Senate President pleads
Tribunal fixes Oct. 21 for hearing
WHO SAID WHAT
The Judiciary saved the nation …One can just imagine what would have happened if there were contradictory decisions by the courts
I am puzzled why I should be before the tribunal. I thought that the…Bureau should have first called on me, according to the…law. —Saraki
The defendant…must enter the dock and take his plea, and thereafter any other application shall be taken. That is the order of the tribunal. —Tribunal
Senate President Bukola Saraki’s trial for alleged false declaration of assets yesterday began on a dramatic note at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). He made valiant effort not to enter the dock (accused box) and answer to the 13-count charge brought against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
Saraki, who was compelled by the tribunal to submit himself for arraignment, over one hour after the commencement of proceedings, pleaded “not guilty” to the charges when they were read to him by the tribunal’s official.
The Senate president on Monday lost at the Court of Appeal, Abuja; the Federal High Court, Abuja and the CCT his bid to prevent the execution of the bench warrant issued against him by the CCT three days earlier. He showed up before the tribunal (CCT) around 9.30 am.
Proceedings were delayed for about 30 minutes owing to power outage (the tribunal having earlier planned to begin sitting by 10 am). Saraki refused to enter the accused box despite request by prosecution lawyer Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) that the proper thing was for him to “enter the dock and take his plea”.
Saraki sat among his supporters and fellow Senators, who formed the audience in the courtroom, while his lawyer, Joseph Daudu (SAN) argued frantically that his client was not required to first enter the dock before his objection to his trial was heard.
Daudu, who queried the jurisdiction of the tribunal, argued that the CCT, unlike the regular court, lacked criminal jurisdiction. He said a trial before the tribunal was not criminal, adding that its order was for his client to appear before the tribunal, and that having appeared, he must not be made to enter the dock before his objection could be taken.
Jacobs disagreed. He contended that Daudu’s argument was a repeat of the defence’s failed attempt the last day to stall proceedings. He noted that jurisdiction, the competence of the charge and the application of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) by the tribunal raised again early yesterday by Daudu had been decided by the tribunal last Friday.
He urged the tribunal to reject attempts by the defence to ridicule the nation’s judicial system and praised the Judiciary for not yielding the alleged attempt by the defence to ridicule it the previous day (Monday).
“The defendant is working to overstretch the administration of criminal justice in the country. Yesterday (Monday), this tribunal said he should come and face trial. The Federal High Court ruled and asked him to go and face his trial. The Court of Appeal said it does not want to interfere with what is going on.
“The Judiciary saved the nation yesterday. They wanted to put us in a state of quagmire. One can just imagine what would have happened if there were contradictory decisions by the courts,” Jacobs said and urged the tribunal to proceed with the day’s business.
Ruling, Tribunal Chairman Justice Danladi Umar, overruled Daudu and insisted that Saraki must submit himself for arraignment.
“It is the tribunal’s opinion that the charge before the tribunal is criminal in nature. As decided in the case of the Federal Republic of Nigeria versus Atiku Abubakar, where Justice Aboki (of the Court of Appeal) ruled that trial in the tribunal is criminal in nature.
“It is also our ruling that the defendant in this case must enter the dock and take his plea, and thereafter any other application shall be taken. That is the order of the tribunal,” Justice Umar said.
Saraki walked to the “accused box” where he was offered a chair to sit, following which an official of the tribunal approached him and began to read the charge to him, a count before another.
Before responding to the first count, Saraki complained that he ought not to be before the tribunal if due process was adhered to. He said his presence before the tribunal was because he was a law-abiding citizen.
Citing the provision of Section 3(d) of the law establishing the CCB, Saraki argued that he ought to have been confronted with any contradiction in his asset declaration form and made to provide explanation, failing which the case should be referred to the tribunal for trial.
When told by the tribunal Chairman that it was not his duty to address the tribunal, Saraki insisted on making the point that he ought not to be before the tribunal if due process was adhered to.
“Mr. Chairman, I will not go ahead. I just want to make this point for you to understand that, as a layman, I am puzzled why I should be before the tribunal. I thought that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) should have first called on me, according to the provision of the law. This is because the prosecution is talking about a new Nigeria.
“We are all before the world and not just before Nigeria and we ought to be seen how we conform to due process. And that is why I felt before now; some of these issues need to be raised. So, as stated, I want to say that I am not guilty,”Saraki said. He answered “not guilty” to the other 12 counts.
At the conclusion of the arraignment, Jacobs, as required by the ACJA, gave a summary of what the case was about. He said it was about how Saraki made anticipatory asset declaration in the forms he filed between 2003 and 2011.
“He filed one in 2003, two in 2007 and one in 2011. These are the four asset declaration forms he filed as at when the charge was filed. The court should note that in the form he filed in 2003, he added properties on 15A and 15B Macpherson Road, Ikoyi. We will call only five witnesses to prove our case that the defendant made an anticipatory asset declaration,” Jacobs said.
He said Saraki actually bought the assets from the Federal Government in 2007 and that he also allegedly operated a foreign account, with which he purportedly move funds out of the country while serving as governor of Kwara State. He said the prosecution needs just two days to conclude its case.
As Jacobs spoke, Saraki’s supporters, who filled up the courtroom, intermittently interrupted him, murmuring. Some even wondered aloud why he was in haste to have the case heard.
Daudu urged the tribunal to allow his client sufficient time to prepare his defence.
Before adjourning, the tribunal Chairman vacated the bench warrant against Saraki. He also admitted Saraki to bail on self-recognition (since Jacobs did not object to Daudu’s application for bail) and adjourned till October 21 for the hearing of all pending applications and possibly, commencement of trial.
As Saraki stepped off the accused box after the case was adjourned, he raised his hands and, as if on cue, his supporters, roared “Sai Bukky!” They continued shouting his name while they all exited the tribunal, trailing him as security men led him through the rowdy crowd into his waiting car.