15 November 2017

Nigeria: Saraki Asks Appeal Court to Dismiss False Asset Declaration Charges Against Him

Abuja — Senate President, Bukola Saraki on on Tuesday asked the Court of Appeal, Abuja division to dismiss the false asset declaration charges brought against him by the Federal government.

Saraki, in his final argument on the appeal filed by the federal government against the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), urged the appellate court to hold that the charges against him were unmeritorious and lacked substance.

In the final argument canvassed by a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Kanu Agabi SAN, the Senate President claimed that contrary to the government deposition, the 18 count charges were based on hearsay and deliberate falsehood.

He cited the evidence of a prosecution witness and Head of Investigation and Intelligence Unit, Samuel Madojemu, who testified that the Code of Conduct Bureau CCB, did not conduct any investigation on any asset matter because there was no petition against the defendant.

The Senate President also said that the same witness admitted that CCB did not obtain any statement from him (Saraki) and that the charges were filed against him based on the information supplied by an unnamed team. "From the totality of evidence adduced at the tribunal, it was absolutely clear that the charges were based on hearsay that cannot be substantiated.

"I am surprised that the government claimed that the onus of proof lies on the part of the defendant hence, they did not call vital witnesses.

"This is fatal to the case of the prosecution because in a criminal matter as in the instant case, the onus of proof is to be made by the prosecution", he said.

Agabi, therefore urged the appellate court to uphold the ruling of the Danladi Umar led tribunal which had earlier discharged and acquitted the defendant for want of diligent prosecution and to hold that the appeal of the government lacked merit.

However, in his own submission, counsel to the federal government, Rotimi Jacobs, urged the Appeal Court to set aside the ruling of the CCT on account of the miscarriage of justice.

Jacobs, who formulated five issues for determination by the Appeal Court pointed out that the tribunal erred in law by basing its ruling delivered on June 13, 2017, on hearsay.

He submitted that oral evidence made in support of a documentary evidence as in the instant case, cannot be said to be hearsay.

"Oral evidence is a hanger that holds the documentary evidence as in the instant case", he said.

He, therefore, urged the appellate court to set aside the ruling of the tribunal on the grounds that the tribunal misdirected itself in using hearsay as the basis for discharging and acquitting Saraki from the criminal charges against him.

Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson after taking arguments from the two parties announced that judgment in the appeal has been reaserved and that the date for its delivery shall be communicated to parties in the suit.

The federal government had in 2015, brought charges of false Asset Declaration against Saraki shortly after he emerged as the Senate President, but Saraki was on June 13, 2017, discharged and acquitted by the tribunal in a ruling on a No Case submission on the grounds that the charges were based on evidence from doubtful sources.

The last has not been heard of the controversies surrounding the payment of the 5 per cent commission to the whistleblower who gave the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) tips that led to the recovery of $43.4 million, N23.3 million and 27,800 Euros that were stashed in an apartment at the Osborne Towers in Ikoyi, Lagos, on April 22, 2017, as the original whistleblowers have petitioned the office of the Attorney General of the Federation(AGF) and Minister of Justice, PRNigeria has learnt on good authority.

In a petition dated August 24, 2017 addressed to the AGF and received on September 8, 2017, solicitors to the claimants, No Limit Legal Partners, on behalf of Abdulmumin Musa, Mr. Stephen Sunday and Mr Bala Usman told the AGF that his clients by the workings of EFCC have shortchanged the whistleblowers by bringing others who were not the arrowhead of the whistleblowing.

The solicitors noted that "our clients informed us sometime in December 2016 that three (3) of them voluntarily walked into the office of the EFCC at 15A Awolowo Road Ikoyi, Lagos and gave vital information that led to the recovery of over N13 billion at the Ikoyi Towers, Lagos."

The legal practitioners further told the AGF that "upon subsequent visit to give a detailed information as required by the commission to raid the Tower, they were told if the operation was successful, 5% of the amount recovered will be their take-home within 72 hours of recovery, they were also cautioned that if the information happened to be false, then they will definitely be in trouble which the three mentioned above accepted because they were sure of their facts".

The petition continues: "That when the operation was carried out, it was successful but since then they have not received any commendation by the commission, let alone give any reward as stated even though the EFCC have their names and phone numbers."

The petitioners said rather than do the needful, some of the EFCC staff gave them further information that they were not the only people who gave them information on the Ikoyi Tower as others were also involved without mentioning them.

Upon various meetings by the three persons, they agreed to go back and meet the Head of EFCC operations, Alhaji Samaila Muhammed, and were told on their visit that the numbers have increased to nine(9) who made the report urging them to bring the remaining persons.

When contacted on the matter, the Special Adviser to the Minister of Finance on Media and Communications, Mr. Yinka Akintunde, said such issues be referred to EFCC and not the responsibility of the ministry. He added that the ministry comes in when the rightful persons were duly recognised by the relevant authorities for payment after due process.

When PRNigeria contacted the Head of Media and Publicity of the EFCC, Mr. Wilsom Uwujaren, to explain the role of the commission on the matter, he said several persons have in the past besieged the commission to say that they were part of whistleblowing. He confirmed that the commission has records of the original whistleblowers of the Ikoyi Towers stressing that all will be done to make sure that the right persons are paid accordingly.

Meanwhile, PRNigeria has learnt that the petitioners are heading to the court to stop the payment to wrong persons who were not involved in the whistleblowing. They added that two clear months after the submission of the petition to the AGF, nothing concrete had been done by the Minister to look into their matter.

They alleged that the EFCC sold out in the processes leading to the recovery of the said amount, stating that the development would discourage genuine whistleblowers in the fight against corruption by the present administration.

There were recent controversies as to whether the whistleblower had already been paid or not between the EFCC and the Ministry of Finance.

Explaining the development, Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, gave reasons why the whistleblower who gave the (EFCC) tips that led to the recovery of $43.4 million, N23.3 million and 27,800 Euros at the Ikoyi apartment has not been paid.

Her response came at a time Nigerians placed the blames on the doorstep of the federal government over its unwillingness to pay the whistleblower his 5% commission as enshrined in the policy.

The Minister further said "the federal government has not withheld any fund due to any whistleblower. The Ministry has in place detailed procedures for processing payments due under the Whistleblower Policy. The procedures were designed to prevent abuse and legal disputes and to ensure protection of the information providers.

"These procedures include an application by the agency who recovered the funds including evidence of the recovery, confirmation that there are no pending legal issues on the recovery, verification of the identity of the information provider, calculation of the amount payable and computation of relevant taxes," she said in a statement.

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