- Oyegun: APC will not cede leadership of upper chamber to PDP
Tobi Soniyi and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Senate President, Dr. Bukola Abubakar Saraki, who is standing trial for false assets declaration, has accused the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar of bias, insisting that he cannot get justice under his chairmanship.
Saraki, in a motion he filed against Umar, asked the tribunal chairman to disqualify himself from further participating in his trial on the alleged falsification of his assets.
In the motion on notice filed by Saraki’s lawyer Mr. Raphael Oluyede, the Senate president contended that the continued presence of Umar on the panel of the tribunal offens the provisions of Section 36(1) of the constitution.
The relevant section of the constitution prescribes that “in the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality”.
Saraki claimed that with the unfolding events and the way and manner his trial was being conducted by Umar, there was a likelihood of bias by the chairman and as such he should recuse himself from presiding over the case.
The motion on notice was brought pursuant to Section 36(1) of the constitution and on the common law rule on the likelihood of bias and the rules of natural justice.
The defendants, in the motion on notice are Umar and the second member of the Tribunal Mr. Agwadza Williams Atedze.
In a 20-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion, it was averred that the applicant had sought to enforce his fundamental rights before a Federal High Court in Abuja on the ground that the independence and impartiality of the CCT could not be guaranteed while Umar presides over the trial of the applicant.
It also averred that Saraki was being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and that Umar, as chairman of CCT, is the object of investigation by the same EFCC on corrupt practices.
The affidavit also claimed that by his conduct in the proceedings, the CCT boss had allegedly proved to be a willing tool in the hands of the executive arm of the government which was responsible for his appointment and particularly as he (Umar) was himself under investigation for corruption by EFCC.
The affidavit deposed to by Mr. Paul Akase claimed that neither the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), nor the EFCC nor Umar has ever denied that the CCT boss was under investigation.
It also claimed that by the 1999 Constitution the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, the power to investigate a complaint of breach of the code of conduct for public officers is the exclusive preserve of the CCB and not EFCC.
The affidavit further stated that the EFCC’s usurpation of the CCB power had been admitted by the AGF in previous court action instituted by Saraki against the AGF, EFCC, Umar and other defendants.
It therefore stated that the interest of justice would be served if Umar recuses or disqualifies himself from sitting on the panel of the tribunal to hear and determine the charges being prosecuted against the applicant.
No date has been fixed for hearing of the motion.
However, before Saraki filed his motion of notice, the witness for the prosecution had revealed yesterday that some of the bank documents used as evidence against the Senate president were burnt.
Mr. Michael Wetkas, a detective of the EFCC, said some of the documents that would have provided evidence of transactions in the foreign account of Saraki were burnt.
Wetkas, who was responding to a question from Paul Usoro (SAN), Saraki’s lawyer, on some fund transfers from the Senate president’s Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) account to his alleged American Express bank account, said that in the course of his investigation, officials of GTB told him that some of the documents showing the transactions were burnt.
“Several telexes from American Express Bank and facts are here from the bank (GTB),” Wetkas said.
“All the transfer requests made by the investigating team to provide information was an offshoot of a debit transaction that was already consummated on that account, which showed the bank it carried out.
“There is no doubt that the transaction was actually carried out with an American Express Bank. There were also police reports and an affidavit, which they (GTB) swore to, to show that some of the documents were burnt. There is an affidavit and I believe it was a fire outbreak.”
When Usoro asked: “You did not investigate to find out if American Express Bank exists?”
Wetkas responded: “My investigation was not on American Express Bank, but on the account.”
The defence counsel also asked: “From that form (the telexes showing the alleged transactions) is there any relating to America Express Bank?”
Wetkas: “There was nothing referring to American Express Bank.”
But just as Saraki was asking the tribunal chairman to step down, the EFCC exonerated Umar of the allegation of N10 million bribe made by Mr. AbdulRashid Owolabi, in his petition to the commission.
Owolabi, who was being tried by the CCT, had alleged that Umar had demanded the N10 million bribe from him. He claimed that part of the money was paid into the bank account of the personal assistant of the chairman, prompting him to write a petition against the chairman to the EFCC.
However, whilst Umar’s personal assistant is standing trial for accepting the bribe from Owolabi, the EFCC, following in the footsteps of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) who said a few months ago that there was no evidence linking Umar to the bribe, has also exonerated the CCT chairman of wrongdoing.
According to the commission, the letter exonerating Umar was addressed to the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) Engr. Babachir Lawal, captioned, “Re: Investigation Report: N10million Bribery Allegation against the Chairman Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja”, with reference number EFCC/P/NHRU/688/V.30/99 and had wednesday’s date.
The letter which was signed by Emmanuel Adegboyega Aremo, secretary to the commission read: “Kindly recall our correspondence of March 5, 2015, (reference EFCC/EC/SGF/03/56) with the above subject.
“We would like to reiterate the commission’s position in regard to this matter as earlier communicated to you and stated that the allegations levelled against Justice Umar were mere suspicious and consequently insufficient to successfully prosecute the offence.”
The letter was a follow up to a previous one sent on March 5, 2015 during Goodluck Jonathan’s administration through the office of the SGF.
But as the intrigues emanating from Saraki’s trial took another turn yesterday, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in a reversal of its statement last week, said that it would not allow the leadership of the Senate to slip into the hands of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) because it holds the majority in the upper chamber.
Making this known, the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun was reacting to a news report which quoted him as stating that his party was ready to sacrifice the Senate presidency to the PDP if Saraki loses his trial at the CCT.
Oyegun said the issue of losing the number three citizen’s job does not arise, as APC still holds the majority seats in the Senate.
Oyegun, who addressed journalists in his office at APC’s national secretariat in Abuja, described the report as “misleading”, adding, “Under no circumstances will his party compromise the leadership of the senate.”
“That misunderstanding is still on? Let me put it simply, there were basically two points that I was making: number one, as a party of change even as a party, we cannot interfere in a judicial process that is ongoing. That was clear.
“And when they asked about the Senate, I said under no circumstances can we compromise on the leadership of the Senate.
“We are the majority party and the issue doesn’t even really arise but unfortunately the way it was put, the misinterpretation has been a little bit too intense and that is clear.
“It just doesn’t arise at all. The issue, the argument and the rest do not arise. If somebody wants to theorise and postulate, that’s a different matter, but it doesn’t arise,” he said.