Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
In an effort to absolve himself of allegations of bias in the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Umar, on Tuesday revealed that he came under external pressure during the trial of former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu.
Umar, who spoke at the resumed trial of Saraki who is charged with false declaration of assets when he was the governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011, however, did not state from what quarters the pressure was brought to bear on him during Tinubu’s trial.
In 2012, Tinubu was charged with false declaration of assets and operation of foreign accounts by the federal government. He was however discharged and acquitted in a judgment the CCT chairman later said was given in error.
Umar said that he would resist similar pressure if it was brought to bear on him in respect of those being tried at the moment, and described as false the allegation that he was being influenced to convict Saraki.
“During Bola Tinubu’s case, we were under influence but we did the right thing.
“I swear by the Almighty Allah to do justice. On our part, the insinuation that we are being influenced to see the conviction of the accused (Saraki) is false,” Umar stated.
Umar said that he would do justice without any recourse to external influence that might arise in the course of Saraki’s trial.
He also expressed dissatisfaction with the number of counsel cross-examining the prosecution witness on behalf of the Senate president.
According to him, the records of the tribunal showed that there were about 100 counsel standing for the defendant.
He insisted that to ensure orderliness, all the counsel might not be allowed to cross-examine witnesses, adding that all the other lawyers could assist the leader of the defence team, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), rather than every other person in the defence team doing the job.
According to him, there have been too many counsel cross-examining the witness. This, he said, makes the process untidy.
“So, henceforth, only the lead counsel, Agabi, can do the cross-examination. For purpose of the records of the court, it will be tidy for only the lead counsel to do the cross-examination,” he said.
In his response, Agabi reminded the tribunal that all the persons in the case would account to God and they should all be worried by that fact.
But Umar maintained that there was nothing that he had done to distort the records of the court.
Still speaking, Agabi said: “Are you surprised that those who come before you are afraid? People come here and they are ruled by fear of prejudice. Prejudice ought not to have a place in this court but we are afraid.”
Agreeing with the defence team, another member of the tribunal, Atedze William, stated that the issue had been settled and that an accused person was entitled to as many lawyers as he wanted.
He, however, explained that the chairman’s remark was made to ensure that there was order in court, adding that a friend of his wife rang her to state that there was an article against her husband.
“The article was entirely about me. But the writer was shooting at the wrong person. Those who know my background know that I am not somebody that keeps quiet when things are going wrong. There are a lot of misgivings as to the proceedings here.
“If you ask any staff here, you will be told the same thing. Coming back to the proceedings, our concern is in the national interest. When someone says one member is not contributing enough, does he want us to be fighting here?
“We have our differences and they are settled in the chambers. We will not destroy the tribunal. This is about Nigeria,” William said.
At this juncture, the prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), said he had made the point that all Saraki’s counsel should speak through the lead counsel.
But William interjected, describing Jacobs’ position as “insincerity of the bar”.
“This is insincerity of the bar. There is no law that stops the counsel from cross-examining a witness,” he said.
But Jacobs countered that every court has a duty to regulate its own court.
“Their fear of prejudice is unfounded because no court has turned down any of your rulings,” Jacobs stated.
However, Agabi stated that he had not accused the court of prejudice.
Later the cross-examination of the first prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas, resumed. The witness admitted before the tribunal that Saraki had no link with the ownership of an Ikoyi property.
Under further cross-examination by Saraki’s counsel, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), the witness also told the tribunal that investigation did not link Saraki with the ownership of Victory Oil as alleged.