sarakiPresident of the Senate, Dr. Olubokola Saraki yesterday lectured the Justice Danladi Umar-led Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT on appropriate procedures it ought to have taken to inform him of the allegations against him, saying that he was being persecuted because of his Senate presidency. He also pleaded not guilty to the 13-count charge slammed against him by the federal government.
Saraki, who failed in his earlier effort to stop his trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja, stormed the tribunal amidst tight security, telling the tribunal presided over by Justice Danlami Umar that he is not guilty of any of the charges preferred against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
Saraki was docked over allegations bordering on false and improper declaration of assets allegedly acquired during his tenure as Governor of Kwara State from 2003-2011.
According to the charge sheet No. CCT/ABJ/01/15, Saraki was also accused of operating an American Express credit card account during his tenure as governor, where he allegedly wired at least $3.4 million to a Nigerian account.
In a bid to stop his arraignment before the tribunal, Saraki on Thursday last week, approached the Federal High Court in Abuja with a motion ex-parte seeking to restrain the Federal Government, Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal from arraigning him.
The trial judge at the high court, Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed, in a ruling in his chambers summoned the chairmen of CCB, CCT and a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice, Musiliu S. Hassan to appear before it on Monday to show cause why Saraki’s request should not be granted.
After the refusal of the Senate President, who was represented by Joseph B. Daudu and Mahmud Magaji, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, to appear before the tribunal to take his plea last week, Prosecution Counsel, Musiliu Hassan asked the tribunal to issue a bench warrant of arrest on him for disobedience of court orders.
The tribunal chairman, who over ruled the arguments of Saraki’s counsel, challenging the jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter, issued a bench warrant of arrest against the number three citizen of the country, with a specific order on the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase to arrest and bring him before the tribunal last Monday.
Saraki, on Monday rushed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division with an exparte application seeking to set aside the warrant of arrest and to also stop his trial at the tribunal.
But, the three-member panel of the appellate court, presided over by Justice Moore Adumein, refused to grant his application and asked him to appear before the tribunal to take his plea.
At the resumed hearing yesterday, Saraki’s lead Defence Counsel, Joseph Daudu, SAN, challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal, saying that CCT is not a court of criminal jurisdiction and as such, the administration of criminal court does not apply.
Citing Section 693, paragraph 18 (1) of the Constitution to buttress his argument, Daudu also reminded the tribunal of the ruling of a high court in a case involving Joshua Dariye, which ruled that CCT does not have jurisdiction over criminal cases and submitted that the tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to try the accused under criminal act where he would be required to be docked.
Opposing the objection, the Prosecuting Counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, said the tribunal had ruled on jurisdiction last week Friday and submitted further that Section 2 (1) gives the tribunal powers to handle the criminal charges against Saraki.
After listening to the argument of both parties, Justice Umar held that the tribunal has the jurisdiction to compel the Senate President to, not only appear in person but to also be moved to the dock.
“It’s in the view of the tribunal that the trial before it is criminal in nature and it has jurisdiction over criminal matters, the defendant should therefore proceed to the dock,’” he ruled.
Proceeding to the dock, Saraki expressed shock that the tribunal has chosen to be ignorant of the stipulations under which the defendant could be brought to court, which coincidentally was drafted and passed in the Senate.
The Senate President, after airing his disappointment at the proceedings, claimed not guilty of the allegations.
In his words: “I am the Senate President and I have respect for the rule of law. Mr Chairman, I observe that they have made reference to the good work the Senate has done in the administration of criminal justice. If there is an allegation of false declaration of assets, the Code of Conduct Bureau shall refer the person involved to the tribunal after giving the person an opportunity to explain if the facts are true. But in this case, I was not given the opportunity.
“I thought the code of conduct bureau should have called me and given me the right to fair hearing. I’m hearing about the charges for the first time. I am here because I am the senate president,” said Saraki.
“We are all here and the whole world is watching when we said we are in new Nigeria. I want to state here that I am not guilty.”
The tribunal then suspended the earlier warrant of arrest issued against Saraki, saying that, “the defendant, having brought himself voluntarily will be allowed to go free. The court was adjourned to October 21, 22, 23, 2015.