FOR hours yesterday, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, was docked at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja over alleged falsification of assets declaration in 2003 when he was governor of Kwara State.
About 15 senators, led by Saraki’s Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, were at the tribunal in solidarity support for the number three citizen.
Saraki, however, took the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to task on the mode employed to prosecute him as he denied all the charges against him.
The President of the Senate, who used his arraignment to open up, told the tribunal that he was being brought for trial today (yesterday) because of his new status as Senate President.
At another point, Saraki said he was shocked with the issues being raised against him because he was seeing them for the first time in his life.
Shortly after the first of the 13-count charge was read to him, the accused informed the tribunal that the CCB putting him on trial even violated its own law with its alleged deliberate refusal to first invite him (Saraki) for clarifications on the discrepancies in his assets declaration forms as provided for under Section 6 of the CCB Act 2004.
He asked the tribunal headed by Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar to act in the best interest of justice and not in favour of external forces that were allegedly out to fight him on vendetta.
“I am one of the strongest believers in the rule of law. I am a law-abiding citizen and my faith in the judiciary remains unshaken, but when trial is being instigated outside the purview of normal procedure, then the tribunal must watch it and must be on the side of justice,” Saraki further said.
He denied the charges in their entirety when his plea was taken and was allowed home on bail without any condition.
Prosecution counsel led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), thereafter briefed the tribunal on how the accused person, while in office as the executive governor of Kwara State, filled four different assets declaration forms, with the first one in 2003, the second in 2007, third also in 2007 while the fourth was filled in 2011 when he left office as governor.
Jacobs, among others, alleged that the Senate President made anticipatory assets declaration, while in some cases he failed to declare others acquired while he was governor.
He also alleged that Saraki operated two foreign accounts in the United Kingdom. Also, while in office as governor, he made some huge deposit in foreign currencies into the accounts with the aid of the Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB).
The alleged offences were said to be contrary to section 15 of the CCB and CCT Act 2004.
The prosecuting counsel also announced his intention to tender the four assets declaration forms as exhibits and that he will also call five witnesses to give evidence against Saraki.
After the presentation of facts of the case by the prosecution to the tribunal, its chairman declared that the Bench warrant of arrest earlier issued against the Senate President for Police to arrest him has been vacated and that the accused should go home.
Justice Umar also announced that the tribunal will hear all the motions already filed by the accused to challenge the jurisdiction of the tribunal before going into the main issue.
“It is not the intention of this tribunal to shut out the accused person in the numerous applications he has filed. It is in the interest of justice that we will hear all the motions in one way or the other before going into the main case,” Justice Umar said.
After a brief consultation by lawyers on the issue, the case was adjourned till October 21, 22 and 23 for trial.
Earlier, the defence team, led by Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), had insisted that Saraki will not be docked by the tribunal until all his motions challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal are disposed off.
Daudu premised his argument on the fact that until the issue of jurisdiction is first determined, the plea of any accused cannot be taken.
The prosecuting counsel, Jacob, however countered the arguments, claiming that the first thing for a court or tribunal is to take the plea of any accused standing trial before listening to him on any point.
Justice Umar upheld the submission of the prosecution and ordered Saraki to enter the dock which he complied with.
Others in the defence team are Yusufu Olaolu Ali (SAN), Saka Abimbola Isan (SAN), Chukwuma Ekomaro (SAN), K.K Eleja (SAN) and Adebayo Adelodun (SAN).
Saraki’s appearance at the tribunal yesterday, came after he had failed in his attempts to use the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court to stop his prosecution by the CCB, which he reportedly claimed did not give him the opportunity to clarify issues before the matter was taken to the tribunal.
He had earlier filed applications at the two courts to question his prosecution, but on Monday, he decided to honour the invitation of the CCT following the refusal of the courts to shield him from prosecution.
Well, with the ruling of the Appeal Court, I think based on legal advice, we have exercised our right, and being a law-abiding citizen, the directive of the CCB is saying that one should be there tomorrow. I will be there. I have nothing to hide,” Saraki had told reporters on Monday while announcing his intention to submit himself for appearance at the tribunal.
The Senator’s travail with the tribunal started on Friday September 18 when the chairman, Danladi Umar, issued a warrant of arrest on him for not appearing before the tribunal to answer the allegations by the bureau.
Following the order of arrest, Saraki had claimed he was protected by a notice of the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, which summoned the CCB, CCT and their chairmen to appear before it to show cause why they should not be restrained from arraigning him over the 13-count charge.
Saraki’s efforts at the court had been to stop his arraignment, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit he filed before the court.
He had prayed the court to declare that the Ministry of Justice has not complied with the provision of the 3rd schedule of Section 2(1) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Tribunal’s Act to act before proffering a charge against him.
In the motion exparte argued by Mahmud Magaji (SAN), Saraki said that based on the provision of Section 2 of the CCB and the Tribunal’s Act, his prosecution before the tribunal shall be initiated by the Attorney General of the Federation or any officer directed by him. “In the absence of any subsisting AGF in the time being, this court has the jurisdiction to direct parties to maintain status quo pending the hearing of the motion on notice”, Saraki had argued.
Despite this, the chairman of the CCT reportedly re-issued an arrest warrant on the Senate President to appear before the tribunal.
Also, the Senate President approached the Court of Appeal, contesting the order of arrest on him. But both courts refused to shield him against prosecution. This development informed his resolve to appear before the tribunal yesterday.
He had prayed the appellate court not only to set aside the warrant of arrest against him, but suspend the proceedings of the tribunal pending the hearing and determination of the substantive appeal he lodged against the Justice Umar-led panel.
After returning from the tribunal to where they had followed Saraki, the Senators, led by Ekweremadu, described the Senate President’s trial as “politically motivated, mischievous and vindictive.?”
A statement signed by Senator Ibrahim Abdullahi Danbaba (APC, Sokoto South) on behalf of Senators who went to the CCT ?with Saraki reads: “After a majority of us, Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, witnessed the appearance of our President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal this morning, we are happy that he appeared at the tribunal after availing himself of the opportunity to defend his fundamental human rights.
We also want to state here, on behalf of our colleagues, that the Senate remains solidly behind Saraki and we express our unalloyed support for his leadership. We reiterate the fact that he is our choice for the post of Senate President and no politically motivated, mischievous and vindictive trial will change our opinion of him.
By his appearance at the tribunal, he has demonstrated his firm belief in the rule of law and his respect for our judicial process. We join Dr. Saraki in affirming our commitment to the rule of law, constitutionalism and democracy. We only hope the other arms of government will ensure that due processes and procedures are followed in this trial and on all other issues.”