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Saraki’s long, tortuous legal journey to justice

The 1, 018 days legal battle over alleged false assets declaration by the senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki ended on Friday, July 6 at the Supreme Court, the nation’s apex court as it dismissed the 18-count criminal charge brought against him by the federal government. Saraki, popularly called “Leader”, is a household name in the politics of Nigeria since he was elected the Kwara State governor in 2003 to 2011. In 2007, he became the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF and served for four years after which he became a senator representing Kwara Central in the National Assembly till date.
In September 2015, the senate president stepped into what could now go for the most long and tortuous trial for alleged false assets declaration in the history of the country. Besides, Saraki is the first number three citizen and public officer to face such court martial. That was when the federal government arraigned him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT on a 13-count charge bordering on false declaration of assets in breach of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
Specifically, Saraki was accused of failure to declare his assets in full. He was also charged over alleged misuse of the state funds for purchasing private assets while serving as a state governor. Apart from that, Saraki, whose emergence as the senate president was associated with serious controversy, is also said to have been operating foreign accounts while being a public officer – governor and senator.
The offences, the charge said, violated sections of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended. In the charge signed by Deputy Director in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Saraki is also alleged to have breached Section 2 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and punishable under paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
The charge sheet read in part: “That you, Dr. Bukola Saraki, whilst being the governor of Kwara State on or about 16th September, 2003 within the jurisdiction of this honourable tribunal did make a false declaration in the asset declaration form for public officers on assumption of office as Governor of Kwara State by an anticipatory asset declaration”.
The senate president was said to have claimed the ownership of a property on No. 15A and 15B, McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos, acquired through his company, Carlisie Properties Limited, in 2000.
But Saraki described the allegations as frivolous, noting that they were a reflection of the saying that “each time you fight corruption, the system will fight you”. The senate president also described as mere political witch-hunt the charges being leveled against him. He wondered why the Bureau should wake up with the allegation about 13 years after he declared his assets and promised to defend the charges.
Saraki said: “There is no doubt about that. It is mischievous, it is not correct and the issues therein are not true. As far as we are concerned, we are not shaken. ..For the Code of Conduct Bureau to wait for 13 years before working on declaration that was made since 2003 was ridiculous. I have always done my declaration and we will defend those allegations but we will continue to do our work here (in the senate)”.
The senate president maintained that as a governor, he never operated a foreign account, adding that “some of the issues contained in the charge sheet are subjects of earlier decided and on-going court cases”. According to him, “those behind filing of these charges are engaging in forum shopping”.
He also wondered on whose authority the charges were filed since there was no any AGF in office as at that time. According to him, “the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act clearly indicate that any prosecution must be authorised by an Attorney General and we know the nation last had an AG in May 2015. This is another clear indication that the CCT is acting under influence from outside its domain and therefore ready to bend the rules to achieve this obnoxious objective”.
In May 2017, Saraki told the CCT sitting in Abuja that he has no case to answer. The senate president, through his lawyer, Mr. Paul Erokoro, SAN, notified the Justice Danladi Umar-led Tribunal of his intention to make a no-case-submission in respect of the 18-count corruption charge the federal government proffered against him.
He contended that the federal government failed to establish a prima-facie case capable of warranting the Tribunal to compel him to enter his defence to the charge. The defendant equally contended that none of the witnesses linked him to the commission of any offence, adding that the prosecution could not substantiate the ingredients of the charge.
Meanwhile, before the case was adjourned till June 8, 2017, the last prosecution witness, Mr. Bayo Dauda, who testified as the PW4, narrated how Saraki took loan of N375million in 2010 to acquire a property in the United Kingdom. The witness, who is a banker with the Guaranty Trust Bank, said he was Saraki’s relationship/account officer in 2003. He told the tribunal that Saraki was newly elected into office as the Kwara State governor when the said account was opened in April 2003.
According to the witness, the defendant was offered loan by the bank on three occasions spanning between 2006 and 2010. He said: “The first one was N380million which was offered on October 11, 2006. The next one was also N380million granted on January 30, 2007, while the third one was N375million which was granted to the defendant on February 10, 2010”. Reading from exhibit 48 before the tribunal, Dauda said there was an agreement for the loans to be repaid through five equal quarterly installments of N76million in addition to the accrued interest
However, 22 months after he was arraigned, the CCT, on June 15, 2017, discharged and acquitted Saraki of the 18-count charge of false declaration of assets brought against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB. In his judgment, the Tribunal chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, held that the allegations proffered against Saraki by the federal government was bereft of probate value and manifestly unreliable to hold the charges against the defendant.
The Tribunal said the prosecution, at the close of the case, failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendant. Umar said the four witnesses called by the prosecution to testify in the matter gave contradictory evidences that were manifestly unreliable to convict the defendant or order him to enter his defense. He specifically referred to the evidence of the third prosecution witness, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, Head of Investigation and Intelligence Department of the CCB to the effect that oral investigation was conducted on Saraki and that there was no written report on him by the Bureau.
Umar further said that the report of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC put at the disposal of the tribunal was more of intelligence gathering than conventional investigation. He said that to worsen the case, the defendant was never invited or made to make statement so that truth could be unearthed if there are allegations against him.
To this effect, he ruled thus: “From the simple analysis of the evidence of the prosecution, we find it difficult to accept the seriousness of the witnesses. All the evidences were so discredited, unreliable that no reasonable court will attach probate value to them.
“Since the essential ingredients of all the charges were not proved as required by law, this tribunal has no option than to discharge and acquit the defendant in view of the manifestly unreliable evidence of the prosecution witnesses”.
But a frontline online media outfit, SaharaReporters claimed that for Saraki to obtain the dismissal of the charges he faced at the CCT, he paid heavily in cash, and in kind. According to its investigation, the cash payment, a whopping $2million, allegedly went to the Tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar.  “The kind was a promise to the cabal at The Presidency to block Ibrahim Magu’s confirmation as chairman of EFCC”, it stated.
The entire deal, according to the its source, was facilitated by former Bauchi State governor, Alhaji Isa Yuguda, a friend of Umar, but it also involved a top police officer.
But in December 13, 2017, the Court of Appeal in Abuja ordered the senate president to return to the CCT to face trial for false declaration of assets. A three-member panel of appellate court dismissed only 13 out of the 18 charges, and ordered Saraki to return to the Tribunal to face three charges of false assets declaration.
The appellate court, in a unanimous judgment by a three-man panel led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, said it was satisfied that Saraki has a case to answer before the CCT in respect of three out of the 18-count corruption charge federal government preferred against him. The court however dismissed 15 counts of the charge on the premise that they were not supported with credible evidence capable of warranting the respondent (Saraki) to be called upon to enter his defence to them. Specifically, the appellate court panel directed Saraki to return to the tribunal to defend counts 4, 5 and 6 of the amended charge.
In February 6, this year, the CCT reopened the case against Saraki by the federal government in obedience to the December 12, 2017, judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja. The senate president, who was hitherto answering to 18-count charge, entered his defence to only three charges.
However, reprieve finally came the way of Saraki when the Supreme Court dismissed the 18-count criminal charge on the alleged false assets declaration. The apex court in its judgment delivered by Justice Centus Chima Nweze, set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal which ordered Saraki to defend himself on three out of the 18 charges and affirmed the decision of the CCT, which had earlier upheld the no case submission of the senate president’s counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN.
Justice Centus Nweze held that the December 12, 2017 decision of the Court of Appeal against Saraki was based on hearsay. He said the prosecution failed to present material evidence in the trial, adding that the testimonies of all the four prosecution witnesses were based on secondary information.
The judge said it was unthinkable that the lower court arrived at it decision even when it was clear that the testimonies of the witnesses were woven around the inadmissible evidence.
“Such an approach speaks ill of our jurisprudence. The truth is that courts must arrive at their verdicts through a process of reasoning which is analytical.
“The Court of Appeal was however right in its finding that all material evidence adduced by the prosecution was hearsay.
“I make bold to hold that the Court of Appeal was in grave error when in face of absence of material evidence, held that the prosecution established prima facie case against the appellant
“Against this background, I have the duty to vacate the judgment of the lower court. In its place, I hold that from the testimonies of the four witnesses, the prosecution failed to enter a prima facie case against the appellant.
“I, therefore, in command and in line with Section 302 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, enter an order discharging the appellant accordingly. I restore the judgment of the trial tribunal forthwith. The cross appeal filed by the prosecution is hereby dismissed’’, the judge held.
Barely few hours after Saraki’s victory at the apex court, there was wild jubilation by the APC members and supporters of the senate president in Ilorin, his country home in Kwara State. Hundreds of residents, who marched through various routes in Ilorin, dancing and singing, saluted the Supreme Court ruling.
At the palace of the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, the supporters rode to the palace in motorcycles and tricycles as they were received by the traditional ruler in his palace.
Reacting to the victory, Saraki said his trial had political undertone, but expressed joy that at the end of a 1018 days tortuous journey, he was vindicated.
In an emotion statement he personally signed, the senate president expressed confidence in the judicial process and the ability of the Judiciary to do justice to all manners of men and in all circumstances.
The statement read in part: “At the end of a tortuous journey of 1018 days, counting from September 22, 2015, when the case began at the Tribunal, I am happy that I have been vindicated. The Supreme Court has affirmed that there is no evidence of false declaration of assets. The court also observed that certain agents took over the responsibility of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) in this trial, and one can infer that this was done towards a pre-determined end.
“This outcome has gladdened my heart and further strengthened my belief in this country and as well as my faith in the Almighty Allah, who is the righter of all wrongs. God has vindicated me today before the judgment of man, and I am most thankful and humbled at His grace and infinite mercies”.
In his reaction, President Muhammadu Buhari said the nation’s judicial system is working despite the challenges it is facing, and warned that no one should be allowed to undermine or break the judicial system.
The President noted in a statement that Saraki took what he described as the tortuous path of using the judicial process and persevered until the highest court in the land pronounced him not guilty.
“In the case of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, I have seen him take the tortuous path of using the judicial process. He persevered, and in the end, the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, says he is not guilty as charged.
“This is what I have done in the three elections in which I was cheated out before God made it possible for me to come here the fourth time I ran for the office”, Buhari stressed.
The President said Saraki’s journey from the lowest to the highest court of the land provided an important example for Nigerians to emulate.
For the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, the Supreme Court judgment was a “triumph of justice’’. In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja, the party said that the verdict had reinforced Nigerians’ confidence in the judiciary.
“The court has further reinforced the confidence of Nigerian citizens in the courage of the institution of the judiciary as the temple of justice and the last hope of the common man, particularly under an oppressive regime”, the party stated, adding that the judgment had further supported its disposition that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration’s fight against corruption was mere shadow-chasing.
Also, the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar hailed Saraki’s victory, saying “the position of the judiciary further affirms the fact that indeed, the judiciary is the last hope not only for the common man, but for all men, and the real bastion of equity and good governance in any society”.
Atiku stated that it was clear to all men of goodwill and discerning Nigerians that the charges for which the Senate President was serially arraigned before the CCT, would not stand rigorous judicial examination but was more of politics. He commended the Supreme Court jurists for the unanimity of their judgment.
Saraki’s deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu described the judgment as a victory for the legislature and democracy.
Ekweremadu in a statement issued yesterday in Abuja, saluted the senate president for “his resilience, courage, and undying commitment to the immutable democratic principles of the rule of law and separation of powers as well as the integrity and independence of the legislature”.
Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara said that the judgment “has once again reinforced our confidence and belief in the nation’s judiciary as the last hope of the common man”.
He added: “As democrats, this has again reaffirmed the independence of the judiciary as protected by our constitution under the doctrine of separation of powers and principles of checks and balances. No doubt, the Supreme Court’s judgment will help in no small way in strengthening the independence of the legislature as the first organ of government under our constitutional democracy and presidential system of government”.

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