The ongoing case of alleged false asset declaration against Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Sarak,i has continued to throw up new issues, some bordering on unprecedented drama.
Most of the times the actual dramatis personae is not the defendant who by virtue of his position as number three man in the country would not be finding it funny that he is on trial not for diverting any public funds into private pockets or short-changing the government in any way, at least no evidence has been led by the prosecution to that effect. Saraki is being charged with the offence of not declaring some properties which he had acquired a decade before coming into public office. The man who has continued to amuse the audience in the Tribunal is the chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar.
Mr. Umar who the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Maria Aloma Mukhtar wrote about that he is not a judge and should therefore not present, parade himself or be addressed as one has been behaving in a strange manner as a presiding officer sitting over a case. When he is not descending into the arena, engaging in fierce exchange with the counsel to the defendant, he is making comments that are not only irrelevant to the case but that are damning and damaging to his person and the adjudicatory institution that he is heading. Some other times, he is either lavishing the court about personal details on his past relationship with the lead counsel to the defendant, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN.
And when he is doing that he is laughing heartily and obviously happy. Another moment, he is visibly enraged and issuing threats at will.
He sometimes becomes loquacious, revealing details which have the possibility of eroding the credibility of his adjudicatory institution. It is in one of such moment that he revealed how he was put under pressure in the case involving former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Who or which side in the case put him under pressure he did not say. Another time, he started reassuring the defence that he will do justice and as if he was in the dock himself, he started struggling to prove he meant what he said about giving justice. He read from a book of Hadith, the saying and actions of Prophet Muhammed (SAW). Last Tuesday, in a fit of fury, he canvassed the return of obnoxious Decree 2 which the military used to detain people without trial for a minimum of six months, in the first instance. He said the Decree was necessary despite the ‘unfortunate democratic period’ to deal with journalists who wrote what he termed false report.
All these outbursts of the judge usually come at an unexpected time. Either as the proceeding was beginning or at the end. He acts the drama when it was needless and when he was unprovoked.
Last Tuesday (June 7) was the height of these strange utterances and actions by the Tribunal chair. The proceeding was just beginning when Umar started complaining that the Defence was taking too much time cross-examining the Prosecution Witness, Michael Wetkas. He went on and on about how he would not allow the delay and before he knew it, he made a major Freudian slip in which he gave indication of how the Saraki case may end.
In what should be a preliminary remark before commencing the proceeding, Umar said the Defence Counsel was taking too much time to cross-examine the lead prosecution witness as a delay tactic to avoid the ‘final consequence’ for his client.
The statement startled the entire tribunal and made Saraki’s lead counsel, Agabi who is ordinarily a conservative pacifist, always ready to accommodate the indiscretion of the tribunal boss to jump up and ask Umar : “My Lord, what is the final consequence?”.
Agabi then added that the statement by the Tribunal Chairman betrays the prejudice that his client has always been afraid of. “My lord, it is this kind of statement that make us afraid of prejudice. We are saying we are afraid. We are not afraid of you. We are not afraid of the facts and the law. We believe these are on our side. We are afraid of prejudice. This statement of ‘final consequence’ is rather strengthening that fear”, he said.
Though Umar tried to retract his statement immediately, he seemed to have inadvertently let the cat out of the bag and he cannot really deny the worlds never came out. There are those who believe that that statement signified what the bible meant when it stated that “From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh”. This is also what an African proverb expressed by saying ‘whatever a man has in mind in his sober and sane state is what he says when he becomes drunk”. The CCT chairman’s statement last Tuesday appeared to be the confirmation for Saraki and his supporters who have consistently maintained that the Senate President cannot get justice in the present case before the CCT for as long as Umar is the presiding officer.
The implication of a person presiding in adjudication over a case talking about a final consequence when the case is still in its infancy means there is already a pre-determined outcome. The prosecution said it has eight witnesses. It has only called the first one, who though is tagged the star-witness. The defense is striving to ensure that the sensational claims made during examination-in-chief is dismissed and vitiated. However, the presiding chairman is already talking of ‘final consequence’ which he said will not be mitigated by any delay by the Defence.
One would have thought that until the Tribunal hears the final addresses by both parties and then take its time to consider their submissions in terms of the documentary evidence tendered before it, the evidence adduced through examination-in-chief, cross examination and re-examination, nobody can be talking of a final consequence, not to be talking of whether these final consequence can be mitigated by a supposed delay tactics.
Umar’s statement is merely revealing his bias. When I heard him at the Tribunal making that statement. It reminds me of what they say in Lagos that it is unethical for a policeman to arrest an alleged offender and start telling him that he would not get out of the case that would result from the matter. Is the policeman a judge? And can the judge also determine before the conclusion of a case what the final consequence of the case will be?
It is at this point that one must reconsider the statement by Saraki when he was challenging the trial at the CCT in difference courts and some people started accusing him of forum shopping. The critics had concluded that he was doing so to evade justice instead of frontally confronting the trial to prove his innocence. The Senate President always maintained that he was not afraid of the trial but that he was only afraid that with Danladi Umar as Tribunal Chairman, he would not get justice.
The CCT is under the control of the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr David Babachir Lawal, who is betrothed to one of the antagonists in the APC battle for control. Also, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which co-ordinated the investigation on the Saraki case, provided the bulk of the witnesses and the prosecutor, Rotimi Jacob, is the agency that also holds the control lever on Umar as it is currently prosecuting Umar’s Personal Assistant, Abdullahi, for bribery. So, how can Umar be fair to Saraki? In fact, there is every reason for him to be in a hurry to nail Saraki to save his own head. That is why he is talking about what the ‘final consequence’ will be to a defendant even at this stage of the case.
––Quassim writes from Abuja.