From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has rescheduled the trial of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to March 11. This is against March 10 earlier fixed by the tribunal after the Supreme Court dismissed the Senate President’s appeal which sought to stop the trial.
A statement by the Head, Press and Public Relations of the CCT, Ibraheem Al- Hassan said the new date was at the instance of Saraki’s lead counsel, Chief Godwin Agabi (SAN).
It reads; “The Chairman Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Yakubu Umar, has today (yesterday) acceded to the request of the Senate President, Dr Olubukola Abubakar Saraki, through his lead defence counsel, Kanu G. Agabi (SAN), to reschedule the hitherto fixed 10/3/2016 to 11 /3/ 2016 for hearing at the tribunal.”
This was contained in a letter signed by Kanu G. Agabi forwarded to the tribunal, dated February 26, 2016, with the heading Re: charge No. CCT/ABJ/01/2015- FRN V Dr Olubukola Abubakar Saraki, addressed to the Chief Registrar of the CCT.
The letter states ‘‘I write as lead counsel to the above defendant to apply that the matter which is now scheduled to come up on March 10, 2016, subject to the convenience of the honourable tribunal and learned counsel for the prosecution, be taken on March, 11, 2016, due to my earlier and urgent commitments in other courts on the 10th ’’.
The Supreme Court had on February 5, 2016 dismissed Saraki’s appeal seeking to stop his trial. In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, the court dismissed Saraki’s pleas for lack of merit. It also held that the CCT was properly constituted to exercise jurisdiction over the trial, maintaining that the quorum was formed and that the tribunal can actually sit with only the chairman and one other member to decide on a case.
The apex court said: “There is no issue before the tribunal and the lower court concerning the authority of the Solicitor-General authorising Mr. Hassan to file the charge, since by the provisions of Section 4 of the Law Officers Act supra, the Solicitor-General, in the absence of a sitting Attorney-General, as in the instant case, may perform any of the duties and shall have the same power as are imposed by law on the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).”
“In the circumstance and having regard to the state of the law, applicable to the facts relevant to the issue considered here, I find no merit in issues 3, which is hereby resolved against the appellant.”
According to Justice Onnoghen, the charge was valid even when the AGF was not in place, saying: “Even in the absence of AGF, the charge can be valid and it is valid.”
The court also resolved the issue of whether the tribunal had jurisdiction to try criminal matters and issue bench warrants against the Senate president.
Saraki’s lawyer, Joseph Daudu, had pegged his brief on the facts that the CCT in its trial of the Senate President was not properly constituted and that the tribunal was not a court of competent criminal jurisdiction.
He also noted that his client was not properly served with the court charge, adding: “The CCT is just a disciplinary panel for public officers.”
Daudu insisted that the tribunal has three members and at the time Saraki was put on trial, there were only two members and since the third member was not available, the trial was illegal.
But counsel to Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Rotimi Jacobs, urged the apex court to dismiss the appeal for lack of merit.
He said the tribunal was properly constituted, as only two members were required to form a quorum to sit in judgment on a case.
He had argued that in the absence of the AGF, an officer in his office could initiate criminal proceedings against anyone, as was in the case against of Saraki.
The court, however, on the issue of improper service of the charge, which was Issue No. 4 on the brief, ruled that the administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 has cured the defect in the service and that once one appears in court, that is final.