• Falana slams Senate for summoning CCT chairman
• Saraki will not benefit from amended CCB/CCT Act, upper chamber restates
• Says it bought 36 SUVs, not 108
Tobi Soniyi and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The prosecution witness in the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) sitting in Abuja yesterday admitted that some of the exhibits he tendered before the tribunal were not investigated by him or his team.
The witness, Michael Wetkas, who is an investigator with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), while being cross-examined by the defence counsel, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN), admitted that he did not investigate the petitions listed as Exhibits 11, 12 and 13 which formed the basis for prosecuting Saraki.
Wetkas said that the petitions pertaining to the three exhibits were not investigated by him.
Exhibit 11, which was dated May 22, 2012, contained a petition written by the Kwara Freedom Network inviting the EFCC to investigate the Kwara State Universal Basic Education Board.
The witness had while giving evidence in chief, told the tribunal that the petition by the Kwara Freedom Network triggered the investigation.
He however turned around during cross-examination to say that his team did not investigate the petition.
Exhibit 12, which was dated May 7, 2011, was addressed to the Chairman of the EFCC asking the anti-graft agency to investigate the Kwara State Government on borrowings for projects described as phoney.
Exhibit 13 was a petition dated June 7, 2012, which dwelt on the mismanagement of local government revenue in Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
When asked whether in the course of investigation, he had sought audience to speak with the Accountant General of Kwara State, the witness said he did not as that was not part of his assignment.
Also asked whether he invited any official of the Kwara State Government in the course of the investigation, the witness also said he did not.
Asked whether he got another written document to buttress the petition written by the Kwara Freedom Network, the witness said he did not.
When further asked why he tendered documents he did not investigate, the witness said he did not tender the exhibits on his own but that they were tendered through him by the prosecution.
Also under cross-examination, the witness admitted that investigating the assets declared by the defendant did not form part of his schedule of duty.
He also admitted that Exhibits 3, 4 and 5, being the asset declaration forms of the defendant, were duly examined and stamped by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and not the EFCC, his employer.
He added that there was no where in the petition he investigated where Saraki’s assets declaration was in contention.
He further added that the investigation of the defendant was based on an intelligence report obtained by the former Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, and not the three petitions tendered as exhibits.
Specifically, the witness stated that the six assets declaration forms submitted by Saraki to the CCB were never investigated by his team, adding that his team was directed to investigate the intelligence report alone.
Further hearing continues today.
But as the witness’ testimony was being torn apart yesterday, human rights lawyer and activist, Mr. Femi Falana, slammed the Senate Committee on Ethics for summoning the Chairman of the CCT, Mr. Danladi Umar, to appear before it to testify in respect of a petition alleging corrupt practices against him.
In a lengthy treatise, Falana said: “It is pertinent to point out that the Ethics Committee of the Senate lacks the power to summon the tribunal chairman to testify in respect of a criminal investigation. More so that the allegation being examined by the Ethics Committee of the Senate is the subject matter of a pending criminal case at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory sitting in Abuja.
“Following the allegation that the personal assistant of the tribunal chairman allegedly received a bribe from a suspect on behalf of his master, the matter was investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“At the end of the investigation the tribunal chairman was exonerated while his personal assistant was indicted. Consequently, the suspect has since been charged to court. Since the case has not been concluded or terminated, it is the height of contempt on the part of the Senate or any of its committees to decide to conduct another trial on the same subject matter.”
Citing Sections 88(1) and (2) of the constitution, Falana reminded the Senate that the National Assembly is only empowered to conduct an inquiry for the purpose of enabling it to: “(a) make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and (b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.”
He noted that the enormous investigative powers of the National Assembly are circumscribed, as they are exercisable subject to other provisions of the constitution.
To buttress his point, he cited past judgments by the courts declaring that Section 82 of the constitution is not designed to enable the legislature to usurp the general investigative functions of the executive nor the adjudication functions of the judiciary.
Quoting the ruling in the case, Senate of the National Assembly v. Momoh, the presiding judge ruled: “They can only invite members of the public when they want to gather facts for the purpose of enabling them make laws or amend existing laws in respect of any matter within their legislative competence or as witnesses in a properly constituted inquiry under section 82(1)(b).”
Also in Akomolafe v. The Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly, the late acting Chief Judge of the state, Justice Ogundare, held: “Neither the Speaker nor the House is empowered by the constitution and statute law to deal with the issue assigned to the panel. The investigation of crimes is for the police and the trial of criminal offences is for the courts. The Speaker on receipt of Mr. Aladeselu’s letter ought to have referred it to the police for necessary action.”
In the light of the foregoing, Falana advised the Ethics Committee of the Senate to withdraw its illegal summons.
“Instead of exposing the Nigerian people to further undeserved embarrassment over the Saraki case, the Senate is enjoined to enhance the fight against corruption by passing the Whistle Blowers Bill, the Proceeds of Crime Bill and the Witness Protection Bill which were passed by the Seventh National Assembly but were not signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“For the Nigerian people to take the war against corruption seriously the members of the legislative and executive arms of government ought to be prepared to demonstrate leadership by example.
“In a country where the majority of the states are owing arrears of salaries, the legislators should be prepared to make sacrifice by reducing their fat salaries and jumbo allowances,” he added.
The committee’s summons of the CCT chairman on Monday has been linked to his ruling on the same day that Saraki’s trial would be conducted daily until it is concluded, pursuant to the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday restated that Saraki would not benefit from the amendment of the CCB and CCT Act, just as it said that there was no way it would also affect the ongoing trial of Saraki at the tribunal.
A statement by the Chairman of the Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, said the Senate noted that many of the comments on the proposed amendments were made by those who had neither read the bill nor understood the principles behind it.
Abdullahi said since the Saraki case commenced in 2015, any amendment of the law in 2016 cannot retroactively affect an ongoing case, adding that the proposed amendment would take a minimum of six months to come into effect, given the long process of law making.
According to him, the process includes the committee hearing; public hearing; the presentation of a report to Senate committee of the whole; the concurrence in the House of Representatives; and assent by the president as the final stage.
“There is no way we will even complete the process of finally effecting the amendments before the completion of the Saraki case. So those who read selfish or ulterior motives to this ordinary legislative activity are either mischievous or ignorant of legislative procedures,” he said.
Abdullahi explained that the sole aim of the amendment was to give effect to the right to fair hearing as enshrined in Section 36 of the constitution and the recent pronouncements of the Supreme Court.
Providing clarifications on the specific amendments to the Act, he said: “The amendment only affects Section 3 and Paragraph 17 of the Third Schedule of the current law. The sub-sections in Section 3 were re-arranged in such a way that they would reflect elegance in legal drafting. “Also, the proviso in Sub-section 3(d) was removed since it has also been removed in the constitution.
“To give fair hearing to the defendants in cases involving the bureau, Sub-sections 3(c) was enlarged to ensure that the person concerned was invited to state his own case, after which the CCB can still refer the matter to the tribunal for trial.
“This eliminates the constant complaint that a defendant was not given the opportunity to make an explanation on the inconsistencies alleged to have been found in his asset declaration form.
“This is bringing the law in compliance with the judicial principle of audi alterem partem (hear from both sides in a case before taking a decision). The proposed deletion of Paragraph 17 in the Third Schedule of the law is to ensure that the court does not assume a procedure for which the drafters of the law and the lawmakers did not intend.
“The Penal and Criminal Codes mentioned in the paragraph are no longer relevant. The CCT was not created to be a court with criminal jurisdiction and that is why the law provides for the defendant to be referred to another court if criminal issues emanate from any matter.”
Abdullahi further explained that the Senate considered this amendment necessary so as to “cure the inconsistencies and mischief arising from the operation and interpretations of the present law”.
“Unfortunately, this ordinary act of legislation has been caught in a conspiracy theory beyond the wildest imagination of lawmakers,” he said.
The Senate also debunked media reports that it bought 108 Toyota Land Cruiser sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for each senator excluding the Senate president, saying it bought only 36 cars that were handed to one senator from each of the states of the federation.
The Chairman of the Senate Services Committee, Senator Ibrahim Gobir said yesterday that misinformation by such reports had made the clarification imperative.
According to him, the Senate cannot afford to buy 108 cars at this time because it does not have the funds, adding that the money spent to buy the 36 cars had already been appropriated in the 2015 budget.
Furthermore, Gobir disclosed that the cars were purchased at the cost of N36.5 million each, including tax. But the figures provided by the senator did not add up as the cost of each of the SUVs.
He said the decision to give a car to one senator from each state was a collective decision of the Senate during a closed-door session. He also said no loan was secured to buy the cars.
“A lot has been happening within the last two days concerning the issue of cars vis-à-vis our car loans and cost of the cars, and we feel it is necessary to come out and inform the public about the true state of affairs.
“First, I would like to say that the issue that we bought 108 cars is totally wrong, it is not correct. We bought 36 cars. Thirty-six cars because each state has a senator that is either a committee chairman or vice-chairman and we gave one car to each state to share among themselves as utility cars. We don’t have money to buy 108 cars.
“On the issue of buying cars without appropriation, that is totally wrong because this was appropriated in the 2015 budget. So we used what we had in the 2015 budget to buy the 36 cars so that they can go round to each state.
“Then the issue of the cost of the car: the showroom price of each car was N36.5 million and we were surprised. The cars we bought were the (Toyota) Land Cruiser VXR V8 not V6, therefore the showroom price was about N31 million at the least, and then when you add the 10 per cent tax, it comes to N36.5 million.
“In fact, you can go to the internet and download the price. It is very simple, we can give you the website, we have several items we downloaded from the internet and you can see them.
“This particular car cost about $90,000 and by the time you multiply that by the exchange rate, you will get about N28.8 million. But when you add tax, you will end up with about N37 million.
“So I think that the price at which we purchased each of the cars was very reasonable. We were supposed to buy 109 cars but because of the paucity of funds, because of our sensitivity and concern for lack of funds, we bought only 36 to go round per state,” he said.
Defending the purchase, he said federal ministers, House of Representatives members, and other senior public sector officers have access to three or four official cars including Toyota Land Cruiser, a backup car and two Hilux cars.
He also refuted reports that senators had been paid car loans. “Hear it from me, we did not take car loans… No senator was given a car loan,” he said. This Day