The Code of Conduct Tribunal has shifted the commencement of the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki on 13 counts of false assets declaration from March 10 to March 11.
The Danladi Umar-led CCT had, after the judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on February 5, validating the trial of the Senate President and the charges preferred against him, fixed March 10 for the prosecution to open its case.
But the Head, Press and Public Relations of the CCT, Mr. Ibraheem Al-hassan, said in a statement on Tuesday that the trial had been shifted to March 11 following a request by Saraki’s new lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN).
According to Al-hassan, Agabi pleaded with the CCT to shift the trial date by one day on the grounds that he had urgent matters to attend to in other courts on March 10.
The CCT spokesperson said Agabi conveyed his request to the CCT in a letter dated February 26, 2016.
He quoted Agabi’s letter as stating, ‘‘I write as lead counsel for 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.
“I will sincerely appreciate the indulgence of the tribunal to accommodate me in this way’’.
Al-hassan said Agabi ended his letter “by apologising for the inconvenience caused to the honourable tribunal and other learned counsel.”
Agabi might have taken over from a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), as the lead counsel, after the judgment of the Supreme Court was delivered on February 5.
Daudu had led a retinue of Senior Advocates of Nigeria and other lawyers to argue the objection of the Senate President to the trial at the CCT right from the tribunal up to the Supreme Court level.
A seven-man panel of the apex court, presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, unanimously ruled in its judgment on February 5 that Saraki’s appeal against the jurisdiction of the CCT and the competence of the charges lacked merit.
Justice Walter Onnoghen, who delivered the lead judgment, dismissed all Saraki’s seven grounds of appeal, affirming that the charges instituted against him were valid and that the tribunal was validly constituted with requisite jurisdiction to try him.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Tuesday urged Justice Abdukadir Abdu-Kafarati of a Federal High Court in Abuja not to overrule the judgment of the Supreme Court by going ahead to stop the trial of Saraki on 13 counts of false assets declaration before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
The Federal Government, through its lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), made the submission on Tuesday while opposing a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed by Saraki asking for an order to stop his trial before the CCT.
Already, the Code of Conduct Tribunal had, following a judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on February 5, 2016 validating the trial of the Senate President, fixed March 11 for the prosecution to open its case.
Justice Abdu-Kafarati on Tuesday fixed March 22 for judgment in the suit after entertaining arguments by Saraki’s lawyer, Mr. Ajibola Oluyede, in support of the suit and Jacobs’ opposition to it.
But the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission, represented by Mr. Suleiman Abdukareem, adopted the argument of Jacobs in opposing the suit on Tuesday.
Jacobs urged Justice Abdu-Kafarati to dismiss the suit which he said was not fit to be instituted under the fundamental human rights enforcement proceedings.
Jacobs, while arguing his notice of preliminary objection, accused the Senate President of raising the issue of violation of his rights to fair hearing in order to escape trial.
“The issue of malicious prosecution raised by the applicant cannot come under fundamental human rights proceedings,” Jacobs said.
He contended that the suit by Saraki was an abuse of court process because the issues in it had been raised in another pending suit filed by the Senate President before the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop his trial and also in his objection filed before the CCT which was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
The lawyer argued that the suit amounted to an invitation to the judge to overrule the Supreme Court, which had validated the competence of the charges.
“He (Saraki) has lost at the Tribunal, he lost at the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court. He wants the court to overrule the Supreme Court and said the court should not continue,” he said.
But Saraki’s lawyer, Mr. Ajibola Oluyede, urged the court to stop the CCT trial on the grounds that the Senate President’s right to fair hearing was breached during the investigation of the allegations leading to the charges preferred against him.
Oluyede argued that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission usurped the powers of the Code of Conduct Bureau to investigate the details of assets declared by the Senate President and file charges relating to the infraction discovered.
He said if the CCB had been allowed to investigate the allegation against the Senate President as prescribed by provisions of section 3(e) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act which was lifted from section 3 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution, the CCB would have invited him (Saraki) and confronted him with the alleged infraction.
“In order to circumvent that discretion of the CCB, they (FG) gave it to EFCC because the EFCC would not give him (Saraki) to deny or admit it,” Oluyede said.
He also accused the Federal Government of working towards “a pre-arranged destination” by using the EFCC to file the charges and getting them assigned to the CCT whose head was also under EFCC investigation.
“You give the case to the tiribunal that is headed by a man under your investigation,” he said.
But Jacobs faulted Oluyede’s contention on the grounds that the plaintiff having failed to tender the charges and the proof of evidence filed against Senate President there was no way the court could determine the extend to which the EFCC was involved in the investigation.
“My lord will not rely on mere averrment that is not backed by evidence,” he said.
The respondents to the suit include, Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, and the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase.
The CJN and other members of the full panel of the apex court, comprising Justices Tanko Muhammad, Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Chima Nweze and Amiru Sanusi, also consented to the judgment.
The judgment of the Supreme Court terminated an earlier order of the a panel of apex court, presided over by now retired Justice John Fabiyi, which had on November 12, 2015, stayed proceedings in the trial of the Senate President.
In the 13 counts initiated by the Federal Government, Saraki was said to have made false assets declaration in his forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau as a two-term Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
The Senate President, who was said to have submitted four assets declaration forms, which were allegedly investigated by the CCB, was found to have “corruptly acquired many properties while in office as Governor of Kwara State but failed to declare some of them in the said forms earlier filled and submitted”.
He also allegedly made an anticipatory declaration of assets upon his assumption of office as governor, which he later acquired.
He is was equally accused of sending money abroad for the purchase of property in London and that he maintained an account outside Nigeria while serving as governor.
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