Saraki, FG know fate March 24 over CCT’s jurisdiction to hear case
… Set Me Free As You Did Tinubu, Saraki Argues
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) sitting in Abuja yesterday fixed Thursday, March 24, for ruling on whether or not to quash the charges brought against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
Chairman of the Tribunal, Mr. Danladi Y. Umar, fixed the date after Counsel to Saraki, Kanu Agabi (SAN), and that of the Federal Government, Rotimi Jacobs, had respectively canvassed their arguments on the validity of the charges and the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to hear the case.
Saraki walked into the courtroom about 9.54 am, accompanied by federal lawmakers from both chambers of the National Assembly. About 30 minutes later, Umar’s entry was announced.
Consequent upon announcing his appearance and that of 80 other lawyers for Saraki, Agabi appealed to the Tribunal to quash the charges against his client on the ground that they were not competent in law.
But Jacobs objected, urging the court to dismiss it for lack of time. He added that the issue of jurisdiction, which the Defence Counsel sought to establish, could only come at the end of the trial.
Jacobs argued: “We urge you to dismiss this motion because you do not have that kind of time right now. The only thing the court can do is to begin trial. We urge you also to decide on the issue of right to hearing. Our argument is that the application is not ripe for hearing and as such, should be adjourned for ruling at the final judgment of the case.
“The essence of the Criminal Justice Act is to ensure trials are given expeditious hearing. If there are errors in the charges, another said that technical objection should not be raised at all.
“He is talking about the authenticity of the charges; he is challenging the legality of the charges. All that he has raised in the motion challenged the validity of the charges, but the Act is saying it should not be taken until the time of ruling on the trial.
“I submit that fair hearing should be that which is enshrined in the Constitution, that which enforces the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act. I urge this Court to call upon us to put our witness in the witness box.”
Reacting sharply, Agabi reminded the court that it adjourned last time for the Defence Counsel to argue his motion and as such, should not deny them the privilege on the demand of the Prosecution.
Agabi said: “We are the one charged and as such, he desires an opportunity to exonerate himself. We are prepared to proceed with the trial but our motion is in line with the law because it is part of the Administration of Criminal Justice process.
“Secondly, this issue was canvassed before you and you asked us to return for the ruling and that is the reasons we are here. We are objecting to the jurisdiction of the court because it does not have the power to hear the case. Would you entertain matrimonial issues in this Tribunal?
“This court is limited and we have pointed it to you. But Rotimi is asking you to dismiss the motion even before it was heard. We have worked day and night to prepare this motion. As expected, the Prosecution will not be impressed but you would be impressed.”
Agabi, who hinged his argument on the fact that the conditions precedent for the arraignment of Saraki was not fulfilled, stressed the fact that Saraki was not invited by the CCB as required by law to either deny or admit the alleged discrepancies in his Asset Declaration Form, which he submitted to the Bureau.
Agabi told the Tribunal that up till the time of the argument, Saraki was yet to make any statement as a defendant to the Bureau upon which he can be effectively put to trial.
He added that the Attorney General of the Federation was wrong in law at the first instance in initiating the charges because the CCB Act vested the power to accept assets declaration form, investigations of assets form and prosecution of the offender on the Bureau and not on any agency of the government.
Agabi, therefore, insisted that the failure of the CCB to fulfill the necessary condition of summoning Saraki first to make statement on discrepancies on his assets was fatal to the charge before the Tribunal and as such cannot operate to the detriment of the Defendant.
Agabi said: “CCB is a peculiar institution; it has the duty to accept, to examine, to keep custody of assets declaration form submitted to it and also to accept complaints from the public on the discrepancies that may arise from any form submitted to it.
“In the instant case, there is no petition or complaints before the CCB and the power of the CCB to refer any offender to the CCT cannot be delegated.”
Agabi recalled that former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was set free by the Tribunal because of the failure of the CCB to fulfill necessary conditions, which include inviting him first to make statement on the alleged discrepancies before referring him for trial.
According to him, such measure should also apply to his client who was not first invited to make statement before he was charged for trial.
Agabi equally cited the case of 10 other former governors who had the opportunity of being invited to defend their assets declaration and were not referred to the Tribunal after giving explanations on their declared assets.
He, therefore, urged the Tribunal to dismiss the charges for being incompetent and having been filed without observing the due process of the law.
But in a vehement opposition to the application, Counsel to the Federal Government, Jacobs, accused the defendant of engaging in abuse of court process.
He argued that various courts had determined what the Defendant was asking the Tribunal to do.
According to him, the Ministry of Justice referred the trial of Saraki to the CCB on the strength of a joint investigation carried out by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in which the Defendant was found to have procured assets that were not declared in his form.
Jacobs further told the Tribunal that the CCB had no need to invite the Defendant to make any clarification on the discrepancies in his assets because Section Three, Part One of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution had removed such conditions as was applicable only in the 1979 Constitution.
He held that the Defendant was relying on an old law to push his argument.
The Prosecution Counsel also stated that CCB did not need to obtain any statement from Saraki before referring him to the tribunal for trial since he had already made a statement on oath while declaring his assets.
On the issue that Tinubu was set free by the Tribunal because of the failure of the CCB to fulfill the conditions precedent, Jacobs opined that the tribunal was in error in arriving at that decision.