The Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja on Wednesday discharged and acquitted the Senate President, Dr. Bulola Saraki, of all the 18 charges of false asset declaration and other related offences preferred against him.
The two-man panel of the CCT led by its Chairman, Danladi Umar, unanimously upheld the no-case submission which Saraki filed after the prosecution closed its case with 48 exhibits tendered and the fourth and the last prosecution witness testified on May 4, 2017.
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 was fatal to the case.
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” based on it.
The court erupted in thunderous jubilation among the lawyers and supporters of the Senate President as soon as the tribunal made the pronouncement exonerating him on Wednesday.
While the lead defence counsel, Agabi, thanked the tribunal for the ruling, the counsel who led the prosecution team on Wednesday, 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 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 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 to the United Kingdom for full and final mortgage payment for a London property.
Additional charges against him included the 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 leasehold in the property at 42, Remi Fani-Kayode Street, Ikeja, Lagos.
The charges also included the allegation that Saraki failed to make a written declaration of his “properties and assets”, that is, N77m made into his account with Guaranty Trust Bank, GRA, Ilorin branch on September 5, 2007.
The prosecution alleged that the sum of N77m was not fairly attributable to his “income, gifts or loan approved by the Code of Conduct for Public Officers”.
The prosecution also alleged that while being a public officer, operated bank accounts outside Nigeria, and failed to declare the foreign accounts to the Code of Conduct Bureau 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.
In his contribution to the ruling of the tribunal on Wednesday, co-member of the tribunal, Atedze Agwaza, who expatiated on the decision of the tribunal to free Saraki, noted that the Senate President was investigated by an illegal team comprising officials of the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Department of State Service.
He noted that such investigative team was strange to both the Constitution and the CCB/CCT Act under which Saraki was charged.
He also rejected the entire evidence of the prosecution on the basis that the evidence of the third prosecution witness, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, the Head, Intelligence Unit of the CCB, was nothing but hearsay.
Agwaza specifically noted that Madojemu’s affidavit evidence, which formed the foundation of the charges filed, was based on hearsay evidence.
Agwaza noted that Madojemu was CCB’s Chief Investigator, adding that the witness’ hearsay evidence was, therefore, an affliction which rendered the entire evidence of the prosecution invalid.
He said, “The formulation of the 18 counts against the defendant is predicated on the affidavit of PW3, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, who is the Chief Investigator at the Code of Conduct Bureau. The affidavit was filed as part of proof of evidence in support of the prosecution’s case.
“Affidavit-evidence is evidence nonetheless. By his testimony, PW3 said, and I quote, ‘details of the outcome of the investigation as highlighted in the affidavit by me were part of information given to me members of the team’.
“I find and hold that this apposite testimony is an affliction and epidemic that bedevilled the entire prosecution’s case and that particular evidence has rendered the who evidence of the prosecution invalid.
“It connotes that PW3 had no first-hand knowledge of all he said and the documents tendered. This is hearsay evidence and violates sections 37, 38 and 126 of the Evidence Act 2011.
“The affidavit evidence of PW3 is manifestly inadmissible in law and, so I hold.”
On the alleged illegality of team that conducted the investigation of the case against Saraki , Agwaza ruled, “The term team so constituted is unknown in law and never contemplated by the CCB/CCT Act under which the defendant is being tried.
“The said team is made up the CCB, DSS and EFCC. This team has no constitutional backing or statutory backing.”
He said the combined effect of the illegality of the investigative team and the inadmissible evidence of the prosecution was that “the charge is incurably defective” and amounted to a miscarriage of justice suffered by the defendant.
He added, “Hearsay evidence according to a plethora of judicial authorities is not admissible for the purposes of establishing criminal liability. See the case of Buhari Vs Obasanjo (2005) All NWLR Pt 273 pg1.
“It is trite law that the evidence required to establish a crime is the evidence of witness, who saw or had or took part in the transaction upon which he is giving evidence.”
He also described as a fatal error on the part of the prosecution, its failure to obtain the statement of the defendant and include it in the proof of evidence filed before the tribunal.
Agwaza said, “Another fatal error is that the prosecution did not obtain the statement of the defendant to make it part of its proof of evidence in this case.
“Indeed the response to a petition is the foundation of defence. This is perhaps the only initial document that will now show or establish fairness in the process.”
He added that the statement made by the defendant to the EFCC was admitted as Exhibit 45 through oral evidence that had been ruled to be inadmissible.
“Failure to have, keep and make it part of proof of evidence is fatal. Even Exhibit 45 was tendered and admitted in evidence without admissible oral evidence by a person who can explain the purport makes it bereft of probative value,” the tribunal member ruled.
He also noted that the prosecution also chose to tender the Certified True Copies of the Asset Declaration Forms of Saraki instead of the original copies which were available in the prosecution’s custody.
He stated that the failure of the prosecution to tender the original copies of the documents marked Exhibits 1 to 6, 26 and 46, was detrimental to the case of the prosecution” as “the original copy of a document is superior”.
He also agreed with the defence that prosecution failed to call some vital witnesses, a development which he said was detrimental to the case.
The tribunal member said, “For example, if you say the defendant was collecting salaries from the Kwara State Government and at the same time from the Senate, why was the Accountant-General of Kwara State not summoned to come and testify?
“The witnesses would have helped the tribunal tremendously in casting much light on the alleged offences.
“The failure has led to the failure of providing evidence linking the defendant to the commission of the offences with which he is charged.”
Agwaza maintained that going by section 36(5) of the Constitution, a defendant was presumed innocent and that the said defendant was not expected to prove his or her innocence.
He added that the prosecution having failed to link the Senate President to the offences charged, there was no reason to call on the defendant to enter his defence.
Agwaza said, “The burden of proof is not upon the defendant to prove his innocent. It will be fundamentally erroneous for this tribunal to call upon the defendant to prove his innocence.
“On this account, the prosecution had failed to link the defendant to the commission of the offences as charged.”
He added, “Based on this analysis, it is my humble contention that the defendant has no case whatsoever to answer and he is accordingly discharged and acquitted.”
Earlier, the tribunal chairman specifically noted that the third prosecution witness, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, who is Head, Intelligence Unit of the CCB, only gave hearsay evidence on the information the witness purportedly received from the EFCC.
Umar also noted that the evidence of the first prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Wetkas, an operative of the EFCC, was unreliable.
Concerning the evidence of second prosecution witness, Mr. Amazi Nwachuckwu , Head of Funds Transfer Unit of the Guaranty Trust Bank, Umar noted that witness had testified that documents relating to alleged foreign transfers by Saraki had been consumed in a fire incident so there was nothing to prove the charges that were based on the documents.
The tribunal chairman also noted none of the four witnesses, including Mr. Bayo Dauda, an official of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Ilorin branch in Kwara State, who testified as the fourth witness, gave evidence that could prove any of the ingredients of the alleged offences.