Embattled Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has pleaded “not guilty” to multiple charges of fraud brought against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau. Senator Saraki who appeared before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Tuesday morning over a 13-count charge bordering on corruption and alleged false declaration of assets, was thereafter granted bail on self-recognition.
As the case kick-started, the Senate President’s lawyers argued that the matter was not a criminal case, and challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal. The prosecution opposed the argument. The tribunal ruled that the matter was criminal and directed Mr. Saraki to go ahead with his plea. “I hold that the trial before the tribunal is purely criminal,” said the chairman of the tribunal.
On jurisdiction, the prosecution counsel argued that according to section 2 of the Administration of Justice Act, 2015, the matter could be heard alongside any preliminary objection regarding the tribunal’s jurisdiction. The new law was signed by former President Goodluck Jonathan in March 2015, as part of a major reform of Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
The Act is expected to speed up corruption cases before the courts, by dealing with issues of preliminary objections, adjournments, and jurisdiction. The law says such objections must be addressed by the courts concurrently with the corruption charge, unlike the past when interlocutory injunctions could go to the Supreme Court and return, before the main trial begins.
When asked to take his plea, Saraki declared that he was puzzled by the circumstances warranting his corruption charges. “I believe that I am here as the Senate president to indicate my respect for the tribunal. I am puzzled why I am being compelled”, he said, pleading ‘not guilty’ to the charges.
On the various assets he acquired, which the Code of Conduct Bureau said his earnings did not qualify him to acquire, Mr. Saraki said he got them through his investment in rice farming. He also pleaded not guilty to the charge concerning his failure to declare his assets when he was Kwara State governor, as well as denied making false declaration of assets.
He pleaded not guilty on the charge regarding his alleged use of foreign bank accounts while serving as a public officer in Nigeria. The case has been adjourned to 21st, 22nd and 23rd October for hearing.
By Olisemeka Obeche