Senate presidency seat.
There have been calls on Saraki who was not the preferred choice of the party, currently facing charges of misdeeds at the CCT to step down on the basis that he lacks the moral ground to hold on to the exalted office.
Oyegun while reacting over an online publication reiterated that there was no way the APC would interfere in the Saraki saga at the CCT since it was a matter strictly within the sphere of influence of the courts.
He said: “That misunderstanding is still on? Let me put it simply. There were basically two points that I was making. Number one, as a party of change even as a party, we cannot interfere in a judicial process that is ongoing. That was clear. And when they asked about the Senate, I said under no circumstance can we compromise on the leadership of the Senate.
“We are the majority party and the issue doesn’t even really arise but unfortunately the way it was put, the misinterpretation has been a little bit too intense and that is clear. It just doesn’t arise at all. The issue, the argument and the rest don’t arise. If somebody wants to theorise and postulate, that’s a different matter. It doesn’t arise.”
Besides, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has said the Senate can’t arrogate to itself the power to summon judges without violating constitutional safeguards.
Drawing from the above, SERAP yesterday called the Senate to immediately withdraw what it described as the “unconstitutional summon” of the Chairman CCT , Justice Danladi Umar, to appear before its Ethics Committee.
In a statement, SERAP said: “The summon represents a direct assault upon the principle of judicial independence as it undermines the constitutional principle of separation of powers and guarantee of a judicial system that is free from outside influence of whatever kind and from whatever source. The Senate of Dr. Bukola Saraki is perpetrating a parliament of men and not of laws.”
The group, has therefore, issued a letter to the leadership of the Senate to call itself to order.
The letter dated April 20, 2016 was made available to journalists in Abuja by the Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni.
On the alleged transfer of funds into foreign account by Saraki, Wetkas said that some documents and telex relating to the transfer of funds from Saraki’s Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB) account to foreign banks were burnt.
According to him, the bank had sworn to an affidavit and obtained a police statement in respect of the fact that there was a fire incident and part of the documents relating to the alleged foreign transfer by Saraki were burnt.
He added that when the bank told him there was a fire incident, he quickly recounted that he would not want to commit himself as to whether there was a fire or otherwise but he believed there was a fire incident and the burnt documents formed part of the documents which the bank sworn an affidavit to.
But when he was asked to show the tribunal a copy of the affidavit, the witness said he could not find it.
Wetkas also said that although Saraki was charged for operating foreign accounts, the financial statement, mandate and opening package of the said foreign account were never in the custody of EFCC.
“To get the account opening package and statement of account, we involved diplomatic process. The foreign counterpart was contacted and investigation was ongoing,” he said.
He added that even though he led the team that investigated Saraki, he never met him for interrogation neither did he obtain a statement from him.
One of the counsel to Saraki, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) also asked the witness the exact bank that issued the foreign account to the defendant. In his response, he said that it was American Express Bank, New York and that it was an existing bank but admitted that he did not find out the country of incorporation but he knew that the bank existed through open source information.
In a further cross-examination, the witness admitted that the name of the beneficiary bank in the document he submitted to the tribunal upon his investigation was different from the bank he mentioned under a cross- examination.
The document to the tribunal had indicated Standard Chartered Bank, New York and not American Express Bank, New York, as earlier testified by the beneficiary.
He, however, informed the tribunal that the two banks are agents, but when he was asked to show from the face of the document where it was written that the banks were agents, the witness said he could not find such.
He added that he was not an expert in banking issues and as such, he would not be able to answer some questions in detail on the financial transactions of Saraki with foreign banks.
He was also asked whether he investigated the American Express Bank, New York. Wetkas responded that he only investigated card account.
He further told the tribunal that during the course of his investigations, he had inquired from the bank about the ATM card and he was told that the ATM card was foreign and it was not a card of their domicile.
Usoro then asked: “Did you ask the defendant about the card during the course of your investigation?”
Wetkas: “My investigation did not necessitate me to meet the defendant in respect of the aspect of the case I handled and brought before the tribunal.”
Usoro : “Did you Michael meet the defendant at all?”
“In the course of my investigation put before this court, I did not interrogate him”, Wetkas said.
Wetkas asserted before the tribunal that the defendant had an American Express Card (AMEX) and the card was alleged to have been used as stated in count 11 for the transfer of $3000 .
He also told the tribunal: “During the course of my investigation like I said in my evidence-in-chief, my findings formed an offshoot of report of suspicious transactions relating to personal account and company account relating to the defendant.
“When we commenced investigation, I discovered that there was a massive lodgment of funds into his account by his GTB account manager and staff of the bank and also his aides while he was the executive governor.
“Most of these individuals were also found to be fictitious. We discovered that the loans were used to acquire several properties which were not declared and which were subject of the charge before the tribunal”, he said.
Wetkas further revealed that a substantial part of the money amounting to about $3.4million was transferred to the particular AMEX account.
“So my investigation basically was on money laundering”, he said.
The trial continues today at 10:00 a.m.
Meanwhile, Saraki has accused the Chairman of CCT, Mr. Danladi Y. Umar of bias and insisted that he could not get justice under him. Saraki in a motion he filed against Umar, prayed the CCT boss to disqualify himself from further participating in his trial on the ground of the alleged bias .
In a motion on notice filed by his lawyer, Mr. Raphael Oluyede, Saraki contended that the continued presence of Umar on the panel of the tribunal offended the provisions of Section 36(1) of 1999 Constitution as amended.
The constitutional provision prescribes that “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality”.
The applicant claimed that considering the unfolding events and the way and manner his trial was being conducted by Umar, there was the likelihood of bias from the chairman and as such, he should withdraw himself from further prosecuting him.
The motion on notice was brought pursuant to section 36(1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, the common law rule on likelihood of bias and the rules of natural justice.
The defendants in the motion on notice include Umar and the second member of the tribunal Mr. Agwadza Williams Atedze.
In a 20-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion, Saraki was said to be standing trial before the CCT being presided over by Umar.
The affidavit stated that the applicant had sought to enforce his fundamental right in suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/905/2015 before a Federal High Court in Abuja on the ground that the independence and impartiality of the CCT cannot be guaranteed while Umar presides over the trial of the applicant.
It also averred that Saraki was being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and that Umar as Chairman of CCT is an object of investigation by the same EFCC on corrupt practices.
The affidavit also claimed that by his conduct in the proceedings, the CCT boss had allegedly proved to be a willing tool in the hands of the executive arm of the government which was responsible for his appointment and particularly as he (Umar) was himself under investigation for corruption by EFCC.
The affidavit deposed to by Mr. Paul Akase claimed that neither the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) nor the EFCC or Umar has ever denied the fact that CCT boss was under investigation.
It also claimed that by the 1999 Constitution, the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Tribunal Act, the power to investigate a complaint of breach of Code of Conduct for public officers is the exclusive of the CCB and not EFCC.
The affidavit further stated that the EFCC’s usurpation of the CCB power had been admitted by the AGF in previous court action instituted by Saraki against the AGF, EFCC, Umar and other defendants.
It therefore stated the interest of justice would be served if Umar disqualifies himself from sitting in a the panel of the tribunal to hear and determine the charges being prosecuted against the applicant.
No date has been fixed for hearing of the motion.
The tribunal had earlier in the day adjourned the case of former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, which came up at the same time with Saraki’s case to May.
This followed the decision of the tribunal to accord the senior lawyer handling Saraki’s case, Kanu Agabi, preference before junior lawyers of Orubebe.