General Editor, EMEKA ALEX DURU, examines the turns in the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) trial of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his eventual acquittal, last Wednesday.
It did not come to many as a surprise when supporters of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, went on wild jubilation over his victory at the premises of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), on Wednesday, June 14. It was also not for nothing for Saraki to have thundered that the conclusion of the trial had vindicated his earlier position of innocence.
While the trial occasionally took uncertain turns, Saraki was obviously under immense stress. At a point, in fact, even chieftains of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had passed a verdict of guilt on him. And the senate President was literally an orphan of sort.
Journey to the unknown
Saraki had not particularly been in the good books of APC and presidency, since his emergence as Senate President on June 9, 2015. For going against the permutations of the party with his colleagues in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and effectively stealing the show, he had from the outset, been a marked man, in some instances.
But his ordeal with the CCT began to take shape on September 11, 2015, when he was charged to the Tribunal by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) over allegation of false declaration of assets, contrary to constitutional requirements.
Part of the accusation was that he deliberately manipulated the assets declaration form that he filed prior to his assumption of office as the Senate President, by making anticipatory declaration of assets.
He was equally accused of failing to declare some assets he acquired while in office as governor. Saraki, who has been in the Senate since 2011, was Kwara State governor from 2003 to 2011.
Besides, he was expected to explain before the CCT how he acquired some assets which the Federal Government believed were beyond his legitimate earnings.
The trial however began to take frightening dimension from Friday, September 18, 2015, when the CCT, headed by Justice Danladi Umar, had ordered the then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Solomon Arase and other relevant security agencies in the country to arrest the Senate President.
In a ruling that took Saraki and his camp by surprise, the Tribunal had issued a bench warrant on him, following his refusal to appear before it to face criminal charges preferred against him by the Federal Ministry of Justice.
Saraki who was billed for arraignment that day, had sent his lawyers to serve the Tribunal with a copy of the ruling of Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, the previous day, Thursday, which summoned the Ministry of Justice to appear on Monday, September 21, to show cause why the trial should be allowed to proceed.
Equally summoned by the court were Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Umar and that of the Code of Conduct Bureau, (CCB), Sam Saba, as well as an official of Ministry who signed the charge against Saraki.
Apparently irked by Saraki’s absence at the Tribunal for the commencement of his trial, the Ministry of Justice prayed the Justice Umar-led panel to order his arrest. The prosecution further maintained that Justice Mohammed lacked the powers to summon the CCT and CCB chairmen.
Efforts by Saraki’s lawyers to convince the Tribunal to consider his position as the Senate President and stay the execution of the arrest warrant, especially as he would be available for trial the following Monday, did not yield results.
Justice Umar rather maintained that the accused person, having sworn to protect the constitution, ought to have shown respect to the Tribunal by appearing before it.
While the Senate President and his team of lawyers battled to secure him a reprieve, further developments in the Tribunal, pointed to heady days ahead.
At a time for instance, Umar, had ordered that hearing would be holding from 10:00am to 6:00pm daily, till the conclusion of the case.
“Let me state it here for both the prosecution and the defence that the trial of the defendant shall proceed on a day-to-day basis till the conclusion of this matter and it will begin from 10:00am to 6:00pm,” Justice Umar had warned.
Among the deductions from the pronouncement was the Judge’s aversion to any adjournments on the matter.
Also, there was the interpretation that by the order, Justice Umar, had subtly turned down earlier summons on him by the Senate Ethics, Privileges, and Public Petitions Committee to appear before it over an allegation of his investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) on graft related matters.
The invitation on the CCT Chairman did not go down well with critics. Apparently in deference to unfavourable public opinion, the Committee had stepped down the summons.
APC taunts Saraki
On account of the development, coupled with Umar’s insistence on the day-to-day trial, chieftains of APC who had been angling for Saraki’s head, easily went on victory lap, even while the case was yet to be concluded.
From the Lagos secretariat of the party, State Publicity Secretary of the Party, Joe Igbokwe, drew a conclusion that Saraki would not survive his ordeal. According to him, the Senate President, in his ordeal, was paying for disrespecting APC.
In his words, “APC does not want Bukola Saraki as the Senate President. Saraki has caused enough implosions within the party. He has brought public opprobrium to the party. He has slowed down the Party’s machinery from taking off smoothly. He has portrayed us as a weak party. Now is the time for him to go. Saraki has no choice than to go otherwise he will have himself to blame”.
The party’s National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, also alluded to the hard stance, when he remarked that the party would not seek political solution for the Senate President. Not even the speculated threat of APC losing the seat to PDP in the event of Saraki’s exit, could move the chairman.
He was quoted to have stressed that even if the matter came to a curious turn of the party losing the seat to PDP, it would not be too much of a sacrifice for entrenchment of democracy.
“ I don’t think we will lose that position. But sometimes, for change to take place there is price you have to pay. So losing the position may be sacrifice for change”, Odigie-Oyegun reportedly told an online medium, Premium Times, at the time.
With the Senate President’s traducers virtually taking positions ahead of his anticipated fall, speculations were rife on his future in politics. It was for instance, insinuated that an unfavourable outcome on the case, would not only see him losing the exalted office, but may cost him membership of the upper law making house, aside possible imprisonment.
Saraki springs surprise
But like a veteran of political intrigues, Saraki fought back, with the hope of emerging victorious. This, he did on Wednesday, when the Tribunal discharged and acquitted him of all the 18 charges of false asset declaration and other related offences preferred against him.
The two-man panel of the CCT, led by its Chairman, unanimously upheld the no-case submission, filed by Saraki, after the prosecution closed its case with 48 exhibits tendered and after the testimonies of the fourth and the last prosecution witness on May 4, 2017.
Umar, had, in his lead ruling, exonerated Saraki of all the charges on, among other grounds, the failure of the prosecution to obtain his statement and make it part of the proof of evidence.
In celebrating the victory, Saraki rather called for sober reflection among his supporters, adding that his acquittal had renewed his faith in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.
FG, critics, kick
While Saraki and his admirers enthused at the judgement, the Presidency, described it as outrageous and travesty of justice.
Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Okoi Obono-Obla, wondered why the CCT dismissed the weight of “overwhelming evidence” against the Senate President.
Transparency International (Nigeria) and a chieftain of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Ayo Opadokun, also criticised the judgment, describing it as sad and a calculated attempt to frustrate the war against corruption in the country.
On his own, the Lead Counsel for the Prosecution, Pius Akutah, hinted that the team would review the ruling “in order to determine the next step”.
Analysts see in the statement, an indication of the government appealing the judgement, adding that it may mean the battle not being over for Saraki.
But while the permutations go on, Saraki, it was gathered, remains unruffled. Endowed with enormous financial war chest and credited with huge appetite for political battles – attributes he is said to have inherited from his late father, the acclaimed strongman of Kwara politics, Olusola Saraki, the Senate President, according to associates, is not overtly perturbed by any angle the Presidency may further take the battle. For now, it is victory song in his camp, TheNiche, learnt.