11 July 2018

Nigeria: Saraki's Supreme Court Victory and 2019 Permutations

The Supreme Court last week resolved in favour of Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, the case of false declaration of assets, instituted against him by the federal government. He persevered and eventually won the battle. TOPE FAYEHUN traced the genesis of the case and the implication of his victory on 2019 general elections

After a tortuous journey of about 1,018 days in court, the apex court in the country last week discharged the Senate President, Dr.Bukola Saraki, of the charges in the case of false declaration of assets leveled against by the Federal Government.

In a lead judgment delivered by Justice Census Nweze last week Friday in Abuja, the nation's capital, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the appeal court which held that Saraki had questions to answer with regards to charges 4, 5 and 6 in an 18-count of non-declaration of assets and money laundering before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Before the latest development, the Federal Government had earlier docked him, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, on a 13-count criminal charge that bordered on corruption, false declaration of assets, and illegal operation of a foreign bank account while in office as a public servant.

Saraki, who was dragged before the tribunal on 23rd September 2015

pleaded not guilty to the charge marked ABT/01/15, which the Federal Ministry of Justice preferred against him following a recommendation by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.

In the charge sheet which was signed by a deputy director in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. M. S. Hassan, the Senate President was alleged to have manipulated the assets declaration forms he submitted before the CCB in 2003, 2007 and 2011, by making anticipatory declaration of assets.

The Federal Government maintained that the action of the Senate President ran contrary to the provisions of section 2 of the CCB and Tribunal Act, and punishable under section 15(1) & (2), and 23(2) of the CCB and Tribunal Act, Cap C15, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, as well as paragraph 9 of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

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 denied the charges in their entirety when his plea was taken and was allowed home on bail without any condition.

After several months of being in and outside the Court, The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, discharged and acquitted him on charges of false assets declaration brought against him.

The two-man panel of the CCT headed by Danladi Umar, anchored its decision on the grounds that the prosecution, with its four witnesses and 48 documentary exhibits tendered, was unable to establish any prima facie case against the Senate President.

It held that the evidence led by the prosecution has been sufficiently discredited by the defence during cross-examination.

The tribunal chairman specifically noted that the third prosecution witness, Mr Samuel Madojemu, who is Head, Intelligence Unit of the Code of Conduct Bureau, only gave hearsay evidence on the information the witness purportedly received from the EFCC.

On June 22, 2017, the Federal Government, filed an 11-ground notice of appeal against the June 14, 2017 judgment of the CCT acquitting Saraki of the 18 charges of false asset declaration and other related offences preferred against him in September 2015.

A few weeks later, precisely on 12th December, the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal nullified the acquittal ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal handed down in favour of Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki.

Delivering a unanimous judgment in the appeal filed by the Federal Government against the Senate President's acquittal, the three-man panel of the Court of Appeal headed by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson dismissed 15 out of 18 counts filed before the CCT on the grounds of lack of evidence.

But the court ruled that Saraki, the former Governor of Kwara State, had a case to answer with respect to three of the counts numbered 4, 5, and 6. Justice Akomolafe-Wilson who prepared and read the lead ruling, held that there was "ample" evidence led by the prosecution to warrant the Senate President to open his defence in respect of the three counts.

This decision led Saraki to file an appeal at the apex court to challenge the ruling of the Court of Appeal which asked the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to try him on three of the 18 counts brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

After hearing the appeal and cross-appeal filed by the Senate President and the anti-graft agency over the allegations of false asset declaration, the Supreme Court then fixed last week Friday to deliver its ruling.

In the judgement which was supported unanimously by the five man-panel of the court, the Supreme Court noted that since the lower court held that the prosecution failed to call those who had direct knowledge about the fact and then turn around to rely on parts of it to reach its position, hearsay evidence cannot be used as proof to establish a prima facie case on three out of the 18 counts.

It then vacated the ruling of the

appeal court which it said was equivalent of an 'analytical somersault' and in its place, restored the position of the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Reacting to the judgement ,Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki said, "At the end of a tortuous journey of 1018 Days counting from September 22, 2015 when the case began at the Tribunal, I am happy that I have been vindicated. The Supreme Court has affirmed that there is no evidence of a false declaration of assets. The court also observed that certain agents took over the responsibility of the Code of Conduct Bureau in this trial, and one can infer that this was done towards a pre-determined end."

Saraki who said the outcome of the case instituted against him gladdened his heart and further strengthened his belief in the country as well as his faith in Almighty Allah, noted that God has vindicated him before the judgement of man.

According to him ,"Through it all, I refused to be shaken, knowing, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, that the arch of the moral universe may be long, but it bends towards justice. I knew the day would come when justice would prevail and I would be exonerated.

"I have always believed in the infallibility of our Judiciary, secure in the knowledge that our courts - the last refuge of the oppressed - would never condemn the innocent. This outcome is also a vindication of my belief in the rule of law.

"As I said in my first appearance at the CCT, this is a politically motivated case. The case was trumped up in the first instance because of my emergence as the President of the Senate against the wishes of certain forces. Ordinarily, I doubt anyone would be interested in the asset declaration form I filled over 15 years ago.

"What we have seen is the opposite. Instead of working together in the interest of the nation and to seek to do better for our people, we are fighting one another and using legal instruments to mount baseless accusations against one another.

" Instead of exhibiting the need for unity and working day and night for that purpose, we are stoking the fire of division and rancour. I maintain that, above all else, my CCT trial has been a flagrant vilification of my person, and shows that some people are after their personal interests rather than the national interest.

"As a result of the war of attrition, various arms of government have wasted resources needlessly. It has been three wasted years across the board in this country. Three years that would have been devoted to tackling issues affecting Nigerians, including economic recovery, insecurity, youth unemployment and strengthening national institutions - were wasted on malicious prosecution.

"People were ready to trade off three years that would have been devoted to fostering cooperation, unity and economic progress for their selfish ends. It is my hope that those who are behind my persecution will see the handwriting on the wall and leave me to do the work for which I was elected, so I can continue to give my all to this great country of ours.

"As many have rightly observed, it is plain to see that the anti-corruption fight is being prosecuted with vindictiveness, to target perceived political opponents. I believe in the need to fight corruption, but I will never be party to the selective application of the law or the rhetoric of an insincere anti-corruption fight.

However, Saraki's travail with the tribunal started on Friday, September 18, 2015 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.

Prior to the Friday, 6th July judgement, the political atmosphere was tensed, intrigues, backstabbing, high wired politics were at play, making many become sceptical of the entire political system both at the National Assembly and in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.

The heat of politics within his party was too much on Saraki after he was said to have allegedly betrayed certain vested interests in his party to clinch the coveted seat and how his alleged horse-trading with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) earned him the place he occupies today, to the extent that he had to voice out at a point, that he was being persecuted because of that position .

Saraki , in a statement he personally signed and tilted then , "As I Appear Before The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT)" , said "Today, I appeared before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for the commencement of my trial in a case concerning the asset declaration form I filled in 2003 after I have explored the opportunity to defend my fundamental human rights in other courts.

At another point, Saraki who had assume that his manner of emergency, against all odds, would have consequences, said he was shocked with the issues being raised against him because he was seeing them for the first time in his life. 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 a vendetta.

The Senate President further said, "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 the 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 who bulldozes his way into the position of Senate President, make a strenuous effort, using all resources at his disposal to retain the position.

Unlike before , when most of the past Senate Presidents , like late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Enwerem and Adolphus Wabara were impeached ,forced to resign over alleged corruption charges against them, Senator Bukola Saraki who was described as unquestionably a first-rate political strategist that cut his teeth from no less a place than the source itself, according to analysts, survive it.

As at today, political pundits said, the 8th Senate which he heads has passed 201 bills and it prides itself as the best performing senate ever. In a strange and unusual way, regardless of the distractions purportedly designed in his way, Saraki has never stooped to excuses.

He has continued to push on with legislative reforms, such that is gradually redefining the Senate he leads and the leadership he is offering.

Having survived the mines that have been set on his path, however, the attention is currently shifted towards the 2019 general elections and the game has started. No doubt, Saraki's victory at the Supreme Court will definitely alter the political permutations ahead of the poll.

The political calculation of Saraki according to observers, is to contest the coming presidential election. But the platform he would use to achieve his ambition is unknown as at present . As it stands now, most of his political ally and followers who had moved to the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, are calling on him to dump the All Progressives Congress, APC,so as to be able to achieve his dream.

No doubt, Saraki is slowly extending his political tentacles across the country, building bridges across party lines and making new political friends across the length and breath of the country.

Analysts predicts that the man who had the singular privilege of being born into the cradle of politics in Kwara state ,may be planing to dump his party very soon as crying of his followers to lead them out of 'Egypt' are becoming loud by the day.

According to observers, if the son of the late grandmaster of Nigerian politics himself and the Waziri of Ilorin, who had also learnt from very close quarters, the art of politics, generosity and public mobilization, finally move with his army of supporters, then, the rolling party most be ready for serious battle come 2019.


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