Counsels to Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki yesterday staged a walkout on the tribunal justices in protest over the decision of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT to begin detailed hearing on the 13-count criminal charge against their client, despite the pending appeal before the Supreme Court.
The senate president’s legal team, comprising of three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, and 24 lawyers through their leader, Mahmud Magaji, said they were not comfortable to take part in what they described as “judicial rascality”.
Mahmud’s position was also supported by another SAN in his team, Mr. Ahmed Raji, who told the tribunal that it would be unfortunate for references to be made in the future that they, being senior members of the bar, took part in such proceeding.
“On behalf of the defence counsel, we find it most impossible to continue to sit here. We shall be seeking the indulgence of your lordships to withdraw our appearance”, Raji added.
Following the drama, Saraki thus begged the tribunal to allow him to either persuade his legal team to come back into the matter or to engage new lawyers to defend him.
Although Saraki urged the tribunal to grant him one month adjournment, the Justice Danladi Umar-led panel rejected the plea and adjourned the case to November 19, to enable the federal government call witnesses against the embattled senate president.
Before adjourning the matter, Justice Umar had berated Saraki’s legal team, saying “the action of the defence team smacked of disrespect”.
In its earlier ruling, the tribunal relied on the provision of Section 305(e) of the newly enacted Administration of Criminal Justice Act, and held that it would not be in the interest of justice to allow the case against the senate president to suffer adjournment, owing to the fact that he has an appeal before the Supreme Court.
He said that the ACJA was enacted with a view to ensuring that criminal cases are ‘expeditiously and judiciously thrashed within a short time’.
“The defendant will never suffer any injury or miscarriage of justice or harm in anyway if this proceeding continues.
“The tribunal is a sacred institution that took an oath to do justice to all and sundry”, Justice Umar held.
When the matter was called yesterday, government lawyer, Chief Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, told the tribunal that the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal had in a judgment it delivered on October 30, dismissed Saraki’s appeal against his trial.
“My Lords all the contentions as to the jurisdiction of the tribunal have been settled. The Appeal Court held that the charge was proper and the tribunal properly constituted to sit with two members.
“We have the Certified True Copy of that judgment. This matter was adjourned for report and for continuation of trial, we are ready”, Rotimi submitted.
However, Saraki, through his lawyer, Mr. Mahmud Magaji, urged the tribunal to adjourn the trial and await the decision of the appeal which he has lodged before the Supreme Court.
Magaji told the tribunal that his client also filed an application for the stay of further proceeding on the matter pending the determination of the appeal at the apex court.
He said that the CCT was notified of the pendency of the appeal before the Supreme Court via a letter that was addressed to its chairman on November 4, 2015.
“In essence, we are saying that we have a valid appeal before your lordships at the Supreme Court”, he said, adding that, for the tribunal to proceed with hearing on the matter would amount to an affront and disrespect to the judicial hierarchy.