No escape! We have ‘serious’ case against Saraki, FG tells CCT
The Federal Government on Thursday asked the Code of Conduct Tribunal to dismiss the no-case submission filed by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to fault the evidence led by the prosecution in relation to the 16 charges of false declaration and other related offences preferred against him.
The Senate President, through his no-case submission filed before the CCT on May 26, 2017, contended that none of the exhibits tendered and no evidence given by the four prosecution witnesses linked him to the alleged offences to warrant him to defend the charges.
But arguing the Federal Government’s objection to the no-case submission on Thursday, the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), said there was “serious prima facie case” against the Senate President.
Chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, after hearing both the defence and the prosecution on Thursday said the date for the ruling would be communicated to the parties soon.
The prosecution had closed its case after its fourth witness, Mr. Bayo Dauda, an official of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Ilorin branch, started and concluded his testimony on May 4.
Shortly after Dauda was cross-examined by the defence counsel, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN), the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), announced that the closing of the prosecution’s case.
In response, Erokoro said the defence would file a no-case submission, contending that no credible evidence had been led by the prosecution to warrant Saraki to defend the charges.
Adopting the defendant’s written addresses before the CCT on Thursday, the lead defence counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), said the petition which precipitated the charges had nothing to do with his client.
Agabi said the charges, especially counts 1, 2, 6, 9,10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16, had disclosed no valid offences.
He said, “Our submission is that the prosecution has not made out a case warranting an answer from the defendant is dated May 21, 2017, and filed on May 26, 2017.
“Our reply on point of law is dated June 7, 2017.
“Let me elaborate very briefly as follows:
“We were told by the prosecution that the charges were precipitated by petitions tendered as exhibits 10, 11, 12, and 13.
“My lord should read the petitions. We beg your lordship to read them, they have nothing to do with the defendant.
“Let us assume the petitions were investigated, where is the report? Who are the writers? Why are they not here?
“The second point is that in counts 1, 2, 6, 9,10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16, the defendant was charged with ‘making false declaration by making no declaration’.
“There is inconsistency in the charges.
“I urge your lordship to hold that is not an offence.”
He also contended that only an authorised person could declare the statement of a public officer to be false.
Agabi argued that the failure of the prosecution to disclose the name of the said authorised persons in the charges had rendered the charges invalid.
He also said two of the prosecution witnesses, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, an official of the Code of Conduct Bureau, and another operative of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Michael Wetkas, had only given hearsay testimony as evidence.
Agabi also urged the court to take note of the defence’s list of witnesses, whom the prosecution ought to call but failed to.
In response, the prosecuting counsel for the Federal Government, Jacobs insisted that the prosecution had made out a “serious prima facie case” had been established against the Senate President.
He urged the tribunal to analyse and juxtapose the various asset declaration forms submitted by the defendant to reveal the falsehoods in them.
Jacobs said, “Our response to the no-case submission is dated June 2, 2017 and filed the same day.
“One method your lordship should adopt to show that there is serious prima facie case against the defendant is to look at Exhibits 6 and 26 which are assets declarations made by the defendant after the investigation of this case.
“My Lordships will see that the defendant listed all the annexed properties and stated that they were acquired in 92 and 99 and, now. If my lord juxtaposes them with Exhibits 1 to 5, some of the properties he claimed acquired in 1999, 2002, and 2003, were not declared.”
Jacobs also contended that the defendant had “misconstrued” Paragraph 1, Schedule 5 of the Constitution, by claiming that a public officer was not under obligation to declare properties bought in companies’ names.
“To construe the constitution like that will defeat the essence of the CCT and the fight against corrupt in Nigeria,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs also faulted the Agabi’s contention anchored on the allegation that the petitions tendered as exhibits had nothing to do with Saraki.
The prosecutor said the claim by the defence was no true as Saraki’s name was mentioned in the petitions.
He added that even if the claim was true, petitions had no role to play in prosecution.
Jacobs said, “In his address, he (Agabi) said the petitions had nothing to do with the defendant, although his name is mentioned.
“Prosecution does not depend on petition. Without a petition, a person can be prosecuted.”
On the issue of “failure to declare by not declaring does not constitute an offence”, Jacobs said, “We have shown in paragraphs 4.25 to 4.27 that till now, they have not told the tribunal the ingredients of the offence. “Failure to disclose an asset amounts to false declaration which is an offence. The learned counsel cannot be right on that.”
On the issue raised by the defendant in their reply on point of law, to the effect that the prosecution failed to call certain witnesses that were never called, Jacobs said it amounted to re-adjustment of the argument of the defence.
He said, “They said we ought to call 200 witnesses and they listed them. They brought it ought up as a new issue started re-adjusting their argument. This cannot be done.”
He also said at the stage of the case, the tribunal was not expected to evaluate the evidence, or give an opinion on the witnesses, as he was being invited to do by the defence.
He said the 120-page address filed by the defence was also an invitation to the tribunal to write a lengthy ruling against the admonition of the Supreme Court to courts handling a no-case submission.
Jacobs said, “At this stage, care must be taken about what my Lord can do at this stage. They were inviting your lordship to give an opinion on the witnesses and evaluate their evidence.
“The Supreme Court has said your lordship cannot do that at this stage.
“At the stage, your lordship cannot express opinion on the evidence led until they defence give their own evidence.
“The Supreme Court warned that the ruling on a no-case submission must be kept brief.
“It is permitted to just say there is case to answer.
“The Supreme Court said, where a lengthy ruling was delivered an observation would be made on the facts and the prosecution would be right to appeal on the grounds that the judge is biased.”
In further response, Agabi said, “Our contention is that there is no evidence. There is nothing for you to express opinion on.”
The tribunal is to later announce the date for the ruling on the application.
The Federal Government is prosecuting Saraki on amended 16 counts bordering on asset declaration breaches.
Saraki was governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011 and has since 2011 been elected to the Senate.
The prosecution had alleged, among other asset declaration breaches, that the Senate President while still being a public officer operated bank accounts outside Nigeria, and failed to declare the foreign accounts to the Code of Conduct Bureau while being governor and a senator during the period.
It also accused Saraki of failing to declare the sum of N375m loan which he allegedly obtained from GTB while still being governor and transferred the sum’s pounds sterling equivalent of £1,516,194.53 to his account with Fortis Bank, London, for the purchase of an “undisclosed property” in London.
The prosecution alleged that the acts of the Senate President constituted various offences under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigerian and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. Punch