By Osigbesan Sultan Luqman, Abuja
Barring any appeal to the Supreme Court, the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki over a 13-count criminal charge of false asset declaration will go on at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) come next month.
Reason: The Court of Appeal, Abuja on Friday dismissed the Senate President’s bid to stop his trial in a split decision delivered by Justices Moore Adumein, M. Mustapha and J.E. Ekanem.
While Justices Adumein and Mustapha dismissed the appeal as lacking in merit, Justice Ekanem, in a dissenting judgment, upheld it, giving Saraki a sliver of hope in his next expected legal move, to wit a final appeal before the Supreme Court.
In dismissing the appeal, the presiding Justice Adumein ruled that Saraki should go to the CCT to answer the charges against him. Adumein held that the Justice Danladi Umar-led tribunal was properly constituted to try Saraki, noting that the Senate president was not charged in his official capacity but as an individual.
Also, Justice Adumein relied on paragraph 15(1) of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution and section 20(2) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, 2004 to hold that the two-man panel of justices at the CCT formed a quorum to entertain the charges against Saraki.
The justice of the Appeal court ruled: “The above provisions are very clear and unambiguous and should be given their ordinary meaning. This is in line with the golden rule of interpretation. There is no provision on minimum number of members which the tribunal must have before it can sit to hear cases”.
Justice Adumein held that the charges were competently instituted against the Senate president, saying the tribunal had the requisite powers to issue bench warrant against Saraki.
Consequently, he dismissed all five grounds of appeal that Saraki filed before the court for want of merit. The third member of the panel, Justice Mustapha, concurred with Justice Adumein in the latter’s lead verdict.
However, Justice J.E. Ekanem upheld the appeal, declaring the charges filed against Saraki before the CCT as incompetent.
Justice Ekanem grounded his dissenting judgment on a point of law, to wit that the Deputy Director at the Ministry of Justice, M. M. S. Hassan who signed the charge sheet, did not specify who authorised him to initiate the criminal proceeding against Saraki.
The justice stated: “A look at the charge showed that Mr. Hassan instituted the action pursuant to section 24 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, 2004 which permits only the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to initiate criminal proceedings”.
Justice Ekanem stated that though the constitution permits the Solicitor-General of the Federation (SGF) to commence criminal action in the absence of the AGF, Hassan failed to produce any document showing that he was properly authorised by the SGF to initiate Sraki’s trial at the CCT.
His words: “The opening paragraph of the letter Hassan sent to the CCT on September 11, wherein he applied to commence trial against the appellant is very instructive. He merely said ‘I am authorised to file this action’ but did not say that he was authorised by the Solicitor-General. He went short of identifying who authorised him.
“It is therefore my view that the charge before the tribunal is incompetent. It is for this view that I hold that this appeal has succeeded and I hereby set aside the charge and discharge the accused person.”