The trial of the Senate President continued last week with daily sittings of the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Tobi Soniyi, who has been covering the trial, highlights the major issues of the week at the tribunal
What dominated the media last week were the testimonies of the prosecution witness, Michael Wetkas, in the Senate President Saraki’s trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the reports alleging that the Tribunal chairman, Justice Danladi Umar, had been cleared by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over bribery allegation.
When the defence team cross examined Wetkas, his testimonies showed glaringly that the Code of Conduct Bureau appeared ill-equipped to investigate the complexities involved in tracing assets of public officers and that the time had come for the investigation unit of the bureau to be strengthened otherwise the it will have to rely on outsourcing to trace public servants’ hidden assets.
One of the revelations was the non-investigation of the petitions alleging false assets declaration against Saraki as well as his assets declaration forms. The investigators also neither met Saraki for interrogation nor obtained statement from him, according to, Wetkas, the key prosecution witness, who led the investigation of the case before it went to trial. Wetkas is an official of the EFCC. The Senate President, the investigator said, was only investigated through his bank accounts on money laundering and not assets declaration before bringing him to trial.
Even then, the EFCC never had the opening package and the financial statement of his alleged foreign account. Specifically, Wetkas was cross examined by Saraki’s counsel, Paul Usoro, SAN based on count 11 of the charge which borders on foreign accounts operation when Saraki was the governor of Kwara State. He admitted the count did not border on assets declaration, but money laundering, whereas the Senate President is standing trial for alleged false declaration of assets. Wetkas told the Danladi Umar tribunal that his team did not investigate the petitions listed as Exhibits 11, 12 and 13 which form the basis for prosecuting the Senate President for false assets declaration. The defence had shown the exhibits to him and consequently cross-examined him about them.
Wetkas said that the petitions pertaining to the three exhibits were not investigated.
Exhibit 11, which was dated May 22, 2012, contained a petition written by the Kwara Freedom Network inviting the EFCC to investigate the Kwara State Universal Basic Education Board.
The witness had, while giving evidence in chief, told the tribunal that the petition by the Kwara Freedom Network triggered the investigation.
He, however, turned around during cross-examination to say that his team did not investigate the petition.
Exhibit 12, which was dated May 7, 2011, was addressed to the Chairman of the EFCC asking the anti-graft agency to investigate the Kwara State Government on borrowings for projects described as phoney.
Exhibit 13 was a petition, dated June 7, 2012, which dwelt on the mismanagement of local government revenue in Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.When asked whether in the course of investigation, he had sought audience to speak with the Accountant General of Kwara State, the witness said he did not as that was not part of his assignment.
Also asked whether he invited any official of the Kwara State Government in the course of the investigation, the witness said he did not. Asked whether he got another written document to buttress the petition written by the Kwara Freedom Network, the witness said he did not. When further asked why he tendered documents he did not investigate, the witness said he did not tender the exhibits on his own but that they were tendered through him by the prosecution.
Also under cross-examination, the witness admitted that investigating the assets declared by the defendant did not form part of his schedule of duty. He also admitted that Exhibits 3, 4 and 5, being the asset declaration forms of the defendant, were duly examined and stamped by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and not the EFCC, his employer.
He added that there was nowhere in the petition he investigated where Saraki’s assets declaration was in contention. He added that the investigation of the defendant was based on an intelligence report obtained by a former Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, and not the three petitions tendered as exhibits.
The witness stated that the six assets declaration forms submitted by Saraki to the CCB were never investigated by his team, explaining that his team was directed to investigate the intelligence report alone. The two missteps, premising a trial of assets declaration on a testimony that is basically money laundering, and failing to investigate the key evidence – the petitions and Saraki’s assets declaration forms – by the prosecution, have led to questions being asked about the propriety of the high profile trial.
There was also another drama during the trial last week following an exchange of words between one of Saraki’s lawyers and Justice Umar, who threatened to commit one of Saraki’s lawyers to contempt.
Oluyede had refused to sit down when Umar asked him to and even confronted the chairman over his powers to get him arrested.
“Sit down, I say sit down, sit down”, Umar shouted at him but Oluyede refused to yield to the order. Umar got angrier: “I will commit you for contempt”. An unyielding Oluyede responded, “No, you cannot “.
“Ok where are the police, arrest him, and take him out”, Umar ordered.
But for the timely intervention of the Prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs SAN, Oluyede would have been taken away.
Although the impression was initially created that Oluyede was not part of the defence team, Agabi later confirmed that he was and that the application he sought to move was approved by the defence. It was clear that the appearance of Oluyede was not quite tidy. Moreso since there was a lead counsel, Kanu Agabi, SAN – one of Nigeria’s thorough bred lawyers – all processes must be filed through the lead counsel.
Saraki had after a Federal High Court in Abuja refused to disqualify Umar from his trial, applied directly to the tribunal to have its chairman disqualified.
In the application filed at the CCT’s Registry on April 19, Saraki, through his lawyer, Ajibola Oluyede, is raising the same issue of rights violation, which he canvassed in the fundamental rights enforcement suit that Justice Adamu Abadu Kafarati of the Federal High Court, Abuja dismissed in a judgment on April 15.
Saraki said he would likely not get fair trial because Umar was being investigated on allegation of corruption by the EFCC, the same agency which is conducting his (Saraki’s) prosecution before the CCT.
The Senate President alleged that since the CCT Chairman was being investigated, he was likely to be manipulated by the Executive to give a judgment that would favour the prosecution. He argued that the current composition of the tribunal would not guarantee its fairness and impartiality.
Justice Kafarati, had while resolving this issue in his April 15 judgment on the suit by Saraki, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/905/2015, noted that the anxiety being expressed by Saraki was unfounded. And that the fear expressed by Saraki, to the effect that he would not get justice at the CCT, was speculative, misplaced and has no place in law.
Also, the report in the media last Wednesday that EFCC had said it had no evidence linking the CCT to an alleged N10 million bribe, to many, was ill-advised, ill-timed and at best a confirmation of the suspicion raised by the Senate President that some forces were behind his ordeal at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Many believe that the commission should have kept quiet and allowed the prosecutor do his work. First, for those who have read the numerous correspondences on the issue, the report credited to the commission last week did a big damage to its credibility.
Did EFCC forget that in one of the investigative reports the former Chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Larmode, sent to the then Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, Lamorde said that the CCT chairman admitted meeting with the man who accused him of collecting bribes from him at his (Danladi’s) chamber after the man had been arraigned before him and pleaded not guilty?
It was on the basis of that report that Adoke reportedly wrote to the then President Goodluck Jonathan to initiate proceedings at the National Assembly for Umar’s removal in line with the constitution.
In that same report, Lamorde said that more forensic investigation needed to be done to determine the culpability of Umar in the bribery allegation because Umar claimed to have lost his phone with which the petitioner alleged he was communicating with. Has the commission conducted the forensic investigation? In its report dated 24th June, 2014, signed by its former Executive Chairman, Lamorde, the EFCC said: “Available circumstantial evidence suggests that the Tribunal Chairman might have indeed demanded and collected money from the complainant through his Personal Assistant. “Efforts made to recover the telephone handset used by Justice Umar proved abortive, as he claimed that he had lost the telephone in 2012. Justice Umar also admitted that he met privately with the complainant in his chamber at the tribunal. This is a most unethical and highly suspicious conduct on his part.”
The commission also said that there was overwhelming evidence to prosecute Umar’s PA because he, “could offer no coherent excuse for receiving N1.8million into his salary account from Taiwo, who is an accused person standing trial at the tribunal.”
Saraki’s efforts to stop the trial have seen him fighting up to the apex court in the country. The efforts also saw the CCT Chair making the faux pas that he freed Asiwaju Bola Tinubu on false assets declaration charges in error after the Senate President’s lawyers drew a similarity between the case against their client and that of Tinubu who was discharged because the Code of Conduct Bureau failed to ask for his own side of the story on the alleged false declaration of assets made against him. There is no doubt that the drama in the Saraki case will continue to the end of the trial as the prosecution and the defence try to outsmart each other. Meanwhile, what close watchers of the case are angling for is whether justice would be seen to have been done by the Umar tribunal at the end of the day based on the evidence before it. No doubt Saraki deserves his day in court. The allegations against him are weighty. Nevertheless, he also deserves to be tried by an impartial arbiter in line with the constitution.