Court orders trial on three counts
The Court of Appeal in Abuja has reversed Senate President Bukola Saraki’s acquittal of false assets declaration charges.
The appellate court, in a unanimous judgment by a three-man panel, led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe Wilson, ordered Saraki to return to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for the continuation of his trial.
The court held that the prosecution led direct and credible evidence to establish a prima facie case against Saraki in three of the 18 counts contained in the charge for which he was tried.
The counts on which Saraki is to enter defence are 4, 5 and 6 in relation to his alleged failure to declare some houses he acquired in Ikoyi, Lagos.
In Count 4, Saraki is alleged to have falsified his Assets Declaration at the end of his tenure as Kwara State Governor in 2011 and on assumption of office as a senator in 2011 when he declared that he acquired No. 17A, McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos.
The prosecution contended that the defendant falsely declared that he had acquired No 17A, McDonald, Ikoyi on 6th September 2006 from the proceeds of sale of rice and sugar.
In Count 5, he is also alleged to have falsified his Assets Declaration at the end of his tenure as Governor of Kwara State in 2011 and on assumption of office as a senator in 2011 when he declared that he acquired No. 17B, McDonald, Ikoyi Lagos.
The prosecution contended that the defendant falsely declared to have acquired No. 17A, McDonald, Ikoyi on 6th September 2006 from proceeds of sale of rice and sugar.
In Count 6, Saraki is accused of making a false declaration in the Assets Declaration Form at the end of tenure as governor in 2007 and on assumption of office as executive governor in 2007 when he failed to declare his outstanding loan liabilities of N315,054,355.92 out of the loan of N380,000,000 obtained from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.
The CCT on June 14, upheld Saraki’s no-case submission, discharged and acquitted him, a decision the Federal Government appealed.
The Appeal Court, in its judgment yesterday, resolved four out of the five issues identified for determination in favour of the appellant.
The court said the tribunal was wrong to have held that Saraki was not invited to make a statement in the course of investigating the allegations against him.
It said the Senate President made a statement in the course of investigation, which was tendered and admitted by the tribunal as Exhibit 46.
The appellate court also faulted the CCT’s decision that the joint investigation team constituted by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the allegations against Saraki was unknown to law.
It said there was no law forbidding the CCB from collaborating with other investigating agencies of government to effectively discharge its mandate.
The court also faulted the tribunal for holding that the prosecution failed to prove its case by not tendering the original copies of Saraki’s assets declaration forms and his statement.
It said the certified true copies (CTC) of the forms and statement were sufficient under the law to be admitted as exhibits in favour of the prosecution.
On whether the tribunal was right to have upheld Saraki’s no-case submission, the appellate court resolved the issue against Saraki.
After a thorough analysis of the evidence led by the prosecution, the appellate court said the prosecution led credible and direct evidence in respect of three counts – 4, 5 and 6 – of the 18-count amended charge, to warrant his being called upon to enter his defence.
The court said the prosecution was unable to discharge the burden of proof placed on him by the law in relation to counts 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18.
It said some of the prosecution’s witnesses gave both oral and documentary hearsay evidence that are inadmissible in law. It also said the prosecution failed to call witnesses in relation to the 15 counts.
For instance, the court noted that the prosecution, though accused Saraki of earning double salaries from the Kwara State Government and as a senator, it failed to call witnesses from the Kwara State Government and the National Assembly in support of the allegation.
The court ordered that the case be remitted back to CCT for Saraki to enter his defence.
Other members of the panel – Justices Tenimu Y. Hassan and M. Mustapha – agreed with the lead judgment by Justice Akomlafe-Wilson.
A two-man panel of the CCT, headed by Danladi Umar, on June 14, 2017, upheld the no-case submission filed by Saraki after the prosecution, led by Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), closed its case after calling four witnesses and tendering 48 documentary exhibits.
In upholding the no-case submission, the tribunal dismissed the amended 18 counts preferred against Saraki on the grounds that the prosecution, was unable to establish any prima facie case against the Senate President.
Umar, in his lead ruling, exonerated Saraki, holding that failure of the prosecution to obtain his statement and make it part of the proof of evidence was fatal to the case.
He adjudged as “absurd” that neither Saraki’s statement nor the report of the investigation said to have been carried out was produced before the tribunal.
He agreed with the defence team, led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), that the prosecution’s evidence had been manifestly discredited during cross-examination by the defence.
He added that the evidence adduced by the prosecution, led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), was “so unreliable that no reasonable tribunal could convict” based on it.
The tribunal chairman specifically noted that the third prosecution witness, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, who is Head, Intelligence Unit of the Code of Conduct Bureau, only gave hearsay evidence on the information the witness purportedly received from the EFCC.
But the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, through Jacobs, on June 20, filed a 17-ground notice of appeal against the CCT’s judgment.
The Federal Government faulted all the grounds on which the CCT predicated Saraki’s acquittal, describing the entire judgment as unreasonable and unconstitutional.
Jacobs subsequently filed an appellant’s brief on July 28, formulating five issues for determination.
Saraki, through his lead counsel Agabi, also filed his respondent’s brief on August 22.
While adopting his appellant’s brief on November 22, Jacobs urged the court to grant the Federal Government’s appeal and hold that the judgment of the CCT was perverse. He also reiterated that the CCT erred by adjudging the oral evidence of the prosecution’s third witness, Madojemu, the Head, Intelligence Unit of the CCB, as hearsay.
I’ve been vindicated, says Senate President
Senate President Bukola Saraki yesterday described the Court of Appeal verdict as a vindication for him.
In a statement by his media adviser Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki expressed the belief that upholding a no-case-submission with regards to 15 of the 18-count charge confirmed his innocence.
“At least, today’s judgment has confirmed the position of the Tribunal that the prosecution’s case was entirely based on hearsay, not on any concrete evidence.
“The verdict of the Court of Appeal, just like that of the Tribunal before it, aligned with our position that the preposterous claims made during trial by the prosecution concerning operation of foreign accounts, making anticipatory declarations, collecting double salaries, owning assets beyond his income and failure to declare assets owned by companies in which the Senate President owns interests, among others, have fallen like a pack of cards and lack any basis.
“On the remaining three counts, which really touch on two issues, referred back to the Tribunal for the Senate President’s defence, it should be noted that the Appellate Court only gave a summary of its decision today promising to provide the parties with Certified True Copies of the judgment soon. As soon as it makes the details of the judgment available, our lawyers will review the grounds of the decision and take appropriate action.
“We remain convinced about the innocence of the Senate President on the three ( or two) counts because we believe the decision of the Court of Appeal is not consistent with the submissions made by both parties at the Tribunal. Thus, it is our view that that aspect of the judgment will not stand”.
Saraki added that his confidence and faith in the nation’s judiciary and its ability to dispense justice to all manners of people remained unshaken.