A civil society group, Citizens Action To take Back Nigeria (CATBAN), has called for the immediate re-trial of the Senate President, Mr. Bukola Saraki, for false assets declaration. On June 14, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) upheld the no-case submission of Mr. Saraki, discharging him of the 18 charges filed against him by the Federal Government, which alleged that Mr. Saraki made false/anticipatory declaration of assets before the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), operated foreign accounts while in office as Kwara State Governor between 2003 and 2011 and collected the salary due a governor for four years after his tenure ended.
The alleged crimes, CATBAN noted were committed in active connivance with the Kwara State government, which owes its position to Mr. Saraki and remains under his control.
The CCT, in its judgment, held that the evidence proffered against Mr. Saraki by the Federal Government was insufficient to sustain the charges against the Senate President.
In a statement signed by Ibrahim Wala Garba, co-Convener of CATBAN, the group said it wants the re-trial to be handled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and urged the agency to hire, as prosecutors, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, and Professor, Itse Sagay, Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).
CATBAN said the Senate President was merely discharged not acquitted contrary to media reports.
“We call on the Federal Government and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to immediately re-arraign the Senate President for proper prosecution for his numerous abuses. We are also calling on seasoned anti-corruption and courageous lawyers like Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) and others to offer pro-bono service to the Federal Government and assist in prosecuting these high-profile cases of corruption to ensure the accused is brought to book,” said CATBAN.
The proposed move, CATBAN argued, is the only way to restore confidence, both at home and abroad, in the anti-corruption efforts of the President Muhammad Buhari administration.
CATBAN described the judgment of the CCT bizarre, unfortunate, laughable and a calculated effort by the elite class to promote criminality.
“We say this because never has a case been so straightforward as this and we make bold to say that in the course of prosecution, clear evidence were presented regarding the several atrocities committed by Mr. Saraki. The whole world also saw very clearly, evidence of bank transfers to foreign accounts, multiple salaries as shown by his bank statements, fraudulent deposits, and several others were made before public glare and we believe those evidence were more than enough to get the Senate President convicted,” the group reasoned.
It noted, as part of the weighty evidence, an N375million loan obtained by Mr. Saraki from Guaranty Trust Bank in 2010, which he subsequently converted to £1,515,194.53 and transferred to the United Kingdom as full and final mortgage payment for a London property. It described the evidence for this transaction incontrovertible.
It equally observed that Mr. Saraki’s bank statements provided proof of the allegation that the Senate President 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.
In addition, CATBAN stated that the prosecution alleged that during his time as governor, Mr. Saraki operated foreign bank accounts and failed to declare the foreign accounts to the CCB.
“Despite all these clear evidence of criminality and culpability, as shown in his account and other evidence tendered, the tribunal claimed Mr. Saraki has no case to answer. This is a travesty taken too far and we have cause to believe the SaharaReporters’ story, which claimed that the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Danladi Umar was bribed with a whopping sum of $2million,” said the group.
CATBAN pointed out that it has been creating awareness for high-level judicial corruption through a social media campaign known as #VerdictForCash. It added that the CCT judgment looked a lot more questionable, when the tribunal gave, as one of its reason to discharge Mr. Saraki, that the prosecution failed to call the Kwara State Accountant-General as a witness to testify against his principal.
It described this as laughable and unreasonable, given that the prosecution provided clasping evidence that Mr. Saraki was receiving salaries after leaving as governor.
“With the above, it became clear why justice was compromised,” said CATBAN.
The group praised the prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), saying he did his best to prosecute the case but was intimidated by his former boss Mr. Kanu Agabi, a former Attorney-General of the Federation, and the huge number of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) representing the Senate President.
“No doubt, if Barrister Jacob had succeeded among these sharks of lawyers including his former boss, that would have been a miracle. We had expected that when the Senate president replaced his team of lawyers with more experienced lawyers with larger-than-life personality like the former Attorney-General of the Federation, the Federal Government would do the same to ensure the prosecution team maintained a very high legal luminary that cannot be intimidated by the defence, but this wasn’t done, leaving the Mr. Jacob-led prosecution team overwhelmed, intimidated and outnumbered,” CATBAN reckoned.