Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The Code of Conduct Tribunal has shifted the commencement of the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on 13 counts of false assets declaration from March 10 to March 11.
The Danladi Umar-led CCT had after the judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on February 5, validating the trial of the Senate President and the charges preferred against him, fixed March 10 for the prosecution to open its case.
But the Head, Press and Public Relations of the CCT, Mr. Ibraheem Al-hassan, said in a
statement on Tuesday that the date of the trial had been re-scheduled to March 11 following a request by Saraki’s new lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN).
According to Al-hassan, Agabi pleaded with the CCT to shift the trial date by one day on the grounds that he other urgent matters to attend to in other courts on March 10.
The CCT spokesperson said Agabi conveyed his request to the CCT in a letter dated February 26, 2016.
He quoted Agabi’s letter as stating, ‘‘I write as lead counsel to the above defendant to apply that the matter which is now scheduled to come up on the 10th day of March 2016, subject to the convenience of the Honourable Tribunal and learned counsel for the prosecution, be taken on the 11th day of March, 2016, due to my earlier and urgent commitments in other courts on the 10th.
“I will sincerely appreciate the indulgence of the Tribunal to accommodate me in this way’’.
Al-hassan said Agabi ended his letter “by apologising for the inconvenience caused to the honourable tribunal and other learned counsel.”
Agabi might have taken over from a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), as the lead counsel, after the judgment of the Supreme Court was delivered on February 5.
Daudu had led a retinue of Senior Advocates of Nigeria and other junior lawyers to argue the objection of the Senate President’s trial right from the tribunal up to the Supreme Court level.
A seven-man panel of the apex court presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, unanimously ruled in its judgment on February 5 that Saraki’s appeal against the jurisdiction of the CCT and the competence of the charges, lacked merit.
Justice Walter Onnoghen, who delivered the lead judgment, dismissed all Saraki’s seven grounds of appeal, affirming that the charges instituted against him were valid and that the tribunal was validly constituted with requisite jurisdiction to try him.
The CJN and other members of the full panel of the apex court, comprising Justices Tanko Muhammad, Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Chima Nweze and Amiru Sanusi, also consented to the judgment.
The judgment of the Supreme Court terminated an earlier order of the a panel of apex court presided over by now retired Justice John Fabiyi, which had on November 12, 2015, stayed proceedings in the trial of the Senate President.
In the 13 counts initiated by the Federal Government, Saraki was said to have made false assets declaration in his forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau as a two-term Covernor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
The Senate President, who was said to have submitted four assets declaration forms which were allegedly investigated by the CCB, was found to have “corruptly acquired many properties while in office as Governor of Kwara State but failed to declare some of them in the said forms earlier filled and submitted”.
He also allegedly made an anticipatory declaration of assets upon his assumption of office as governor, which he later acquired.
He is also accused of sending money abroad for the purchase of property in streak of property in London and that he maintained an account outside Nigeria while serving as governor.
Saraki initially refused to appear before the tribunal prompting it (the CCT) to issue a bench warrant against him.
Saraki failed in his bid to get the Danladi Umar-led tribunal to quash the 13 counts, after he was arraigned on September 22, 2015.
He appealed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division against the decision of the CCT to continue the trial.
But, by a two-to-one split decision of its three-man bench led by Justice Moore Admein, the Court of Appeal dismissed the Senate President’s appeal.
Saraki, in his further appeal to the Supreme Court, asked the apex court to quash the charges filed against him on among his seven grounds of appeal, that the CCT lacked jurisdiction to try him as it was constituted by two instead of three members.
The apex court upheld the argument by the Federal Government’s lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) and held that contrary to Saraki’s contention, the Danladi Umar-led CCT was validly constituted by two members.
He held that while the Constitution under Paragraph 15(1) of the 5th Schedule provides that the CCT must be composed by the Chairman and two members, the law was silent on the quorum of the tribunal that could validly conduct its proceedings.