By Yusuph Olaniyonu, Abuja.
THE sitting of the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja last week was not short of drama. The trial of the Senate President, Dr.Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who was before the tribunal to answer a 13-count charge bordering on irregularities in asset declaration had commenced properly with the prosecution calling its first witness. It was a certain Micheal Wetkas of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a man who seemed given to drama and theatrics.
Giving his testimony, Wetkas alleged that the Senate President was involved in several fraudulent transactions through his GT Bank accounts running into millions of naira. In one instance, he claimed, associates of the Senate President made 87 lodgments into his GTB account without providing forwarding address therefore, making it difficult to trace.
“On February 27, 2007 there was a cash deposit of N3million by one Josiah Samuel,” he said. “On April 3, 2007 there was a telegraphic transfer of N180,675,000:00 as part payment to the Presidential Implementation Committee on Landed Properties. Also on 5th Sept. 2007 there were some cash lodgments by one Ubi who made cash lodgment in five tranches on the same day in the sum of N11million, N20million, N20million, N20million, N6million in total was N77million. The position of the account was in a debit balance of N81,960,289.’’
As if to add more spice to the tale, Wetkas further claimed that the Senate President continued to draw his salary even after he left office as Governor of Kwara. Hear him, “In exhibit 15, the defendant was still collecting salaries as Governor till August31, 2015 after he had seized to be one since May 29, 2011 when his second tenure ended. As at July 2007, the account statement of the defendant was N254,412,125. In June 2011 it was put at N291,124 with the narration KWSGMAY2011 salary. On July 4, 2011 another payment with narration KWSG May 2011 salary.”
On the face of it, the gist of the evidence by Wetkas appears to be very weighty; especially as it is of criminal nature. But a close review of the evidence suggests that there is no connection between it and the charges against Saraki. Let’s not forget,Saraki is before the Code of Conduct Tribunal because of alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct Act, for failure to declare certain property he acquired when he was governor between 2003 and 2011. For matters bordering on crime and stealing of government’s funds, Nigeria is not short of courts which are statutorily empowered to try suspects for such infractions. It therefore appears to me that the tribunal has overstepped its boundary by delving into matters which it is not empowered to deal with.
If indeed the man was guilty of stealing Kwara State funds as the evidence implied, then he should have been charged to a regular court to face trial for corruption. That should be the right thing to do. The Code of Conduct Tribunal is not the right place to try such weighty allegations of corruption, since it is only quasi-criminal in nature and without the power to jail anyone. And the fact that Saraki was brought before it somewhat validates his claim that he was being politically persecuted, and not because of any infraction he committed.
Therefore, even though the testimony of Wetkas enjoyed wide reportage in the media and the witness has been celebrated like a super star, the defense counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, must be inwardly happy with the way the matter has progressed. One, the prosecution has failed to prove that any of the lodgments in the GT account of the Senate President is as a result of corrupt enrichment or stealing of government funds. Just because someone lodged money into an account fifty times in one day is not enough to conclude that corruption has taken place.
Two, they have also failed to show the connection between lodgments in GT bank and the property that were allegedly acquired by Saraki. If anything else, what the testimony of Wetkas has proved was that Saraki bought a lot of the properties from loans obtained from banks, particularly, the GT bank. Nothing that has been said so far has proven that Kwara State Government money has been diverted into buying those properties.
A tough task, no doubt, for the prosecution. Probably, that is why it seems to rely more on drama and sensationalism rather than on concrete proof to convict Saraki. If not, of what material value to the case is the allegation that he continued to draw his salary after he ceased being the governor of Kwara State? This allegation no doubt must have caused a lot of gasps in the tribunal and made good newspaper headlines the next day. But, in practical terms, what has this got to do with the case other than to play with to the emotion of the public thereby prejudicing their minds against the defendant.
A good job the tales of multiple deposits and illegal salaries have done. Some people have started calling on Saraki to resign. He is presumed guilty even before he has the opportunity to present his side of the story. What manner of justice.
The Saraki case is a perfect demonstration of why our anti-graft agencies hardly secure convictions in courts. The investigation is wrongly directed and poorly conducted. The facts that come out of it do not give the prosecutor the materials to convince the judge. To cover up the laxity, the prosecutor relies on the media and the public to do his job for him. Most often, this simply plays into the hands of a brilliant defence counsel who would not even need to break a sweat to destroy the case and get the defendant discharged. The Saraki case is perhaps being pursued in this shoddy manner because the prosecution is sure the presiding ‘judge’ will do its bidding. The prosecution is behaving as if it does not need to prove anything. The verdict appears predetermined and the judge is working to an answer.
Finally, I believe the prosecution appears to be doing a good job of convicting Saraki in the media. But the real trial should betaking place in the tribunal where what really matters is the law and not the drama and the farce being reported. The truth is that the case appears very weak. The foregoing gives cause to worry about the efficiency of our judicial system and its persistent inability to secure criminal convictions. What we have witnessed largely over the last few years in Nigeria is a situation where our legal system has recorded more convictions on the pages of newspapers than in the court of law. Will the Saraki trial be different? Time will tell.