The Federal Government on Thursday re-arraigned the Senate President, Dr. Olubukola Abubakar Saraki on a 16-count charge before the Code of Code Tribunal in Abuja for alleged false assets declaration. Dr. Saraki who entered a plea of not guilty in each of the 16-count amended charges, had earlier pleaded with the tribunal to direct the prosecution to seek its leave before the charges were amended but he was overruled. The amended charges are a rejig of the initial 13 counts with three fresh counts bordering on his alleged failure to declare his interest in a foreign credit card account to which he allegedly transferred huge sums of money when he was the Governor of Kwara State.
The amended charges are a departure of the first amendments which were filed on April 18, 2016 by the prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) and were accepted by the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, after overruling the defence team led by Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN). In his ruling, the tribunal overruled the objection of Saraki’s counsel, Paul Usoro who had submitted that, under section 216(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the prosecution was required to file a motion to give the reasons for the amendment before it could be accepted by the tribunal.
The additional charges are contained in Counts 14, 15 and 16. In Count 14, the prosecution alleged that Saraki committed another infraction in his assets declaration form which he made to the Code of Conduct Bureau on June 3, 2011 at the end of his second tenure as Governor of Kwara State. In the said Count 14, Saraki was said to have failed to declare his interest in “an American Express Service Card with No: 374588216836009 wherein you (Saraki) transferred huge sums of money in dollars from your Guaranty Trust Bank domiciliary account No 441441953210 in Nigeria to the American Express Service, Europe, whilst you Executive Governor of Kwara State.” In count 16, Saraki was said to have collected Salary as governor of Kwara State and Senator federal Republic of Nigeria between June 2011 and October 2015.
Earlier before Saraki’s rearraignment on Thursday, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) had dismissed the application seeking to disqualify it’s chairman Danladi Umar from presiding over Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki’s false assets declaration trial for lack of merit. The application was filed Saraki through one of his lawyers, Ajibola Oluyede, last week and argued on Wednesday by the lawyer. Ruling on it Thursday, CCT chairman Danladi Umar who the Senate President Saraki sought to disqualify said that he (Umar) has been exonerated by the investigation agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of allegation of N10m bribe in a letter dated March 5, 2015.
He said that the letter dated 5 March written by EFCC and addressed to the presidency and the secretary to the government of the federation override an earlier letter dated June 2014. The chairman further ruled that the question raised by the defendant seeking to disqualify him bordered on whether the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) has the power to investigate. “The answer is no. He has the power to commence and prosecute cases. He has no Constitutional authority to investigate.”
However, within hours of the ruling, Saraki appealed against it. A notice of appeal under (order 6 rule 6 of the Court of Appeal Rules 2011) was filed about five hours after the ruling by his counsel Ajibola Oluyede. The notice showed Saraki has anchored the appeal on three grounds.
That the tribunal erred in law by occasioning a miscarriage of justice when it allowed Justice Danladi Umar to single -handedly decide that the application for his recusal “lacks absolute merit” essentially allowing him to be a judge in his own case. That the ruling was selfserving and defective and sought to validate the in dicting EFCC letters written (i) on 5th March 2015 to the Secretary to the Federal Government and (ii) on 20th April 2016 inappropriately to Justice Umar after the recusal application had been brought to his attention. Saraki also is claiming that the tribunal erred when it decided that the application “lacks absolute merit” merely because Justice Umar is of the opinion that the Attorney General of the Federation “has no constitutional right to investigate “ and lacked authority therefore to give instructions to the EFCC to prosecute him.
Reacting to the tribunal ruling on Thursday at venue of the sitting , a one-time Senator from Benue State, Senator Joseph Waku, described it as a teleguided ruling. Waku who represented Benue State in 1999, when democracy returned to Nigeria, was at the tribunal in solidarity to the Senate President. Speaking to newsmen after the ruling, Waku who is also the Chairman Elders Council, Arewa Consultative Forum ( ACF) said, “I have been watching you guys on television and reading you in the newspapers, and I was mandated by the Arewa Consultative Forum to come here as an observer and watch the proceedings and go back to report what I have found. “My observations are that there is a premeditated something that is going on in this country.
The judiciary is on trial, the country is on trial, the Justices are on trial and we are watching to see, because similar cases have gone on before and we know how they ended. “So, my observations here today are those things that I have witnessed and I have to go back to the mother organizations to report my findings, my witnessing, what I have seen and the way I have looked at it. “I think that Nigeria is again moving through a trying period of Judicial process and I make bold to advise that the prosecution witness do not have prerogative of knowledge but from the look of things, there is already teleguided judgement that one expects to see in future and that may not be good for this country.
“It will not be good for Judicial process, it is not going to be good for democracy and it will not be in the best interest of the ‘Change’ that we are looking for. “In as much as we are against corruption, let the legal process take its due cognisance that it is the last hope of the ordinary and common persons. That is my observation,” he said.