The chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, said on Tuesday that he was prepared to fight off the corruption charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The EFCC brought the charges against Mr. Umar last month, accusing him of taking up to N10 million in bribes from a former Customs official who was facing false assets declaration charges before him.
Mr. Umar, in his first comments to the media since the details of the EFCC charges were made public last Friday, claimed he was facing "trumped up charges," but was nonetheless prepared to vigorously defend himself in courts.
"We're waiting for the court summon and which judge the case will be assigned to," Mr. Umar said through the tribunal's spokesperson, Ibrahim Al-Hassan. "After that, we'll see how this would play out."
The tribunal chief accused the EFCC of "unstable" tactics, saying the charges were brought against him after he had been twice cleared by the same agency.
The EFCC had filed charges against Mr. Umar at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on January 25. It was endorsed by the court on January 2, but no judge was immediately assigned to hear the case.
The charges, prepared by Festus Keyamo, an EFCC prosecutor, came about two years after the anti-graft agency last absolved Mr. Umar of any wrongdoing in a case of judicial bribery and racketeering.
Court filings made available to PREMIUM TIMES Friday evening by Mr. Keyamo said Mr. Umar collected N10 million from Rasheed Taiwo, a former Customs official who was facing false assets declaration charges before the Code of Conduct Tribunal sometime in 2012.
The prosecution also accused Mr. Umar of receiving N1.8 million of the N10 million bribe sum through one of his personal assistants, Gambo Abdullahi.
Mr. Umar said he wondered why Mr. Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, suddenly became the prosecuting counsel in the bribery case, especially since his law firm had been standing as defence counsel for Mr. Taiwo.
"Mr. Keyamo was the defence counsel for the ex-Customs official that was charged for falsely declaring his assets," Mr. Al-Hassan said. "But now he has suddenly become the EFCC prosecutor to charge the CCT chairman for the allegations that his client brought."
Mr. Al-Hassan said Mr. Keyamo appeared for Mr. Taiwo until recently when he stopped coming. Still, lawyers from his chambers stilled appeared for Mr. Taiwo in the last two hearings.
Mr. Keyamo declined comments on the matter to PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday night, urging Mr. Umar to raise any issue he deemed necessary to his case when the trial commences.
"I have no comments," Mr. Keyamo said by telephone. "Any objection he has, he should raise it in court."
The two counts of fraud were in violation Section 12(1) (a) and (b) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2003, Mr. Keyamo stated in charge affidavit prepared on January 25 and stamped on February 2 at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The CCT chair could face up to seven years' imprisonment if convicted of the charges.
Mr. Umar said the EFCC had nothing on him since it is bringing up the same charges in which anti-graft detectives had cleared him of any wrongdoing on at least two different occasions in the past.
The EFCC first cleared Mr. Umar via a notice written on March 5, 2015 through the office of the then-SGF, Pius Anyim.
When the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki reached its peak in 2016, the anti-graft office wrote another letter clearing the jurist of any wrongdoing in Mr. Taiwo's case.
"We would like to reiterate the Commission's position in regard to this matter as earlier communicated to you and stated that the allegations levelled against Justice Umar were mere suspicious and consequently insufficient to successfully prosecute the offence," the EFCC said in an April 20, 2016 letter to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which supervises the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
In the same letter, the EFCC concluded that there was no strong case against Mr. Umar but that there was prima facie evidence to prosecute Mr. Abdullahi, his personal assistant "who could offer no coherent excuse for receiving N1.8 million naira into his salary account from Taiwo who is an accused person standing trial at the Tribunal."
The EFCC cleared Mr. Umar after he came under intense scrutiny since the commencement of the trial of Mr. Saraki, over alleged false assets declaration, with many accusing him of being equally tainted and calling on him to excuse himself from Mr. Saraki's case.
In December 2016, a group, the Anti-Corruption Network, had also alleged that Mr. Umar used his office to purchase N34.9 million exotic vehicles, furniture and other household items without following due process.
Mr. Saraki's lawyers also demanded that Mr. Umar must step down to face his corruption allegations, but the EFCC put paid to the efforts by clearing the CCT chair of any involvement in the N10 million bribery claims.
In June 2017, Mr. Umar ultimately found Mr. Saraki not guilty on all the 18 counts of false assets filings when he was governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
In December, the Court of Appeal in Abuja affirmed the conclusion of the tribunal on all but three counts; a decision the Senate President immediately appealed to the Supreme Court. The Appeal Court ruled the Senate President had a case to answer on the three counts and ordered that those be taken back to the CCT.
On Tuesday morning, as Mr. Saraki was preparing to return to the tribunal to face the unsettled three charges, he expressed his sympathy for Mr. Umar.
"I sympathise with the Chairman of the Tribunal, Mr. Danladi Umar, for his travail in the hands of the EFCC which suddenly woke up four days to the resumption of this case to file criminal charges against him," Mr. Saraki said on Twitter.