Dr. Bukola Saraki, the president of the Nigerian Senate, has been “discharged and acquitted” in a marathon case of false assets declaration that lasted 1018 days. The Supreme Court recently ended the case with its ruling that the prosecution’s evidence was hearsay. The case began at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on September 22, 2015. It was brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which wanted the tribunal to find Saraki guilty of an 18-count charge of false assets declaration and money laundering. After 3 years, the tribunal, headed by Justice Umar Danladi, quashed the charge, saying that the evidence of the 4 prosecution witnesses was mere hearsay. Besides the four witnesses, the EFCC produced 49 exhibits.
Not satisfied with Saraki’s acquittal, the federal government on whose behalf the EFCC filed the charge, headed for the Court of Appeal which on December 12, 2017, restored three counts out of the 18 already dismissed by the tribunal and asked the tribunal to retry Saraki on those three counts. It was at that stage that the president of the Senate went on an appeal to the Supreme Court. A 5-man panel of the upper court, headed by Justice Dattiijo Muhammad, upheld the tribunal’s acquittal of Saraki on all 18 counts of the EFCC charge, including the three restored by the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court’s panel’s July 6 unanimous decision, read by Justice Centus Nweze, said the Court of Appeal was wrong to have ordered a retrial, in spite of the fact that the same court of appeal ruled that “the prosecution failed to call those who have direct knowledge of the facts sought to be proved, to testify”’ Faulting the Court of Appeal’s turn around to restore three of the counts, the Supreme Court said the decision was “judicial equivalence of a forensic somersault”.
What made Saraki’s trial one with a difference was the political coloration given to it, especially by Saraki’s camp that saw in the case the hand of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which, they said, did not like Saraki’s emergence as the leader of the Senate in June 2015. He was not originally APC, but a decampee from once governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The APC doubted his new loyalty, a doubt reinforced by the emergence of a PDP kingpin in the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, as Saraki’s deputy. In the political muscle flexing, Saraki led 38 other senators to the tribunal the day his trial opened. What if not to intimidate the tribunal chairman whom his camp accused of corruption. At several points, the case became trials within a trial. The heavy political content of the case, therefore, made it not a straightforward legal case – hence the intense interest it generated.
Not unexpectedly, Saraki sees the Supreme Court decision as a personal victory over his political foes in the APC, including President Muhammadu Buhari. His reaction to the July 6 judgement: “At the end of a tortuous journey of 1018 days, counting from September 22, 2015 when the case began at the tribunal. Through it all, I refused to be shaken, knowing as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, that the arc of the moral universe may be long but it bends towards justice. I knew the day would come when justice would prevail and I would be exonerated”.
However, we at Peoples Daily fail to see the Supreme Court decision as an exoneration of Saraki. Rather it is a condemnation of the EFCC that failed to build a flawless case against a very visible public figure like Saraki. It was also a put down of the Court of Appeal that knew the right thing to do but chose equivocation. Therefore, Saraki benefitted from the EFCC’s incompetence and judicial ambivalence, not a stout defence by a Saraki.