Legal Nigeria

Alleged false declaration of assets: Code of Conduct Tribunal docks Saraki tomorrow

By Henry Umoru, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Bartholomew Madukwe
ABUJA — The Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, will tomorrow, dock the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, on a 13- count charge bordering on alleged corruption and false declaration of assets at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.
This came as the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is said to have concluded plans to also drag his wife, Toyin, to court over alleged complicity in shady contract deals during Saraki’s tenure as  governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
A source at the agency hinted that Toyin would be arraigned immediately the judiciary resumes from vacation this month.
Meantime, Saraki was, in the charge sheet before the CCT, marked ABT/01/15 and  dated September 11, 2015, alleged to have falsely declared his assets contrary to  constitutional requirements.
Specifically, he was accused of deliberately manipulating the assets declaration form that he filed prior to his assumption of office as the Senate President, by making anticipatory declaration of assets.
The offence, which attracts imprisonment, was said to have been committed while Saraki held sway as Kwara  governor.
Saraki, who has been in the Senate since 2011, was in the charge sheet signed by a deputy director in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. M.S. Hassan, equally accused of failing to declare some assets he acquired while in office as governor.
Besides, he is expected to explain before the CCT, how he acquired some assets which the Federal Government believes were beyond his legitimate earnings.
Other charges against him include an allegation that he owned and operated foreign bank accounts while serving as a public officer.
His actions were classified as a gross violation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.
More so, Saraki, in the charge sheet, which was transferred to the tribunal by the CCB on Tuesday, was 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.
The CCB alleged that Saraki claimed that he owned and acquired No 15A and 15B McDonald Road, 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 (CBN) for a total sum of N325, 000, 000. 00.
Similarly, 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 offences 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.
CCB’s allegations frivolous, political witch hunt – Saraki
However, Senate President Saraki has described the CCB’s 13-count charge of corruption as mischievous and political witch- hunt.
According to Saraki, the allegations are not only false but also frivolous. He vowed not to be shaken by what he termed as moves by his political enemies to distract him from carrying out his duties as a senator and Senate President for which he was elected.
Speaking with journalists yesterday in Abuja after a courtesy call on him by the management of the Public Complaints Commission, Senate President Saraki wondered why the Bureau would suddenly wake up with such allegations about 13 years after he declared his assets and said he would defend the charges.
Asked if he perceived a witch-hunt, Saraki said: “There is no doubt about that. It is mischievous, it is not correct and the issues therein are not true. As far as we are concerned, we are not shaken. We will focus on what we have come to the Senate to do. I was elected by the people. I was elected by my colleagues to work for what is good and in the interest of this country and that is what I will do.
“For the Code of Conduct Tribunal to wait for 13 years before working on a declaration that was made since 2003 is ridiculous. I have always done my declaration and we will defend those allegations but we will continue to do our work here”.
I’m yet to be served court processes
Saraki, who noted that he was yet to be served court processes, said if served, he is prepared to meet those behind the plot in court, adding that the case is based on outright fabrication and mischief which  cannot stand the test of justice.
Earlier in a statement by his Special Adviser, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki described the claim as a desperate move initiated because of external influence and interference.
The statement read: “The attention of Dr. Bukola Saraki, President of the Senate, has been drawn to a charge sheet being widely circulated in the online media, upon which he is expected to be tried at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
“It should be noted that at the time of writing this statement (10.00am on September 16, 2015), Dr. Saraki has not been served the court process. However, we recognize that as a public officer, he owes members of the public explanation on the allegations contained in the charge sheet.
“We therefore state as follows: That all the claims contained in the charge sheet are false, incorrect and untrue.
“That Dr. Saraki has consistently declared his assets as required by law at every point before resuming any political office and that of 2015 is not an exception. It is surprising that the alleged charges is now referring to his asset declaration made in 2003 while in office as Governor of Kwara State to formulate their charges. They therefore ignored the recent declaration for which they last week issued an acknowledgment.
“That we believe that the Code of Conduct Bureau following their processes in which after a declaration is submitted to the bureau they ought to have carried out their verification of the assets and ascertain the claims made and not wait till 12 years later to be pointing out alleged inconsistencies in a document submitted to it in 2003.
“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 on-going court cases. We therefore believe those behind filing of these charges are engaging in forum-shopping.
“It should be noted that we do not know on whose authority these charges are filed when the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act clearly indicate that any prosecution must be authorized by an Attorney-General and we know the nation last had an A-G in May 2015. This is another clear indication that the CCT is acting under influence from outside its domain and therefore ready to bend the rules to achieve this obnoxious objective
“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.
“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.
“It should be noted that throughout his career as a public official democratically elected to high public service, Dr Saraki has always held himself, to global standards of transparency and accountability, to a far higher standard of diligence, disclosure, and compliance, than required or even requested by Nigeria’s Code Of Conduct protocols. Thus, Dr Saraki has always, lawfully and accountably, declared his assets, both directly owned, and in which he may derive any historical and on-going degree of beneficial interest.
“In view of the above, Senator Saraki hereby affirms his belief in the justice system and that when the proposed case comes to the tribunal, he will diligently state his case. He is also ready to co-operate with the Tribunal and other lawful government agencies in the bid to genuinely fight corruption and eliminate impunity in our public affairs.
“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.
Lawyers divided
The issue immediately elicited sharp disagreement among lawyers. Those who spoke on the issue include Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), Chief Morah Ekwumoh and Tayo Oyetibo (SAN).
Nothing wrong about the charge – Sagay
Speaking on the matter, Sagay  said: ‘’Well, we all know the rule and we are to abide by it. When we fail, we know the consequences. If it is true that he did not truly declare his assets as governor of Kwara State between 2003 to 2011, that is an offence. Whatever is done as a result of that is normally to be expected in a democracy that is to be run transparently by people of integrity. So there is nothing wrong about the charge leveled against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau.’’
Its voice of Jacob, hand of Esau – Ekwunoh
Ekwunoh, on his part doubted the originality of the move, saying: ‘’No doubt, the 13-count corruption charge against Senate President Bukola Saraki constitutes synthetic smokescreen of voice of Jacob and hand of Esau, in joint and several considerations, including its high-wire political timing and other extenuating circumstances.
Saraki should be given fair hearing –  Oyetibo
On his part, Oyetibo said: ‘’It is better to get the detail of the charge in order not to prejudice the fair hearing. It may not be advisable for me to make comment on it to avoid contempt of the court. The Code of Conduct Tribunal ) is a court of competent jurisdiction. You do not make comment on the merit of said charge. But it can only be general comment that he (Saraki) should be given fair hearing. I cannot say the allegation was an act of corruption because when a charge is brought before the CCT, it is entitled to fair hearing.’