Controversies as CCT Acquits Saraki

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It is outrageous and travesty of justice – Presidency
It is sad and a calculated attempt to frustrate the war against corruption – Transparency International
It is a proof of my innocence – Saraki

BY OBUTE JAMES
The acquittal of Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged false asset declaration and corruption on Wednesday June 14, 2017 has been generating a lot of controversies.

The Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla who described the ruling as outrageous and travesty of justice, wondered why the CCT dismissed the weight of “overwhelming evidence” against Saraki, who was tried for false asset declaration by the Federal Government.

The Transparency International (Nigeria) and several others, described the judgment as sad and a calculated attempt to frustrate the war against corruption in the country.

The CCT in Abuja on Wednesday discharged and acquitted Saraki of all the 18 charges of false asset declaration and other related offences preferred against him by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

The two-man panel of the CCT, led by its Chairman, Danladi Umar, unanimously upheld the no-case submission, filed by Saraki after the prosecution closed its case with 48 exhibits tendered and after the testimonies of the fourth and the last prosecution witness on May 4, 2017.

The CCT chairman, Umar, in his lead ruling, exonerated Saraki of all the charges on, among other grounds, the failure of the prosecution to obtain Saraki’s statement and make it part of the proof of evidence.

He described as “absurd” that neither Saraki’s statement nor the report of investigation said to have been carried out was produced before the tribunal.

He agreed with the defence team, led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), that the prosecution’s evidence had been manifestly discredited during cross-examination by the defence.

He added that the evidence adduced by the prosecution, led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), was “so unreliable that no reasonable tribunal could convict” anyone based on it.

Umar also noted that the evidence of the first prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas, an operative of the EFCC, was unreliable.

On the evidence of the second prosecution witness, Mr. Amazi Nwachuckwu, Head of Funds Transfer Unit of the Guaranty Trust Bank, Umar noted that the witness had testified that documents relating to alleged foreign transfers by Saraki had been consumed in a fire incident, adding that there was nothing to prove the charges that were based on the documents.

The ruling made the Saraki’s lawyers and supporters in court burst into wild jubilation as soon as the tribunal made the pronouncement exonerating the Senate President on Wednesday.

While the lead defence counsel, Agabi, thanked the tribunal for the ruling, the counsel, who led the prosecution team at the Wednesday’s sitting, Mr. Pius Akutah, told journalists that the prosecution would review the ruling “in order to determine the next step”.

The charges instituted against Saraki before the CCT related to the alleged breaches of the code of conduct for public officers, acts which were said to be punishable under the Constitution and the CCB/CCT Act.

He allegedly committed the breaches by making false declaration of his assets while being the governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2007 for his first term and between 2007 and 2011 for his second term as governor and from 2011 to 2015 as a Senator.

Among the breaches were that he obtained N375m loan from Guaranty Trust Bank Plc in 2010, converted it to £1,515,194.53 and transferred the sum to the United Kingdom for full and final mortgage payment for a London property.

Additional charges against him included allegation that he continued to receive salary and emoluments as governor of Kwara State after the expiration of his tenure and at the same time, from the Federal Government as a Senator between June 2011 and October 2013.

He was also said to have failed to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau on assumption of office as Governor of Kwara State in 2003, his leasehold interest in the property at 42 Remi Fani-Kayode Street, Ikeja, Lagos.

The prosecution also alleged that while being a public officer, the ex-governor operated bank accounts outside Nigeria and failed to declare the foreign accounts to the CCB while being governor and a senator during the period.

Properties that were allegedly falsely declared by Saraki included 17, 17A and 17B McDonald, Ikoyi, Lagos; Plot 2A Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos; 37A Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which he allegedly bought through Carlisle Properties; No. 1 and 3 Targus Street, Maitama, Abuja, otherwise known as 2482, Cadastral Zone A06, Abuja.

The Supreme Court had on February 5, 2016 dismissed Saraki’s objection challenging his trial before the CCT.
Saraki in statement on Wednesday said he knew he was innocent of the charges against him and was ready to clear his name.

Part of the statement read “After undergoing the crucible of a tortuous trial, my vindication today calls for celebration. It is my belief however that if there
should be any celebration at all, it should be a celebration of the hopes that this judgment gives us as citizens, that despite all the challenges that we face as a country, we are well on our way to building a country where the innocent needs not be afraid.

“On a personal note, I habour no grudge against anyone, regardless of the role they might have played in the persecution that I had endured in the last two years.”

It’s a calculated attempt demoralise the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria- The Transparency International
The Transparency International (Nigeria), however, described the acquittal at the CCT as a calculated attempt to demoralise the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria.

The Head of the Nigeria chapter of TI, Mr. Auwal Musa-Rafsanjani, said this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Wednesday.

According to him, what transpired at the CCT was a clear indication that Nigeria’s corrupt elite are united and will stop at nothing to circumvent the system.

Musa-Rafsanjani stated, “It is another sad day for the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria. I think Nigerians are sad that this has happened. It just goes to show that Nigeria’s corrupt elite are united.

“To take advantage of the system is their thing; they will continue to connive against the Nigerian people. They have no regard for ethno-religious or party affiliation, the corrupt Nigerian elite are united in perpetuating violence and plundering our resources to perpetuate themselves in power.

“You can see how they were celebrating this kangaroo verdict, which is a calculated attempt to demoralise the anti-corruption community in Nigeria’s attempt to fight corruption.

“Even those people like (Col. Sambo) Dasuki (retd,) and all those who helped themselves to our collective patrimony during the President Jonathan era, who are standing trial for corruption, may be set free by this judiciary, but we must never give up. We must continue to fight until we rid this nation of the traces of corruption.”

Obono-Obla said, “It is a travesty of justice. It is pedestrian and it is outrageous. It is against the weight.
“There was overwhelming evidence, cogent evidence, incontrovertible evidence, which cannot be dismissed by a no-case submission. The trial judge ought to have called on the defendant to enter his defence against the evidence adduced by the prosecution.

“The prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), is one of the best in the country and he conducted that case professionally, conscientiously and diligently.

“So we are amazed, we are surprised.”

He described as balderdash, the speculation that the CCT’s ruling was an outcome of a political settlement reached between Saraki and some high-profiled members of the Buhari administration. He said, “It is balderdash; it is hogwash.

“We know that President Muhammadu Buhari is a paragon of integrity. The Attorney General of the Federation is also a paragon of integrity that will never compromise cases.”

Obono-Obla, however, vowed that the anti-corruption fight would continue despite the setback.

He said, “And we will go on with this fight against corruption despite the frustration, despite the setback.
“We will go back to the drawing board, re-strategise because Nigeria must be saved.
“Our head is bruised but it is unbowed.”

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