Storms court with 66 lawyers
FROM: GODWIN TSA, ABUJA
THE trial of Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) was yesterday stalled through a motion by the accused challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the charge brought against him.
The Federal Government had filed a 13-count charge bordering on false assets declaration against the Senate President. In addition, the motion sought an order of the tribunal quashing and or striking out the charge against him and subsequently discharging him from the charge.
The Senate President who stormed the tribunal with a retinue of 66 lawyers headed by a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Godwin Kanu Agabi (SAN) argued that the charge against him was brought in violation of all due process and in violation of his right to fair hearing as enshrined in the constitution.
The tribunal was informed of the motion after the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) said he was ready to proceed with the trial as his witnesses were available and ready to give evidence.
Jacobs who was angry about the situation described Saraki’s motion as an “attempt to scuttle the trial”, and urged the tribunal to proceed with the business of the day. Besides, Jacobs informed the tribunal that the motion in question was not served on him as expected by law.
He said the action was a deliberate plot to scuttle the trial since other correspondence from Saraki’s legal team has always been served on him and also the Federal Ministry of Justice knowing that he was the one prosecuting the case.
He submitted, “ The tribunal will record that the same application challenging the jurisdiction of this tribunal has travelled from this court to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court directed parties to go back and face the charge.
“The Supreme Court even said the conduct of defence counsel was to intimidate the tribunal. That was why the tribunal gave us a date for the trial.
“I was not served with the motion up till now. The defence counsel is aware that I am a prosecution counsel in this matter. When they wrote a letter asking the tribunal to shift it’s sitting till today, it was served on me. But now when they filed a motion subsequently, they decided not to serve me. In any case, the motion is not ripe for hearing unless there is a proof of service on me.”
He alleged that: “the motion is a deliberate attempt to scuttle the trial so that the matter cannot go on. The business of today is trial.”
Jacobs urged the tribunal to proceed with the trial in view of section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which empowered the tribunal to take all motions and the substantive matter and deliver judgment at the end of trial.
He decried that he has been subjected to attacks and ridicule as a result of the trial by the camp of the Senate President through media briefing alleging that he was persecuting him (Saraki).
“They cannot be blowing hot and cold. They first said the charge cannot be filed against the Senate President in the absence of a sitting Attorney General of the Federation, now that there is a sitting AGF, they are now saying he has no powers to file the case.”
However, Saraki’s lead counsel, Agabi admitted that he acted in error by not serving the motion on the prosecution counsel but urged the court not to overlook his motion no matter how frivolous it may appear to be.
“We filed a motion challenging your jurisdiction. It was served on the Ministry of Justice on Monday. I cannot see how the tribunal can proceed without ruling on it, no matter how frivolous it may be”, he submitted.
Agabi added that “there are two parts to the submissions of the prosecution. The first part is that the tribunal has already ruled on the issue of jurisdiction and the Supreme Court has affirmed it. That is a defence to our motion. Secondly, it was an error not to have served Rotimi but why does the Ministry of Justice accept the service? So it is the Ministry of Justice that is delaying the trial.”
In the final analysis, the matter was adjourned to March 18, 2016 with the intervention of the tribunal, to allow the prosecution time to respond to the motion.
In the motion brought pursuant to sections 36 (6) (a) (b), 36 (12) and paragraph 15 of the First Schedule to the 1999 constitution, section 3 and paragraph 1 of the third schedule of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Saraki contended that the charge constitutes a gross abuse of the legal process.
He argued further that the charge cannot lie at the instance of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
In a 34 paragraph supporting affidavit, Saraki averred that he has never been challenged by the Code of Conduct Bureau or any other authority on the ground that he failed to make his assets declarations at all times when in public office.
He argued that the present trial was not initiated by the Bureau as it had never referred any matter concerning him to the tribunal.
“Between 2003, when I made my first declaration, and 2011, when I made my last declarations, the Bureau did not query my submission or point out any inconsistencies or discrepancies in them.
“I am not aware of any petitions challenging my declarations and the Bureau has never drawn my attention to any. I would promptly have corrected or explained any alleged discrepancies or inconsistencies in my assets declaration had my attention been drawn to them.