Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki appeared before the Code of Conduct tribunal yesterday.
The Senate President was accompanied by his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and other Senators, as well as former Governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Wamakko.
The Tribunal, however, barred all media outfits from broadcasting the proceedings and security was tightened at the venue of the trial.
The FCT Police Commissioner, Mr Wilson Inalegwu, was in charge of security at the tribunal.
There was an argument about where the accused will be seated, as the prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), argues that the “business of the day is for the accused person to take his plea”, insisting that “the Senate President must be seated at the dock”.
However, Counsel to Senator Saraki, Mr. Joseph Daudu maintains that the administration of criminal justice does not apply to tribunals
Saraki’s lawyer, Joseph Daudu, SAN, challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal, saying the CCT was not a court of criminal jurisdiction and as such, the administration of criminal court did not apply.
Citing Section 693, paragraph 18 (1) of the Constitution, Daudu reminded the tribunal of the ruling of a High Court in a case involving a former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, which held that the CCT did not have jurisdiction over criminal cases and submitted that the tribunal lacked the jurisdiction to try the accused under criminal act where he would be required to be docked.
But prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, opposed the application, saying the tribunal had ruled on jurisdiction last Friday. Jacobs submitted further that Section 2 (1) of the Administration of Justice Act gives the tribunal powers to handle the criminal charges against Saraki.
After listening to the arguments of both parties, Justice Danladi Umar held that the tribunal had the jurisdiction to compel the Senate President to not only appear in person but to also be moved to the dock.
The Chairman of the CCT, Justice Danladi Umar insisted that the rule of law must prevail and Dr. Saraki must go to the dock and take his plea.
The Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, had on Monday said he would appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Tuesday, September 22′.
After Dr. Saraki took the dock, the 13-count charge was read to him and he pleaded not guilty.
The Senate President told the tribunal, in his opening remarks that he is a firm believer in the rule of law.
From the dock on Tuesday, the Senate president said he was hearing about the charges against him for the first time, saying he ought to have been invited and briefed by the CCB as the Senate president.
Before today, Dr Saraki had given the assurance of his appearance after protracted arguments between his lawyers and the prosecution counsel over the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal sitting over allegations of false asset declaration.
His spokesman, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, had said in a statement attributed his absence from the tribunal to the legal advice he received from his counsel, that it is not necessary for him to appear before the tribunal at this stage.
Senators Vow To Defend Institution
About 50 Senators on Sunday met at a private office in Abuja to deliberate the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) trial of the Senate President.
The Senators, who insist they are in support of the anti-corruption war of the President, however accused the Presidency of instigating the CCB against the Senate President.
Senator Saraki was not part of the meeting, but after exhaustive deliberation, the Senators agreed to defend the Senate as an institution and its leadership.
The spokesman for the Senators, Ibrahim Danbaba, said this while reacting on behalf of his colleagues to the arraignment of Saraki at the CCT.
Dambaba said, “We also want to state here, on behalf of our colleagues, that the Senate remains solidly behind Senator Saraki and we express our unalloyed support for his leadership.
“We reiterate the fact that he is our choice for the post of Senate President and no politically motivated, mischievous and vindictive trial will change our opinion of him.”
Some of the Senators who attended the meeting include Senator Samuel Anyawu – PDP Imo East, Senator Dino Melaye – APC Kogi West, Senator Binta Garba Masi – APC Adamawa North and Senator Hope Uzodinma – PDP Imo West
In a statement after the tribunal proceedings, Saraki said he was being tried because he was the Senate president and that his trial indicated flagrant disregard of due process.
The statement by his spokesman, Yusuph Olaniyonu, read in part, “Today, I appeared before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for the commencement of my trial in a case concerning the asset declaration form I filled in 2003 after I have explored the opportunity to defend my fundamental human rights in other courts.
As I stated while taking the plea in the case, I reiterate my belief that the only reason while I am going through this trial is because I am Senate President. If I were to be just a Senator, I doubt if anybody will be interested in the asset declaration form I filled over 12 years ago.
“It is my humble opinion that this case is a vivid example that there is still flagrant disregard for due process in our polity. This trial is not only being observed by Nigerians alone, the international community is watching because Nigeria is a key member of this community.