Jubilation in Ilorin over Saraki's acquittal.
Jubilation in Ilorin over Saraki's acquittal. By AHMED 'LATEEF
It was jubilation galore on Wednesday as supporters and well-wishers of the President of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, danced across major streets in Ilorin, following his acquittal at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), AHMED 'LATEEF writes on the legal triumph.
It is said that truth needs no witness and no matter the stretch of a journey the lie takes, truth surely catches up with it one day. For Saraki, the sojourn of the last 84 weeks were laced with booby-trap and land mines. Apparently, walking on the trapped path came with unease.
Just like a common saying that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, the harbinger of his travails was his emergence as the President of the 8th Senate contrary to the wishes of the hierarchy of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party platform under which he was re-elected into the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
That some strong forces were displeased with his election as number third citizen was not in doubt despite initial swift moves to placate the forces. The back and forth rapprochement did not bear fruit.
And what followed was emergence of two contending interest groups in the Senate. The first group poignantly worked in the interest of Ahmed Lawan (now Senate Leader), the choice of the party for the seat of the Senate President while the Like Mind group was sympathetic to the cause of Saraki maintaining the status quo.
While both groups engaged each other in altercation, which lasted for several weeks, came an allegation that the Senate rule book used in electing the leadership of the upper arm of the legislature was forged. Saraki, his Deputy, Ike Ekweremdau, Clerk and Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly were alleged to have masterminded the forgery.
As if that was not enough, other allegations in connection with corruption were also thrown up, encapsulated in his catalogue of his sins.
What appeared to be simmering leadership tussle in the Red Chamber reverberated beyond the confines of the Senate as many Nigerians raised alarm that the nation's democracy, still described as nascent, is heading towards the precipice.
However, the last straw that broke the camel's back on the ordeal of Saraki was his arraignment at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) by Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) over alleged false declaration of assets. He was alleged to have falsified his asset forms submitted to the Bureau when he served as Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
Precisely on 22nd September, 2015, the Senate President appeared before the CCT at the instance of the CCB on a 13-count charge, but midway into the trial, the charges were amended from 13 to 16 and amended for another time in February, 2016 to increase the charges from 16 to 18. In the amended charges, Saraki was alleged to be receiving salary from the coffers of the Kwara State government as incumbent governor despite the fact that he had completed his tenure.
But as soon as the trial commenced, revelations began to surface that the President of the Senate actually declared his assets in the declaration forms he submitted to the CCB with that of his wife and children.
During cross examination by Saraki's lead counsel, Paul Erokoro (SAN), the Head of Investigation in the CCB, Samuel Madojemo, affirmed that the defendant declared his assets in accordance with the provisions of the law. He admitted that the Senate President's assets were recorded in the Asset Forms he submitted to CCB at various times.
Immediately the prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs, closed on own case, the defense team made an application for a 'no case submission'. The defense team premised its application on the fact that the allegation of assets declaration could not be reasonably established and proven, thus obliterating any charges or whatsoever against Saraki.
Saraki through his team of lawyers contended that the allegations leveled against him were based on petitions from complainants, who never appeared as witnesses to testify.
Led by a former Attorney General of the Federation, Kanu Agabi, the lawyers noted that the petitions upon which the allegations were premised, did not form part of the documents presented in the CCT.
They prayed the tribunal to dismiss the case, on the grounds that the prosecution failed to link Saraki with the charges.
The tribunal ruled on the application on Wednesday where it dismissed the charges preferred against him and accordingly discharged and acquitted him. Though before now, there was widespread apprehension as to the impartiality of the tribunal, the CCT said the failure of the prosecution to present witnesses who were fully part of the alleged offence against the senate president, made their evidence "incurably defective".
The tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, said the prosecutor could not justify burden of proof.
He said, "It is wrong of the investigators not to have invited the defendant to make a statement so that the truth can be unearthed as it relates to the allegations against him and the discrepancies noticed in his assets declaration forms.
"From the simple analysis of the evidence of the prosecution, we find it difficult to accept the seriousness of the witnesses. All the evidence was so discredited, unreliable that no reasonable court will attach probate value to them.
"Since the essential ingredients of all the charges were not proved as required by law, this tribunal has no option but to discharge and acquit the defendant in view of the manifestly unreliable evidence of the prosecution witnesses."
However, as soon as the judgment of the tribunal was delivered, the atmosphere became lit up with friends, admirers, loyalists and supporters in jubilation galore across the country.
In Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, the victory of Saraki manifested swiftly as hundreds of supporters converged on the Secretariat of the state chapter of the APC in Ilorin where people danced and sang victory songs.
Some members of the state executive council, party stalwarts were also at the secretariat to partake in the historic moment.
Addressing Journalists, the state APC chairman, Alhaji Ishola Balogun Fulani, said it was clear that the trial was politically motivated but expressed delight that Saraki had been vindicated.
He said the verdict of the CCT had imbued the confidence of commoners in the temple of justice even as he added that it was a democracy at work.
"The entire APC members and all peace loving people of Kwara State are very happy. We knew that this is a politically motivated charges, but God has vindicated us, and it is a plus to democracy. This also allows us to have confidence in the judiciary of Nigeria.
"We are very happy. We thank everybody and well meaning Nigerians who had supported us from first time this thing (trial) started up to the end of this case. We are very happy and that is why you see us rejoicing.
"We are going to the Emir of Ilorin to rejoice with him and thank him for supporting our leader, the Senate President. From there, we will move to the Executive Governor of Kwara State to thank him for his support from the onset up to the end of this time and to also pray for him that with him in the helm of affairs, Kwara State is progressing and we hope that insha Allah with the end of this case, Kwara State will continue to progress. We are very happy and words cannot express our happiness".
With the outcome of the trial, the APC chairman stated that the Senate President would have a concentrated mind to perform better in the interest of Nigerians.
"Even without settled mind he has been performing credibly. We are sure that with his settled mind he will do more and perform credibly to the interest of all Nigerians at large".
The jubilant crowd in a motorcade stormed major streets of Ilorin in a rally organized by "I Stand By Saraki Team and Abubakar Bukola Saraki Leadership Initiative".
Speaking on behalf of the group, a former woman leader of the APC in the state, Hajia Sarah Adebayo, applauded the present administration for letting justice prevail.
In line with the mantra of the party, Hajia Adebayo, who chairs the state Local Government Service Commission, said the President of the Senate submitted himself for trial, adding that it was heartening that justice had been done.
"We thank the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari for doing justice the whole issue. The judgment is a welcome development to we Kwarans as a whole. We appreciate everyone that stood by us from the beginning to where we are today.
"We appreciate both chambers of the National Assembly, the executive, the judiciary and the populace of Nigeria as a whole for standing by us during our period of trial. The mantra of the APC is anchored on change. The Senate President submitted himself to the Judiciary and justice had been done to his trial.
"It is a welcome development and we believe that with this judgment that had been done, the tremendous achievement ahead , especially in the remaining two years of the seat we occupied, will be an added value to Nigerians. We should expect much more achievements on the part of the National Assembly", she said.
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