Saraki vs CCT: Alfa Belgore, Nwabueze, Ozekhome and Others Disagree With Supreme Court

Date: 2016-03-25

Senate President Bukola Saraki yesterday lost another application to stop his trial over an alleged false declaration of assets as the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) ruled that it has the jurisdiction to prosecute the case.

The tribunal consequently fixed April 5, 2016 for the commencement of the trial in a charge brought against him by the Federal Government.

But while insisting on the trial of Saraki, the CCT admitted error in discharging former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu some years ago.

Meanwhile, eminent jurists and leading legal practitioners yesterday declared that the CCT is not a law court as enshrined in the 1999 constitution and therefore lacks criminal jurisdiction to exercise such powers. The jurists include former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Salisu Modibo Alfa Belgore, Retired Justices of Supreme Court of Nigeria, Messrs Gorge Oguntade and Samson Odemwingie Uwaifo.

Others are Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN), former Attorney-General of Anambra State, Chief Nnoruka Udechukwu (SAN), former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) and Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) .

The tribunal had on the preliminary objections to his trial, dismissed Saraki’s application challenging the legality of the charges against him.

The Chairman of the tribunal, Mr. Danladi, Yakubu Umar, stated yesterday that the failure of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to meet certain conditions precedent to putting Saraki on trial was not weighty enough to discharge him and strike out the trial.

He said that Section 3(b) of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act which makes it a requirement for any defendant to be invited for confirmation or denial of discrepancies in the Assets Form had been overtaken by the provision of Section 3 (e) of the 1999 Constitution.

According to him, the Constitution is the supreme law. Umar added that Section 3(e) of the 1999 Constitution, which does not make provision for the condition precedent as in the case of CCB Act, has rendered the CCB Act unconstitutional, null and void, having been inconsistent with the constitution.

The tribunal also held that the failure of the CCB to invite the defendant in the instant case has not ousted the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

On the failure of the CCB to obtain a written admission by Saraki on the alleged discrepancies in his Assets Declaration Form before referring him to the tribunal for trial, the chairman noted that the issue was crucial but could be raised in the substantive matter.

Umar said that it was premature for the issue to be raised at the preliminary objection stage.

“On the failure of the CCB to obtain a written admission of discrepancies in the Assets Declaration Form of the defendant before referring him to this tribunal, we hold that this is crucial but the issue can be raised in the substantive matter as doing so now at the preliminary stage is premature. For us therefore, it will be out of place to give legal weight to that failure without hearing the substantive matter.

“On the discharge of the former Lagos State governor by the tribunal some years ago simply because the CCB failed to fulfill the condition precedent, we have since realised that we acted in error in discharging Mr. Tinubu on that ground and we have since departed from that error.

“In essence, provision of Section 3(a) of the third schedule of the 1999 Constitution which has no provision for fulfillment of certain conditions precedent before the CCB can act, is now the guiding force for the tribunal,” the CCT said.

Concerning the filing of the charges by the government, 13 years after Saraki had left office, the CCT chairman stated that there was no statute of limitation on criminal matters and that it was not out of place for the government to charge him the way it did even though he left office for a long time

But the Senate President, who was again accompanied by a large number of supporters, especially his colleagues from the National Assembly, told the tribunal that he was fully ready for trial to prove his innocence. He, however, pleaded for more time to allow him call his witnesses.

Speaking through his lead counsel and former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), Saraki said although he would have wished that due process of law was followed by government before putting him on trial, nevertheless, he was ready to engage his accusers legally.

“We are the ones being suspected of wrongdoing and we are ready to establish the fact that we are innocent of the charges even though we are convinced that the right thing has not been done as far as the charges are concerned,” Agabi said.

The Senate president had challenged the competence of the false assets declaration criminal charges brought against him by the government, maintaining that they were politically motivated and in bad faith.

In his objection filed by Agabi, Saraki stated that the charges could not be sustained in law since due process was not observed before they were initiated.

He therefore, asked the Code of Conduct Tribunal to quash or strike out the charges contained in Charge No. CCT/ABJ/01/2015 filed in September against him.

The Senate president also asked the tribunal to discharge him from the charges on the ground that the charges were not competent and lawful in the eyes of the law.

His grounds of objection to the trial include the fact that the tribunal headed by Umar has no jurisdiction to entertain the charge because a condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction was not fulfilled.

He also anchored his objection on the fact that the charge was brought in bad faith, not in the interest of the public and justice and that the charge constituted a gross abuse of legal process.

The eminent lawyers spoke at the inaugural constitutional law conference of the Ben Nwabueze Centre for Studies in Constitutional Law and related subjects organised at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in Lagos. The event, which has the topic: “The Code of Conduct Enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria and its Crucial Importance in the fight against Corruption”, examined the “ Constitutionality of the Code of Conduct Bureau and its Tribunal.”

Speaking on the “Code of conduct enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria and its crucial importance in the fight against corruption”, Justice Uwaifo berated the trial of Saraki by the CCT, describing it as political.

He said: “It is now open secret that the power behind the ruling APC did not back him (Saraki) for that office. It is fair to see a connection between that circumstance and the code of conduct matter. There is the rumour that the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal has an alleged crime hanging over him, which might give the impression that he may be willing to act as the hatchet-man over Saraki to save himself the prospect of the alleged crime not seeing the light of day by way of prosecution.

“Looking at the treatment Saraki has received so far in the tribunal presided over by the said Chairman who might, or is deemed to, know that there is the Sword of Damocles hanging over him, would the ordinary, right-minded persons aware of the situation have the impression that there was a real likelihood of bias on his part to deny Saraki justice? “

He condemned the docking of Saraki by the tribunal as if he was a criminal. He added that the criminal charge against the tribunal chairman which is not being prosecuted now, may propel him to be hard on Saraki in the hope that he would be finally spared. “The tendency to get the Code of Conduct Tribunal and probably similar bodies to intrude into the administration of criminal justice is not a welcome development. It is indeed a challenge to our constitutional democracy which puts the liberty of individuals at risk. It is also a challenge to the foresight of anyone who fails to appreciate this dire consequence”, he declared.

Udechukwu (SAN) in his intervention on whether the CCT is a court of law or not, gave the verdict that the tribunal could not be accorded the same status as the courts. He maintained that the chairman of the tribunal and his members are not recognised by the Constitution as members of the judiciary. “Under the 1999 constitution, the Code of Conduct Tribunal is not a court of law and therefore, lacks essential ingredients to be so described”, he stated.

In his presentation, Ozekhome (SAN), said the CCT Act as presently constituted is tantamount to a deliberate legislative affront to the clear and unambiguous provisions of the Constitution.

Examining the constitutionality of the CCB and Tribunal Act, he said the courts of the land must therefore, activate Section 1 (3) of the Constitution to put the errant Act in its proper place of playing the second fiddle to the grund norm.

He said that the entire Act, or most of its provisions as they presently stand, must succumb to constitutional discipline and be declared null, void and of no effect whatsoever for seeking to sit on the sacred throne which rightly belongs only to the Constitution.

Ozhekhome noted further that the inconsistency of the CCB vis-a-vis the constitution could be found in the systematic barring of Section 308 of the constitution as non-applicable to the CCT proceedings.

He urged the National Assembly to retool the Code of Conduct Act, adding that there was no need for the lawmakers to legislate on a matter that was already enshrined in the Constitution.

Agbakoba also urged the National Assembly to review the law establishing the CCT. He stressed that lawyers support the fight against corruption, adding that it must be done in accordance to the rule of law.

Earlier, the promoter of the centre, Nwabueze, said he developed the passion for constitutional law while as a student at the London School of Economics, adding that the passion had had expression in his writings.

According to him, he thought on how to preserve his legacies as he approaches ‘the end of my life’ and decided to open the centre. He stated that he was not against the fight against corruption due to his position on the trial of Saraki but wanted the fight to be limited within the confines of the Constitution.

The governor of Lagos State, represented by his Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Kazeem Adeniji expressed the good wishes of the state and pledged to continue to support the legacies of the Nwabueze Centre. He noted that the Code of Conduct exists to address the issue of corruption and reiterated the need to strengthen the CCB and CCT in order to be able to fight corruption.

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