With the failure of the battle to stave off his trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for alleged false assets declaration at the Supreme Court last Friday, Senate President Bukola Saraki, on conviction risks 14 years jail term, losing his position, 10 years ban from holding public office and forfeiture of any asset related to the alleged offence.
The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act empowers the CCT to impose any of the punishments prescribed in section 23 of the law.
Section 23 of the Act provides: “(1) Where the tribunal finds a public officer guilty of contravening any of the provisions of this Act, it shall impose upon that officer any of the punishments specified under subsection (2) of this section.”
Section 23(2), however, states: “The punishment which the tribunal shall impose shall include any of the following: (a) vacation of office or any elective or nominated office as the case may be; (b) disqualification from holding any public office (whether elective or not) for a period not exceeding 10 years; (c) seizure and forfeiture to the state of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office.”
The prescribed sanctions are also provided for in paragraph 18 of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
However, to show that the prescribed sanctions may not be exhaustive, as the Act employs the word “include,” section 23(3) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act provides: “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 nay other enactment or law.”
Under this provision, if found guilty of breach of the Code of Conduct for public officers, Saraki may also be punished for perjury, as his assets declaration was done under oath. The Criminal Code Act prescribes imposition of 14 years jail for perjury on condition.
Section 118 of the Criminal Code Act states: “Any person who commits perjury is liable to imprisonment for 14 years. If the offender commits the offence in order to procure the conviction of another person for an offence punishable with death or with imprisonment for life he is liable to imprisonment for life.”
But whether a false declaration on oath amounts to perjury depends on the interpretation accorded the provisions of the law creating the offence.
What amounts to perjury is defined in Section 117 of the Criminal Code Act. The section states: “Any person who, in any judicial proceeding, or for the purpose of instituting any judicial proceeding, knowingly gives false testimony touching any matter which is material to any question then pending in that proceedings, or intended to be raised in that proceeding, is guilty of an offence which is called perjury.”
Shedding light on the offence, Mr. Sebastine Hon (SAN) said what constitutes perjury depends on the law creating the crime. Whether merely falsely swearing to an oath amounts to perjury, he said, depends on the law creating it.