Hierarchy of courts; Does a Judge of the FHC have the power to summon a Judge of the CCT? This is the question burning in the minds of watchers of the end
game between the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and his political enemies.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, had yesterday, summoned the Ministry of Justice to appear on Monday to show cause why the trial of Bukola Saraki should be allowed to proceed. Equally summoned by the court were the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar and that of the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, Mr. Sam Saba, as well as Mr. Hassan who signed the charge against Saraki.
This morning the Federal Ministry of Justice asked the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja to issue bench warrant for the arrest of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
A deputy director in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. M.S. Hassan, applied for the arrest order following Saraki’s refusal to appear before the tribunal to enter his plea to the13- count corruption charge against him.
The chambers of the Code of Conduct Tribunal earlier today as Senate President Bukola Saraki fails to appear for trial over false declaration of assets
Saraki who was billed for arraignment this morning, sent his team of lawyers to serve the tribunal with a copy of the ruling of Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, yesterday, which summoned the Ministry of Justice to appear on Monday to show cause why the trial should be allowed to proceed.
Equally summoned by the court were the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar and that of the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, Mr. Sam Saba, as well as Mr. Hassan who signed the charge against Saraki.
Meanwhile, irked by Saraki’s absence at the tribunal for the commencement of his prosecution over alleged false declaration of assets, the Ministry of Justice prayed the Justice Umar-led panel to order for his arrest, saying “he cannot sit in the comfort of his chamber and object to his trial in absentia”.
The prosecution further maintained that Justice Mohammed lacked the powers to summon the CCT and CCB chairmen, even as it accused Saraki of engaging in “forum shopping” in a desperate bid to scuttle his trial.
Saraki faces false asset declaration charges
The Code of Conduct Bureau had filed a 13-count charge against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Saraki is said to have made false declaration of his assets.
The Deputy Director in the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, M.S.Hassan, filed the charges against Saraki on September 11.
The charges against Saraki include false declaration of assets, alleged acquisition of assets beyond his legitimate earnings and keeping foreign accounts while holding public office first as Kwara State governor in 2003 and later as a senator.
“That you, Dr. Bukola Saraki, whilst being the governor of Kwara State on or about 16th September, 2003 within the jurisdiction of this honourable tribunal did make a false declaration in the asset declaration form for public officers on assumption of office as Governor of Kwara State by an anticipatory asset declaration,” the charge sheet read in part.
The Senate president was said to have claimed to have ownership of a property on N0. 15A and 15 McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos, said to have been acquired through his company, Carlisie Properties Limited, in 2000.
Reacting to the charges in Abuja, on Wednesday, Saraki described them as frivolous.
He said the allegations were a reflection of the saying that “each time you fight corruption, the system will fight you.” Saraki spoke during a brief encounter with correspondents covering the Senate in Abuja.
He said, “Most of them (charges) are frivolous and not true. This sounds like issues of affairs. If you say a statement over 13 years, it has been there since 2003 and you wake up 13 years after and you wonder. I have always done my declaration. We will continue to do our job.
“There is no doubt that it is mischievous. It is not current. The issues are not true. As far as we are concerned, we are not shaken. We will focus on what we have come to do as elected by my colleagues to do in the interest of the country.”
The Senate President then referred reporters to a statement from his media team.
The statement signed by Olaniyonu said Saraki was being treated unfairly because of his recent stance on national issues.
“We also note that anytime you try to fight corruption or insist that the right thing should be done, the system will always come after you. This is another case of desperation to fight Dr. Saraki because of his recent stance on national issues,” the statement partly read.
The Senate President’s media team noted that at the time of writing the statement Saraki had not been served the court processes but that as a public officer he owed members of the public explanation on the allegations contained in the charge sheet.
The statement by Olaniyonu added, “That we believe that the Code of Conduct Bureau, following their processes in which after a declaration is submitted to the bureau they carried out verification of the assets and ascertained the claims made, should not wait till 12 years later to be pointing out alleged inconsistencies in a document submitted to it in 2003.
“This same Dr. Saraki submitted asset declaration form in 2007, 2011 and 2015. It is unexplainable that the case in question is now based on the 2003 declaration.
“This is why we are of the opinion that the present effort is a desperate move initiated due to external influence and interference.
“ It should also be noted that contrary to the procedure indicated in the law setting up the CCB, the bureau never wrote to Dr. Saraki to complain of any inconsistency in his asset declaration forms.
“It should also be noted that Dr. Saraki as Governor of Kwara State never operated a foreign account.
“That some of the issues contained in the charge sheet are subjects of earlier decided and ongoing court cases. We therefore believe those behind filing of these charges are engaging in forum-shopping.”
The statement also queried the authority under which the charges were filed, saying both the CCB and the Tribunal Act clearly indicated that any prosecution must be authorised by an Attorney General and that the nation last had an AGF in May 2015.
Saraki also said his trial was another indication that the CCT was acting under influence from outside its domain and therefore ready to bend the rules to achieve obnoxious objectives.
It said, “We therefore conclude that this is not an anti-corruption driven case and cannot be part of the moves aimed at fighting corruption. It is simply a pure malicious and politically-motivated prosecution aimed at undermining the person and office of the Senate President.
“That those behind this plot will definitely meet Dr. Saraki in court as this case, which is based on outright fabrication and mischief, will not and cannot stand the test of justice.”
The statement declared that Saraki had always held himself to the highest standards of diligence, disclosure and compliance. It also affirmed the senate president’s belief in the Nigerian Justice system and his preparedness to co-operate with the Tribunal.
Commenting on the development on Wednesday, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said it was a criminal offence to make false asset declaration “and if the person is found guilty he becomes an ex-convict and a convict cannot hold public office for at least 10 years.”
“That is the constitutional provision; but until the person is convicted, the mere allegations or charges do not, by themselves make the person liable. Under our criminal justice system, and under our constitutional dispensation, a person’s innocence is presumed not impugned,” he added.
Another SAN, Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem, said he could not comment on the issue as he had yet to have the full facts, he, however, said false declaration of asset was a criminal offence for which the Constitution prescribes adequate punishment.
Mr. Kunle Ogunba, SAN said false declaration was a grievous offence because it boils down to the question of integrity.
“And if one can go to the extent of making false asset declaration, it means there is intent not to be pious in public office. In other climes, the person will resign without even being asked. It is an integrity issue and public office is meant for people with integrity,” Ogunba said.
Also, a Lagos lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said, “If the case is determined and he is found guilty, he will have to step down. Surely, a man who is an ex-convict cannot be the Senate President. If he is convicted, he would have to step down as a parliamentarian, because a person, who is an ex-convict, especially on the grounds of fraud, will not be able to function in public office.
“However, the consequence of the allegation is affected by Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution, which states that an accused is presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proven. At best those charges still remain at the realm of speculation and allegations, till the person is formally arraigned in court and there is a conviction.”