SARAKI: THE VICTIM OF JUDICIAL INCONSISTENCY IN NIGERIA By Folashade Adegboyega
It is painful that when you think Nigeria has discarded its image as a country with dysfunctional institutions where bizarre things happen regularly, the government manages to find a way to vindicate those who say Nigeria is a country where wonders shall never end. The latest example is the charging of Senate President, Bukola Saraki to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on alleged false declaration of assets dating back to 2003, when he was governor of Kwara State.
Judging from the political maneuvers that culminated in Saraki’s emergence as Senate President, it is certainly an unimaginable coincidence, for the Attorney General to prefer charges against the Senate President 12 years after the alleged crimes were committed. This invariably suggests a shameful vendetta against Saraki, who assumed the Senate presidency against the so-called directive of his party; the All Progressive Congress. This is undemocratic if political parties will have to be electing leaders for the Legislature, an independent arm of government from their Secretariat (APC). This development is a sad commentary on due process; in addition to being the shame of a nation. For all things considered, neither the fight against corruption nor that of purposeful leadership would be served; a tragedy Nigeria can do without.
Expectedly, the controversy has agitated the public and generated controversial allegations with many unanswered questions; not the least of which is the timing. Why did it take 12 years for the Conduct of Conduct Bureau to realize Saraki made false assets declaration? In timing, the charges are absurd, almost full of politics and illegality; in a way that shows a certain political pettiness at the highest level of Nigeria’s leadership. The Presidency has come out strongly to deny any involvement, saying the 13-count charge bordering on corruption and alleged false declaration of assets, leveled against Saraki is purely a judicial process.
On this score, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation; which filed the charges before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, has a lot of explanations to do for Nigerians to believe that the charges are not politically-motivated. Already the trial at CCT has been tainted by political motivation. The idea that it was triggered by petitions from some fictitious groups in Kwara and the idea of Saraki collecting salaries from Kwara State government since leaving office has been denied by the government and is unfounded. Although Saraki has the opportunity to prove his innocence of the allegations that form the charges against him, no member of the class of 2003 governors has been subjected to scrutiny based on the averments on the asset declaration forms at the Code of Conduct Bureau. Mischief or malicious intent may be secondary to an issue of criminality but the question of morality and fairness must always be raised when national interest is at stake.
In the light of these developments at the Saraki’s trial, it is important to make reference to the 2011 ruling delivered by Justice Danladi Umar in the case of FRN vs TINUBU AND FRN vs Saraki 2016.
In that ruling of the CCT, involving Bola Ahmed Tinubu; the All Progressives Congress National Leader –
“There is condition precedent before this court (Code of Conduct Tribunal) that the accused person (Bola Tinubu) ought to have been invited by the Code of Conduct Bureau before this charge was filed…it however failed to adduce evidence of invitation it extended to the accused person prior to charge. Consequently, it will be proper for me at this stage to cease further exercise of jurisdiction since the condition precedent was not met before the charge was filled.” –Justice Danladi Umar (Chairman, CCT in Tinubu’s Case, Nov. 30th, 2011).”
In the case of the Senate President the same Chairman of the CCT, has the audacity say to the world that
“The Tribunal has since realised that the decision it made on the case between FRN vs. Tinubu was in error and has clearly departed from it.” –Justice Danladi Umar (Chairman, CCT when discharging Saraki’s objections, 24th March, 2016).
“…Under Section 3(d) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, CCB ought to have confronted him (Saraki) with the alleged infractions in his Asset Declaration forms before charges were instituted again. Justice Danladi Umar based his ruling on the fact that CCB did not invite Tinubu to clear his name before filing charges. Certain questions need to be asked, Did CCB invite Saraki to clear discrepancies discovered in Assets Declaration form before proceeding with filing of charges? Why different strokes for different folks? The same Panel of CCT Judges, laws but different rulings? Is the CCT operating with different laws for individuals? Does Justice Umar still reserve moral impetus and legal objectivity to proceed with this all-important trial, having indicted himself via inconsistent rulings?
This judgment by Justice Umar-led CCT already showed high level of inconsistency, when compared with judicial precedent, in this on-going trial of Senate President Saraki..There is no doubt that the on-going trial has opened up Nigeria’s criminal justice system cum jurisprudence, to ridicule and all manner of judicial contradictions by the same temple of justice, who are supposed to be custodian of the law. The above self-contradictory rulings of Justice Danladi Umar in the case of Saraki’s objections considering his ruling on Tinubu’s case in 2011, when juxtaposed with the argument of Defence Counsel, left much to be desired.
Justice Danladi Umar stated clearly that CCT under his Chairmanship “has since realised that the decision it made on the case between FRN vs. Tinubu was in error and has clearly departed from it”. The questions Nigerians are asking which the AGF needs provide urgent answer to, are as follows: what if Tinubu was sentenced to years of imprisonment in “error” by Justice Umar-led CCT, would he have accepted publicly that the infamous judgment was passed in “error”? Would Tinubu have kept quiet after realizing that he was sentenced in “error”?
When did he “realised” and “departed” from the so-called erroneous ruling? Would Nigerians have known that the CCT erred in discharging Tinubu if not for Saraki’s trial? Was Justice Umar’s erroneous ruling not a major setback on the anti-corruption crusade? Are we sure that Justice Umar-led CCT will not “realise” tomorrow, when presiding over another politically-instigated trial that his prospective verdict on Saraki’s case “was” done in error?Why is Justice Umar alluding to error? Who bears consequences of Justice Umar’s erroneous rulings? Why must we allow a Judge to be experimenting with high profile cases? Can’t this Danladi Umar step down as Chairman of CCT? Must he continue with Saraki’s trial, after gross display of incompetence and coupled with the fact that he is currently being investigated by the EFCC.
Why would judicial pronouncements, in sensitive trial that has already attracted international attention be made based on a Judge’s will, which will later be disguised as “error”? Answers to above articulated questions, will go a long way in assuaging restive thoughts, racing through the mind of legal minds Nigerians who are, interested in the outcome of this trial for posterity. The CCB cannot claim ignorance of the law and its own statutes to have precipitated the public showmanship in what has turned out to be an unnecessary embarrassment that served no other purpose that overheat the polity and traumatize the nation and the person of Senate President Bukola Saraki. The tragedy of this trial is that the aggrieved politicians who are sponsoring this trial are yet to imbibe the essential attributes of the rule of law. For them, law is no more than a tool of fulfilling their political dreams and aspirations. This is a serious aberration that reduces it to a respecter of persons, and gives way to an obnoxious philosophy, that makes public office holders unquestionable and beyond reproach. Nigerians want an effective prosecution of all cases of corruption and other excesses to serve as a deterrent to others, not this present witch hunting of persons perceived to be political enemies and the media dramas currently starring the nation’s anti-graft and security agencies.
-Folashade is the chief political analyst for Only Justice, an NGO that advocates for the free and fair dispensation of justice in Nigeria.