Yesterday Senate President, Bukola Saraki, lost his bid to stop his trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). The Court of Appeal in Abuja dismissed the Senate President’s appeal challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction over his trial. He is standing trial on a 13-count charge of false asset declaration before the CCT).
In a split decision of two-to-one, the appellate court held yesterday that Saraki’s appeal lacked merit. Justices Moore Adumein (presiding) and Mohammed Mustapha resolved the six issues raised in the appeal in favour of the respondents while Justice Joseph Ekanem dissented on the issue of whether an official of the Federal Ministry of Justice was competent to endorse a charge in the absence of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
While Justices Adumein (who read the lead judgment) and Mustapha dismissed the appeal, Justice Ekanem, in his dissenting judgment, upheld the appeal and quashed the Senate President’s trial before the CCT.
Since, by the tradition of the court, the majority decision forms its judgment, it implies that the position held by Justices Adumein and Mustapha forms the court’s judgment in Saraki’s appeal.
By the appellate court’s decision yesterday, Saraki’s trial will now proceed before the CCT on the next adjourned date of November 5.
The CCT had delayed proceedings to await the outcome of Saraki’s appeal.
Saraki had contended in his appeal that the charge against him was not personally served on him; that the tribunal was not validly constituted because two of its three members currently sit; and that the absence of a substantive Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) had rendered the charges incompetent.
He also argued that the CCT lacked criminal jurisdiction, was not a court recognised by the Constitution, and that it lacked the coercive power to order anybody’s arrest.
Justice Adumein, in the lead judgment, rejected all the arguments advanced by Saraki, including his contention that the CCT, being an inferior body to the Federal High Court, ought not to have proceeded with his trial despite an order by the court.
He held that Saraki’s complaint about not being personally served with the charge “was of no moment, having appeared and taken his plea before the tribunal.”
“On September 21, his counsel also appeared before the tribunal and made series of applications without raising the issue of non-service,” Justice Adumein said.
On whether two of the three members of CCT could form a quorum, Justice Adumein, though noted that there was a “lacuna” in the laws, held that “the Interpretation Act has becomes a helpful piece of legislation” by providing that a member of the tribunal and its Chairman could validly sit and conduct proceedings.
Justice Adumein upheld the argument by respondents’ lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), to the effect that by the provision of Section 28 of the Interpretation Act, two members of the tribunal (including the Chairman) could form a quorum to validly conduct its proceedings
He also held that by the provisions of Section 174(1) and (2) of the Constitution, where there is no substantive AGF, any law officer in the office of the AGF could validly file charges.
“M.S Hassan, a Deputy Director in the department of the AGF is eminently qualified to initiate criminal proceedings.
“The Solicitor-General of the Federation, in the absence of the AGF, may perform any of the duties and shall have the same powers as are imposed by law on the AGF,” the judge said.
On the issue of the tribunal not being a court, Justice Adumein held that “there is no inherent difference between the tribunal and the court.”
He noted that “the terminologies and phrases used in the CCT Act, such as “arraignment”, “arrest”, “taking plea”, “guilty” and “conviction” are associated with criminal proceedings.
“The Code of Conduct Tribunal is a criminal court, albeit with limited jurisdiction,” he held.
“Having resolved all the issues against the appellant, I hold that the appeal lacks merit and it is hereby dismissed,” Justice Adumein said.
Justice Ekanem, who dissented on a single issue, held that the absence of Attorney-General of the Federation had made the charge to become defective.
He was of the view that the failure by M. S. Hassan (who endorsed the charge) to indicate who authorised him to file the charge in his letter to the tribunal seeking leave to file the case, rendered the charge incompetent.
Saraki’s lawyer, Mahmud Magaji (SAN), who spoke with journalists after the court had rendered its judgment, said: “We will be testing the veracity of the Court of Appeal’s judgment at the Supreme Court.”
Jacobs, who also reacted to the judgment, said the coast was now clear for the CCT to proceed with the case before it.
He said since there is no pending order staying its proceedings, and that since under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 appeal cannot act stay, the proceedings before the CCT would not be affected should Saraki appeal to the Supreme Court.