Saraki, CCT And The Trial Of Many Colours
Posted: 12/Jul/2018

Last week the Supreme Court brought to an end a three year legal tango over allegations of false asset declarations brought against Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Federal Government. In ending the saga, the court answered both legal and political questions around the matter. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, who had followed the trends, reviews the saga and attempts to answers questions emanating from the development.

ON Friday July 6, the Supreme Court brought to an end one of the most dramatic cases before it in recent times.  The trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki had gone back and forth from September 2015 when it was initiated. From day one as well, Saraki had indicated that his travails were more political in nature than legalistic.  He granted interviews to so declare and also voiced same in the accused box of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

The case started on a dramatic note. The nation was alerted in September 2015 through an online publication of an 18-counts charge preferred against Saraki at the CCT. It was barely three months into his tenure as Senate President and coming on the heels of a well-advertised presidential statement indicating that President Muhammadu Buhari was ready to work with anyone who had emerged as the head of legislature; it was at first a puzzle.

It was the thick of the battle on the Senate floor to de-recognise Saraki’s Senate Presidency and oust him. Senators of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who were seen as loyal to the party’s position on the leadership of the Senate under the banner of the Senate Unity Forum (SUF), had taken up arms against those perceived as loyalists of Saraki under the aegis of Like Minds Senators (LMS). So, while the heat was on Saraki from inside his own chamber, another battle front was opened as government strategists brought up the option of CCT trial. It emerged that the strategists aimed at a quick fix of the Senate Presidency leadership crisis.

First, it was believed that the development would either embarrass the senate President or force him to think of resigning the office to clear his name or engineer Senators to call for his resignation so as to preserve the image of the Senate of the Federal Republic. The projections were said to be based on precedence in the Senate.  The late former Senate President, Evans Enwerem, was shoved aside by the lawmakers in 2000 following allegations seen to be smearing the image of the Senate. His successor, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, also stepped aside to clear his name by allowing a probe into allegations of financial impropriety against him. He allowed the election of a Senate President Pro-Tempore (interim Senate President) to enable his colleagues look into allegations that he awarded certain contracts. He never returned to the seat as intrigues swept him aside as soon as he stepped down. Again, Senate President Adolphus Wabara, who was accused alongside some 12 other lawmakers of the Senate and the House of Representatives of involvement in the bribe-for-budget scandal of 2005 by then President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a letter of resignation, indicating his willingness to clear his name.

As soon as he stepped aside, the traducers appeared disinterested in the matter which lasted for years and eventually ended in the court clearing him of wrongdoings.

Last week, a five-man panel of the apex Court led by Justice Dattijo Mohammed, unanimously upheld Saraki’s appeal against the earlier ruling of the Court of Appeal, which submitted that the Senate President should face trial on three of the 18 counts preferred against him.

The court held that submissions by the witnesses raised against Saraki were largely based on hearsay. The process to this acquittal actually started in June 2017, when Justice Danladi Umar of the CCT dismissed all 18 count charges preferred against Saraki. The CCT had indicated that the prosecution with its four witnesses and 49 exhibits only led hearsay evidence, which it said could not be basis to convict Saraki of an offence.

A further drama was introduced to the saga when on January 14, 2018, the Court of Appeal partly agreed with the CCT’s, earlier ruling by submitting that Saraki had a case to answer in counts 4, 5, and 6, three of the 18 dismissed by the CCT. The counts had to do with the alleged purchase of properties in the Ikoyi area of Lagos State. Saraki, however, appealed the ruling of the Court of Appeal and the nation had waited with bated breath all along.

The apex court in the lead judgment delivered by Justice Centus Nweze  ruled that in clear conscience, there was no basis for the Court of Appeal to have held that Saraki had a case to answer on the three counts as according to the justice of the apex court, the entire evidence of the prosecution was based on hearsay.

Justice Nweze further ruled that the Court of Appeal was guilty of “forensic summersault” which he said was capable of making ill of jurisprudence.

The court held firmly that “The prosecution is duty bound by law to call all key witnesses to be able to establish prima facie case against anybody,”

The ruling coming after 1,018 days following the commencement of the suit on September 22, 2015, was a clear vindication of Saraki’s position from day one of the suit. He had repeatedly stated that the case would not have come up if he had not emerged the president of the Senate.

It appeared all was clear from the beginning that the forces mentioned by the Senate President were working on many fronts. Besides the creation of what is called “axis of evil” in legislative parlance, within the Senate chamber, the government of the day also refused to technically recognise the Kwara senator as the number three citizen.

It was gathered then that the projection in the camp of Saraki’s traducers was that he would not be on seat to screen ministerial nominees of President Buhari who were being shortlisted at the time. Indeed, a school of thought had it that the submission of the ministerial list to the Senate was delayed to ensure Saraki’s ouster through a summary ruling of the CCT.  The implication of the suit appeared grave for Saraki at the start. He risked losing his position as Nigeria’s number three citizen, besides being banned from participating in politics for 10 years. He equally risked added jail terms.

President Buhari, whose government had orchestrated the trial, was to hail the judiciary for earning its appellation as the last hope of common man, adding that Saraki’s decision to persevere through the trial was an attitude that was commendable.

He submitted in a statement on his behalf by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu:  “I have seen many instances where individuals and groups seek the destruction of the judicial institution in the foolish thinking of saving their skin instead of going through the painstaking process of establishing their innocence.

“In the case of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, I have seen him take the tortuous path of using the judicial process.

“He persevered, and in the end, the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, says he is not guilty as charged.

“This is what I have done in the three elections in which I was cheated out, before God made it possible for me to come here the fourth time I ran for the office.”

He said that Saraki’s decision to follow through the case and establish his innocence was worthy of emulation by Nigerians.

There is no doubt that the acquittal was bound to impose some implications on the nation’s march towards 2019 and it looks like the trends are bound to evolve in fast tempo.

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