Buoyed by deliberate abuse of court process, the fixation on former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki by the EFCC is curious. Olawale Olaleye writes
After the Federal High Court, Lagos, ruled last week, granting the confiscation of houses belonging to former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, it has become imperative to review the seemingly unending battle between the leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
There’s no doubting the fact that the whole scenario is beginning to look like a deliberate fixation on Saraki, however, not by the EFCC but its leadership, which seems to have personal scores to settle with him and determined to bring him in, even if the charges were trumped up. Why does it appear so?
The truth is that the EFCC, with its evidently tactless approach, has made it all look Saraki is being singled out for some personal vendetta, the very reason it had adopted curious approaches in its desire to bring him in.
Recall how Saraki’s asset declaration case was literally set aside for investigation by the EFCC in September 2015, and subsequently taken to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for trial. But in the desperate bid to indict him, the EFCC, which was believed to be in collaboration with the prosecution, had to amend and increase the charges three times – moving them from 12 to 18 counts.
Unfortunately, in their evidently unholy collaboration, issues outside Saraki’s assets were unprofessionally lumped together in the charge sheet that went to trial in about three of the four years that Saraki was in office. While ordinarily, the issues should have been on corruption and taken to a regular High Court, he was taken to the CCT.
Perhaps, this was because the government had reckoned that they had the CCT under his control. But as it was with an irredeemably bad case, it was lost all the way to the Supreme Court.
What seems to inform suspicions that there was more to the new development is that some of the matters that were taken up to the Supreme Court and lost are being brought back before the Federal High Courts with regards to the interim forfeiture orders against Saraki’s property in Lagos and Ilorin.
Curiously, the latest claim by the commission is that Saraki bought his houses on No. 17A and B Macdonald Street, Ikoyi, Lagos with loans from GT Bank and allegedly paid back the money from funds “reasonably suspected to have been acquired with proceeds of unlawful activity” or taken from Kwara State Government (KWSG).
The same claims were made in Counts 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the charges that were filed at the CCT and went up to Supreme Court.
Count 7, for instance, read: “That you, DR. OLUBUKOLA ABUBAKAR SARAKI whilst being the Executive Governor of Kwara State 3rd June 2011 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Tribunal failed to make a written declaration of your properties and assets, to wit: various cash lodgments made into your Guaranty Trust Bank account at GT Bank, GRA, Ilorin through your aides as the Governor of Kwara State and your account officer and which funds you handed over to them in cash at the Kwara State Government House, GRA, Ilorin for the repayment of a loan you obtained from the said GT bank to acquire No. 17A and No. 17B, McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos in the aggregate sum of N497,200,000 (Four Hundred and Ninety Seven Million, Two Hundred Thousand) and which various sums were not fairly attributable to your income, gifts or loan approved by the Code of Conduct for Public Officers; and you thereby committed an offence under section 15(1), (2) & (3), Part I, Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and punishable under Paragraph 18, Part I, Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).”
But on July 6, 2018, the Supreme Court submitted that no prima facile was established against Saraki and therefore discharged and acquitted him. This is also bearing in mind that during his trial at the CCT, the same EFCC handled the investigation and provided the lead witness for the prosecution, Michael Wetkas.
Lawyers have therefore argued that under the Nigerian laws, Saraki should not be subjected to prosecution for any offence or required to prove his innocence after the apex court of the land, in this case, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, had discharged and acquitted him of the same alleged offence otherwise Saraki would have been deemed as being subjected to double jeopardy and that’s a no-brainer.
As if he knew the EFCC persecution would not stop, Saraki, upon leaving office had filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja before Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo, which gave an “order enforcing the Applicant’s fundamental rights to own movable and immovable property by restraining the Respondents by themselves, their subordinates, agents, servants, or privies howsoever from seizing, impounding, taking over, confiscating or otherwise forfeiting the Applicant’s assets and properties wherever they may be located within Nigeria or anywhere else in the world or in any manner whatsoever interfering with the Applicant’s right to own and peacefully enjoy any of his assets and properties”.
But the order that was allegedly served on the EFCC and the Federal Ministry of Justice still subsists. What this, therefore, means is that EFCC’s recent moves against Saraki constitute abuse of court process, breach of an existing court order and disregard for judicial authority.
It is also why EFCC’s recent moves against Saraki had been largely deemed in many quarters as a design to oppress and intimidate him, which unfortunately are not only biased, but also unethical and inappropriate.
Although Saraki’s lawyers were said to have filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Lagos, to challenge the interim forfeiture order on the Ikoyi home and the matter is still pending, the EFCC proceeded to file another suit in the same court and before another judge, seeking forfeiture on Saraki’s home in Ilorin, because according to the commission, cash from Kwara State Government was used to build the house.
But what the EFCC failed to realise is that the House was built partly by Kwara State Government pursuant to the Third Schedule of the Governor and Deputy Governor (payment and pension) Law of 2010.
Suffice it to say that a similar law exists in Lagos, Edo, Rivers and a few other states requiring the government to build a house for former governors as part of their pension. Needless to argue that it was the same manner that a former Lagos governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, secured his popular Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi, residence and Adams Oshiomhole, his mansion in his home town.
The fact about Saraki’s matter is that after the state government wrote him that it was about to start the project, he volunteered his personal land, which was not an allocation by government. Records also have it that the land was bought in 2003 from a company that relocated from the town.
Saraki had also expressed in writing, his desire to have a better structure than the proposed five-bedroom duplex designed by the government, including his readiness to personally bear the cost of constructing the property to taste.
Indeed, the construction did not commence until the last few weeks of his exit as the Governor in May 2011 and the House was not ready till 2014, with the finishing in 2017.
Importantly, Saraki’s financial contribution to the building was allegedly made between 2012 and 2013, over a year after he had left office as Governor, both in cash and cheque.
Thus, with the timeline and sequence of events, how was it possible for Saraki to have used the Kwara State funds to make up for his contributions, having left office in May 2011, more so a contribution made in accordance with an existing law, with proper documentation?
This is why it is easy to situate the ulterior motive by the EFCC to nail Saraki, and this became obvious when the commission took the case on an Ilorin property to Lagos, when clearly there is a court of coordinate jurisdiction in Ilorin.
Again, how does anyone even explain EFCC’s piecemeal approach to its investigation, when it could have put it all together with a better and more professional approach?
It is therefore not difficult to see through the intention of the EFCC, which has continued to brazenly violate court orders with a view to settling old scores.
There is certainly no logic in the EFCC prosecution of Saraki other than the fact that its leadership is seeking to settle personal scores, using a critical office like the agency.
This is why the president, Muhammadu Buhari, has to take more than a passing interest in the matter in order to determine the truth of his palpable persecution. What the EFCC is doing with Saraki is obvious witch-hunt, which is not in any way addressing the scourge of graft as being fought by the Buhari administration.