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By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA- Embattled former Governor of Lagos State and leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, yesterday, declined to either mount the dock or enter his plea to the 3-count criminal charge preferred against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja.

The ex-governor who was charged by the federal government on allegation that he violated section 7 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap C15 LFN, 2004, as amended, by allegedly operating10 foreign accounts whilst he was in office between 1999 and 2007, yesterday, insisted that 'the CCT sitting in Abuja does not have the territorial jurisdiction', to try him over the alleged offence.

Arguing through his lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Tinubu told the Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar-led 3-man panel that while he was a governor, 'some forms for declaration of assets were brought to him from the Code of Conduct Bureau, at its office in Lagos. The said forms were filled, completed and deposed to at the High Court of Lagos Registry and same duly returned to the CCB in Lagos. '

He maintained that he 'did not have any personal dealing with the CCB in Abuja.'

Consequently, the ex-governor contended that since the Bureau has offices in all the states of the federation, he would neither mount the dock nor take plea in respect of the said 3-count charge, pending when the substantive suit against him is transferred to Lagos State for prosecution.

Former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over his arraignment by the Code of Conduct Bureau on alleged fraud charges, in Abuja, yesterday. Pix: Gbemiga Olamikan.

Besides, in a preliminary objection he raised against his trial, the ex-governor, through his team of lawyers comprising over 15 Senior Advocates of Nigeria, said he 'is being accused and/or charged before a Tribunal which is not known to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (as amended).

According to him, 'the mandatory conditions precedent for the referral of complaints by the CCB to the CCT and the subsequent exercise of jurisdiction by the said Tribunal, have not been complied with.

'The amended charge is an abuse of court/judicial process, as an earlier charge with No: CCT/NC/ABJ/02/07, dated 5th March, 2007, containing similar particulars like this present one, is still pending.

'The counts contained in the amended charge are vague, ambiguous, unspecific and nebulous. The charge does not link the applicant to the commission of any offence. The counts do not disclose any prima facie case against the applicant.'

Relying on the provisions of sections 36(6) (a) (b), 36(12) and paragraph 15 of the Fifth schedule of the 1999 constitution, section 3 and paragraph 1 of the Third schedule of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Tinubu yesterday prayed the tribunal for an order quashing and/or striking out the 3-count charge dated September 19 but filed against him the next day.

He listed 10 grounds and attached four exhibits that should be considered by the panel in granting him the reliefs.

Meantime, the federal government vehemently opposed the application yesterday, insisting the accused person must face trial in Abuja.

The prosecuting counsel, Dr Alex Iziyon, SAN, who tendered two exhibits in support of a counter-affidavit he filed in opposition to the suit, said the CCT has the requisite jurisdiction to prosecute the former governor over the charges pending before the court.

According to FG, 'the offices of the Code of Conduct Bureau established in the states of the federation are for administrative convenience and do not affect the tribunal's jurisdiction.

'The accused person/ applicant in this present charge is not protected by the provision of section 308 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 199 as he is not occupying the office of Governor presently.

'The accused/applicant knows the case against him and knows how to prepare his defence as he has been aware of same since 2007 when the earlier charge was filed.

'He knows as a fact that this honourable tribunal is one of summary jurisdiction. The CCB invited the accused/ applicant severally regarding the complaint leading to this charge but the accused refused to appear and was evasive.

'The counts disclosed in the charge clearly disclose a prima facie case against the applicant, this application is frivolous and should be dismissed', it added.

After listening to their submissions, Justice Umar before adjourning ruling on the issue till November 30, said the panel would consider the application on its merit.

'In accordance with the judicial oath we took, we will treat the matter justly, fairly and without fear or favour. As ministers in the temple of justice, we will do justice and justice will be seen to have been done in this matter', he added.

Meanwhile, there was no space inside the court room yesterday as so many supporters of the ACN trooped out en-mass to show solidarity to the accused person.

Among those in court yesterday were three sitting governors of Lagos, Osun and Ekiti states, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, Rauf Aregbesola and Kayode Fayemi, respectively, as well as serving lawmakers under the ACN platform.

Lawyers divided
Meanwhile, lawyers who spoke on the issue were however divided on whether the tribunal can move its sitting from Abuja to any other state.

Chief J.K Gadzama, SAN
'I don't think the issue of where the tribunal is sitting should be a problem. Though it is a matter that bothers on jurisdiction, however, my view is that the panel can sit in other places just as they have offices in all the 36 states of the federatio. Nevertheless, I also think that the tribunal has the discretion to decide whether or not to sit anywhere or state in the country including Abuja.'

Niyi Akintola, SAN
'Yes of course! The tribunal can sit in other states apart from Abuja. The CCT have done so in the past even while it was headed by Justice Mohammed. What matters is where the alleged offence occurred.

However, as it relates to the case of the former Lagos state governor, I will not make any comment in view of the fact that I am equally in his defence team and this issue was the kernel of our argument today (yesterday). I will also advise the press to exercise restraint on issues that may be sub-judice. Having said that, as a legal practitioner, my view is that the tribunal can sit anywhere apart from Abuja.'

Chief Amechi Nwaiwu, SAN
'Yes the tribunal had in the past moved its sittings round the federation and the essence is to bring justice closer to the people. Most times, logistic problems of bringing witnesses to Abuja may adversely affect trial that could have been conducted smoothly assuming the case is tried within the jurisdiction the alleged offence was committed. Moreover, there is no law that says the tribunal can only sit in Abuja.'

Prof. Itse Sagay SAN
'Under Criminal Law, a person is to be tried at the place where the offence was committed. That was why James Ibori's case was transferred from Kaduna to Delta State. Although I have not read the details, but if that is the reason his counsel has given, then he is right.'

Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN
'If I am his lawyer I will do the same thing, if Tinubu allegedly committed the offence in Lagos according to the prosecution, that was what the Court of Appeal decided in Ibori's case. So, the question is, where was Tinubu when he allegedly committed the offence? He was in Lagos and he was governor of Lagos State at that time. And all the witnesses are likely to be in Lagos.

So why take him to Abuja for trial? Is it for sensationalism? Our criminal Justice System says that an accused person should be tried where the offence was allegedly committed. That is the law. If I where his counsel, I would not allow his plea to be taken.'