Saraki trial: Eminent lawyers, former justices of Supreme Court want Umar to withdraw
Eminent lawyers many with impeachable track records have faulted the Supreme Court judgement of February 5, 2016 giving the Code of Conduct Tribunal jurisdiction in the ongoing trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki over alleged false assets declaration.
These lawyers who include former justices of the Supreme Court also advised Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, Mr. Danladi Umar, to withdraw from presiding in the trial to ensure fairness in the matter.
These luminaries of the opinion that the CCT is not a court of law under our Constitution and cannot be invested with criminal or quasi-criminal jurisdiction.
The position of these lawyers was contained in a communiqué of a conference with the theme 'The Code of Conduct enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria and its crucial Importance in the fight against Corruption' held in Lagos on March 24 by the Ben Nwabueze Centre, which was released on Friday
Those whose views were represented in the communique include Justice Salisu Alfa Modibo Belgore (former Chief Justice of Nigeria; Justice George Oguntade (CFR), former Justice of the Supreme Court; Justice Samson Odemwingie Uaifo, former Justice of the Supreme Court; Prof. Ben Nwabueze, SAN; Chief Nnoruka Udechukwu SAN; Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN; and Mr Olalekan Ojo among others.
At Saraki’s trial by the CCT on Thursday, Umar refused to hear the motion filed by Saraki's counsel on the CCT chairman asking him to disqualify himself over-alleged bias.
Umar dismissed the application, saying “that motion as far as the tribunal is concerned is of no consequence; not worthy to be entertained and is hereby thrown away.”
However, these lawyers whose opinions cannot be easily trivialized, asked Umar to withdraw on account of the graft allegations against him and the way he has handled the trial so far.
According to the communique, “It is not reasonably to be supposed or be expected that Mr. Danladi Umar can be impartial or unbiased in adjudicating the case between the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) against Saraki. There can be no greater mockery of the whole notion of impartiality in any adjudicatory system than that Umar, with the threat of prosecution and removal from office for alleged corruption by the FRN hanging over his head, should have been allowed to adjudicate as presiding judge in the circumstances of this case.
“Bias on the part of Umar seems to be clearly manifest in all the circumstances surrounding the case. The manner in which the trial was being conducted by Umar manifests also a certain over-zealousness that suggests at least a real likelihood of bias on the part of Umar against Saraki or a lack of impartiality,” they said.
On the Supreme Court position on the matter, they acknowledged the “unchallengeability of the judgement of the Supreme Court”.
But the lawyers said that in the Saraki case delivered on February 5, 2016, t “the Supreme Court decision on the issue of the jurisdiction of the CCT is inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
The Supreme Court was wrong in holding that the Constitution itself invests the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) with a quasi-criminal jurisdiction. The Code is, in its essential character, merely a body of rules designed to regulate the civil, not criminal, behaviour of public officers, much in the fashion of the Civil Service Rules. ”
The CCT, not being so listed under Section 6(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) as a Court, has no power or jurisdiction, derived from the Constitution, to try, convict and impose punishment on persons for a criminal offence; the decision of the Supreme Court attributing such jurisdiction to it, as jurisdiction derived from the Constitution, is null and void under sections 1(3), 6 and 36 (13) of the Constitution; also any law made by the National Assembly that confers such jurisdiction on the CCT is null and void.
The Supreme Court decision on the issue of the jurisdiction of the CCT has no basis in a law validly made by the National Assembly.” They continued: ”The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act is glaringly unconstitutional and void because it duplicates relevant provisions of the Constitution, and because some of its provisions purport to vary the provisions of the Constitution. The CCT is not a court of law under our Constitution and cannot be invested with criminal or quasi-criminal jurisdiction.
“The initiation of the criminal prosecution against Dr. Saraki before the CCT by a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice at a time when there was no incumbent Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) is invalid and incompetent in law.”
Also, they urged that Saraki be given a fair hearing before a Court of Law where there would not be any likelihood of bias. They also said that there is need to ensure that decisions of the Apex Court, as a court of last resort, are consistent with each other, and, above all, with the supreme law of the land, the Constitution, as well as with laws validly enacted by the legislature.