Nigeria’s Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, on Wednesday told the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Mr Danladi Umar, that he lacked moral justification to preside over his trial on an allegation of false declaration of asset.
He requested that he should disqualify himself from his trial.
The counsel to the Senate President, Mr Raphael Oluyede, during the hearing insisted that Mr Danladi was still under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the same agency that allegedly filed the criminal charges against him
He alleged that it was obvious that the said investigation was used as a bait by the EFCC to get Mr Danladi to do its bidding.
He, therefore, asked the chairman to excuse himself from the case, in the interest of justice and fair hearing.
In a motion argued by Mr Oluyede, the Senate President claimed that since the EFCC was largely responsible for the trial and also responsible for investigation of the 10 million Naira bribery allegations against the chairman, there was no way the chairman would be objective and impartial in the prosecution.
“Since the sword of Damascus is dangling in the direction of the chairman of the Tribunal, he may be tempted to dance to the tune of the anti-graft agency,” he told the Tribunal.
Matters Of Sentiment
Dr Saraki’s counsel further insisted that available facts had proved that the EFCC had a case against the Chairman of the Tribunal, as expressed in its letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation on March 5, 2015 and also on April 20, 2016.
Oluyede based his application on Section 36(1) of the Constitution which addresses the issue of biases and the rules of natural justice.
Mr. Oluyede had unsuccessfully moved a similar application last week, which resulted in a heated exchange between him and Mr. Umar.
After reading his motion, Mr. Oluyede called the attention of the court to a letter written to the Attorney-General by the EFCC chairman in February 2015, which was part of his exhibits against Justice Umar.
Mr. Oluyede read out paragraph four of the letter:
“There are indications that the tribunal chairman might have demanded and collected money from the complainant through his said personal assistant. However, efforts made to recover the telephone handset used by Justice Umar proved abortive, as he claimed that he had lost the telephone in 2012.
Reading another letter, he said was written by the EFCC, in which it had cleared the chairman, he pointed out that the EFCC accused the chairman of meeting a witness in his chambers but said that the evidence was not sufficient to prosecute him at the moment, but also said that investigation was ongoing.
He told the Tribunal that the letter was written on March 15, insisting that the claim that he was under investigation made it obvious that the chairman was not fit to try the case.
“Their claims that they have not subjected his call log to scientific investigation shows he still has a case to answer.
“There cannot be justice. If a prosecutor is prosecuting a case before a man he is still investigating,” he stressed.
According to him, the letter is proof that the chairman has a case to answer.
He also presented another letter, which was a response by the prosecution and dated April 20, 2016 more than seven months after the trial of his client had begun.
“For the EFCC to make such a statement it is obvious that it is used as a bait to make the chairman do its bidding.”
This he said “offends the provisions of section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution which gives his client right to fair hearing” and submitted that the continuous presence of the chairman on the panel removed the guarantee that the Tribunal would act independently.
He, therefore, asked the Chairman of the Tribunal to withdraw honourably from further participating in the Senate President’s trial in the interest of justice.
Objecting the motion, the prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, asked the Tribunal to dismiss the motion, claiming it lacked merit.
He accused the Senate President of harassment, citing a bill before the Senate attempting to amend the Act that established the CCT and the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“The bill before the Senate is designed to whittle down the powers of the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, as a result of the Senate President’s trial,” he stated.
Mr Jacobs also describe the issues raised in the motion as matters of sentiment which had no place in law.
He also accused the Senate President and his team of predicating the motion on the wrong assumption that the EFCC was the one trying the Senate President when it was the Federal Government to this end he asked that the motion be discountenanced.
After listening to both parties, the Chairman of the Tribunal, Mr Danladi Umar, said he would adjourn to April 28 for ruling on the application and then continuation of the cross examination.
He also hinted the Tribunal that discussions were ongoing with major television stations such as Channels Ait and NTA to carry the proceedings live to show that the Tribunal had nothing to hide.
While the counsel to the EFCC told reporters that the application was frivolous and a waste of the time of the Tribunal, the counsel to the Senate President described the statement by the Chairman of the Tribunal as ‘corroborating his client’s stance that he was bias’.