Bukola Saraki docked at Code of Conduct Tribunal

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Never did we ever thought a sitting high profiled Nigerian politician who is number three in Nigeria would be called to answer for his actions. No matter from which angle we may want to view it, it is history made in Nigeria. It sends a very strong message to other political office holders who don’t have immunity and even those who have immunity that it is not business as usual. It tells them that Buhari means business. The fight against corruption is not a mere threat but real.

For some time now, it has been in the news that a warrant has been issued by Judge of the CCT directing the Nigerian police to bring the senate president Bukola Saraki to the tribunal to answer for the 13 count charges levelled against him. The warrant was issued because Saraki refused to appear in person to answer for the charges against him when initially invited. He rather filed a suit to the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal asking the courts to prevent the police to arrest him. However the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal rejected his plea. With this Saraki had no option than to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal to answer for the charges made against him.

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On Tuesday morning, the “almighty Saraki” appeared in the Code of Conduct Tribunal in the entourage of about 50 Senators and some past state governments and friends. Some of the senators that accompanied him are Ike Ekweremadu, Shaba Lafiaji, Aliyu Wamakko, Rafiu Ibrahim, Tayo Alasoadura, Hamma Misau, Samuel Anyanwu as well as Sabi Aliyu Abdullahi. The ex-governors that went with him are Dr. Sam Egwu of Ebonyi state, Theodore Orji of Abia state, now a serving senator.

It was reported that journalists were barred from covering the trial, and that there is heavy security presence and screening that took place at the CCT. Officials of the anti-bomb unit of the Nigerian police force were also on ground.

Tribunal officials also seem desperate to stop the live coverage of the trial as it was observed that shortly before Saraki’s arrival, a member of the tribunal stopped TVC (television station) from live coverage at the chamber before power went off for about 10 minutes. There was still power outage when the Senate president arrived, but the power was restored minutes later.However later, journalists were allowed to cover the proceedings.

The counsel to Federal Government, Rotimi Jacobs in his opening speech said this is the first time in his years of practice that a case will be heard by three courts at the same time ( day). Counsel to Saraki, Joseph Daudu does not want the Senate president to take his plea stating that it is not a criminal case. Responding, counsel to the federal government prayed the court that the accused (Saraki) should go to the accused box, but in a reaction to the prosecutor’s prayer, Saraki’s counsel corrected the judge that Saraki should not be referred to as the “accused” instead he should be called the “defendant.”

The prosecution counsel argued that going by section 2 of the Administration of Justice Act, 2015, the matter can be heard since the tribunal was set up by an act of the National Assembly.

The Tribunal chairman considered both arguments and ruled that the trial is criminal in nature. “I hold that the trial before the tribunal is purely criminal,”Chairman Umar said.

The chairman also insisted that the accused should enter the box and take his plea. Saraki who initially refused to enter inside the accused box to enter his plea to the 13-count criminal charge against him, subsequently succumbed to the powers of the tribunal at exactly 11:24am.

Before Saraki took his plea, he said: “I believe that I am here as the Senate president, to indicate my respect for the Tribunal. I am puzzled why I am being compelled.”

Saraki pleaded not guilty to count-10 of the charge, even though he took time to lecture the tribunal on the appropriate course of action it ought to have taken before docking him over alleged false declaration of assets.

He complained that he was never afforded the opportunity by the CCB to clarify whatever disparity it observed in the assets he declared while in office as the governor of Kwara State.

Saraki who addressed the court from the dock, said: “I am a firm believer of the rule of law. I have come here to subject myself before this tribunal. I strongly believe that I am here because I am the Senate President”.

“I felt that the CCB should have called me. We have been hearing about new Nigeria but this is the first time this kind of thing is being done without following the due process. Nigerians are watching and the world is also watching. I will confirm myself to the due process. So as I stated, I want to say that I am not guilty”, Saraki stated.

He said he is not guilty and quoted subsection 3 of the Code of Conduct Act, noting that this was not the first time arraignment like this had happened. He added that he should not have been brought before the court. Before he pleaded not guilty, Saraki stressed the provision of Paragraph 18 of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution – the point earlier argued by his lawyer.

On the various assets allegedly acquired by Saraki, which the Conduct Bureau said were beyond his legitimate earnings, the Senate president said he is not guilty. He said he acquired the assets through the selling of rice. On Count 3, which refers to his refusal to declare assets worth N280 million acquired when he was the governor of Kwara state, Saraki said he is not guilty, and subsequently pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The prosecution counsel, Jacob, argued that based on the Paragraph 5, section 3 of the rules of the Code of Conduct Bureau, if the defendant pleads not guilty, he can state the facts that prove his guilt, an assertion that made counsel to the defendants to quote section 36b of the 1999 Constitution and requested that Saraki be given time to go through the allegations properly since he said he was just seeing them for the first time.

The prosecution counsel contends that, based on section 396 of the Constitution, the hearing can be done daily. The tribunal chairman gave room for the evidence to be admitted, but counsel to the Senate president tried to object but the prosecutor was allowed to tender his evidence.

The Senate president further explained to the tribunal that he came on his own volition to show he is a law abiding citizen.

In response, the chairman vacated the bench warrant on Saraki, a decision the counsel to the federal government, Jacobs tried to counter, saying he served the Senate president since last week.
The tribunal has however adjourned the trial to October 21st and 23, 2015.
Sources :
http://www.vanguardngr.com
http://www.naij.com

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