The Federal Government yesterday queried the moral right of Senate President Bukola Saraki to question the integrity of Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Chair Danladi Umar and to ask him to disqualify himself from his (Saraki’s) trial for false assets declaration.
Lead prosecution lawyer Rotimi Jacobs, said it was laughable that Saraki, who is on trial will choose to hold on to office as a Senator and Senate President, but demands that Umar, who was merely investigated and freed, to vacate office.
“This motion is absurd. The defendant (Saraki), who has been charged to court, is still performing his statutory duty as a senator till today, saying that the Constitution guarantees him presumption of innocence.
“He is saying that he remains a senator. He is saying that he will continue to be Senate President and he will continue to perform his duties. But he is saying that your lordship (Umar), who was merely investigated, should not be allowed to enjoy the presumption of innocence and that your lordship should not be allowed to continue to perform his duties.
“Your lordship has not been charged before any court. No charge has been filed against your lordship. That is the absurdity in their motion. This application is only filed to achieve one purpose; to embarrass the tribunal,” Jacobs said while responding to a motion by Saraki, asking the tribunal Chairman to disqualify himself from the trial on the grounds that he was investigated for bribery allegation.
Jacobs said the motion was filed to malign the tribunal chairman, adding that the investigation of the bribery allegation had been concluded and the person found to be culpable had since last year been charged to court by the EFCC.
“If investigation has been concluded and someone is already facing trial, will the defendant be right to say that the tribunal chairman is involved in on-going investigation. He cannot be right. The investigation has been concluded since March 2015.
“This is stated in our counter-affidavit which was never challenged. That is what led to the charge he referred to. The person on trial is the only one recommended for prosecution.
“The letter did not recommend your lordship for prosecution. That is not what the letter says. The letter clearly stated with overwhelming evidence the person to be prosecuted. We should fear God, we are counsel,” Jacobs said.
He noted that contrary to Saraki’s claim, the EFCC was not a party to the case, but that it was the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) that issued him (Jacobs) the fiat to prosecute the defendant.
He insisted that the case was filed through the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and not the EFCC as claimed by Oluyede.
He said by virtue of Section 349(7), of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, Saraki’s lawyer, Ajibola Oluyede, could not have validly filed the motion without the consent of the lead defence lawyer, Kanu Agabi (SAN), who was still in the case.
He reminded the tribunal that the issue of who filed the charges against Saraki, had been argued by Agabi in a motion challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
Jacobs said the issue had become part of the subjects of appeal filed by Agabi against the tribunal’s ruling and urged the judge not to make findings on it in order not to run foul of usurping the duties of the appeal court.
Oluyede, moving the motion, insisted that Umar must disqualify himself from the trial. He argued that the June 24, 2014 letter by the then EFCC chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde and which was addressed to the then AGF, Bello Adoke, did not exonerate him of the bribery allegation.
Oluyede contended that the then AGF had directed the EFCC to proceed to prosecute the tribunal chairman and the other suspects. He added that the other report of investigation issued in March 2015 did not also clear the tribunal chairman.
Oluyede said it would require the AGF office to issue another letter overriding the earlier directive to the EFCC to go ahead with the prosecution of Umar and his co-suspect, before the tribunal chairman could be said to have been cleared.
He insisted that in as much as there was no fresh letter by the AGF expressly stating that Umar had been cleared of the allegation, “the legitimacy of the proceedings (Saraki’s trial) is in question”.
On claim by Jacobs that Agabi was not part of the motion, Oluyede noted that “Paragraph 15 of the further affidavit confirms that it was, in fact the lead counsel, Agabi,that advised the defendant to bring this application before the tribunal in the interest of justice.
“The submission of counsel, no matter how esteem that counsel is, does not and is not allowed to be considered as constituting evidence.
“Even if it was true that the lead counsel was not aware or did not even consent or approve it for reasons of conflict, it is immaterial because any counsel that is briefed by a party to a proceeding is entitled to act in accordance to the instruction of his client,” Oluyede said.
Before Oluyede moved the motion, Agabi excused himself from the proceedings. He appealed to parties in the case, including the tribunal members to allow peace to reign.
As against the claim by Oluyede, Agabi, before exiting the proceedings, admitted that he only became aware of the motion after Oluyede had filed it. Agabi said he had no problem with the motion, being moved on behalf of the defence team.
Shortly after Oluyede moved his motion, Umar said he has been cleared of the allegation by both the EFCC and the AGF.
He recalled that upon a petition filed against him before the House of Representatives over the bribery allegation, the AGF (Malami) appeared before a committee of the House and told the members of the committee that he (Umar) had been cleared.
Umar said: “A group called Anti-Corruption Network wrote a petition against me at the House of Representatives.
“The House committee invited me and I went there three times but the petitioner did not come. The committee asked me what I think should be done and I said, if it were to be court, when the person who filed a case refuses to come, the court will strike it out. But the chairman said, let’s give them another time.
“Why did he not strike it out and decided to continue to wait for the petitioner? I went there just because of the respect I have for the institution. I am a law-abiding citizen. That is why I went there three times, abandoning all my work here.
“They invited the AGF. He went with a copy of the letter of EFCC and he said by virtue of that letter, nobody could compel him to prosecute me on the basis of that letter, which stated that the allegation was based on mere suspicion.
“On the basis of that, he (the AGF) said he will not prosecute me. As the chief law officer, he decides who to prosecute and when to stop to prosecute anybody.”
The tribunal will rule today on the motion.