Bukola Saraki: Why Amend the Code of Conduct Bureau Act?
The current trial of the Senate President, Olubukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over assets declaration has attracted attention and controversies from among Nigerians, not necessarily because the senate president is on trial but because many see the trial as one of the many steps which the ruling party on whose platform Saraki became a senator has set up to destroy a man who chose to pursue his legitimate political ambition but against APC’s anointed candidate.
The All Progressives Congress is so determined to see to the removal of Saraki as senate president despite being a party member that the party’s chairman, John Odigie Oyegun recently declared that the party was ready to sacrifice the senate president’s position and concede same to the opposition party, PDP, despite the PDP not being the majority party in the senate.
Such declarations from party stalwarts is a pointer to the reason why the Code of Conduct Tribunal Chairman, Danladi Umar, has carried on the business of the tribunal as it concerns Saraki with inexplicable rashness, brashness and judicial brutality. His pronouncements and mannerisms at the trial seems to betray the fact that he is acting out a script to which end is a pre-planned conviction of Saraki.
He assumes duties and responsibilities reserved only for our regular courts and would not listen to sound judicial advice from judges, justices and senior lawyers on the limits of his powers and responsibilities.
For example, at the inaugural Constitutional Law Conference of the Ben Nwabueze Centre in Lagos which held in March, several legal luminaries had picked holes in the procedures adopted at the CCT by Umar saying the procedures were in circumvention of the 1999 constitution. Among those who hold this view as reported in the Vanguard newspaper of March 25, which is also in tandem with the public perception of the trial, are former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Salisu Alfa Belgore; Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN; former Supreme Court Justice, Justice Samson Uwaifo; Justice George Oguntade; Justice Nnoruka Udechukwu; Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN; Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN and Chief Solomon Asemota, SAN, among others.
In fact, to further drive home the point, Justice Samson Uwaifo, while delivering a paper on that occasion and citing several relevant authorities, had put it so succinctly that the Code of Conduct Tribunal was not right in refusing to grant Saraki’s application for stay of proceedings. He further stated that the presence or bias or likelihood of it and lack of impartiality on the part of the CCT chairman could vitiate the proceedings of the tribunal. Citing Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, the erudite justice said “the Code of Conduct Tribubal cannot come into focus under criminal justice administration, not being a court in any sense. It follows as well that the tribunal could not rely on the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to refuse to grant stay of proceedings.” Yet, it is the same ACJA that Danladi Umar relied on to order a daily hearing of the Saraki matter. An unfortunate descent of our judicial process to a sarcastic level!
Also, Justice Nnoruka had stated during the conference that the CCT is not a court and can therefore not enjoy the status of a court as provided for in the constitution. He said the CCT does not have any judicial power, so any judicial activity it undertakes is null and void. Adding his voice to it, Emeka Ngige (SAN) on his own part said the National Judicial Council should have called Danladi Umar to order once he started going beyond his bounds as he is not a judge.
The very fact that Umar himself admitted that the Tribunal acted in error in its decision that favoured Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and a chieftain of the ruling APC, in the FRN vs Tinubu matter, is an eloquent admission of inconsistency arising from weaknesses in the Act setting up the Tribunal. How can the same tribunal free one man and is bent on condemning another one in similar matters if not that vested interests are taking advantage of the loopholes in the Act to get at their perceived political opponents.
It was Tinubu yesterday, it is Saraki today, it can be anybody tomorrow.
Nobody is saying Saraki should not face trial but the trial must be conducted in an atmosphere free from bias and politics, devoid of bitter and cantankerous outburst disguised as legal fireworks and must be within the framework of the law so that when justice is done either way, all parties would be satisfied that justice was indeed done.
The very fact that Umar Danladi is himself having an issue of bribery allegation hanging around his neck is enough for him to act honourably by disqualifying himself from continuing with Saraki’s trial. Those who are amending the Bill should not forget to add this aspect to the bill lest a convict who is ready to do the biddings of the paymasters is brought from prison to sit over the trial of a suspect tomorrow.
As for those who are criticizing the senate for choosing to amend the CCT Act now some 11 years after it was amended, they would also be fair enough to ask why put a man on trial for an offence allegedly committed 13 years ago even before the CCT Act was amended?
From the foregoing, it is very clear that the CCT/CCB Act needs urgent amendments to make it impartial, free from the hamstrings of the presidency and make it more effective in the discharge of its duties and responsibilities. Until this is done, the CCT/CCB might seem to remain an easily available tool in the hands of powerful government and party officials who could use the tribunal as a retributive agency against those whose faces they do not want to see or whose views they cannot accommodate. The earlier this bill is amended by the senate, the saner our political clime becomes!
It is not about Saraki, it is about justice, fairness and equity: principles that advance democracy all over the world. Nigeria cannot afford to remain behind.
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