What you need to know about the Bukola Saraki saga

Mr. Bukola Saraki, who was previously Kwara state governor and now Nigeria’s Senate President, has recently been embroiled in legal battles and corruption charges with Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Bureau. The Code of Conduct Bureau, on September 11, slammed a 13-count charge of corruption on Mr. Saraki, accusing him of offences ranging from anticipatory declaration of assets, to false declaration of assets in forms he filed before the Code of Conduct Bureau while he was governor of Kwara State.

The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is an agent of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which was created under Schedule 5 part I of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (hereinafter referred to as CFRN) as amended. The Code of Conduct Bureau is responsible for the verification of assets declared by public officers and reports all discrepancies to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice, through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, then institutes an action against defaulting public officers before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) is established by the CFRN under Schedule 5 Part II and has the jurisdiction to attend to matters presented to it by the Code of Conduct Bureau and by extension, the Ministry of Justice. However, the Court of Appeal has appellate jurisdiction to decisions of the CCT.

How it all started

Saraki, who has been accused of falsely declaring assets and converting government properties while in public office, was due to appear before the CCT on Friday September 18, 2015 but he did not show up. The ex-governor was also required to show in court today but he was nowhere to be found. Since the battle began, Joshua Daodu the counsel to the Saraki, the defendant has come up with several legal antics to either delay proceedings or nullify it completely.

When the notice of the charges filed with the request to show up in court was issued, Daodu filed a motion with the Federal High Court, asking the court to grant an injunction that would prevent the CCT from proceeding with trial. The prosecution counsel, Muslim Hassan, asked the tribunal to order his arrest for failing to appear before it, arguing that the high court had parallel jurisdiction with the tribunal and as such, had no power to halt a trial of the tribunal.

The Chairman of the Tribunal, Danladi Umar, issued a bench warrant against Saraki but his counsel prayed the tribunal for an adjournment until Monday. The tribunal granted the prayer of the defendant for adjournment but requested that Saraki be present in court on Monday. Daodu filed an ex-parte motion with the Court of Appeal, hoping to stay the execution of the warrant of arrest, and then alleged that the CCT could not go further with trial until the Court of Appeal reaches a decision.

On Monday, Saraki was again absent in court. His counsel argued that his client did not appear because the constitution of the CCT was illegal and consequently rendered the trial ultra vires  that is, it is of no legal effect. This argument was dismantled by the provisions of the CFRN in Schedule 5 regarding the constitution of the CCT.

The CCT has since ordered the police to present Saraki at the next trial date or risk facing consequences. The Court of Appeal has also dismissed Daodu’s plea for a stay of execution.

Legal issues raised

The first legal issue raised is in terms of the privilege of immunity granted to public officers, which it seems did not extend to the office of the Senate President and to Saraki by extension. It has since been shown that the immunity against prosecution granted to public officers under Section 308 of the CFRN only extend to the President, Vice President, State Governors and their deputies.

The second legal issue raised was whether the Ministry of Justice had the right to institute an action against Saraki under the law without an Attorney General. Since Nigeria is currently without Ministers, this objection might have been sustained if not for the provisions of the law in Section of the CFRN. The court interpreted the law to establish that the office of the Attorney General is an office in the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Justice was free to institute a case in the name of the Attorney General.

Also, Daodu’s claim that the CCT could not judicially try Saraki for lack of jurisdiction has since been trashed. Mr Daodu might be guilty of violating professional ethics since the court granted his prayer on Friday based on self-recognizance, but he went ahead to flout court orders.

The political implications

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, was voted into power because he campaigned heavily against corruption. For a country like Nigeria, which was consistently on the “‘Most Corrupt Countries’” list, Buhari’s promise of change was what they needed.

It is perhaps Nigeria’s worst kept secret that corruption is a pervasive problem. While Saraki’s trial and the seemingly unprecedented effectiveness of the judiciary in prosecuting him might seem like a step in the right direction in this battle for change, there is also speculation that Saraki might actually be a victim of witch-hunting.

Since Bukola Saraki assumed office as the Senate President, he has been on the bad side of APC party leaders. Although Buhari and Saraki are both members of the same political party, APC, there has been a bit of tension since Mr Saraki teamed up with the opposition party PDP to emerge Senate President.

President Buhari has, through his spokesman, since denied allegations of witch-hunting against Saraki, underscoring that he is objective to Saraki’s ordeal in respect to the Rule of Law.

As it stands, Saraki is innocent until proven guilty by the tribunal, and even then, he has recourse to the Court of Appeal. If he is convicted, he could be facing hefty fines and a jail term which commences immediately, regardless of his position.

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