By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The propriety of the 13-count criminal charge against the Senate President, Dr. Olubukola Saraki has created a sharp division among Appeal Court Justices.
Justice Ekanem specifically quashed the charge and discharged Saraki on the basis that the Deputy Director at the Ministry of Justice, M. M. S. Hassan who signed the charge, did not specify who authorised him to initiate the criminal proceeding.Whereas Justice Moore Adumein dismissed the appeal that was lodged by Saraki as lacking in merit, another member of the panel, Justice J.E. Ekanem upheld the appeal, declaring the charge before the CCT as incompetent.
“A look at the charge showed that Mr. Hassan instituted the action pursuant to section 24 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, 2004 which permits only the Attorney General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings”.
Justice Ekanem stressed that though the constitution permits the Solicitor-General of the Federation, SGF, to commence criminal action in the absence of the AGF, he said that Hassan failed to produce any document showing that he was properly authorised by the SGF.
“The opening paragraph of the letter Hassan sent to the CCT on September 11, wherein he applied to commence trial against the appellant is very instructive.
“He merely said ‘ I am authorised to file this action’ but did not say that he was authorised by the Solicitor-General. He went short of identifying who authorised him.
“It is therefore my view that the charge before the tribunal is incompetent. It is for this view that I hold that this appeal has succeeded and I hereby set-aside the charge and discharge the accused person”, Justice Ekanem held.
However, the third member of the panel , Justice M. Mustapha, concurred with the lead verdict which declined to quash the charge against Saraki.
Earlier, leader of the panel, Justice Adumein dismissed Saraki’s appeal, saying he should go to the tribunal to answer the charge against him.
He held that Justice Danladi Umar-led tribunal was properly constituted to try the offences against Saraki, noting that he was not charged in his official capacity, but as an individual.
Justice Adumein placed reliance on paragraph 15(1) of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution and section 20(2) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, 2004, and held that the two-man panel of Justices at the tribunal formed a quorum to entertain the charge.
“The above provisions are very clear and unambiguous and should be given their ordinary meaning. This is in line with the golden rule of interpretation. There is no provision on minimum number of members which the tribunal must have before it can sit to hear cases”.
Justice Adumein held that the charge was competently instituted, saying the tribunal had the requisite powers to issue bench warrant against Saraki.
He dismissed all five grounds of appeal that Saraki filed before the court for want of merit.
Saraki had gone before the appellate court to query the legality of the charge against him.
He was among other offences, alleged to have owned and operated foreign bank accounts while being a public officer.
However, aside challenging the charge, Saraki also queried the constitutionality of the warrant of arrest that was initially issued against him by Chairman of the CCT, Justice Umar.
Besides, the embattled Senate President, through his team of lawyers led by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. J.B. Daudu, SAN, wants the higher court to ascertain whether the Justice Umar-led panel subscribed to the appropriate legal procedure when it ordered him to mount the dock and enter his plea to the charge despite preliminary objections against his trial.
He described the criminal proceeding that was initiated against him by the Federal Ministry of Justice as “a politically motivated witch-hunt”.
He begged the appellate court to quash the proceeding of the tribunal and discharge him, a request that was refused by two members of the appeal court panel today.
More details soon.