18th March, 2016
The Code of Conduct Tribunal Chairman, Justice Danladi Umar, and his partner were being expected at about 10:26am Friday as the trial
of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, over alleged false assets declaration was expected to kick off.
The court was jampacked as Saraki’s supporters, Senators and non Senators stormed the court were already seated.
Lead counsel for the defence, Kanu Agabi and his team of lawyers said to be about 66, the lead prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, were also already seated waiting for proceedings to commence at the time of this report.
The trial was scheduled to kick off at 10 am.
Saraki’s trial, which has generated a lot of attention, was stalled last Friday due to fresh application brought by the Senate President challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the matter.
The Federal Government had filed a 13 count charge bordering on false assets declaration against the Senate President.
Though Saraki had pleaded not guilty when the charge was read to him after he was docked last September, he had however explored legal ways up to the Supreme Court to stop the trial.
But the Supreme Court had in its judgement on 5 February, asked the Senate President to go and face his trial.
Thus, at the resumed hearing of the trial last Friday, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) had announced to the court that the business of the day was hearing and that his witnesses were in court.
He added that he had enlisted at least 13 witnesses.
Defence counsel, Kanu Agabi (SAN) who led other 66 lawyers caught the prosecution off guard as he informed the court that he had filed an application challenging the authority of the Attorney General of the Federation to initiate a criminal proceedings and also jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the matter.
Jacobs, however, responded that he had not been served with the application and that such application was a ploy to frustrate the trial as all the courts up to the apex court had asked the defendant to go and face his trial.
Agabi responded that the application was served on the Ministry of Justice and later tendered the proof of service to the tribunal.
He noted that it is the Ministry of Justice that is delaying the trial on ground that it should have called the attention of the prosecution counsel to the application served on it.
But Chairman of the tribunal, Danladi Umar, urged Jacobs to collect a copy of the application in court in order to proceed with the case after hot exchange of arguments between the lawyers.
After collecting the document, Jacobs requested for some time to reply.
In agreement with the parties, the tribunal later adjourned till today, Friday, 18 March for hearing of the fresh application.
At last Friday’s proceedings, at least 45 Senators including the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, House leader, Ali Ndume, among others had accompanied Saraki to the tribunal.
The senators had arrived the venue of the tribunal at about 10:13am in two Toyota Coaster buses belonging to the National Assembly.
Also, supporters of Saraki were seen outside the premises of the tribunal with different placards in support of the Senate President.
In the new application, brought pursuant to Sections 36(6)(a)(b), 36(12) and Paragraph 15 of the First Schedule of the 1999 constitution: Section 3(1) of the Third Schedule of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Saraki is praying for an order quashing or striking out of the charges against him.
He is also praying for an order of the tribunal discharging him from the charge.
He premised his application on grounds that the tribunal lacks jurisdiction to entertain the charge because a condition precedent to the exercise of the jurisdiction has not been fulfilled.
He further submitted that the charge was brought in bad faith and that it was not brought in the interest of the public.
In addition, Saraki submitted that the charge constitutes a gross abuse of the legal process and that the charge is violation of all due process and in violation of his right to fair hearing as enshrined in the constitution.
He further noted that the charge cannot lie at the instance of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
Responding, Jacobs noted that both Appeal Court and the Supreme Court had ruled on the application brought by Saraki.
He insisted that the application is just to frustrate the trial.
“This is the first time, I will be seeing a defendant giving us problem. They go to the press to tell them that we are persecuting him. I have prosecuted two former governors, I did not receive this type of attack,” Jacobs stated.
The Defence and the Prosecution counsel are expected to defend their stand as they argue the briefs this Friday.