CCT ruling: Saraki’s long walk to freedom?
Last Wednesday’s ruling by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in favour of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, came with mixed feelings.
While some sections described it as shocking, in view of speculations and media trial that heralded the arraignment and prosecution, several others believed the victory clinched by the Senate President was long predicted.
This second group believed that Saraki’s trial was a mere political witch-hunt orchestrated by his opponent in the Senate and the party at large, and targeted at instilling some political discipline in him for exhibiting uncommon boldness against the movers and shakers of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Saraki was in 2015 dragged to CCT by the Federal Government on an 18-count charge bordering on false assets declaration.
After almost two years of legal battle, the tribunal last week discharged and acquitted him of all the charges.
At the close of prosecution case last month, Saraki, through his counsel, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN), filed a No Case Submission on the ground that there was no need for the defendant to open his defense since the prosecution has failed to establish a link between him and the charges brought against him.
Chairman of CCT, Mr. Danladi Umar, who upheld the No Case submission, admitted that indeed, the prosecution has failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendant.
Umar, while reading out the ruling, told the tribunal that the third prosecution witness – Mr. Samuel Madojemu, rendered the whole evidences linking the defendant to the alleged offences invalid when he openly admitted during his testimony that his report was based on information obtained from his team members.
Umar added that such evidences have no probate value upon which the tribunal can hold the charges against the defendant, as convictions are not obtained on hearsay.
Another ground for absolving Saraki hinged on the statement made by the first prosecution witness under cross-examination.
The witness had admitted that the defendant was not invited for clarification on gray areas in his Assets Declaration Form.
For the court, such error grossly affected the competence of the charges.
Recall also that the second prosecution witness had told the tribunal that all documents linking Saraki to the alleged money laundering offences were lost in a fire accident.
So, Umar held that the report given by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was more of intelligence gathering rather than conventional investigation.
He said: "To worsen the case, the defendant was never invited or be made to make statement so that truth can be unearthed if there are allegations against him.
"From the simple analysis of the evidence of the prosecution, we find it difficult to accept the seriousness of the witnesses.
"All the evidences were so discredited and unreliable that no reasonable court will attach probate value to them.
"Since the essential ingredients of all the charges were not proved as required by law, this tribunal has no option than to discharge and acquit the defendant in view of the manifestly unreliable evidence of the prosecution witnesses," Umar stated.”
Another member of the Panel, Mr. Williams Atedze Agwadza, observed gross incompetence in the accounts of the four witnesses, as well as the 48 exhibits tendered by the prosecution.
His words: "The formulation of the 18-count charge was based on the affidavit evidence of Mr. Samuel Madojemu, whose testimony and affidavit evidence later became an affliction and epidemic that befell the prosecution."
"Another fatal error on the part of the complainant was the failure to obtain statement of the defendant."
Agwadza maintained that the prosecution also failed by its inability to call vital witnesses, including the Accountant General of Kwara State to establish that Saraki collected salary long after he left office as governor of Kwara State, and concluded that Saraki should walk home a free man.
"My humble conclusion is that the defendant in this matter has no case to answer and he is accordingly discharged and acquitted."
In fact, that was how Saraki's legal ordeal, which began shortly after he dared his party’s decision over its candidature for the Senate President and other principal officers, came to a ceremonial conclusion.
Saraki had capitalized on his party’s non-affirmative position on the geo-political zone to occupy the country’s number three seat, even though the choice of Senator Ahmed Lawan as the party’s preferred candidate was very glaring.
The division in the Senate then, following Saraki’s high-headedness over becoming the Senate President, culminated in the formation of two blocs - the Senator Barnabas Gemade-led Unity Forum and the Peoples Democratic Party dominated Like Minds.
The war of words among members of both blocs heightened after Saraki emerged the Senate President with magnanimous support from PDP.
The animosity against the Senate President was further fueled by the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu of PDP as the Deputy Senate President.
The development prompted some powerful forces in the Executive arm of government, who were aggrieved over the manner the Kwara State-born politician altered APC's permutation, to allegedly embarked on the "pull him down mission."
Before the allegation of False Assets Declaration, members of the Unity Forum, obviously loyal to Senator Ahmed Lawan, and who appeared to be playing the Executive's script at the time, had swiftly approached the Federal High Court, Abuja, seeking nullification of the election of both Saraki and Ekweremadu.
In a suit instituted by Senators Abu Ibrahim, Kabiru Marafa, Ajayi Boroffice, Olugbenga Ashafa and Suleiman Hunkuyi, the prosecution alleged that the Senate Standing Orders 2015, which was used for the inauguration of the 8th Senate on June 9, was forged.
Interestingly, the suit was later withdrawn by the same group of people that instituted it, and was consequently struck out on September 1, 2015, by Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court.
However, before Saraki could settle down to work, the team of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Department of State Security Service (DSS), filed another suit against Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, for failing to declare all his assets, and for allegedly receiving salary from Kwara State coffers years after he left office as the governor of the state.
Precisely on September 28, 2015, Saraki was docked at the CCT on a 13-count charge (which later grew to 18), marking the commencement of his full trial.
His prosecution came with a lot of drama. In as much as Saraki claimed he was ready to face trial so as to clear his name, he did not succumb easily to the court.
With a retinue of Senior Advocates of Nigeria led by former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Kanu Agabi, Saraki made strenuous attempts to avert his trial.
His delay strategy began with the questioning of the jurisdiction of CCT to try him.
His team of counsel had averred that CCT lacked jurisdiction to try him because it was constituted by two members (the chairman and one other), instead of three (chairman and two others) as required by the enabling Act.
The team also argued that the charges against Saraki were not endorsed, having been filed when there was no sitting Attorney General and that Saraki’s arraignment was just a judicial cover for political persecution.
Following the dismissal of the application questioning CCT’s jurisdiction at the Supreme Court, Saraki returned to face trial but again. He raised objection against the person of the chairman of the tribunal, Danladi Umar, on the ground that a man with allegation of corruption over his head, has no moral ground to preside over another person’s trial.
Several attempts to force Umar to excuse himself met with strong resistance as the CCT boss insisted he must preside over the case.
Umar became so frustrated at a time that he bluntly warned Saraki that applying delay tactics would not save him from facing the music at the end of the day.
Umar’s statement further fueled the quest for him to step aside, as Saraki’s legal team interpreted the statement to mean a pre-determined position by the CCT.
The team accused Umar of prejudice and demanded his removal from the tribunal, but gain, to no avail.
In the course of the trial however, the charges against Saraki were also amended on three occasions; bringing it from the original 13 to 18 counts at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, four witnesses were eventually called against the 13 earlier listed by the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs. The decision to abridge the number of witnesses might not be unconnected to the defence style of prolonging cross-examination.
Recall that the defence counsel interrogated the first prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas, an officer of the EFCC, for about seven months. Consequently, three more witnesses were called before the prosecution decided to close its case.
Saraki’s acquittal also means a relief to other Senators, especially those of the Peoples Democratic Party, who accompanied him to court at every sitting.
The Senate President equally enjoyed the support of citizens of his state, who thronged the court regularly and chanted ‘Oloye, Oloye’ at every given opportunity, as if to draw his attention to their loyalty.
For the Senate, it means a solidified leadership now settled to fully take up the responsibilities for which it was voted.
Reacting to the ruling, A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chris Uche, described Saraki’s victory as a welcome development and evidence that judiciary is still the last hope of the common man.
He also commended the judiciary for the courage and boldness to dispense justice without fear or favour.
“We are emboldened by what has happened and this is how it should be in a democracy. So, I commend the judiciary for its boldness and courage to do what is right without fear or favour.”
According to him, the judiciary has to show courage in matters of this nature since he who alleges must prove.
He added that it was not all about media trial, but more of ability to produce substantial evidence in court.
“It is not proved by media trial, it is proved by evidence.”
Uche also blamed government’s inability to secure conviction on lack of proper investigation and prosecution and urged the agencies saddled with the responsibilities of investigating and prosecuting suspects to boost the capacities of their personnel for efficient performance.
“When you arraign people without carrying out proper investigation and you do not do diligent prosecution, then you want the court to do the matter for you.
“You must establish the guilt of the accused. It is not for the accused to establish his innocence.
“So, this is a very positive dimension. I don’t even think it has anything to do with the fight against corruption. It has not in any way whittled down the fight against corruption.
“For me, this means that those whom the law and the constitution has given the power and responsibility to handle matters of this nature should go back to the drawing board.
“We must avoid media trial. You may report proceedings in the court but a situation where you want to demonize those who are merely suspects and then, they will not have the opportunity to defend themselves, is not the best in the democracy,” Uche stated.