A last-minute effort by the leadership of the Senate to frustrate the scheduled arraignment of its presiding officers, Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, at a Federal Capital Territory High Court, failed on Wednesday during a closed session that lasted for about two hours.
The PUNCH learnt that the leadership had suggested the withdrawal of the case by the litigants, who are members of the Senate Unity Forum, a suggestion that the affected persons turned down on the grounds that the case was now being handled by the Federal Government.
Saraki, according to a Senator, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity because it was against the Senate convention to disclose issues discussed in the execute session, appealed to the litigants to withdraw the case in line with the recommendations of the peace committee.
The Senate Peace and Reconciliation Committee, led by Senator James Manager, had, in its report, recommended among others, the withdrawal of the suit, the recomposition of the committees and the disbandment of groups within the Senate.
One of our correspondents learnt that members of the SUF, who took the case to court, said the matter was now beyond them as the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had taken over the case.
The source added, “The senators, who went to court, were of the opinion that the case had attained another dimension because it was the Federal Government that is now prosecuting those who allegedly produced the fake document.”
A copy of the document obtained on Wednesday showed that the panel accused Saraki of unduly favouring some members in appointments to juicy committees.
The panel recommended the restructuring of the committees so that the aggrieved senators would be pacified.
I can’t face CCT, forgery trials together, Saraki tells court
Meanwhile, Saraki, has asked a High Court of the FCT, Jabi, Abuja, to quash the forgery charges instituted against him and other co-defendants.
He urged the court to, in the alternative, adjourn the case indefinitely.
Saraki, in the application, which his lawyer, Mr. Ahmed Raji (SAN), filed on Wednesday, said compelling him to face the fresh forgery charges alongside his ongoing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal would jeopardise his right to fair hearing.
The Senate President is currently being prosecuted before the CCT on 16 counts, including false and anticipatory asset declaration.
On June 10, the Federal Government preferred two counts of criminal conspiracy and forgery of the Standing Rules of the Senate, used for the leadership election of the presiding officers of the Senate in June, 2015, against him (Saraki), Ekweremadu and two others.
The two other co-accused persons are a former Clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, and his then deputy, Benedict Efeturi.
The Federal Government stated that the offence of criminal conspiracy was punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Act; and offence of forgery with “fraudulent intent” was punishable under Section 364 of the same law.
Justice Yusuf Halilu of the FCT High Court in Jabi, Abuja, in whose court the accused persons were charged, had, on Tuesday, ordered that the charges preferred against them be pasted to the notice board of the National Assembly.
The judge fixed Monday (June 27) for the arraignment of the four accused persons.
But in his fresh motion, Saraki challenged the competence of the charges, which he said disclosed no prima facie case against him.
He also contested the mode of service by pasting of the court summons alongside the charges to the notice board of the National Assembly on Tuesday.
He asked the court to set aside the service for being invalid.
He also sought as his alternative prayers, “An order of this Honourable Court suspending or adjourning sine die all the proceedings against the 3rd Defendant in the instant Charge No. CR/219/16 between FRN v. SALISU ABUBAKAR MAIKASUWA & 3 ORS., pending hearing and determination of the Charge against the 3rd Defendant at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja in Charge No. CCT/ABJ/01/15 between FRN v. DR. OLUBUKOLA ABUBAKAR SARAKI.”
Raji stated as grounds of the motion that, “No prima facie case has been disclosed against the 3rd Defendant (Saraki) in this charge.
“There is no link between the proof of evidence and the allegations made against the 3rd Defendant in the charge.
“The 3rd Defendant is currently standing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged offences under the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act in Charge No. CCT/ABJ/01/15 between FRN v. DR. OLUBUKOLA ABUBAKAR SARAKI.
“Accelerated hearing has been ordered for the prosecution of the said trial, in consequence of which the proceedings therein are being conducted on virtually day-to-day basis.
“The 3rd Defendant requires adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence.
“The prosecution of this charge concurrently with the other one being tried at the CCT will not only work great hardship against the 3rd Defendant, but will also deny him an opportunity to a fair trial.
“This honourable court has inherent judicial powers to grant all the relief sought above.”
An affidavit deposed to by a lawyer in Raji’s law firm, Mr. Dolapo Kehinde, and filed in support of the motion, stated that the forgery charges were preferred against Saraki in bad faith.
The affidavit stated that compelling the Senate President to face the fresh charges would distract him from giving full attention to his legislative functions in a time of economic emergency in the country when the cooperation of the three arms of government was most needed.
The affidavit read in part, “I know that sometime in September 2015, the said Charge in Exhibit ‘B’ was filed and served on the 3rd Defendant, and he is still standing trial in respect of same, particularly because the prosecution is yet to close its case.
“It is common knowledge that the legislative roles, administrative duties and national obligations of a Senate President can neither be underplayed nor undermined.
“It is also common knowledge that the country is currently wading through tough economic situations, while the national stability is at a precipice, thus, requiring constant need of immediate legislative interventions.
“I am aware that the Nigerian people have enough economic hardship at this time, requiring the full attention and cooperation of the three arms of government, instead of these attempts to distract and politicise governance; especially because the country is in a state of economic emergency such that what the National Assembly needs at this time are executive bills and proposals aimed at resolving the crises of unemployment, currency depreciation, inflation, crime, insecurity etc.
“I know that the charge in Exhibit ‘B1’ has consistently constituted a distraction, although the 3rd Defendant has dexterously managed the situation to the amazement of all and sundry.
“The preferment of the instant Charge is a precipitated decision made in bad faith, not only with an odious intention to scuttle legislative business at the Senate, but also a move to further throw the country into greater instability, such that distract senators from their oversight functions and accountable governance.
“I know that the concurrent prosecution of this Charge with the other one at the CCT will not only work great hardship against the 3rd Defendant, but will also deny him an opportunity of a fair trial.
“In the interest of justice and fair play/trial, it is imperative that proceedings in this suit are suspended or adjourned sine die, pending the determination of the proceedings/trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.”
Challenging the competence of the charges and the service further, the supporting affidavit added that no attempt to personally serve Saraki was made.
The affidavit stated, “No attempt was made by the Complainant to effect personal service of the Information/Charge on him.
“The oral application of complainant’s counsel to serve him by substituted means was made mala fide.
“This Honourable court has inherent judicial powers to grant all the relief sought above.
“It is in the interest of justice to grant this Application.”
The affidavit also stated that the petition written and sent to the Inspector-General of Police by the Unity Forum senators on June 30, 2015, did not mention his client’s name, adding that the document allegedly forged was also not included in the proof of evidence.
He said there was no proof of investigation of the case and that none of the proposed prosecution witnesses mentioned his name in their written statements.
The affidavit also read, “The said Petition does not mention the name of the 3rd Defendant or anybody at all suspected to have participated in the alleged forgery, but only implores the Police to cause an investigation to be conducted on the matter.
“The proof of evidence is not supported with either the Old Standing Rules or the allegedly forged Standing Rules.
“The Statements of the 1st & 2nd Defendants neither state that the purported Standing Rules was forged nor does it name the 3rd Defendant or any person at all as part of those who carried out the alleged forgery.
“Listed as witnesses to be called by the Prosecution are: Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi, Senator Ita Enang, Senator Solomon Ewuga, Dr. Ogozy Nma, Adem J, D.I.G Dan’ Azumi J. Dama, ACP David Igbodo, Senator Ahmed L. Lawan, Senator Abdullahi A. Gumel, Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, Senator Robert Borofice, Senator Abu Ibrahim, Senator Ojudu Babafemi.
“The aforementioned persons all volunteered statements to the Police, except D.I.G Dan’ Azumi J. Dama and ACP David Igbodo, who neither volunteered any statement nor presented any report of investigation.
“The statements of all the intended witnesses neither mentioned the 3rd Defendant nor any other name at all as participants in the alleged forgery.”
Forgery charges against Saraki, others in order –Falana
Also, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said on Wednesday that there was nothing wrong in preferring the fresh forgery charges against Saraki and other co-defendants.
Falana, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone, said the Senate also lacked the power to summon the AGF, Malami, over the case.
He stated that once charges had been filed, the only appropriate forum to challenge them was the court.
The SAN added, “Some people wrote petition to the police. The police have investigated the case and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions of the Federation issued advice and charges have been framed.
“If anybody has anything against the charges, you challenge them in court.
“The Senate said they have summoned the Attorney General of the Federation, to do what? To discuss the charges that have already been filed in court? Do they have the power to summon the AGF?
“Under the Senate rule, any matter in court cannot even be discussed on the floor of the Senate.”
He said the stance of the Senate on the case, which informed its decision to summon the AGF, was part of the growing wave of influential people in the country attempting to get immunity from criminal prosecution through all sort of means.
Falana also justified the freezing of the bank account of the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, saying the governor only enjoyed immunity from prosecution and not from investigation.
In a statement on Wednesday, Falana stated, “While not challenging the allegation by the EFCC that the sum of N1.3bn has been traced to his personal account, Mr. Fayose has attempted to hide under the immunity clause to shield himself from investigation.
“Contrary to the governor’s claim, he does not enjoy immunity from investigation with respect to his criminal involvement in treasonable conduct and corrupt practices.
“It is trite law that all the public officers protected by Section 308 of the Constitution can be investigated for corruption and other criminal offences.”