ABUJA (Sundiata Post) – Nineteen political parties in Nigeria on Wednesday added a new dimension to the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), over false or non-declaration of assets, with a strong warning that he would not get justice if Justice Danladi Umar, continued to sit as chairman of the CCT.
According to them, Umar should “step down from the Saraki trial as it has become clear to everyone that he is indeed an interested party.”
Spokesperson of the 19 parties and national chairman of Labour Party (LP), Alhaji Abdulkadir Abdulsalam (Baraden Paiko), at a crowded press conference held in Abuja, said that Saraki’s trial “has serious implications for the survival of our democracy and this administration’s avowed commitment to fight against corruption.”
He said, “The manner that Saraki’s trial has proceeded at the Code of Conduct Tribunal gives us serious reasons to be concerned that there is the real possibility that justice may not be done.
“The Chairman of the Tribunal, Mr. Danladi Umar has failed to demonstrate a dispassion that is required of anyone sitting in judgment over others. In fact, he has behaved more like a member of the prosecution team than an impartial arbiter interested only in ensuring that justice is done.
“We observe, however, that the preponderance of evidence that has been deployed so far against Dr. Saraki, including the principal prosecution witness in the matter, were supplied by the EFCC.
“What that means is that the Chairman of the Tribunal, Mr. Danladi Umar, is not only beholden to, but also under the control of the prosecution. Invariably, since Mr. Danladi Umar has the prosecutors’axe dangling on his neck, his ability to do justice to the defendant would be naturally impaired.”
1. Gentlemen of the Press, we welcome you to this important Press Conference organized by 19 political parties in our country. We have called this press conference to make our position known on the on-going trial of Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which we believe have serious implications for the survival of our democracy and this administration’s avowed commitment to fight corruption.
2. We want to put on record that we are solidly behind President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption; a fight that we believe is crucial to the survival of our country. We however wish to note that this is not the first time that a president of this country would be declaring a war against corruption. In fact, the reason corruption is still a primary issue for the Buhari administration is that previous attempts have not been as successful as they should be.
3. We aver that one of the major obstacles in the fight against political corruption in Nigeria over the years, is the way and manner it has been fought so as to give the impression that the fight is selective and targeted only at perceived enemies of government. Once an anti-corruption action is perceived as politically motivated, then the entire war against corruption easily gets reduced to a means of settling political scores rather than genuine commitment to fighting corruption. We are afraid that if care is not taken, the President Buhari’s avowed commitment to fighting corruption may end up in the ways of his predecessors.
4. The Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki has claimed that the reason he has been singled out for persecution was because he has emerged as Senate President against the wish of his party leadership. There are sufficient reasons for us to believe this claim. However, we also believe that he must avail himself of the opportunities available to him in our laws to defend himself of the allegations against him, regardless of the conspiracies he may have suspected. We have an unflinching faith in our judiciary to ensure that no citizen is punished unjustly no matter the weight of accusations leveled against him.
5. However, the manner that Saraki’s trial has proceeded at the Code of Conduct Tribunal give us serious reasons to be concerned that there is the real possibility that justice may not be done. The Chairman of the Tribunal, Mr. Danladi Umar has failed to demonstrate a dispassion that is required of anyone sitting in judgment over others. In fact, he has behaved more like a member of the prosecution team than an impartial arbiter interested only in ensuring that justice is done.
6. We recall that the Chairman of the Tribunal has himself been under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on allegations of bribery and corruption. We observe however that the preponderance of evidence that has been deployed so far against Dr. Saraki, including the Principal Prosecution Witness in the matter, were supplied by the EFCC.
7. What that means is that the Chairman of the Tribunal, Mr. Danladi Umar, is not only beholden to, but also under the control of the prosecution. Invariably, since Mr. Danladi Umar has the prosecutors’axe dangling on his neck, his ability to do justice to the defendant would be naturally impaired.
8. Our observation in this regard has also been noted and amplified by some eminent jurists and lawyers at a conference held in Lagos recently. Like us, these jurists, which included some former Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and some of the best legal luminaries in the land, hold that there is no reasonable grounds to expect that Mr. Danladi Umar would be impartial or unbiased in this case, giving the circumstances of his relationship with the EFCC. They also note the manifest overzealousness of Umar against Dr. Saraki in a way that is unbecoming of a judge and demonstrates patent bias.
9. To make the matter worse, we noted how the EFCC, in an unprecedented act of desperation, hurriedly issued a memo re-activating a report to the AGF and SGF dated 5th March, 2015, which it now attempts to present as a clearance letter to Umar. If this act alone does not confirm the grand collusion between the EFCC and the Chairman of the Tribunal to tilt the scale of justice against Dr. Saraki, then nothing would. If the Attorney-General under the regime of President Goodluck Jonathan has recommended that Mr. Umar should be removed from office because he has behaved in a way that brings the integrity of the Tribunal into question, it must be astonishing that an agency of government, at the fore front of the fight against corruption could so brazenly attempt to shield him. The only way President Buhari could prove that his government is indeed more serious about fighting corruption is to direct an immediate investigation into the circumstances that led to the EFCC issuing this so-called letter of clearance to Mr. Danladi.
10. In view of the foregoing, we have come to the conclusion that Mr. Danladi Umar should step down from the Saraki trial as it has become clear to everyone that he is indeed an interested party. We believe his continued stay on the bench while this defendant is appearing before the Tribunal supports the conspiracy theory that there is an agenda to convict Dr. Saraki by all means. President Buhari needs to act now, not to stop Saraki’s trial but to ensure that the process of fighting corruption does not end up being even more corrupt than the corruption it seeks to eliminate.
11. By way of emphasis, we maintain that the anti-corruption battle should be transparent and not be tainted by any shade of corruption. Justice should not only be done in the Saraki case as well as any other case in this anti-corruption battle, it should be glaringly seen to be done by all and sundry. This is the only way we can free our fight against corruption from accusation of political persecution and selective justice.
12. For avoidance of doubt, we wish to reiterate that we are not in any way canvassing that Saraki should not be tried. We are only insisting that the trial should follow the due process of law and be transparent. This is the only way the outcome would be credible and acceptable to all citizens and the rest of the world at large.
13. We affirm that if Mr. Danladi Umar continues to sit in the Saraki case, this would only serve to further strengthen the narrative that the Senate President is merely being persecuted as a result of intra-APC politics and not because of any genuine commitment to fight corruption.
14. We also want to state that if it is true that Saraki is being tried because of the internal politics of his party, this in itself would represent an abuse of public trust and a grand act of corruption. Tax payers’ money should not be wasted in settling political scores. And the rest of the country needs not be dragged into APC internal squabbles. However, if this case is about strengthening probity and accountability in public office, we fully support it; even as we insist that justice must not only be done, but be seen by all to have been done to all.
15. Gentlemen of the press, we thank you all for attending this press conference.
Alh. Abdulkadir Abdulsalam (Baraden Paiko)
National Chairman (LP)