ABUJA—Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, yesterday, granted an indefinite adjournment in the suit filed by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, to stop the Federal Government from opening its case against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Saraki is facing charges for alleged false declaration of assets.
Though the appellate court initially slated yesterday to deliver judgment on whether or not Saraki should submit himself before the Justice Danladi Umar-led panel of CCT tomorrow, a senior registrar of the court, Mrs. Christine Aruna, informed all the parties that the judgment has been deferred indefinitely.
Effort by newsmen to confirm why the Justice Moore Adumein panel decided to postpone the judgment met a brick wall, yesterday.
The main entrance to the court was kept under lock and key as lawyers, Senators, journalists and supporters of the Senate President, who besieged the appellate court premises in their numbers, could not gain entrance into the court room.
Reason for adjournment
A highly-placed source at the court disclosed to Vanguard yesterday that the judgment had been ready since Saturday.
The source, who craved anonymity, insisted that the “11th-hour deferment of judgment on Saraki’s appeal” was not unconnected with the ongoing screening of ministerial nominees that were forwarded to the Senate by the Presidency.
An aide to the Senate President, yesterday, blamed the postponement of the judgment, earlier fixed for 2p.m. yesterday, on “last minute intervention by a governor from the North-West, the Presidency and some highly-placed chieftains of All Progressives Congress, APC.
“You can see that the courtroom is even under lock and key, which is not the usual practice when the appeal court is not sitting. Don’t you wonder why today should be an exception?”
The Federal Government had on Friday, told the appellate court that it has garnered sufficient evidence to establish that Saraki, as a public officer, acquired several assets beyond his legitimate earnings.
FG, through its lead prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, equally told the appellate court that five witnesses it lined-up against the Senate President, have all expressed their readiness to appear before the CCT tomorrow to testify and tender exhibits against him.
Among those that FG billed to give oral testimony against Saraki included the erstwhile Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and present governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.
Specifically, El-Rufai is expected to testify that he was the one that sold one of the assets that Saraki bought in Abuja, which the government alleged that he failed to list among the assets he acquired while in office as the governor of Kwara State.
The prosecuting counsel, maintained before the appellate court that Saraki has already been furnished with all the proof of evidence against him, including copies of four separate assets declaration forms that he earlier submitted before the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
Therefore, FG, urged the appellate court to dismiss the appeal that Saraki lodged before it and order him to go to the CCT and clear his name.
Saraki is in his appeal, challenging the legal propriety of the 13-count criminal charge that was preferred against him by the Federal Ministry of Justice.
He was among other offences, alleged to have owned and operated foreign bank accounts while being a public officer.
However, Saraki, aside challenging the charge, also queried the constitutionality of the warrant of arrest that was initially issued against him by Chairman of the CCT, Justice Umar.
Besides, the embattled Senate President, through his team of lawyers led by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. J.B. Daudu, SAN, wants the higher court to ascertain whether the Justice Umar-led panel subscribed to the appropriate legal procedure when it ordered him to mount the dock and enter his plea to the charge despite preliminary objections against his trial.
He raised 12 grounds of appeal against the CCT, supported by a 16-paragraphed affidavit and four exhibits.
Saraki also deposed another 17-paragraphed affidavit of urgency, wherein he urged the higher court to intervene and protect him from what he described as “a politically motivated witch-hunt”.
Out of the 12-grounds, five of them are basically seeking to invalidate the charge against Saraki.
He is begging the appellate court to suspend the proceeding of the tribunal pending the hearing and determination of his substantive appeal against the Justice Umar-led panel.
The appellate court had on October 8, okayed accelerated hearing on the matter.
When the matter came up on Friday, the Justice Adumein-led panel, in a short ruling, struck out Saraki’s application for a stay of further proceedings of the tribunal.
It was the view of the panel that the application was already overtaken by events.
Earlier, Saraki had through his lawyer, Mr. Daudu, SAN, argued that the CCT erred in law by going ahead with his trial despite that fact that “it was not properly constituted”.
He contended that whereas the constitution provided for a three-man panel to sit over cases brought before the tribunal, he said that only two Justices sat on September 22 when he was docked.
According to him, the composition of the tribunal was in violation of paragraphs 15(1) of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
Daudu maintained that the tribunal was wrong in assuming criminal jurisdiction against the Senate President when it was not listed in the constitution as a superior court of record.
He described the CCT as an “inferior court”, saying it does not in any way, share concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal High Court.
He therefore urged the appeal court to nullify the proceedings of the tribunal against Saraki and also set aside the criminal charges filed against him by the federal government for being illegal and unlawful.
Nevertheless, FG, bent on going ahead with the case, asked the appellate court to dismiss Saraki’s arguments as baseless and grossly lacking in merit.
Jacobs, SAN, argued that the tribunal was properly constituted and empowered to try the accused person.
He urged the court to invoke the Interpretation Act to resolve the issue on whether the two-man panel had indeed formed a quorum as envisaged by the law.
More so, the prosecuting counsel submitted that the tribunal has criminal jurisdiction hence the use of words like “guilty” and “punishment” in the law that established it.
“We urge your lordships to dismiss this appeal and order the appellate to go before the CCT and face criminal charges against him. We have gathered enough evidence to prove that he made anticipatory assets declaration”, Rotimi added.
Saraki was in the charge before the CCT, marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, alleged to have falsely declared his assets, contrary to the constitutionally requirement.
He was accused of deliberately manipulating the assets declaration form that he filed prior to his assumption of office as the Senate President, by making anticipatory declaration of assets.
The offence was said to have been committed while Saraki held sway as a governor.
He was also 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.
FG 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.
Similarly, 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.
Saraki has since pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.