The Court of Appeal in Abuja yesterday ordered Senate President Bukola Saraki to return to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and face three-count charge on alleged false asset declaration.
The three-member panel led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson unanimously ruled that Saraki should return to the CCT to face trial on three counts out of the 18 initially slammed on him.
The court dismissed the remaining 15 counts and ordered the remittance of the three charges back to CCT for the continuation of the trial.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the federal government failed to call the vital witness to prove its allegations against Saraki, which included that he drew salary four years after leaving office as a governor.
The panel, however, agreed with the EFCC that “there was ample evidence" that discrepancies exist in the claims about the acquisition of the Ikoyi properties on the asset declaration forms, which requires the defendant to make further explanation as public servants are not permitted to engage in any form of business venture apart from agriculture.
"In conclusion, we find no merit in 15 out of 18 count charges brought against the defendant by the complainant and we hereby uphold the decision of the tribunal delivered in June this year on the finding," she said.
"It is my belief that credible evidence was led by the prosecution in respect of the three counts, it is hereby ordered that counts four, five and six be remitted to the tribunal for retrial to enable the defendant offer explanations where necessary," she said.
The senate president and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said they would appeal to the Supreme Court.
The three-count charges
In count four charge, Saraki was accused of making false assets declaration at the end of his tenure as Executive Governor of Kwara State in 2011 and on assumption of office as a senator in 2011 in respect of a property at 17A McDonald, Ikoyi Lagos.
The prosecution said Saraki falsely declared to have acquired the property at 17A McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos on September 6, 2006, from the proceeds of the sale of rice and sugar.
In count five, the prosecution accused Saraki of making false asset declaration at the end of his tenure as Executive Governor of Kwara State in 2011 and on the assumption of office as a senator in 2011 when he declared that he acquired No. 17B McDonald, Ikoyi Lagos on September 6, 2006, from proceeds of the sale of rice and sugar.
In count six, the prosecution also accused Saraki of making a false declaration in his Assets Declaration Form at the end of tenure as Governor of Kwara in 2007 and on the assumption of office as Executive Governor in 2007 by failing to declare his outstanding loan liabilities of N315 million out of the loan of N380 million obtained from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.
The offences are punishable under Paragraphs 11 (2), (3) and (13) of Part 1, 5th Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999; and Section 23 (2) of the Code of Conduct Tribunal Act with the vacation of elective or nominated office, disqualification from holding public office (whether elective or not) for a period not exceeding 10 years, and seizure of and forfeiture to the state of any property acquired in abuse or corruption.
Sub-section (3) states that "the punishments mentioned in subsection (2) of this section shall be without prejudice to the penalties that may be imposed by any law where the breach of conduct is also a criminal offence under the Criminal Code or any other enactment or law."
The Justice Danladi Umar-led panel of the CCT had in June upheld a no case submission made by Saraki’s lawyers, Kanu Agabi, Paul Erokoro, Paul Usoro, and Mahmud Magaji, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who contended that the prosecution failed to establish a prima-facie case against him.
Meanwhile, both Saraki’s legal team and the EFCC team have hinted that they will both cross-appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal at the Supreme Court.
Paul Erokoro (SAN) said the legal team “is definitely going to appeal the judgment."
The EFCC team led by Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) said they will question many aspects of the judgment, including the court's pronouncement that “burden of proof rests squarely with the prosecution."