The Federal Government, on Friday, opposed a fresh application by Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, challenging the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute him over the allegation that he falsely declared his assets.
Saraki, in the application he filed through his consortium of lawyers led by a former AGF, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, asked the Justice Danladi Umar-led Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, panel, to hands-off the 13-count charge the federal government entered against him.
He argued that the charge against him was brought in bad-faith and not in public interest.
Saraki maintained that the AGF did not fulfil all the condition precedents capable of conferring jurisdiction on the tribunal to try him.
He therefore applied for the charge to be quashed, as well as an order discharging him.
Meantime, spirited effort by Agabi to move the application was vehemently opposed by the prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, who accused the Senate President of engaging in “Judicial forum shopping” in a desperate bid to frustrate his trial.
Insisting that the business of the day was for full-blown hearing to commence on the matter, Jacobs told the CCT panel that Saraki was yet to serve him with a copy of the motion.
He urged the tribunal to discountenance the application and proceed with hearing on the case, saying the witnesses were in court and ready to testify against the defendant.
Jacobs contended that the issue of jurisdiction Saraki raised in his fresh motion was already decided by both the Supreme Court and the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.
“My lord this is nothing but another attempt by the defendant to frustrate this case. His argument before was that there was no Attorney General of the Federation when the charge was filed, now that there is an AGF in office, he has made a U-turn to say that that even the AGF lacks the jurisdiction to file the charge against him.
“These are issues that have been decided by the apex court. I urge this tribunal to resist this frivolous application”, Jacobs submitted.
Placing reliance on section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, the prosecutor argued that since the defendant had earlier entered his plea to the charge, any further objection he has against the proceeding ought to be considered at the end of the trial.
After listening to both parties, Justice Umar adjourned the case till March 18 for moving of the motion and possible hearing of the substantive matter.
The CCT also directed the defence lawyer to serve all the relevant processes to the prosecution before the next adjourned date.
Meanwhile, FG had earlier disclosed that it has line-up eight witnesses against Saraki, among whom include detectives that investigated four assets declaration forms the Senate President submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
Those expected to mount the witness box to give evidence that could make or mar the embattled Senate President are: Yahaya Bello, Michael Wetkas, Mustapha Abubakar Musa, Nura Ali Bako, Adamu Garba, Samuel Madojemu, Abdulrahaman Bayo Dauda and Nwachukwu Amazu.
Saraki who was a two-term governor of Kwara State between May 2003 and May 2011, was in the charge before the CCT, marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, accused of breaching section 2 of the CCB and Tribunal Act, an offence punishable under section 23(2) of the Act and paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Aside allegation that he falsely declared his assets, as well as, made anticipatory declaration of assets,Saraki, was also alleged to have operated foreign bank accounts while in office as a public officer. He was alleged to have acquired assets beyond his legitimate earnings.
FG, among other offences, alleged that Saraki claimed that he owned and acquired No 15A and 15B Mc Donald, Ikoyi, Lagos, through his company, Carlisle Properties Limited in 2000, when the said property was actually sold by the Implementation Committee of the Federal Government landed properties in 2006 to his companies, Tiny Tee Limited and Vitti Oil Limited for the aggregate sum of N396, 150, 000, 00.
He was alleged to have made false declaration on or about June 3, 2011, by refusing to declare plot 2A Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which he acquired between 2007 and 2008 through his company from the Central Bank of Nigeria for a total sum of N325, 000, 000, 00.
Saraki was said to have refused to declare No1 Tagnus street, Maitama, Abuja, which he claimed to have acquired in November 1996 from one David Baba Akawu.
Some of his alleged offence while in office as governor, which are said to be punishable under section 15(1) and (2) of the CCB and Tribunal Act, Cap C15, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, were allegedly committed between October 2006 and May 2007.
His actions were classified as a gross violation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.
Saraki had on September 22, 2015, pleaded not guilty to the charge which he said was grossly incompetent and ought to be quashed.
Refusal of the tribunal to hands-off the trial resulted to Saraki’s lawyers staging a walk-out on the tribunal on November 5, 2015, after they accused the panel of engaging in acts of “judicial rascality”.
The defence team had wanted the tribunal to suspend the trial and allow the Supreme Court to pronounce on the competence of the proceeding.
Though the CCT declined to stay proceeding on the matter, on November 12, 2015, a Supreme Court panel headed by Justice John Fabiyi (now retired), directed the tribunal to “tarry for a while” to enable them to look into Saraki’s appeal.
The Justice Fabiyi-led panel was subsequently disbanded, even as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, took over the case and reconstituted a seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court that heard the appeal.
Nevertheless, in a unanimous judgment on February 5, 2016, the Supreme Court dismissed Saraki’s appeal, even as it okayed his prosecution before the CCT.
The apex court which said it was satisfied that the Senate President has a case to answer before the tribunal, affirmed an earlier verdict of the Court of Appeal in Abuja which on October 30, 2015, gave FG the nod to open its case against Saraki.
In a related development, Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has slated March 22 to deliver judgment on another suit that Saraki filed with a view to disqualifying Justice Umar from handling his trial.
Saraki had in the suit contended that Justice Umar was not fit to try him considering that the judge also has a criminal allegation hanging on his neck.
He told the court that Justice Umar was being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over allegations bordering on corruption.
Saraki said he would not be accorded fair-hearing by the tribunal, alleging that the charge pending against him before the CCT was instigated by the anti-graft agency.
He argued that Justice Umar, in a bid to save himself from prosecution, would dance to the tune of the EFCC which he said usurped the responsibility of the CCB by recommending his trial for an offence that was allegedly committed years back.
He therefore sought an order nullifying the charge and the proceedings of the CCT on the grounds that they allegedly fell short of the requirements of Article 3 of the African Charter on
Human and Peoples Rights and Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution.
The respondents to the suit include the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase.
Others are the CCB, the CCT, its Chairman, Justice Umar, the second member of the CCT panel, Mr. Ataedzeagu Adza; CCB chairman, Mr. Sam Saba; Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Diri; and a Deputy Director in the ministry, Mr. Muslim Hassan (now a judge of the Federal High Court).
FG had since challenged the competence of the suit which it said ought to be dismissed for want of merit.