The Court of Appeal in Abuja yesterday upheld the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), which had discharged and acquitted the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on 15 of the 18 false asset declaration charges preferred against him by the federal government.
However, the appellate court referred him back to the tribunal to enter his defence on three charges, for which he had been discharged and acquitted by the CCT.
But his counsel, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) said the judgment would be swiftly studied, adding that the Supreme Court would be approached to adjudicate and reverse the Court of Appeal’s decision on the three charges.
Usoro’s statement was reaffirmed by another one issued by Saraki’s media adviser, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, who said that the Senate President’s lawyers would review the grounds of the decision on the three charges and take appropriate action, but maintained that the verdict on the 15 charges had vindicated Saraki.
Counsel to the federal government, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) also said that his team would study the judgment and decide on the next line of action.
The Appeal Court had upheld the ruling of the CCT on the remaining 15 counts on the grounds that the prosecution was not able to prove the charges against the Senate President.
A three-man panel of the court led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, in a judgment delivered yesterday on the appeal by the federal government against the ruling of the CCT, held that the prosecution established a prima facie case against the respondent in counts 4, 5 and 6.
Counts 4, 5 and 6 border on the purchase of two properties – Nos. 17 A and B, McDonald Street, Ikoyi, Lagos, by Saraki.
In view of this, the appellate court therefore remitted the case to the CCT for the Senate President to open his defence in the said charges.
Delivering its judgment on the federal government’s appeal of the ruling of the CCT, Justice Akomolafe-Wilson in the 70-page unanimous ruling held that there was no evidence to substantiate 15 of the 18 charges against Saraki.
According to the Court of Appeal, the prosecution established that there were discrepancies in the claims on the asset declaration forms on how the two houses in Ikoyi were acquired.
Consequently, the panel held that the Senate president needed to provide explanations on the discrepancies established by the prosecution that the properties he claimed were bought from the sale of rice and sugar in his asset declaration form were bought from loans acquired from a commercial bank.
The panel stated that it dismissed the 15 other charges against Saraki having concluded that the evidence adduced at the tribunal was based on hearsay that had no probate value.
The court further held that the information supplied in the report used to prepare the charges did not link Saraki with the charges as required by law.
According to the court, the 48 documents tendered by the federal government and admitted by the tribunal were not from the appropriate sources that were supposed to tender them before they could be admitted in line with provisions of the law.
But having established a prima facie case against Saraki in respect of counts 4, 5 and 6, which bordered on the properties at McDonald Street, the court said that the tribunal should conduct a trial so as to arrive at a just conclusion on the three charges instead of dismissing them at a no case submission stage.
“It is hereby ordered that counts 4, 5 and 6 be remitted to the Code of Conduct Tribunal,” the court held.
Justice Akomolafe-Wilson said the prosecution erroneously came to the conclusion that the burden of proof on the 15 charges rested on the respondent, whereas it is an established fact that the party that alleges must be the one to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
The court further faulted the federal government on the claim that Saraki collected salaries and emoluments from Kwara State government after he had left office as the executive governor of the state, adding that it was a big surprise that no single witness was invited from the state to prove the allegation.
Similarly, the court faulted the prosecution for failing to call the relevant witnesses to support its allegation that Saraki operated a foreign account while he was in office as governor of Kwara State.
The court said: “In conclusion, we find no merit in 15 out of the 18-count charge brought against the defendant by the complainant and we hereby uphold the decision of the tribunal delivered in June this year on the finding.
“On the remaining three, it is hereby ordered that counts 4, 5 and 6 be remitted to the tribunal for retrial to enable the defendant offer explanations where necessary.”
The federal government had on September 11, 2015, filed a 13-count charge on false asset declaration against Saraki and later amended the charges and increased them to 18.
During the trial, four witnesses were called and 48 documents were tendered by the federal government to establish the case of false asset declaration against Saraki.
However, at the close of the prosecution’s case, Saraki made a no case submission on the grounds that he was not linked directly to any of the charges and that the charges were based on hearsay.
The tribunal headed by Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar, in his ruling on the no case submission delivered on June 14, 2017, upheld Saraki’s claim that the charges were based on hearsay and discharged and acquitted him of the 18-count charge.
Not satisfied with the ruling, the federal government approached the appellate court to upturn the decision.
However, reacting to the court’s ruling yesterday, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, media aide to the Senate President, said the verdict had vindicated Saraki’s innocence by upholding the decision of the CCT that he had no case to answer on 15 of the 18 charges filed against him by the federal government.
According to Olaniyonu, “At least, today’s (yesterday’s) judgment has confirmed the position of the tribunal that the prosecution’s case was entirely based on hearsay, not on any concrete evidence.
“The verdict of the Court of Appeal, just like that of the tribunal before it, aligned with our position that the preposterous claims made during the trial by the prosecution concerning the operation of foreign accounts, making anticipatory declarations, collecting double salaries, owning assets beyond his income, and failure to declare assets owned by companies in which the Senate President owns interests, among others, have fallen like a pack of cards and lacked no basis.
“On the remaining three counts, which really touch on two issues, referred back to the tribunal for the Senate President’s defence, it should be noted that the appellate court only gave a summary of its decision today, promising to provide the parties with Certified True Copies of the judgment soon.
“As soon as it makes the details of the judgment available, our lawyers will review the grounds of the decision and take appropriate action.
“We remain convinced about the innocence of the Senate President on the three (or two) counts because we believe the decision of the Court of Appeal is not consistent with the submissions made by both parties at the tribunal. Thus, it is our view that that aspect of the judgment will not stand.
“The confidence and faith of Dr. Saraki in the nation’s judiciary and its ability to dispense justice to all manners of people remains unshaken.”