The Presidency, on Wednesday, described as outrageous and travesty of justice the acquittal of Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which upheld the no-case submission of the Senate President.
The Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, wondered why the CCT dismissed the weight of “overwhelming evidence” against Saraki, who was tried for false asset declaration by the Federal Government.
The CCT in Abuja had discharged and acquitted Saraki 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, Danladi Umar, 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.
But the Transparency International (Nigeria) and a chieftain of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, Mr. Ayo Opadokun, among others, described the judgment as sad and a calculated attempt to frustrate the war against corruption in the country.
The CCT chairman, Umar, in his lead ruling, exonerated Saraki of all the charges on, among other grounds, the failure of the prosecution to obtain Saraki’s statement and make it part of the proof of evidence.
He described as “absurd” that neither Saraki’s statement nor the report of investigation said to have been carried out was produced before the tribunal.
He agreed with the defence team, led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), that the prosecution’s evidence had been manifestly discredited during cross-examination by the defence.
He added that the evidence adduced by the prosecution, led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), was “so unreliable that no reasonable tribunal could convict” anyone based on it.
Umar also noted that the evidence of the first prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas, an operative of the EFCC, was unreliable.
Concerning the evidence of the second prosecution witness, Mr. Amazi Nwachuckwu, Head of Funds Transfer Unit of the Guaranty Trust Bank, Umar noted that the witness had testified that documents relating to alleged foreign transfers by Saraki had been consumed in a fire incident, adding that there was nothing to prove the charges that were based on the documents.
Lawyers and Saraki’s supporters in court burst into wild jubilation as soon as the tribunal made the pronouncement exonerating the Senate President on Wednesday.
While the lead defence counsel, Agabi, thanked the tribunal for the ruling, the counsel, who led the prosecution team at the Wednesday’s sitting, Mr. Pius Akutah, told journalists that the prosecution would review the ruling “in order to determine the next step”.
The charges instituted against Saraki before the CCT related to the alleged breaches of the code of conduct for public officers, acts which were said to be punishable under the Constitution and the CCB/CCT Act.
He allegedly committed the breaches by making false declaration of his assets while being the governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2007 for his first term and between 2007 and 2011 for his second term as governor and from 2011 to 2015 as a Senator.
Among the breaches were that he obtained N375m loan from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc in 2010, converted it to £1,515,194.53 and transferred the sum to the United Kingdom for full and final mortgage payment for a London property.
Additional charges against him included allegation that he continued to receive salary and emoluments as governor of Kwara State after the expiration of his tenure and at the same time, from the Federal Government as a Senator between June 2011 and October 2013.
He was also said to have failed to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau on assumption of office as Governor of Kwara State in 2003, his leasehold interest in the property at 42 Remi Fani-Kayode Street, Ikeja, Lagos.
The prosecution also alleged that while being a public officer, the ex-governor operated bank accounts outside Nigeria and failed to declare the foreign accounts to the CCB while being governor and a senator during the period.
Properties that were allegedly falsely declared by Saraki included 17, 17A and 17B McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos; Plot 2A Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos; 37A Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which he allegedly bought through Carlisle Properties; No. 1 and 3 Targus Street, Maitama, Abuja, otherwise known as 2482, Cadastral Zone A06, Abuja.
The Supreme Court had on February 5, 2016 dismissed Saraki’s objection challenging his trial before the CCT.
In his contribution to the ruling of the tribunal on Wednesday, co-member of the tribunal, Atedze Agwaza, who expatiated on the decision of the tribunal to free Saraki, noted that the Senate President was investigated by an illegal team comprising officials of the CCB, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Department of State Services.
He noted that such investigative team was strange to both the Constitution and the CCB/CCT Act under which Saraki was charged.
He also rejected the entire evidence of the prosecution on the basis that the evidence of the third prosecution witness, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, the Head, Intelligence Unit of the CCB, was nothing but hearsay.
Agwaza stated, “I find and hold that this apposite testimony is an affliction and epidemic that bedevilled the entire prosecution’s case and that particular evidence has rendered the whole-evidence of the prosecution invalid.
“It connotes that PW3 had no first-hand knowledge of all he said and the documents tendered. This is hearsay evidence and violates sections 37, 38 and 126 of the Evidence Act 2011.
He said the combined effect of the illegality of the investigative team and the inadmissible evidence of the prosecution was that “the charge is incurably defective” and amounted to a miscarriage of justice suffered by the defendant.
Agwaza added, “It will be fundamentally erroneous for this tribunal to call upon the defendant to prove his innocence.
“On this account, the prosecution had failed to link the defendant to the commission of the offences as charged.”
My CCT trial was torturous, says Senate President
Meanwhile, Saraki has described his trial at the CCT as torturous.
The lawmaker said he knew he was innocent of the charges against him and was ready to clear his name.
Saraki, in a statement he signed, said his victory at the tribunal had given hope to the common man that Nigeria’s judiciary could dispense justice.
The statement read in part, “After undergoing the crucible of a tortuous trial, my vindication today calls for celebration. It is my belief however that if there should be any celebration at all, it should be a celebration of the hopes that this judgment gives us as citizens, that despite all the challenges that we face as a country, we are well on our way to building a country where the innocent needs not be afraid.
“On a personal note, I harbour no grudge against anyone, regardless of the role they might have played in the persecution that I had endured in the last two years.”
Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, described the development as victory for democracy.
He stated that the acquittal did not come to him as a surprise as “the trumped-up forgery and conspiracy charges” filed against himself and Saraki were later withdrawn by the Federal Government.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Uche Anichukwu, Ekweremadu added that “the CCT trial was hatched in the coven of evil politics and was, therefore, bound to fall like a pack of cards.”
It’s a sad day for anti-corruption fight –TI
The Transparency International (Nigeria), however, described the acquittal at the CCT as a calculated attempt to demoralise the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria.
The Head of the Nigeria chapter of TI, Mr. Auwal Musa-Rafsanjani, said this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Wednesday.
According to him, what transpired at the CCT was a clear indication that Nigeria’s corrupt elite are united and will stop at nothing to circumvent the system.
Musa-Rafsanjani stated, “It is another sad day for the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria. I think Nigerians are sad that this has happened. It just goes to show that Nigeria’s corrupt elite are united.
“To take advantage of the system is their thing; they will continue to connive against the Nigerian people. They have no regard for ethno-religious or party affiliation, the corrupt Nigerian elite are united in perpetuating violence and plundering our resources to perpetuate themselves in power.
“You can see how they were celebrating this kangaroo verdict, which is a calculated attempt to demoralise the anti-corruption community in Nigeria’s attempt to fight corruption.
“Even those people like (Col. Sambo) Dasuki (retd,) and all those who helped themselves to our collective patrimony during the President Jonathan era, who are standing trial for corruption, may be set free by this judiciary, but we must never give up. We must continue to fight until we rid this nation of the traces of corruption.”
Saraki’s acquittal outrageous, travesty of justice – Presidential aide
Obono-Obla said, “It is a travesty of justice. It is pedestrian and it is outrageous. It is against the weight.
“There was overwhelming evidence, cogent evidence, incontrovertible evidence, which cannot be dismissed by a no-case submission. The trial judge ought to have called on the defendant to enter his defence against the evidence adduced by the prosecution.
“The prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), is one the best in the country and he conducted that case professionally, conscientiously and diligently.
“So we are amazed, we are surprised.”
He described as balderdash, the speculation that the CCT’s ruling was an outcome of a political settlement reached between Saraki and some high-profiled members of the Buhari administration.
He said, “It is balderdash; it is hogwash.
“We know that President Muhammadu Buhari is a paragon of integrity. The Attorney General of the Federation is also a paragon of integrity that will never compromise cases.”
Obono-Obla, however, vowed that the anti-corruption fight would continue despite the setback.
He said, “And we will go on with this fight against corruption despite the frustration, despite the setback.
“We will go back to the drawing board, re-strategise because Nigeria must be saved.
“Our head is bruised but it is unbowed.”
Fayose, Ahmed, others hail ruling
Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, has hailed the victory of Saraki at the CCT as another victory for Nigerians over tyranny.
Fayose, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, on Wednesday, said the judgment was another lesson for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress government that criminal cases were not won on the pages of newspapers.
He drew the attention of Nigerians to number eight of his 22 predictions for year 2017.
He said, “I said it categorically that the Code of Conduct Tribunal will absolve Senate President Bukola Saraki and today, the prediction came to pass.”
“I have maintained that the government of President Buhari is not fighting any corruption. Rather, what is being done is hiding under anti-corruption fight to persecute, humiliate, harass and malign perceived political enemies.”
In his reaction, the Kwara State Governor, Abdulfattah Ahmed, said, “The no-case verdict is a testimony and a vindication of the incorruptibility of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, which some of us, who are privileged to work with him, have always known him for.
“He has always been selfless in his services to the good people of Kwara State and Nigeria at large.”
Similarly, human rights lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), hailed the acquittal of Saraki by the CCT.
He said the ruling by the tribunal was evidence that the anti-corruption war was nothing but a ruse to fool the feeble-minded.
In a statement on Wednesday, Ozekhome said, “The CCT was bold, courageous and right, in spite of visible executive interference and manipulation, to have discharged and acquitted Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on all the counts of false declaration of assets levelled against him.
Ozekhome said the performance of government prosecutors in court was reminiscent of the television comedy programme, Fuji House of Commotion.
He said the government should get serious instead of disgracing itself every time.
Also, scores of members of the Kwara State chapter of the APC trooped to the streets of Ilorin in jubilation over the acquittal of Saraki by the CCT.
But some prominent Kwara State indigenes expressed shock and sadness at the ruling. These include a former NADECO chieftain, Mr. Ayo Opadokun; a former Kwara State governorship aspirant in the Peoples
Democratic Party, Mr. Sunday Babalola; a social critic, Alhaji Olola Kasum; a factional chairman of the PDP in the state, Chief Iyola Oyedepo; and Mr. Sunday Fagbemi.
Addressing party supporters at the APC state secretariat, the state chairman of the party, Alhaji Ishola Fulani, said Saraki’s acquittal was a good development, adding that the allegations against him were politically motivated.
He said, “We are going to the Emir of Ilorin to rejoice with him and thank him for supporting our leader, the Senate President. From there, we will move to the Executive Governor of Kwara State to thank him for his support from the outset up to the end of this time.”
A former APC woman leader and chairperson, Kwara State Local Government Service Commission, Alhaja Sarah Adebayo, expressed delight at the judgment, saying it was a welcome development.
The Director-General, ABS Mandate, Alhaji Abdul Issa, in a statement by an official of the outfit, Alhaji Kayode Omotose, commended eminent individuals for standing by Saraki.
The Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmad, described the ruling as victory for rule of law in Nigeria.
In a statement he personally signed, the Speaker said with the discharge and acquittal of the Senate President, the Judiciary had demonstrated its impartiality and independence by formally declaring Saraki innocent.
The APC members and Saraki supporters later moved from the APC secretariat in scores of vehicles to the palace of the Emir of Ilorin, Ahaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, to express their happiness.
Also, the Senator representing Ogun East Senatorial District at the National Assembly, Buruji Kashamu, congratulated Saraki on his discharge and the dismissal of the case against him at the CCT.
In a statement on Wednesday, Kashamu said, “This development gladdens my heart because it will help to deepen our democracy and further entrench the principles of the separation of powers and the rule of law.”
Opadokun, Kasum, others condemn judgment
But Opadokun and other opposition members faulted Saraki’s acquittal.
Opadokun stated, “It is a curious judicial summersault that is certainly going to be unravelled sooner than later. I am definitely surprised that a quasi-judicial tribunal would present this kind of ruling when the evidences were in the public domain.
“I believe that the prosecution have a duty, which Nigerians will expect them to perform diligently in order to save the reputation and the image of the Nigerian state.”
Babalola added, “It is very sad. With all the evidences that were presented, somebody paid into an account 150 times a day and the account belongs to him and he did not declare it, and they still acquitted such a person. It is just a way of saying that corruption is business as usual, unlimited. It is very, very sad indeed.”
Kasum stated, “The FG should take the case to the Supreme Court. The anti-corruption war of FG has failed with the acquittal of Saraki.”
Fagbemi said, “This is shocking. It is contrary to expectations; with all the celebrated evidences? That is why they said the law is a double-edged sword.”
Oyedepo said, “It shows that the anti-corruption war of the Federal Government is a charade; it does not worth anything. The anti-corruption war is a ruse. We are sad and shocked at the judgment. What did we expect? I think the party (APC) and the executive have agreed to scuttle the trial so as to provide a platform for unity in their party. The judgment is sad and shocking.”
FG’s witnesses messed up Saraki’s trial – SAN
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Emeka Ngige, said the witnesses presented by the Federal Government in Saraki’s trial were responsible for the loss of the trial, noting that they worked at cross purposes with the government.
Ngige stated, “I am surprised that such a case should be dismissed. It brings to the fore the issue of the Federal Government’s witnesses coming to the court to contradict their own evidences. One of the witnesses, an EFCC operative, contradicted his witness, which I believe the defence counsel capitalised on.
“This was the same thing which happened in Justice Ademola’s case. Therefore, one begins to wonder if the witnesses are working at cross-purposes with the government.
“No matter how diligent the prosecutor is, if the witnesses mess him up, the case will suffer the consequences we see in Saraki’s trial. The government should look inward and work on its witnesses.”
Another SAN, Chief Onueze Okocha, believed the prosecution of the case was weak.
Okocha stated, “This should be a signal to the Federal Government that its needs to get it act together if it wants to seriously fight corruption. You must have sufficient evidence, enough to establish a prima facie case before taking a case to court; otherwise, you will make a mess of the anti-corruption fight.
“For a case to terminate at the stage of no-case submission, as we have seen in the case of Ademola, and now in the case of Saraki, it shows that the prosecution needs to up its game. This has happened repeatedly.
“In a civilised society, you don’t take a case to court until you have sufficient evidence. The investigation and the prosecuting agencies must up their game.”