FG, Saraki on the Mend?



Following the drop of forgery charges against Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, Senate president and his deputy, the speculation that other charges against Saraki may be dropped appears not be on the card

THE Senate on Friday, October 7, said the forgery case against its presiding officers, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Senate president and Ike Ekweremadu, his deputy, had been a distraction to the law making body and that the withdrawal is a confirmation of its position that the nation cannot afford any sharp division between the various arms of government.

In a statement by Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, its spokesman, the Senate said the decision to withdraw the case and its subsequent dismissal as well as the discharge of the defendants had confirmed its earlier position that the case was indeed an abuse of court process having been dismissed earlier by the court.

“We have always said it that that case was politically motivated. The executive cannot decide for the legislature the genuineness or otherwise of its standing rules. However, where there is a crack in the wall, it is easy for others to capitalise on the differences between us. Now that senators have closed their ranks, the executive is only taking the right cue.

“We are happy with this development. We believe it is a sign of good things to come. It is a victory for democracy. A victory for separation of powers, checks and balances and constitutionalism,” the statement said.

The Senate used the occasion to commend the judiciary for its continuous dedication and commitment to the rule of law in the nation’s democracy and restated its confidence in the judiciary’s ability to adjudicate and dispense justice in all matters. “We, however, call on the government to go the whole hog and withdraw other cases with political coloration. This is a period for the political leadership to present a united front. There is an emergency in the country. The economy is in crisis. This has resulted in escalating and excruciating poverty among our people. Social problems are on the rise. There are conflicts across the country. National values are being eroded. Crucial infrastructure and social services are collapsing. These are the things that should pre-occupy our minds, especially now that our economy is in recession.”

Well said. But the case against Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, seems to have many legs to it. Saraki is facing 16-count criminal charge on his alleged false/anticipatory declaration of assets, money laundering, operation of foreign accounts while in office as the governor of Kwara State and allegation that he collected salaries as a governor, four years after his tenure had elapsed.

The Senate president has variously challenged the charge at different court and only yesterday, Thursday, October 6, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, reserved judgment in an appeal filed by the embattled senator. A five-man panel of justices of the appellate court led by Justice Abdul Aboki, okayed judgement on the appeal marked after it heard arguments from Kanu Agabi, SAN, counsel to Saraki and Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, counsel to the Federal Government. Saraki had gone before the appellate court to query the legal propriety of the 16-count criminal charge the federal government entered against him before the CCT. He is challenging jurisdiction of the Justice Danladi Umar-led tribunal to try him on the basis of a charge he said was incompetent and legally defective.

Agabi, while arguing the appeal, prayed the appellate court to set aside a ruling the tribunal delivered on March 24. The tribunal had in the said ruling held that it has the requisite jurisdiction to hear and determine the case against the Senate president. The two-man panel tribunal had also declined to suspend further proceeding on the matter to await the outcome of the appeal dated April 4. However, in his nine grounds of appeal, Saraki contended that he was denied fair hearing by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, which he said did not give him the opportunity to clarify alleged discrepancies in the assets he declared as a public officer.

He further challenged the powers of the attorney general of the federation to usurp the function of the CCB, by personally endorsing the charge pending against him before the tribunal. He said that the AGF lacked the powers to initiate charges before the CCT.  Besides, Saraki told the appellate court that he was not served a pre-action notice, which he described as a condition precedent before a charge is entered against anyone at the CCT.

Also, he queried action of the government in filing charges against him, 13 years after he had exited office as a governor.

On its part, the federal government urged the appellate court to dismiss Saraki’s appeal which it said not only lacked merit, but also constituted an abuse of the judicial process. Jacobs also filed a cross-appeal against the March 24, ruling of the tribunal on behalf of the government, saying that the tribunal failed to make findings on its allegation that the second motion Saraki filed to quash charges against him and to challenge jurisdiction of the CCT to try him, amounted to an abuse of court process.

The federal government pointed out that since the issue of jurisdiction was earlier decided by the Supreme Court on February 5, following an appeal by Saraki, the tribunal ought not have entertained another application on the same issue. It, therefore, prayed the court to among other things, determine whether the decision of the tribunal contained in its ruling of March 24, 2015, is a nullity by virtue of the provision of section 294(3) of the 1999 constitution, as amended.

“Whether the CCT is not right in holding that the appellant need not be invited by the CCB to make a written admission of the breach of code of conduct pursuant to section 3(d) of the CCB and Tribunal Act, before he can competently be charged before the CCT.

“Whether the AGF did not competently and validly initiate the criminal charge pending before the CCT against the appellant. As well as, “Whether the CCB cannot competently collaborate with the AGF and the EFCC in its duty to investigate asset declaration form submitted to it by public officer and in referring to complaint of infraction to the CCT,” Jacob submitted.

So far, there has been no indication on whether the government is ready to drop the case against Saraki at the CCT so as to allow him to fully concentrate on his legislative assignments. With the recent power struggle in the ruling All Progressives Party, it is left to be seen if the presidency will like to go all the way to make peace.

—  Oct 17, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT


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