The Court of Appeal in Abuja yesterday dismissed 15 of the 18 false asset declaration charges preferred against the president of the senate, Bukola Saraki, by the federal government for being incompetent before the law. That left three charges which the court referred back to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for the senate president to enter his defence.
President Buhari has made the headache of “corrupt judges” a singsong of his tenure. Last year, he said, “on the fight against corruption vis-à-vis the judiciary, Nigerians will be right to say that is my main headache for now.” He laments and berates them for not buying into his government’s anti-corruption agenda. A more worthy strategy may be to build the investigative and prosecution capabilities of the FG team, especially he EFCC.
Over the past few years, several of the failed prosecutions against corrupt persons have been because the EFCC and the prosecutors did a shoddy job as attested to in numerous court rulings.
A good case in point is the Saraki case before the Code of Conduct Tribunal and now the Appeal Court.
See how the Appeal panel ruled in the unanimous judgement read by Justice Akomolafe-Wilson:
- The 15 charges were dismissed because the evidence presented was based on hearsay without probate value.
- The information supplied in the report used to prepare the charges did not link Saraki with the charges as required by law.
- Even tendered documents were not from appropriate sources that were supposed to tender them before they could be admitted in line with provisions of the law.
- Justice Akomolafe-Wilson said the prosecution erroneously came to the conclusion that the burden of proof on the 15 charges rested on the respondent, whereas it is an established fact that the party that alleges must be the one to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
- The FG claimed that Saraki collected salaries and emoluments from Kwara State government after he had left office as the executive governor of the state, yet no single witness was invited from the state to prove the allegation.
- The FG claimed that Saraki operated a foreign account while he was Kwara governor yet no relevant witness was invited to support allegation.
It was only in three out of the 18 charges that the court said the EFCC established a prima facie case. Thus Counts 4, 5 and 6 which border on the purchase of two properties – Nos. 17 A and B, McDonald Street, Ikoyi, Lagos – by Saraki were sent back to the tribunal.
According to the Court of Appeal, the prosecution established that there were discrepancies in the claims on the asset declaration forms on how the two houses in Ikoyi were acquired. Consequently, the panel held that the Senate president needed to provide explanations on the discrepancies established by the prosecution that the properties he claimed were bought from the sale of rice and sugar in his asset declaration form were bought from loans acquired from a commercial bank.