Court reserves judgment on FG’s appeal against Saraki’s acquittal

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Ade Adesomoju, Abuja

The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Tuesday reserved its judgment on the appeal filed by the Federal Government to challenge the acquittal of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

The three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, reserved judgment after parties adopted their appellant’s and respondent’s briefs on Tuesday.

The date of the delivery of the judgment is to be later communicated to the parties.

The Federal Government had on June 22, 2017 filed an 11-ground notice of appeal against the June 14, 2017 judgment of the CCT acquitting Saraki of the  18 charges of false asset declaration and other related offences preferred against him in September, 2015.

The two-man panel of the CCT headed by Danladi Umar had anchored its decision on the grounds that the prosecution, with its four witnesses and 48 documentary exhibits tendered, was unable to establish any prima facie case against the Senate President.

Umar, in his lead ruling, exonerated Saraki, holding that failure of the prosecution to obtain Saraki’s statement and make it a part of the proof of evidence was fatal to the case.

He said it was “absurd” that neither Saraki’s statement nor the report of investigation said to have been carried out was produced before the tribunal.

He agreed with the defence team, led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), that the prosecution’s evidence had been manifestly discredited during cross-examination by the defence.

He added that the evidence adduced by the prosecution led by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) was “so unreliable that no reasonable tribunal could convict” based on it.

The tribunal chairman specifically noted that the third prosecution witness, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, who is Head, Intelligence Unit of the Code of Conduct Bureau, only gave hearsay evidence on the information the witness purportedly received from the EFCC.

But the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, through its private prosecutor, Jacobs, on June 20, 2017, filed an 11-ground notice of appeal against the CCT’s judgment.

It faulted all the grounds on which the CCT predicated Saraki’s acquittal, describing the entire judgment as unreasonable and unconstitutional.

Jacobs subsequently filed an appellant’s brief on July 28, 2017 formulating five issues for determination.

Saraki, through his lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), also filed his respondent’s brief on August 22, 2017.

While adopting his appellant’s brief on Tuesday, Jacobs urged the court to grant the Federal Government’s appeal and hold that the judgment of the CCT was perverse.

He also reiterated that the CCT erred by adjudging the oral evidence of the prosecution’s third witness, Madojemu, the Head, Intelligence Unit of the CCB, as hearsay.

He said, “It is our position that the lower tribunal did not consider the evidence adduced by the prosecution.

“The empahsis I will like to make is on the evidence of PW3.

“We argued that there is nothing like hearsay evidence in the oral evidence of PW3, who is the investigative officer.

“There are authorities of the Supreme Court that says once the evidence of a witness is supported by documentary evidence, his oral testimony is merely the hanger that holds the evidence.”

Arguing his five issues for determination in his appellant’s brief, Jacobs urged the Court of Appeal to hold that the Code of Conduct Tribunal was wrong in “upholding a no-case submission raised by the respondent at the close of prosecution‘s case.”

He also urged the court to hold that the learned members of the tribunal were wrong “in holding that the respondent was not invited by the EFCC in the course of its investigation.”

He also argued that the tribunal was wrong “in holding that the investigation conducted by a team of investigators from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Code of Conduct Bureau was illegal and unknown to law.”

He also argued that the tribunal was wrong “in holding that failure to produce the original Asset Declaration Forms and the Written Statement of the respondent, is fatal to the case of the prosecution when the prosecution tendered the Certified True Copies of the documents.”

Jacobs also argued that the Code of Conduct Tribunal was wrong “in upholding the no case submission in the instant case, regard being had to the onus of proof on the parties as prescribed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).”

Concluding his brief of argument, he urged the court to allow the appeal and direct Saraki to open his defence before the CCT.

He stated, “In view of the argument canvassed above, we urge your Lordships to allow the appeal, resolve all the issues in favour of the appellant and hold that the appellant has made out a clear case against the respondent to warrant calling upon him to open his defence.

“We therefore urge your Lordships to remit the case back to the tribunal for the defendant to open his defence.”

In his oral submission on Tuesday, Jacobs urged the court to hold that the CCT ruling was perverse.

He said, “I urge your lordship to allow this appeal and hold that the ruling of the tribunal is perverse.”

In response, Agabi urged the court to dismiss the Federal Government’s appeal for lacking in merit.

Agabi insisted that the third prosecution witness’ evidence, contrary to Jacobs’ contention, was hearsay.

He also argued that the prosecution wrongly contended that the onus was on Saraki to prove his innocence, the reason why he said the prosecution failed to call enough witnesses.

He submitted to the court as issues for determination and which he urged the court to answer in the affirmative, “Whether the tribunal was right when it held, contrary to the submission of the prosecution, that the burden of proof was upon the prosecution and not the defendant and that the prosecution failed to discharge that burden.

The charges instituted against Saraki before the CCT related to the alleged breaches of the code of conduct for public officers, acts which were said to be punishable under the Constitution and the CCB/CCT Act.

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