Embattled Senate President Bukola Saraki, who is facing prosecution before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), last week decided to change his legal team, bringing in a former Attorney General of Nigeria, Kanu Agabi, to lead his defense team. The move came as a surprise to many legal observers who have monitored the dramatic twists of the trial, marked especially by Mr. Saraki’s efforts to use behind-the-scene political and judicial deals to thwart the corruption case against him.
The Senate President began to wax confident just before and after bringing in Mr. Agabi as to anchor his new defense team. At a recent Social Media Week in Lagos, he openly declared that the case against him would go nowhere, portraying himself as the victim of a political witch-hunt. Also, last week, he assured a gathering of his political supporters in Ilorin, the capital of his home state of Kwara State, that he had found a solution to the case.
Two knowledgeable sources, one of them a lawyer, the other a political associate of Mr. Saraki’s, told SaharaReporters that Mr. Saraki’s recruitment of Mr. Agabi was a major coup and a key reason for the senator’s new-found confidence.
One of the sources disclosed that Senator Saraki’s choice of a new legal team was a strategic masterstroke, explaining that Mr. Agabi was brought in as the best person to reach out to two key players in the case against the senator, namely, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danlami Umar, and the prosecutor in the case, Rotimi Jacobs.
According to the source, the CCT chair was once a close associate of Mr. Agabi. From 1999 to 2001, Mr. Umar worked at Mr. Agabi’s law chambers in Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, before transferring to the Federal Ministry of Justice shortly after Mr. Agabi became Nigeria’s Attorney General under President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999-2003. Mr. Obasanjo did not re-appoint Mr. Agabi as Attorney General when he was re-elected in 2003.
One of our sources asserted that the accelerated promotion that Mr. Umar enjoyed in his career was partly due to Mr. Agabi’s support and mentorship.
Mr. Agabi also has solid professional and personal ties to Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, the prosecutor handling Senator Saraki’s case. Mr. Jacobs cut his legal teeth at the chambers of the late Gani Fawehinmi before Mr. Agabi brought him to Abuja where he served as a Special Assistant to Nigeria’s Attorney General. The source disclosed that it was through Mr. Agabi that Mr. Jacobs met Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Shortly after former President Obasanjo failed to re-appoint Mr. Agabi as Attorney General, Mr. Ribadu drafted Mr. Jacobs and a few other lawyers to form a core team of EFCC prosecutors. Our source disclosed that Mr. Jacobs declined to accept a permanent appointment with the EFCC, stating he preferred to work with the anti-graft agency as needed.
A political associate of Mr. Saraki’s said the senator and his strategists found out that Mr. Agabi was the senator’s best bet for direct access to both Mr. Umar and Mr. Jacobs in order to ensure that the Code of Conduct trial ends with a no-guilty verdict.
SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Jacobs had been straining under tremendous pressure even before Senator Saraki hired Mr. Agabi to lead his defense. He has reportedly received death threats. Senator Saraki has also used the traditional ruler of Mr. Jacobs’ town to pressure the lawyer. Last week, Mr. Jacobs had to move his mother from his hometown in Kwara State after he received threats that the elderly woman would be kidnapped unless he softened his prosecutorial posture against Mr. Saraki.
Before Mr. Saraki brought in Mr. Agabi, his former legal team, led by former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Joseph Daudu, had planned to walk out on Justice Umar when the case resumes on March 10, 2016. But as soon as Mr. Agabi took over, he reached out to Justice Umar and persuaded him to change the trial date by one day to March 11.
The source disclosed that the core of Mr. Saraki’s defense strategy is to plead that several of the assets named in the charges against him belonged to other family members, including his grandfather who died in Cote D’Ivoire many years ago.
One source disclosed that Mr. Agabi’s first priority was to stop Mr. Jacobs from filing fresh charges related to a discovery that Mr. Saraki continued to draw his full salary and entitlements from Kwara State several years after he ceased being the governor of the state.