EFCC’s About-face on CCT Chairman

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After giving him a clean bill, the decision of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to file criminal charges against the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar leaves observers wondering if he is not being punished for refusing to convict the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki at all cost, writes Tobi Soniyi

If anyone is in doubt whether or not something is wrong with the war against corruption under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, the case of the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar should clear that doubt.

When the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki was charged before the tribunal for infraction of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers while he was governor of Kwara State, he objected to Umar presiding over the trial for the following reasons. First, he said that he was not likely to get a fair trial under Umar because he (Umar) had been investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and found to have a case to answer. He also said that it was actually EFCC that investigated the allegation of non-declaration of assets for which he was being prosecuted. Furthermore, as at the time the trial commenced Umar was on administrative bail from the EFCC. He therefore asked the tribunal chairman to recuse himself because he was not likely to get a fair trial under Umar. However, the CCT chairman dismissed the application.

In the course of the trial, it became crystal clear that the Code of Conduct Bureau actually had no case against Saraki because it was the EFCC that investigated the case, the prosecution witness, Mr Michael Wetkas is an EFCC staff, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Jacobs, (SAN) is EFCC’s lawyer, even the Code of Conduct Bureau staff who testified in the case admitted that he did not know the location of the assets in question. CCB’s Head of Investigation, Mr Samuel Madojemu who testified during the trial said that his averments filed in support of the charges against Saraki were based on information supplied to him by a team of undisclosed investigators.
In order to discredit Saraki’s application, EFCC mounted a fierce defence in support of the CCT chairman.

EFCC issued a statement saying that it had cleared Umar of all allegation of fraud levelled against him by a retired customs officer.
In a letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation dated 20 April, 2016 with Ref. No. EFCC/P/HRU/668/VV.30/99 and titled: ‘Re: Investigation Report, Re: N10m Bribery Allegation Against the Chairman Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja’, EFCC insisted that Umar had no case to answer.

The letter reads: “Kindly recall our correspondence of 5 March, 2015 reference EFCC/EC/SGF/03/56 with the above subject, please.
“We would like to reiterate the commission’s position in regard to this matter as earlier communicated to you and state that the allegations levelled against Justice Umar were mere suspicions and consequently insufficient to successfully prosecute the offence. The foregoing is submitted for your information.”

The letter was signed by the Secretary to the Commission, Emmanuel Adegboyega Aremo. The tribunal chairman was copied in the letter.
But last week, the commission made a u-turn and filed a two-count charge against Umar. The only thing that has changed is that Umar had since dismissed the charges against Saraki for want of evidence.

In the charge, EFCC alleged that Umar collected N10 million from Rasheed Taiwo, a former customs official who was facing false assets declaration charges before the CCT sometimes in 2012.
The prosecution also accused Umar of receiving N1.8 million of the N10 million bribe sum through one of his personal assistants, Gambo Abdullahi.

The two counts of fraud contradicted Section 12(1) (a) and (b) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2003.
The CCT chair could face up to seven years’ imprisonment if convicted of the charges.
The truth, however is that, that charges were drafted several years ago and formed part of the records which the former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, SAN forwarded to the then president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan advising him to initiate moves to remove Umar as the chairman of the tribunal.

In the recommendation, Adoke stated that Umar was no longer a fit and proper person to preside over the tribunal having admitted that he met with the customs officer who was already facing trial before him at his (Umar’s) office.

Even though this damning report was in the custody of the incumbent Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN he also mounnted a strong defence in support of the CCT Umar and said that Umar had no case to answer.
Even the judiciary that ought to see through this unholy scheme, chose not to. But the filing of these charges has finally vindicated Saraki.

The legal maxim, ‘justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done’‎ appears not to mean anything to those at the helms of affairs. Otherwise, why would EFCC make a turn of 180 degree from its earlier position that it had cleared Umar of allegation that he collected bribes from the retired customs officer who was facing trial before him?

The filing of charges against Umar raises new posers for the Saraki trial in particular and the anti-corruption war in general. Will the CCT Chairman continue to preside over the trial at CCT while he is on trial for corruption? What further proof is the AGF waiting for before writing to President Muhammadu Buhari to commence the process of relieving Umar of his job as CCT chair?

Now that Umar is facing his own trial, is Saraki likely to get justice from him? Or will Umar resign his appointment? Will Saraki return to the regular courts for the determination of the issue? Answers to these and many more questions will certainly come in the nearest future. For now, the Code of Conduct Tribunal is in a quagmire. At present only two out of three members are sitting. One of the two, who is also the chairman has now been charged with corruption.

There are even more problems. The Court of Appeal had in a recent judgment held that there were enough evidence to sustain a few of the charges against Saraki. The court therefore ordered that he should go back and face the trial for these charges. In regular courts, the appellate court would probably have ordered that a new judge should conduct the new trial. That is not possible in a trial before the CCT. It is the same judge who held that Saraki has no case to answer that will still have to conduct the new trial. That in itself is problematic. This is because, the order of the Court of Appeal, in effect, amounts to asking the trial judge to go against his conscience. Having found that there was no evidence to sustain the trial, how can he suddenly do a somersault and come to a conclusion that there is evidence to nail Saraki?

This is why there is an urgent need to revisit the CCT as it is presently constituted. A judge can be bias and he should be able to excuse him from a trial. However, as the CCT is presently constituted, that is practically impossible.

In the circumstance, it is becoming clearer that Saraki will not get a fair trial. The proper decision to take is to discontinue the trial, disband the CCT and appoint new members.

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In the circumstance, it is becoming clearer that Saraki will not get a fair trial.