Saturday, 16 April 2016

UPDATE: How Senate President Saraki failed again

UPDATE: How Senate President Saraki failed again

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Friday dismissed an application filed by Senate President Bukola Saraki asking the court to nullify his ongoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

Mr. Saraki is facing trial for alleged false asset declaration and fraud. The trial commenced in September, 2015, a few months after the lawmaker emerged Senate President against the wish of his party, the ruling All Progressives Congress.

The senate president, whose similar appeal had previously been dismissed by the Court of Appeal, approached the Federal High Court, asking it to declare his trial at the CCT a violation of his fundamental rights.

Mr. Saraki prayed the court to consider the Tribunal’s chairman incompetent to try him since the chairman was also under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

After hearing the argument of counsel, the judge, Abdul Kafarati, fixed March 22 for ruling, but later declined giving judgement on the matter and declared that he was stepping down to allow a different judge look into the case.

Mr. Kafarati had on that day (March 22) told the court that he was handing over the case to the Abuja chief judge for reassignment due to allegations of bias from an online media. He said any judgement he gave could be perceived as biased.

But after returning the case file to the Chief Judge of The Federal High Court, Ibrahim Auta, the case was returned to Mr. Kafarati the following day, March 23, by Mr. Auta.

The chief judge acted in response to a request by Mr. Saraki that Mr. Kafarati be allowed to proceed with the case.


Mr. Auta’s decision was hinged on the fact that none of the parties in the suit complained about the conduct of Mr. Kafarati and that he (Mr. Kafarati) cannot disqualify himself from further handling the case based on mere allegations made in the media.

Consequently, a new date, April 15, was fixed for judgement.

In his ruling on Friday, Mr. Kafarati held that Mr. Saraki was wrong to have returned the case to a smaller court, after it was dismissed by a higher court.

“If the court grants the application, there will be conflict with the ruling of the appellate court”, he stated.

The trial judge said Mr. Saraki’s appeal can be likened to an attempt by the Senate President to stall his trial, stressing that the CCT is a constitutional body in the discharge of its legal obligation which should not be interfered with by a court of law.

“This court cannot interfere with the proceedings before the tribunal; it cannot also interfere with the duties of the respondents which have been imposed on them by law,” Mr. Kafarati said.

The judge also held that the applicant’s claims that the CCT’s trial falls short of the constitutional requirements is a sentimental claim that had no basis in law.

“I find that none of the claims fall within chapter four of the constitution,” Mr. Kafarati said, referring to Mr. Saraki’s claim that the trial was a negation of his fundamental rights as enshrined in section four of the 1999 constitution.

“There are criminal procedure laws that put in place the method of protecting the accused,” the Judge added, noting that the trial cannot be regarded as an infringement of Mr. Saraki’s right.

“I do not see the need to go to the merit of the case,” the judge said.

Mr. Saraki, whose application challenging the Jurisdiction of the CCT was nullified by the Supreme Court on February 5, has also lost several similar attempts at the Code of Conduct Tribunal to stall his trial.

The Tribunal, on March 24, a day after Mr. Saraki’s case was ordered to be continued at the FHC, dismissed an application by counsel to the Senate President, Kanu Agabi, that the Code of Conduct Bureau should have invited Mr. Saraki to clarify the allegations against him before the commencement of trial.

The Tribunal Chairman, Danladi Umar, in that ruling, stated that the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, 1989 allows the Senate President to raise any clarifications at the level of the tribunal.

Mr. Danladi said by law, the CCB could receive complaints of breach of the Act and refer such complaints to the Tribunal, provided that it will allow the person involved to give a statement affirming or denying the said misconduct.

Political trial?

Senators in support of Mr. Saraki rose in his defence on April 6, saying they will resist any attempt to impeach their leader.

The senators, represented by Senators Rafiu Ibrahim and Samuel Anyanwu, representing Kwara South and Imo East respectivel,y told journalists on the sidelines of the tribunal hearing that they considered Mr. Saraki’s trial an attempt by the APC to blacklist him before the Nigerian people.

“We have since discovered that the trial of the senate president is a mere attempt to blackmail him and make him look bad in the court of public opinion,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “No more, no less. A dispassionate analysis of the proceeding of the CCT yesterday has pointed to the fact that the APC-led executive is still embittered against Dr Saraki over the manner of his election as senate president.”

The senators, 12 of whom accompanied Mr. Saraki to the Code of Conduct Tribunal on that day, said regardless of its outcome, the trial of Mr. Saraki would be subject to other statutory procedure for the impeachment of Nigeria’s Senate President to happen.
“For those calling for the impeachment of the senate president, we urge them to avail themselves of the provisions of the law relating to such a sensitive step. They will have to produce as many as 100 senators to achieve that aim. As long as they don’t have the majority, the call is a tall dream that will remain a figment of the imagination of the groups and their sponsors,” the senators said.

During a previous sitting, Mr. Saraki was accompanied by as much as 80 senators.

Buhari’s neutrality

President Muhammadu Buhari had in his reaction to the election in June last year said the was in support of the leadership of the Senate, as well as that of the lower house, but wished that the emergence of the leaders in both chambers of the National Assembly followed the choice of the party.

The President had in an earlier statement said he had no preferred candidates for the leadership positions in the two chambers of the National Assembly and that he was willing to work with whoever the lawmakers elected.

Mr. Buhari noted in his reaction to the elections that:”That sentiment still stands, though he would have preferred the new leaders to have emerged through the process established by the party.”

The President also said the constitutional order of Nigeria and the overall interest of the ordinary Nigerian were most important to him as far as the National Assembly leadership contests were concerned.