The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) yesterday got the green light from the Supreme Court to proceed with the 13-count false asset declaration charge brought against Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
The apex court, in a unanimous verdict of a seven-man bench led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, dismissed Saraki’s appeal to stop the trial and asked him to submit himself for prosecutional.
It said the appeal lacked merit.
Moment after the ruling yesterday,the Senate President expressed disappointment at the pronouncement of the Supreme Court, but was optimistic that he would triumph ultimately.
Saraki had challenged among others, the composition of the CCT, its jurisdiction and the legality of the charge brough against him, on the ground that it was not personally endorsed by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
His legal team comprised seven Senior Advocates and a Professor of Law, among others. The Senior Advocates are: Joseph Daudu, Yusuf Ali, Ahmed Raji, Adebayo Adelodun, Saka Issau, Mahmud Magaji and Kehinde Eleja. The law professor is Wahab Egbewole.
In the lead judgment, Justice Wallter Onnoghen, upheld the argument by the respondents’ lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), to the effect that the tribunal forms a quorum and could validly conduct proceedings where the Chairman and one of the constitutionally prescribed two members are present.
Justice Onoghen was of the view that, where one of the two members is absent, the Chairman and a member, as was the case during Saraki’s arraignment, could validly conduct proceedings.
Saraki had, in his appeal, argued that the tribunal’s two members must sit with the Chairman (making three members) before the tribunal could validly conduct proceedings.
Justice Onoghen also held that the tribunal was by the provisions of its enabling laws and the Constitution conferred with the quasi-criminal jurisdiction and thus could validly issue bench warrant.
As against Saraki’s contention, Justice Onoghen held that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 was applicable to the proceedings of the tribunal.
He dismissed the allegation by Saraki that he was not properly served with the charges and also held that the charges filed before the CCT prior to the appointment of the Attorney-General of the Federation were valid.
Justice Onoghen noted that there was an attempt by Saraki to intimidate the CCT by claiming that it disobeyed the order of a Federal High Court barring it from continuing with the proceedings pending the determination of a suit filed by the Senate President to challenge the trial.
“I have looked at the records, there is no where such order was made,” Justice Onoghen said.
The CJN, Justices Tanko Muhammad, Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Chima Nweze and Amiru Sanusi, who are members of the panel, agreed with the lead judgment.
Justice Onoghen said: “The lower court (Court of Appeal), in considering the issue, had come to the conclusion that the Code of Conduct Tribunal is a tribunal with limited criminal jurisdiction. However, looking closely at the provisions of the 5th Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, earlier referred to in this judgment, it is safer to hold that the said tribunal has a quasi-criminal jurisdiction designed by the 1999 Constitution.
“It is a peculiar tribunal crafted by the Constitution. In this circumstance, I hold the view that, as a tribunal with quasi-criminal jurisdiction, with authority to be guided by the Criminal Procedure Act or Code in the conduct of its proceedings, it can legally issue bench warrant for the purpose of carrying out its quasi-criminal jurisdiction.
“I should not be understood as saying that the Code of Conduct Tribunal is a court of superior record or jurisdiction with relevant inherent powers and sanctions, but that, as a quasi-criminal tribunal/court, it has the necessary powers to put into effect, its mandate of ensuring accountability, probity, transparency, etc in public office,” Justice Onoghen held.
In resolving the issue as to whether or not a low ranking officer, filing a charge in the absence of a substantive AGF must prove authorization , the justice held that the power to initiate criminal proceedings by any officer of the department of the AGF, is not dependent on the office of the AGF having an incumbent.
He held that since the position of the law is that the Solicitor General of the Federation (SGF) could act in the absence of a substantive AGF, a law officer in the Federal Ministry of Justice – M.S. Hassan (then, a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice and now, a judge of the Federal High Court), who initiated the proceedings was in order as there was no dispute as regards whether or not he was authorized by the SGF.
As regards Saraki’s complaint that the tribunal disregarded a Federal High Court’s order staying its proceedings, Justice Onoghen held: “ In any case, there is no order of the Federal High Court staying proceedings of the tribunal which was disobeyed by the tribunal.
“I hold the view that the instant issue is an attempt at intimidating the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which is very unfortunate. In the circumstance, I find this issue, like the others already considered, of no merit and is accordingly resolved against the appellant.
“Having resolved issues 1 to 5 against the appellant, I see no need to consider issue 6 because such a consideration will serve no useful purpose. In fact, issue 6 has already been resolved in substance against the appellant during my consideration of issue 2.
“In conclusion, I find no merit in the appeal, which is accordingly dismissed. The judgment of the lower court, delivered on the 30th day of October 2015 dismissing the appeal of the appellant against the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal of 18th September 2015 is hereby affirmed,” Justice Onoghen said.
The huge audience in court, comprising mostly Saraki’s supporters and associates, suddenly went silent on hearing the court’s final pronouncement. They later departed the court in trickles, with some expressing loudly, their disappointment.
Saraki, in his reaction to the judgment, said he was disappointed by the court’s decision.
His spokesperson, Yusuf Olaniyonu, in a statement in Abuja shortly after the verdict was delivered said:
“After listening to the ruling of the Supreme Court in the appeal he filed to challenge the process of arraigning him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, hereby states as follows :
“He expresses disappointment over the judgment of the apex court in the country on the six grounds of his appeal
“He, however, will like to put it on record that the facts of the substantial matter are not before the Supreme Court since the apex court was only invited to rule on some preliminary issues in the process of commencing the trial.
“The Senate President believes he will have his day in the court to prove his innocence of the charges preferred against him during the trial proper.
“Dr. Saraki will like to thank everyone who has expressed support for him from the beginning of the case.”