Faced by the insistence of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) sitting in Abuja that it has jurisdiction to try him for alleged falsification of assets charges brought against him by the Federal Government, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said on Thursday that he was ready to take the opportunity of the trial to clear his name.
The tribunal for the second time yesterday held that it has jurisdiction to try Saraki for the alleged falsification of assets.
The tribunal’s Chairman, Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar, while ruling on the preliminary objections filed by Saraki challenging his trial, dismissed the application by Saraki who is querying the legality of the charges proffered against him.
He held that the failure of the Code of Conduct Bureau to meet certain conditions precedents before putting Saraki on trial was not weighty enough to discharge him and strike out the trial.
He said section 3(b) of the Code of Conduct Tribunal Act, which made it a requirement for any defendant to be invited for confirmation or denial of discrepancies in the Assets form had been overtaken by the proviso of section 3 (e) of the 1999 Constitution, which according to him, was the supreme law.
He said that section 3(e) of the 1999 constitution had rendered the condition precedent contained in the CCB Act unconstitutional, null and void because the CCB Act provisions were inconsistent with the constitution.
The tribunal further said that the failure of the CCB to invite the defendant in the instant case had not ousted the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
However, on the failure of the CCB to obtain a written admission of Saraki on the alleged discrepancies in his assets form, the tribunal chairman said that the issue was crucial but could be raised in the substantive matter, adding that it was premature at the preliminary stage because the charge against the defendant bothered on alleged corruption.
“On this issue of failure of the CCB to obtain a written admission of discrepancies in the address forms of the defendant before referring him to this tribunal, we hold that this is crucial but can be raised in the substantive matter as doing so now at the preliminary stage is premature, more so, when the charge bothers on alleged corruption. For us therefore, it will be out of place to give legal weight to that failure for now without hearing the substantive matter.
“On the discharge of the former Lagos State governor by the Tribunal some years ago, simply because the CCB failed to fulfil the condition precedent, we had since realised that we acted in error in discharging him on that ground and we have since departed from that error.
“In essence, the provision of section 3 (a) of the Third Schedule to the 1999 constitution which has no provision for fulfilment of any condition precedent by the CCB is now the guiding force for the tribunal.”
On the filing of the charges 13 years after Saraki had left office, the CCT boss said that there was no statute of limitation on criminal matters and that it was not out of place for government to charge him the way it did, even though he left office a long time ago.
Meanwhile, the commencement of the trial has been fixed for April 5, 2016.
But reacting to the ruling through his lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi, who was also a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Saraki said that he was ready for trial to prove his innocence.
Saraki said although he would have wished that due process of law was followed by government before putting him on trial, nonetheless, he said that he was ready to engage his accuser at the tribunal.
“We are the one being suspected of wrong doing and we are ready to establish the fact that we are innocent of the charges even though we are convinced that the right thing has not been done as far as the charges is concerned,” Agabi said.
The Senate President had challenged the competence of the false assets declaration criminal charges brought against him by the federal government, insisting that the charge was politically motivated and in bad faith.
In his objection filed by Agabi, Saraki said that the charges could not be sustained in law since due process of law was not observed before it was initiated.
He asked the tribunal to quash or strike out the charges contained in Charge No. CCT/ABJ/01/2015 filed last September against him.
He also asked the tribunal to discharge him from the charges on the ground that the charges were not competent and lawful in the eyes of the law.
His grounds of objection to the trial were among others, that the tribunal headed by Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar had no jurisdiction to entertain the charge because a condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction had not been fulfilled.
Besides, he also anchored his objection on the fact that the charge was brought in bad faith, brought not in the interest of the public and justice and that the charge constituted a gross abuse of legal process.
The charge, having been allegedly brought in violation of due process and in violation of his right to fair hearing, Saraki said, cannot lie at the instance of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.