Eminent jurists query CCT’s criminal jurisdiction, demand fairness in Saraki’s case
Eminent jurists, including Nigeria’s prominent constitutional lawyers have stepped out to query the ‘unchallengeability’ of the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of the President of the Senate, Dr. Olubukola Saraki, delivered on February 5, 2016. which granted the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) a quasi criminal jurisdiction to try criminal matters.
While the legal luminaries recommended that Dr. Saraki be given fair hearing, which is constitutionally guaranteed to him before a court of law where there would not be any likelihood of bias, they also called for the re-opening of the investigation on allegation of corruption leveled against the Chairman of the Code Of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar, and at the same time advise him to withdraw from presiding over the senate president’s case.
The eminent jurists comprise of former Justices of the Supreme Court, Salisu Alfa Modibo Belgore, George Oguntade (CFR), Samson Odemwingie Uwaifo, prominent constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, (SAN), Attorney General, Lagos State, Adeniji Kazeem, Chief Nnoruka Udechukwu (SAN) and Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) at an inaugural conference of Ben Nwabueze Centre for Studies in Constitutional Law and Related Subjects titled: ‘The Code of Conduct Enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria and its Crucial Importance in the Fight against Corruption’ held in Lagos recently, said the court of public opinion is a vital bedrock of governance in a democratic society as Nigeria.
In the communiqué adopted after the one-day event, the legal luminaries said every Nigerian is a stakeholder in the Nigerian state project, and have a duty to contribute to the discussion on the question provoked by the above Supreme Court judgment.
The communiqué reads thus: That the Supreme Court decision on the issue of the jurisdiction of the CCT is inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)
The lawyers also averred that the Supreme Court was wrong in holding that the Constitution itself invests the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) with a quasi-criminal jurisdiction, saying that the Code is, “in its essential character, merely a body of rules designed to regulate the civil, not criminal behaviour of public officers, much in the fashion of the Civil Service Rules.”
The communiqué also stated that the CCT, not being so listed under Section 6(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) as a Court, has no power or jurisdiction, derived from the Constitution to try, convict and impose punishment on persons for a criminal offence; the decision of the Supreme Court attributing such jurisdiction to it, as jurisdiction derived from the Constitution, is null and void under sections 1(3), 6 and 36 (13) of the Constitution; also any law made by the National Assembly that confers such jurisdiction on the CCT is null and void.
It stated further that the Supreme Court decision on the issue of the jurisdiction of the CCT has no basis in a law validly made by the National Assembly, adding that the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Acts, are glaringly unconstitutional and void because it duplicates relevant provisions of the Constitution, and because some of its provisions purport to vary the provisions of the Constitution.
Insisting that the CCT is not a court of law under our Constitution and cannot be invested with criminal or quasi-criminal jurisdiction, the communiqué averred that the initiation of the criminal prosecution against Dr. Saraki before the CCT by a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice at a time when there was no incumbent Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), is invalid and incompetent in law.
It added that it is not reasonable to be supposed or be expected that Danladi Umar, can be impartial or unbiased in adjudicating the case between the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) against Saraki. “There can be no greater mockery of the whole notion of impartiality in any adjudicatory system than that Umar, with the threat of prosecution and removal from office for alleged corruption by the FRN hanging over his head, should have been allowed to adjudicate as presiding judge in the circumstances of this case. Bias on the part of Umar seems to be clearly manifest in all the circumstances surrounding the case,” the communiqué said.
The lawyers also lamented that the manner in which Umar was conducting the trial manifests a certain overzealousness that suggests at least a real likelihood of bias on the part of Umar against Dr. Saraki or a lack of impartiality.
It however recommended that Dr. Saraki be given a fair hearing, which is constitutionally guaranteed to him before a Court of Law where there would not be any likelihood of bias.
It also called for the re-opening of the investigation on allegation of corruption leveled against Umar, while it advised for his withdrawal from presiding over Saraki’s case.