In the eye of the law By Lawal Ogienagbon


AT LAST, Senate President Dr Bukola Abubakar Saraki had his day in court last Tuesday after his unsuccessful attempts to stop his trial. He did virtually everything to stop the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) from trying him for the 13-count charge of false and anticipatory declaration of assets preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). To Saraki, the charge was not properly brought because it was not filed on the instruction of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).

It was a technical issue and many lawyers are wont to rely on technicalities, if that will help their case. Saraki took offence to the charge against him because it was not initiated by the AGF as stipulated by the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. Knowing full well that there is no substantive AGF, the Saraki legal team thought it had found a loophole to knock out the case without the Senate President being formally charged – that is to take his plea while standing in the dock.

All the Saraki team wanted to avoid was seeing the proverbial African big man in the dock. Big deal? No, it is not. The law is no respecter of persons. The law says that an accused must take his plea from the dock, no matter his status. Saraki may not have had things his own way, but the development is good for our democracy. It shows that those in power can no longer see themselves as being above the law.  Let us look at aspects of this judicial rigmarole.  Last Thursday, Saraki through his lawyer, Mahmud Magaji (SAN),  urged Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja to stop his trial slated to begin the next day. The judge refused, directing the respondents – CCT, Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Office of Attorney-General of the Federation to appear before him on Monday to show cause why Saraki’s prayer for interim injunction should not be granted.

On Friday, the matter took a dramatic turn when CCT Chairman Justice Danladi Umar issued a bench warrant for Saraki’s arrest because of his absence in court. Justice Umar rebuffed all entreaties by Saraki’s lead counsel Mr Joseph Daudu (SAN) not to order his client’s arrest, promising to bring him to court on Monday. Daudu, who said he was also challenging the tribunal’s power to try his client before the Federal High Court, urged Justice Umar to be cautious about how he handles the case because of its political implication. This is the problem with this case. The defence seems to believe that the charge against Saraki has political undertone. Saraki shares similar sentiment. He has been dishing out statements to the effect that he is being persecuted and trying to link his travail with how he emerged as Senate President last June 9. These are two different issues. Saraki may have his differences with the leadership of his party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) – but those are political matters, which should be sorted out at that level. I find it hard to believe that the party leadership could have within just four months got the EFCC to investigate Saraki and file a charge against him for false and anticipatory asset declaration.  I do not think  EFCC could have concluded the investigation into this Saraki case in such record time.

The charge covers the period when Saraki first declared his assets in 2003 and his last declaration in 2011. In all, he was said to have made four declarations. Could the EFCC have investigated all these within four months and move swiftly to charge him to court? What those claiming that Saraki is being witch-hunted should know is that the offence for which he is charged is not statute barred. The EFCC or any organ so authorised could decide to bring a charge against him even 20 years after he might have left office if it so wished. What if all these years EFCC had been investigating the matter to enable it present a watertight case against him? I am not commending EFCC for moving against Saraki; no far from it. What I am saying is that we should not impute motives to what the commission is doing because Saraki is at the receiving end. I strongly believe that EFCC  should have acted before now, not only in the Saraki case, but in similar other matters that may even involve many of those who escorted him to the tribunal on Tuesday.

What is happening today is good if we are serious about building a new Nigeria, which will hold its head high in the comity of nations. To build that Nigeria, we must clean our country from the top. Did Saraki commit the offences in the charge against him or not? This is the question that should engage the minds of his lawyers because at the end of the day that is what the tribunal will look at in determining whether he is guilty or not.  The tribunal will not look at their political shibboleth because that is not the issue before it. As Saraki said before pleading not guilty to the charge, ‘’we are all before the world and not just before Nigeria and we ought to be seen how we conform to due process’’.

It is noteworthy that he submitted himself to the rule of law by appearing before the tribunal (whether willingly or unwillingly that does not matter). As the nation’s chief lawmaker, he has no choice than to so act. By virtue of his position, Saraki should not only lead by example, he must also be seen leading by example. May it not be said of him that as Senate president, he used his office to trample upon the judiciary, the third arm of government.

Adieu, Mama

WHEN the sage, Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo, died in 1987, many did not give his ‘’jewel of inestimable value’’, Hannah Idowu Dideolu (HID), any chance to live long. They feared that she would not be able to bear the loss of her husband. But she lived for 28 years thereafter. Mama lived to the ripe, old  age of 99. She was looking forward to her 100th birthday on November 25 when she died last Saturday. She was a true mother and a woman of valour who stood by the legendary Awo through thick and thin. I was touched by her statement on the loss of her son, Oluwole, in 2013. When former President Goodluck Jonathan visited her in her Ikenne, Ogun State country home, mama lamented that in her old age, she is witnessing the death of some of her children. Wole Awolowo died shortly after her sister, Mrs Ayo Soyode, passed on. Rest in the Lord’s bosom, mama.

Free Falae now!

IT WAS Chief Olu Falae’s birthday last Monday, a day when he should be in the midst of friends and family members sharing the joy of the occasion. But what did he get? Some bad boys abducted the septuagenarian on his farm at Ilado village in Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State. The kidnappers first demanded N100 million ransom to be paid within 24 hours. They have cut the ransom to N90 million. What do these people want from this 77-year-old man? What will they lose by releasing him today?