Umar dismisses motion to disqualify self from Saraki’s case
• Senate president appeals against ruling
• EFCC files three fresh charges
Citing a lack of merit, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar, yesterday dismissed the application seeking his withdrawal from the ongoing trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
The Federal Government is prosecuting Saraki at the CCT on a 13-count charge bordering on false declaration of assets which he was alleged to have made between 2003 and 2011 when he was the governor of Kwara State.
Saraki had, in his application earlier filed by his counsel, Mr. Ajibola Oluyede, asked Umar to disqualify himself on the ground of bias and the fact that he may never get justice from his (Umar) court with him presiding.
His argument was based on the alleged relationship between Umar and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which Saraki feared may lead to bias against him.
He held that since Umar was still under EFCC investigation for alleged bribery, it would be difficult for him to get justice from him.
Following the Wednesday’s sitting, the tribunal had reserved ruling for yesterday, and when the case was called, the chairman read the argument and afterwards upheld the argument of the Prosecution Counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) in his ruling.
Jacobs had in his argument claimed that EFCC had cleared Umar of the bribery allegation. He added that EFCC was already prosecuting the suspect that was found culpable in the allegation.
Umar, in his ruling, held that EFCC had by its letter dated March 5, 2015, through its then Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde to the then Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, cleared him of the alleged crime.
He added that the said letter in which the EFCC stated that the allegation against him was a mere suspicion and that it did not constitute sufficient evidence to prosecute him had overtaken the earlier investigation report issued by the anti-graft agency on June 24, 2014.
Adoke had in June 2014 directed that Umar and his co-accused be prosecuted.But Umar held yesterday that EFCC was not answerable to the AGF in its investigation and prosecution of cases.
“Only bodies established by law have the power to prosecute, such as the Police, EFCC, CCT etc.The EFCC had further continued their investigation to unravel the accusations against the chairman and having concluded their investigation, came out to say that it was a mere speculation.
“When the petitioner was asked to present his handset to prove that Umar made the call for bribery, he could not. He who alleges must prove. Consequently EFCC believed there was no substantial evidence to prosecute.
“EFCC is an autonomous body and not answerable to the Attorney General on how it carries out its mandate”, Umar said.
The tribunal chairman added that the incumbent AGF, Abubakar Malami, had stated that he (Umar) had been cleared when he appeared before a House of Representatives’ committee on the matter.
According to him, Malami had told the committee that he (the AGF) stood by the March 5, 2015 letter of EFCC to Adoke, indicating that there was no sufficient evidence to prosecute Umar.
He said: “What the present Attorney General told the House of Representatives Committee on the instruction to prosecute the chairman of CCT was that by virtue of the letter, there is no way he can prosecute him. He can only do so when there is substantial evidence to prosecute.
“The issue of having case to answer before the EFCC is over. The application lacks absolute merit and it is hereby dismissed in its entirety”, Umar said.
The tribunal thereafter called on the defence counsel to continue with the cross- examination of the first prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas.
Meanwhile, the tribunal has adjourned trial till May 10 to enable the defence counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN) to prepare his team over amended charges.
The EFCC had yesterday brought three additional charges against Saraki.
Counts 3, 14 and 16 were added to the existing charges. While count three for instance alleges that Saraki abused office as governor of Kwara State, including various cash lodgements made and which he failed to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau, count 16 holds that he collected salary between June 2011 and October 2015 and that he was also collecting salary and emoluments from the Federal Government as a senator, which is contrary to the provisions of the law.
Having listened to the entire 16-count charge, Saraki pleaded not guilty to all. In view of this development, the defence counsel asked for an adjournment to study the fresh charges and confer with his client.
“With the amendment of the charges, we humbly ask for an adjournment for us to meet with the defendant on the amended charges”, the defence counsel said.
Meanwhile, Saraki has appealed against the earlier ruling of the CCT, where the chairman dismissed the application asking him to disqualify himself.
The notice of appeal under Order 6, Rule 6 of the Court of Appeal Rules 2011, which was filed about five hours after the ruling by his counsel, Ajibola Oluyede, was anchored on three grounds.
The appeal claims that the tribunal erred in law by occasioning a miscarriage of justice when it allowed Umar to single-handedly decide that the application for his refusal “lacks absolute merit” essentially allowing him to be a judge in his own case.
“That the ruling was self-serving and defective and sought to validate the indicting EFCC letters written (I) on March 5, 2015 to the Secretary to the Federal Government and (ii) on April 20, 2016, inappropriately to Justice Umar after the refusal of application had been brought to his attention”.
Saraki also claims that the tribunal erred when it decided that the application lacked absolute merit simply because Justice Umar was of the opinion that the Attorney General of the Federation had no constitutional right to investigate and lacked authority therefore to give instructions to the EFCC to prosecute him.
It also held that Umar was in a kind of alliance with EFCC to defend him against encroachment by the AGF and that the tribunal also erred in law when it abandoned the main purpose of the refusal of the application and ignored the submission of counsel to dwell on his personal experiences.
Saraki therefore prayed the Court of Appeal for an order to set aside the ruling and disqualify Umar from sitting on the panel of the CCT trying him on charges brought against him.