The Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Yakubu Umar, on Wednesday, declined to disqualify himself from the trial of Senator President Bukola Saraki on the 16-count charge, bordering on false and anticipatory declaration of assets slammed against the Senate President by the Federal Government.
Umar, while ruling on Saraki’s application to suspend the trial and disqualify himself from presiding over the trial of the Senate President on the allegation of bias held that there is a laid down procedures for the removal of the chairman or any member of the CCT in the constitution and in the Act establishing it.
The Federal Government is prosecuting the Senate President, through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the allegation that he made false/anticipatory declaration of assets and that he operated foreign accounts while in office as Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011.
Saraki was also accused of receiving the salary of a governor, four years after his tenure had elapsed as Kwara State Governor.
After cross-examining the star witness called by the prosecution for twelve days, Saraki, through his team of lawyers led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), asked the chairman of the two-member panel of the tribunal, Danladi Yakubu Umar to disqualify himself from presiding over his trial.
Saraki maintained that some of the remarks the CCT chairman made in the open court clearly portrayed his bias against him.
He said Umar, had in the course of the proceeding, threatened to ensure he faced the full consequences of the charge, despite whatever delay tactics he (Saraki) chose to employ in the course of the trial.
The Senate President insisted that the statement eroded confidence he had in the ability of Justice Umar to grant him fair hearing and prayed the CCT chairman to suspend further hearing and hands-off the matter.
Before the chairman delivered his ruling on the application, he apologised on the anti Saraki’s comments he made during the trial of the Senate president in June , adding that, “as human beings, we are bound to make mistakes. It is only the Almighty God that is infallible”.
The CCT boss said that the alleged comments was made with free mind and without prejudice to the Senate President and the trial, adding that he was surprised that since the alleged statement was made, nobody has bothered to find out the veracity of the comment.
“Allah, the Almighty is watching us without bleaking an eye, we will give account of our deeds on earth to him one day. We must therefore be fair and just in anything we are doing while on this earth,” Umar said in an emotion laden voice.
According to him, the alleged comment was not intended to prejudice the defendant and that the tribunal will move on in spite of the criticism that have trailed the alleged comment.
He said as the chairman, he cannot afford to step down from the trial because the Constitution conferred jurisdiction on assets declaration matters on the tribunal alone and not in any other court in the country.
He said, “No court has the jurisdiction to entertain the kind of matter that we do here and once the chairman declined entertaining the matter, then no court can try the applicant (Saraki) on the charge preferred against him”.
He further pointed that paragraph 51 of the constitution which established the tribunal provides for the chairman and two other members of the tribunal, adding that, “the moment the chairman excuses himself from proceedings, the tribunal will collapse because it must have a chairman”.
The CCT boss said the constitution made it clear that a person holding the office of the chairman cannot be removed from office until the person has reached the retirement age adding that for the president of the country to remove the chairman, he must write to the National Assembly and that the National Assembly can only take action on such request with two thirds majority.
He said the nature of cases at the tribunal is different from the cases at the Federal and State High Courts, where a Judge can excuse self from entertaining a case and transfer case file to the Chief Judge for re-assignment to another Judge.
The CCT boss however said Saraki can use the outcome of the as a ground of appeal before the court of appeal adding that, “disqualifying myself will be tantamount to bringing the trial to an end.
“The allegation of the applicant is founded on mere conjecture. Allegation of bias against a Judge is very serious as it is capable of. Eroding public confidence on the court.
“The application is not well founded and it is hereby refused”, Umar held and then adjourned till November 7, 2016 for continuation of trial in the matter.
The trial was adjourned with the consent of Saraki’s team of lawyers, led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN) and those of the Federal Government led by Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe.
The lead prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs was absent at the tribunal, on Monday, he was said to be attending another court matter at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.