(PACAC) Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption Chairman Prof Itse Sagay (SAN) yesterday expressed shock over Senate President Bukola Saraki’s acquittal by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
He said contrary to the tribunal’s position, he was convinced that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to warrant Saraki to defend himself.
Sagay said he was concerned about Saraki’s acquittal based on a no-case submission, especially coming soon after Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, who was accused of corrupt enrichment, was also similarly discharged.
A no-case is a term in criminal law whereby a defendant seeks acquittal without having to defend himself. Under it, the defendant seeks to be discharged and acquitted on the basis that the prosecution his not adduced sufficient evidence for his trial.
Sagay said he was “thoroughly shocked” that the CCT did not consider the prosecution’s evidence weighty enough as to reach call on Saraki to enter his defence.
Asked if he was bothered that Saraki’s acquittal on a no-case submission came soon after that of Ademola, Sagay said: “Of course I’m concerned.”
The PACAC chairman added: “To start with, I’m shocked, because a lot of materials were put before the court. And for a court to uphold a no-case submission means that there was no prima facie case made. That’s why I’m a bit shocked because I followed the proceedings very closely. But there’s going to be an appeal. We’ll just wait and see what happens then, but I’m thoroughly shocked, yes,” he said.
Former Lagos Branch chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr Chijioke Okoli (SAN) said the Federal Government seemed to be losing high profile cases involving politically exposed persons.
He attributed it to a “multiplicity of factors”, including shortcomings on the part of the prosecution and the ability of high profile suspects to hire the best defence lawyers.
Okoli, however, said the government had secured some convictions as published by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recently.
He said: “We don’t have exact statistics to deal with (on loss of high profile cases). I’m aware that recently, EFCC chair reeled out some impressive number of convictions they have secured.
“However, from an anecdotal evidence based on what we read in the papers, it does appear that the politically exposed persons seems to be getting away scot free.
“One may ask: ‘If the vast majority of politically exposed persons are getting acquitted, then is it the man on the street or you and I who are the perpetrators of this much vaunted bribery corruption?”
Activist-lawyer Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) described the verdict as “bold, courageous and right.”
He took a swipe at the EFCC for engaging in media trial, saying the courts cannot be stampeded into convicting at all costs, despite “visible executive interference and manipulation”.
Ozekhome urged the government to put its house in order rather than claiming that “corruption is fighting back” and that the courts are against the anti corruption fight.
Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) National President Malachy Ugwummadu urged the government’s prosecutorial team to double its efforts at securing convictions.
He added: “The fight against corruption is not only effectual or effective when you arrest and arraign suspects particularly, politically exposed persons.”
Dr Paul Ananaba (SAN) and Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN) said justice had been served with Senate President Bukola Saraki’s acquittal.
Ananaba said: “It is due process. The matter went on for a while and now the court has ruled on a no-case submission. That is the position now and this has become the law, the CCT having ruled that he has no case to answer. It means the case has come to an end. What CCT has done has become the law.
“You will recall that Saraki filed several applications before the CCT and even went up to the Supreme Court before coming back for trial.
“I think nobody should worry because the prosecutor knows what to do if not satisfied. The Constitution provides for appeal.
“But I think the country has a lot to worry about at this time and some of these disruptions should be avoided. The sitting of the Senate has been affected by this trial. Each time he goes to court, no serious business ever took place.
“We have an acting President now. We need the attention of our leaders to face major issues confronting the country now. I think the prosecution should look at national interest before any further step is taken.”
Owonikoko said there were lessons to be learnt.
“He’s perhaps vindicated and strengthened in authority and integrity by the discharge on the merit which equates to acquittal,” Owonikoko said.