* Accuses him of attempting to intimidate CCT judges
*I ‘ll defend myself in court – Saraki
*Ilorin residents express shock, Kwara appeals for calm
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Demola Akinyemi
THE Supreme Court, yesterday, dashed the hopes of Senate President Bukola Saraki of wriggling out of the 13-count criminal charge the Federal Government preferred against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.
In a unanimous judgement, a seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, dismissed Saraki’s appeal to stop his trial.
Saraki has case to answer
The apex court, in a lead judgement that was delivered by Justice Walter Onnoghen, said there was no merit in the appeal, even as it affirmed the earlier position of the Court of Appeal that the Senate President, who was accused of falsifying his assets, has a criminal case to answer before the CCT.
Tracing the facts of the case, the Supreme Court noted that Saraki, who was a two-term governor of Kwara State between May 2003 and May 2011, filled and submitted four asset declaration forms to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
“These forms were duly investigated by the Bureau and other relevant agencies of government as a result of which it was allegedly found that the appellant allegedly corruptly acquired many properties while in office as governor of Kwara State but failed to declare some of them in the said forms earlier filled and submitted to the relevant authorities.
“It was also allegedly discovered that appellant made anticipatory declaration of assets upon his assumption of office as governor of Kwara State, which he acquired later.
“It was also alleged that appellant sent money abroad for the purchase of properties in London and that he maintained an account outside Nigeria while serving as the said Kwara State governor.
“It was the discovery of these alleged violations of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers that the CCB initiated a criminal proceeding against appellant before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, holden at Abuja”, the apex court added.
CCT formed quorum, acted within its powers
Justice Onnoghen held that going by the provisions of Section 28 of the Interpretation Act and Section 318(4) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, the two-man CCT panel, formed a valid quorum that could hear and determine the case against Saraki.
Besides, the Supreme Court held that the CCT, being a court with “quasi criminal jurisdiction”, acted within its powers when it issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the Senate President who initially refused to appear before it for trial.
”I hold the strong 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 misunderstood as saying that the CCT 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, of public officers in public office. In therefore resolve issue 2 against the appellant”, Justice Onnoghen added.
The apex court equally dismissed Saraki’s contention that the charge which was preferred against him by someone other than the Attorney General of the Federation was incompetent and liable to be set aside.
Charge against Saraki properly filed
Saraki had insisted that as at the time M.S. Hassan, a law officer in the Federal Ministry of Justice, filed the charge against him, there was no sitting AGF.
He argued that section 24(2) of the CCB and Tribunal Act, made it mandatory that an AGF must authorise the initiation of such criminal proceeding.
However, the apex court stressed that under Section 174(1) (2) of the 1999 constitution, “the power of initiating criminal proceedings by any officer of the department of the AGF is not dependent on the office of the said AGF having an incumbent”.
It said: “It is not in dispute that at the time the law officer, M.S. Hassan, initiated the proceedings by filing the charge against appellant, there was and still is, a sitting Solicitor General in the Federal Ministry of Justice”.
It maintained that in the absence of a sitting AGF, the Solicitor General of the Federation has the power to authorise the initiation of criminal charge, “as in the instant case”.
Saraki attempted intimidation of CCT panel
More so, the Supreme Court accused Saraki of attempting to intimidate the Justice Danladi Umar-led CCT panel, by claiming that a Federal High Court in Abuja granted him an order for a stay of further proceedings on the charge against him.
“I have carefully gone through the record, particularly, the order of the FHC in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/775/2015, issued on September 17, 2015. I have no hesitation in agreeing with the decision of the lower court on the matter.
“In any event, there was no order of the FHC staying the proceedings of the tribunal which was disobeyed by the tribunal. I hold the view that the instant issue is an attempt at intimidating the CCT, which is very unfortunate.
“In the circumstance, I find this issue, like the others already considered, of no merit and is accordingly resolved against appellant.
“Having resolved issues 1- 5 against appellant, I see no need to consider issue 6 because such a consideration will serve no useful purpose. In conclusion, I find no merit in the appeal, which is accordingly dismissed.
“The judgement of the lower court delivered on October 30, 2015, dismissing the appeal of appellant against the ruling of the CCT of September 18, 2015, is hereby affirmed”, Justice Onnoghen held.
Aside the CJN, other Justices of the apex court that concurred with the lead judgement were Justices Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Chima Centus Nweze and Amiru Sanusi.
Saraki who was docked before the CCT on September 22, 2015, had gone before the Supreme Court to challenge the judgement of the Court of Appeal in Abuja which ordered him to go and face his trial.
FG lines five witnesses
Already, the Federal Government has lined-up five witnesses that will testify against him at the CCT. They include former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and current Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.
I will prove my innocence in court – Saraki
However,, Saraki, who said he was disappointed with the verdict of the apex court, said he would prove his innocence in court.
In a statement by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, the Senate President said he would “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 statement read in part: “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. He assures everyone that at the end of the day truth will prevail and justice will be served.”
Ilorin residents express shock
Meanwhile, Kwara State All Progressives Congress, APC, has called on its members and supporters to remain calm in spite of the the ruling that shocked residents of Ilorin, the Kwara State Capital.
In a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Sulyman Buhari, the party described the Supreme Court ruling as disappointing, surprising and shocking.
”Kwara APC therefore reiterates its position that the ordeal of the Senate President is not an anti- corruption driven case but a politically-motivated prosecution aimed at undermining the person and the office of the Senate President. Kwara APC acknowledges and appreciates the resilience, loyalty and support shown thus far by our teeming members and supporters,” the APC said.
The party urged its members to embrace calmness, peace and tranquillity as the innocence of the Senate President will be proven in due course and justice will prevail over political shenanigans.
At the state secretariat, Ilorin, workers were seen in groups discussing the outcome of the Apex Court ruling, which they said was uncalled for ,unfair and disappointing.
In areas like Kuntu, Itaamon, Okelele, Omoda and Gambari among others, residents stood in groups, discussing the ruling.
Some of the residents who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the ruling APC was heading towards anarchy and it was not good for the nation’s democracy. “This development would surely cause political chaos within the rank and file of APC, the earlier the party leadership realised this, the better before it is too late”.
Another resident, Alhaji Jimoh Bello, linked the ruling to the political persecution being allegedly sponsored by one of the chieftains of the APC in the South West adding that this will surely fail at the end of the day.
It will be recalled that Justices of the appellate court had on October 30, 2015, disagreed on whether or not the charge against Saraki should be quashed.
Whereas two of the appellate court Justices, Moore Adumein and M. Mustapha, gave the Federal Government the nod to go ahead with the prosecution, a third member of the panel, Justice Joseph Ekanem, in his dissenting verdict, not only declared the charge before the CCT as incompetent and legally defective, he discharged Saraki from the case.
Saraki was in the charge before the CCT, marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, accused of breaching section 2 of the CCB and Tribunal Act, an offence punishable under section 23(2) of the Act and paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The Federal Government, among other offences, alleged that Saraki, claimed that he owned and acquired No 15A and 15B Mc Donald, Ikoyi, Lagos, through his company, Carlisle Properties Limited in 2000, when the said property was actually sold by the Implementation Committee of the Federal Government landed properties in 2006 to his companies, Tiny Tee Limited and Vitti Oil Limited for the aggregate sum of N396, 150, 000, 00.
He was alleged to have made false declaration on or about June 3, 2011, by refusing to declare plot 2A Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which he acquired between 2007 and 2008 through his company from the Central Bank of Nigeria for a total sum of N325, 000, 000, 00.
Saraki was said to have refused to declare No1 Tagnus street, Maitama, Abuja, which he claimed to have acquired in November 1996 from one David Baba Akawu.
Some of his alleged offence while in office as governor, which are said to be punishable under section 15(1) and (2) of the CCB and Tribunal Act, Cap C15, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, were allegedly committed between October 2006 and May 2007.
His actions were classified as a gross violation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.