In a show of solidarity no fewer than 80 serving Senators, on Wednesday, stormed the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Jabi District of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja where the trial of the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, for alleged false assets declaration ought to commence in earnest.
The Senators, who took their seats behind Saraki in the court room, were led by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. In company with Senator Saraki, they had rode on four Coaster buses with registration number ‘NASS MGT’ from the National Assembly to the tribunal.
They arrived at the tribunal at about 9:57am with Saraki wearing a cream colour ‘agbada’ with cap to match. They calmly warmed their seats for about an hour before the tribunal resumed at about 10:46am for the business of the day.
The tribunal sitting, however did not last as it was forced to adjourn to November 5, 2015 following an oral application by the prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacob (SAN) who cited the pending judgment of the Court of Appeal as reason for his prayer.
The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division had on Monday adjourned indefinitely judgment in an appeal filed by Saraki seeking to stop his trial.
The Federal Government had last month arraigned Saraki before the tribunal on a 13 count charge bothering on false assets declaration.
Saraki, though pleaded not guilty to the charge, but approached the Court of Appeal to challenge the decision of the tribunal to try him.
After announcing appearance, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs SAN, noted that it was proper and procedural for the accused person who is present in court to stay in the dock while the trial proceeds.
Counsel to accused person, Mahmud Magaji SAN, however opposed the submission but rather urged the tribunal to take judicial notice of the fact that there is a pending appeal before the Court of Appeal, and hence the tribunal lacks the power to continue with the trial.
In a short ruling, the chairman of the tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar, held that the accused person should enter the dock, after which any other application can be made.
It was at this point that the Senate President moved into the dock and was given a chair to sit.
Jacobs however informed the court about the pendency of the judgement at the Court of Appeal, noting that it will be a sign of respect to the appellate court for the prosecution to wait for its judgement before any other thing could be done on the matter.
He therefore prayed the tribunal to adjourn for two weeks.
Magaji however opposed the application for two weeks adjournment, and consequently prayed the tribunal to adjourn sine dine pending the judgement of the Court of Appeal.
Delivering a short ruling, Justice Umar held that the adjournment will be for two weeks.
He ruled: “The fact that the Court of Appeal adjourned indefinitely cannot make us here to also adjourn indefinitely. If we do so, the defendant may go and relax and we want defendant to be on his toes.
“The tribunal is therefore adjourned till November 5 and 6 for report from Court of Appeal and possibly hearing”.
At the Appeal court, Saraki through his team of lawyers led by J.B Daudu (SAN) contended that that the Code of Conduct Tribunal erred in law by proceeding with the trial with two members instead of mandatory three as provided by the constitution. He argued that the composition of the tribunal during the trial of Saraki violated paragraphs 15(1) of the 1999 constitution by sitting with two members instead of three and asked the court to nullify the CCT proceedings of last month due to lack of quorum.
The appellant counsel disagreed with the arguments of the Federal Government counsel, Rotimi Jacobs SAN, that the Interpretation Act can be used to resolve the constitutional logjam since the constitution was silent on the quorum for the tribunal membership. Daudu insisted that the Interpretation Act cannot override the constitution being the supreme law and the Act being inferior to the constitution.
He also argued that the tribunal was wrong in assuming criminal jurisdiction against the Senate President when it was not a superior court of record.
Daudu, who cited several authorities, submitted that the tribunal cannot assume concurrent jurisdiction with the federal high court, adding that the Code of Conduct Tribunal was by law inferior to the federal high court.
He therefore urged the Appeal court to nullify the proceedings of the tribunal against Saraki and to also set aside the criminal charges filed against him by the Federal Government on account of being illegal and unlawful.
However, opposing the submissions of Saraki’s counsel, the Federal Government through its counsel, Rotimi Jacobs SAN, asked that the appeal case be dismissed for lacking merit.
Jacobs told the 3-man appeal court panel that the constitution was silent on the quorum of the tribunal memberships.
He urged the court to invoke the Interpretation Act to resolve the issue in favour of the respondent.
The respondent counsel also submitted that the tribunal has criminal jurisdiction because of the use of words like “guilty” and “punishment” in the law that established the tribunal.