Alex Enumah in Abuja
The woes of Senate President Bukola Saraki were compounded yesterday, when the prosecution counsel filed three additional charges against him, increasing them from 13 to 16.
The increased charges came on the heels of the refusal of the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Umar, to recuse himself, saying Saraki’s application asking him to disqualify himself was aimed at intimidating him.
Shortly after the chairman’s ruling on the application, Saraki’s lawyer, Mr. Ajibola Oluyede, said his client would appeal the ruling which he said did not meet the requirements of justice.
The prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), had after the ruling on the application for the chairman to disqualify himself, filed an amendment to the 13-count charge against Saraki, raising the counts to 16.
In the fresh charge, the federal government is accusing Saraki of not declaring his interest in a foreign credit card account to which he was alleged to have transferred huge sums of money.
Saraki, however, pleaded not guilty to the amended charges, even as the tribunal adjourned till May 10 for the continuation of the trial.
But the Senate president has approached the Court of Appeal for succour. In a Notice of Appeal filed by Oluyede, Saraki claimed that the CCT chairman erred in law when he arrived at a conclusion that the application seeking his disqualification lacked absolute merit.
Part of the grounds of appeal was that the tribunal chairman by his action had turned himself to a judge in his own case, leading to a ruling that was essentially a tirade against the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
In ground two of the appeal, Saraki submitted that CCT erred in law when it decided that the application lacked absolute merit merely because Umar was of the opinion that the AGF had no constitutional right to investigate and that the AGF lacked authority to give instruction to the EFCC to prosecute him.
He therefore asked the Court of Appeal to set aside the ruling of the tribunal and disqualify Umar from sitting on the panel trying him on charges that were investigated and being prosecuted by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Oluyede had on April 20, 2016 filed the application, requesting that Umar recuse himself from chairing the trial on the grounds that his client would not get justice at the tribunal if Umar remained as presiding judge.
He premised his argument on the grounds that since the EFCC was investigating Umar and EFCC investigated the case, his client would not get justice at the tribunal.
However, the tribunal in its ruling held that the chairman was not currently under any investigation, adding that the issue of any investigation or case to answer was over.
Umar said following a petition to the then AGF in 2014, the EFCC was directed to investigate him. He said after a thorough investigation, the EFCC came out to say the allegation was mere suspicion.
He further stated that the chairman of the tribunal had been exonerated by the commission, in a letter dated March 5, 2015.
Umar, who ackowledged that the AGF has the power to prosecute any case and even decide when and how such cases would be prosecuted, however, stated that the AGF does not have the power to investigate any matter, adding that the agencies that are given powers by law to do so include the EFCC, DSS, ICPC and the police, among others.
He maintained that the EFCC is an autonomous body that is not under the AGF. Umar said the AGF could only prosecute when there is evidence.
“He cannot prosecute when there is insufficient evidence,” the tribunal maintained.
The tribunal further noted that irs chairman had not been charged, arraigned or indicted concerning any offence, adding that the person indicted in the N10 million bribe in which the applicant based his application is currently undergoing trial at a Federal High Court.
The tribunal therefore dismissed the application for lacking in merit.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Elders Council of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Senator Joseph Waku, speaking shortly after the ruling, alleged that from all indications, the tribunal chairman was being tele-guided to deliver a pre-determined judgment that would not be in the interest of justice.
Waku said: “By Saraki’s trial, democracy is on trial, the judiciary is on trial and even the nation is on trial and only God knows where we are heading to with this kind of biased trial.
“Inasmuch as we are against corruption, let the legal process take its due course, as it is the last hope of the ordinary and common man.”