NEWS ANALYSIS- FG Vs SARAKI: The case, the issues and the politics within?



The decision of the Court of Appeal sitting in  Abuja   to  send the Senate President, Senator  Bukola  Saraki,  back  to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, to answer to three counts of false assets declaration, has set the stage for another round of high-wire politics in the polity.

Saraki and Umar

This observation is so fitting that even those who may consider it as questioning the judgment of a  court  of competent  jurisdiction, would not help but concur.

A  retrospection  on the history of the case and its effect on the polity in the  early  period of this administration, leaves no one in doubt that the stakes have been raised once again by the  court’s decision.

An evaluation of the grounds upon which the  court  said the Senate President has a case to  answer, perhaps, leaves more questions than  answers  regarding the latest situation.

A three-man panel led by Justice  Tinuade  Akomolafe- Wilson  gave the ruling last Tuesday, saying the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,EFCC, had done enough to  prove  the three  charges  it  referred back to the  CCT.

Interestingly,  the court agreed with the  CCT  that on 15 counts of the 18  charges  filed against Dr.  Bukola  Saraki,  it  was proved beyond reasonable doubt that the evidence were based on hearsay that lack probate value.

Notably,  it  averred like the  CCT,  that the information used in putting together  the  charges  against  S araki  by the Federal Government, did not connect  Saraki  with  the  charge s  as demanded by law.

It  further held that the Federal Government  erroneously  came to the conclusion that the  onus  to  prove  the 15  charges  was  on the defendant whereas  it  is established fact that the party that  alleges  must be the one to  prove  beyond reasonable doubt.

With these, the judgment seems to have literally punctured allegations of operating foreign account, collecting double salaries,  anticipatory   declaration, and failure to declare assets owned by companies in which he has shares.

The fact that the  aforementioned   allegations  formed  the fulcrum of all the claims against the Senate President, presents the argument   that their dismissal by the  court  could as well have served as an acquittal of the entire issue.

Specifically, the educated thinking in some quarters is that having identified the flaws of the federal government, the need by the  court  to have  saved three of the  counts may not have been particularly compelling.

Those, who argue in that regard point  at   counts  4,  5  and  6  which the Court of Appeal referred back to the  CCT  for  Saraki  to enter its defence, stating  that the  appellate court  probably, may have, in its invaluable wisdom, chosen to embark on a voyage of discovery.

In expounding the argument, the controversial House 17A and 17B, which  formed  the basis of  counts  4 and 5 is one and the same.

Count  5 which is on  non-declaration  of a loan which  formed  the source of funds for the  purchase  of the property cited in  counts  4 and 5, were also relevant.

Instructively, the  Court referred the  counts    back  for trial in the belief that the prosecution established discrepancies in the claims on the asset  declaration  forms  as to how the two houses located in  Ikoyi  were acquired.

The judge said the Senate President needs to  explain  the discrepancies that the properties he claimed to have bought with proceeds from sale of rice and sugar in his asset  declaration  form  were actually  bought  from  loans   acquired from a commercial bank.

However, information at the disposal of  Sunday  Vanguard  suggests that  the submission before the  CCT  that informed its decision was  that while in the 2007 Asset Declaration  form, the house was said to have been  bought  with a  loan  from the  GTB, the 2011  form  indicated that  it  was  bought  from proceeds of sales of rice, sugar and other commodities.

Indeed, it was learnt that  the house was purchased with a loan from the banks in 2006, but by 2011, the loan had been defrayed.

Since the loan had been repaid, it was assumed to be wrong to still say the source of the fund was through a loan.

Perhaps,  it  was on that note that the next form stated the source of the fund as the proceeds from sale of rice and other commodities from which the original  loan  was repaid,  Sunday  Vanguard gathered.

This paper  recalls that  the aforesaid submission was  made at the  CCT  during the cross examination of the witness from  GTBank, who testified for the prosecution.     And that informed the decision of the Tribunal to agree with the  no  case submission of the defence regarding counts 4,  5  and  6.

In the light of the salient issues, confusion may set in at the  CCT  that  had, having delivered a no case judgment before.

The question in this regard is:  Is the appellate court not  putting  the judges in a quagmire?

Another  pertinent  puzzle is:  Will the judges now reverse themselves after giving sound reasoning as to why the case of the prosecution lacked merit?

A senior lawyer, who pleaded anonymity because of what he called political undertone, told  Sunday  Vanguard thus:  “It is believed that the two  CCT  judges have  given  their decision based on the evaluation of the evidence and submissions before them.  Any attempt to  re-open  the case before the two men will put them in a  difficult  situation.”

He  also argued that the present position of the  Saraki  case gives  the Senate President two options:  Either to go to the Supreme Court or step down to subject himself to another round of  retrial  at the  CCT.

Beyond the legal aspects of this matter which have put the judiciary  on the spot  once again, the timing of the judgement is believed to have  corroborated  notions that the case may begin to suffer the burden of the weight of politicisation.

This is made more real given the current political permutations in which  Saraki  is regarded as one of the men, who wield the influence to  define  2019 polls.

Perhaps, it was on that  strength  that the powers that be  do  not  want  the  case  to be dispensed with before the 2019 polls.

It is already being argued in some political quarters that the  case  may be used to tame  Saraki’s  political   tentacles especially his  rumoured  presidential   ambition and likely defection.

Knowing how high-profile  cases  are used as tools for  political  bargaining in Nigeria,  the projection  could  be   that  for as long as the asset declaration  case  remains,  Sara ki  can  continue to be put under check and close control.

Whichever of the calculations is at  play, many  believe it is not right to drag the judiciary into a  political  battle.

Saraki  is likely heading to the Supreme Court,  Prosecution Counsel,  Rotimi  Jacobs,  has also hinted that he would cross appeal.

The likely scenario would present an interesting legal firework at the apex court or at the Tribunal.

In all, the case may end up as a  standard work that is cited as an illustration in Nigeria’s history especially on legal matters.

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