This Tuesday, PREMIUM TIMES is bringing you live updates as hearing resumes in the landmark case of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal headquarters in Abuja.
Today’s proceeding was expected to commence at 10:00 a.m., but the tribunal chairman has not arrived.
Mr. Saraki arrived at exactly 10:00 a.m. with his aides and supporters, who include his colleagues from the National Assembly. The courtroom is already filled with mostly lawyers for both prosecution and defence teams, as well as reporters.
What you need to know:
The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is a pioneer anti-corruption agency set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria. It has the primary responsibility of checking corrupt practices in the Nigerian Public service. (Source: ccb.gov.ng)
The tribunal is the judicial panel of CCB that prosecutes cases of false and anticipatory assets declaration. Some individuals go into public office with intention to steal. They falsely declare assets or declare some assets in anticipation of their loot. The fact that declaration of assets is a process that is shrouded in secrecy makes it easy for politicians and civil servants to falsely declare their possessions.
On Friday, September 11, 2015, the tribunal slammed a 13-count charge of alleged false and anticipatory assets declaration on Mr. Saraki. He initially ignored the charges. He argued that the charges were politically-motivated and the process by which they were filed were also flawed.
“The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act clearly state that any prosecution must be authorized by the Attorney General of the Federation,” Mr. Saraki said on September 16, 2015. “Given that the nation last had an Attorney General in May 2015, it is clear that the CCB is acting under outside political influence.”
Don’t forget that Mr. Saraki emerged President of the Senate under controversial circumstances, a result that has continued to define his tenure.
Mr. Saraki also approached the federal high courts to have his trial quashed.
But the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, remained steadfast, undistracted. After Mr. Saraki failed to appear twice before the tribunal, Mr. Umar issued a warrant of arrest against him. Finally on September 22, 2015, Mr. Saraki showed up at the tribunal with an estimated 80 senators.
After a brief argument, he was docked. The picture went viral.
The cases at the high courts dragged to the Supreme Court which ruled in February that Mr. Saraki must stand trial. Succumbing to fate, Mr. Saraki said he was “happy that the trial has commenced.”
The status of the trial:
Two weeks ago, while prosecutors were still presenting exhibits against Mr. Saraki, the Senate President’s legal team introduced an application to disqualify the tribunal chairman, Mr. Umar.
Ajibola Oluyede, one of Mr. Saraki’s counsels, said Mr. Umar lacked the moral standing to hear the case due to conflict of interest. Mr. Oluyede said Mr. Umar is currently being prosecuted by the EFCC for seeking a ₦10 million bribe from an accused, saying the chairman cannot be handling a case in which EFCC has interest when the agency has a case against him.
“The EFCC is dangling a sword of Damocles on your lordship’s head,” Mr. Oluyede said.
The next day, Mr. Umar struck out the application, saying he’d already been cleared of any wrongdoing by the anti-graft body.
The prosecution team, led by Rotimi Jacobs, is still presenting its case against Mr. Saraki. The tribunal has heard several allegations of financial misconduct on the part of Mr. Saraki, including how the top lawmaker allegedly falsely declared his assets and laundered money through aides.
Cross examination of prosecuting witnesses continue today.
Keep refreshing your page for instant updates as the case proceeds in what is clearly one of the biggest trials since the treasonable felony proceeding against late Obafemi Awolowo in 1962.
Update 1: The tribunal chairman has now arrived. The prosecution and defence counsels have all been introduced. Cross-examination has commenced.
Update 2: Prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, says whoever the defence team chooses to cross-examine the prosecution witness must conclude the process, saying exchange of lawyers will confuse both the witness and the court.
Update 3: Paul Ilokoro, a defence counsel, argues that there is no law that backs Mr. Jacobs’ request. He said the prosecution team tendered a huge amount of exhibits against his counsel, Mr. Saraki.
“We will take out time to analyse these documents,” he said. “We will not be rushed. We will not be stampeded.”
Mr. Usoro says the law stipulates that witnesses should be cross examined by lawyers, not that it must be the lead counsel.
Mr. Usoro also said Mr. Jacobs knows the law but deliberately tried to be mischievous.
Mr. Jacobs replied: “I know the law, I know the law, but…”
At 11: 06, the other member of the bench, William Atedze, drew Mr. Jacob’s attention to the fact that Section 349 (7) of Administration of Criminal Justice Act did not say that the representative of a defence counsel doing the cross-examination must be the lead counsel.
The two teams are still sparring over how many lawyers should cross examine a witness.
Mr. Usoro says the question is more about if the defendant has the right to choose who should represent and cross-examine witnesses on his behalf.
11:21: The two lawyers have rested their arguments and Mr. Umar is now trying to decide if Mr. Usoro should be allowed to take over the cross examination of prosecution witness, Michael Wetkas, or if Paul Ilokoro, who was earlier called upon to do so, should be the one to continue.
Ruling expected shortly.
11:29: Relying on relevant sections of the Constitution, Mr. Umar rules that the defence has the right to defend himself in the manner he wishes and should be given the right to carefully present his case.
“The tribunal is bound to give the defendant all the opportunities he needs to defend himself,” Mr. Umar ruled.
11:39: Cross examination proper has now continued after the tribunal chairman ruled in Mr. Saraki’s favour.
Prosecution witness, Mr. Wetkas, is now being grilled by Mr. Ilokoro, defence counsel.
11:52: Mr. Ilokoro asked Mr. Wetkas if he had ever seen the original copy of the exhibits he presented before the tribunal.
Mr. Wetkas answers that the documents were with the CCB and that he was only furnished with other copies.
When the CCT chairman asked if he had ever seen the the original, he replied: “I now say I have seen the original”.
Mr. Wetkas led the EFCC team of investigators who worked on Mr. Saraki’s assets declaration forms.
11:53: Asked if he ever found out during the course of his investigation whether the exhibits had only one original or several original copies, Mr. Wetkas said all documents should have one original copy unless there are other issues involved.
12:26: The defence counsel raises a claim made by the prosecution witness that Mr. Saraki had ₦1.5 billion in his account shortly before he became Kwara governor in 2003. The defence counsel gives him a calculator and begins to walk him through the figures summed up in Appendix 7A of Exhibit 1.
Few minutes into the calculation, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Jacobs, raises an objection that the witness does not need to calculate the figures he presented.
The defence counsel, Mr. Ilokoro, responds: “My lord, as you can see, the documents were dumped for the press in order to scandalise my client. It is obvious they have no coherent figures to prove false assets declaration.”
The chairman of the tribunal asks Mr. Ilokoro to proceed on his cross-examination.
12:32: Mr. Wetkas said the stamp was used to confirm the completion of assets verification documents after their investigation did not carry a date.
“The stamp has no date,” he said.
Mr. Illokoro then turned to the court and said, “You heard him, the stamp has no date”.
13:35: Asked by the defence counsel if he ever visited 15 McDonald Street, one of the properties said to have been falsely declared by Mr. Saraki, Mr. Wetkas said he did not go, but that he sent one of his team members.
In a follow-up question, Mr. Ilokoro asked if Mr. Wetkas could confirm if the CCB visited the address for verification to which Mr. Wetkas answered: “I have no evidence”.
“Did you say you have no evidence to prove that the CCB visited the address for inspection?” Mr. Wetkas answered: “I have no evidence”.
The chairman of the tribunal, Mr. Umar, said that was not what the witness meant and repeated the question to him again. Mr. Ilokoro said the chairman should not speak for the witness, especially since he had already given his answer twice.
The defence counsel then asked if Mr. Wetkas considered it necessary that the assets should be properly examined by the CCB.
Again, it was Mr. Jacobs who stood up again to object, arguing that the questions were merely hypothetical ones and they had no place in the courtroom.
Mr. Iloroko then said it was his right as a defence counsel to ask all questions he considered relevant.
“I can ask question to test his intelligence. I can ask question to test how he reasons. I can ask question to test if he is truthful. I can ask question to test who he is,” he said. “If Mr. Jacobs goes to law school to study cross examination then maybe I can listen to him. But right now, he cannot teach me anything here.”
13:36: After Mr. Wetkas said he did not have the letter that confirmed allocation of McDonald Street property to Mr. Saraki from the federal government, Mr. Iloroko said, “We will demonstrate to you that there’s a sinister motive behind your failure to provide the letter in the court today”.
Then Mr. Wetkas interjected, saying he was not the one keeping the letter.
Then Mr. Ilokoro said “we will demonstrate to you or whoever is prosecuting this case today that there’s a reason why the letter is not being made available to the court”.
The co-chairman of the tribunal then weighed in, telling the witness to “Do your best, life must continue. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t think they’re trying to box you into a corner, that’s the way they operate”.
13:36: And the bell rings for a 15 minutes break. See you in a jiffy.
13:39: The chairman says he is adjourning in 30 minutes to “allow those who have diabetes to take care of themselves”.
Of course, laughter erupts and reverberates across the courtroom .
14:18: Break over.
Cross-examination continues between star prosecution witness, Michael Wetkas, and defence counsel, Paul Ilokoro, with frequent interjection by the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar.
14:20: Defence: Do you have any letter from any government agency concerning false assets declaration by Mr. Saraki before he became Senate President?
Mr. Wetkas, “there’s no such letter.”
15.52: Defence counsel: Do you know that the assets declaration form you said my client signed as contained in Exhibit 1 of your investigation documents was tampered with?
Witness: The document was filled on September 16, 2003. I believe the CCB is a responsible organisation and they couldn’t have tampered with the form either.
15.53: The defence team’s request for the tribunal to adjourn till tomorrow, Wednesday, has been granted by the chairman.
The tribunal will resume at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow for continuation of cross-examination of prosecution star witness, Michael Wetkas.
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