The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Wednesday fixed June 21 to hear a motion filed by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki challenging the competence of its chairman to hear the case.
The senate president filed the motion following a statement made by the chairman at the tribunal’s sitting on June 7.
Umar reportedly said that the delay allegedly employed by the defence team in the trial would not reduce the consequences at the end of the trial.
Saraki, who instituted the motion through his lead counsel, Kanu Agabi (SAN), claimed that the comment was a clear indication that the tribunal had made up its mind to convict Saraki, irrespective of the evidence.
Saraki said that when the trial come up for continuation on June 7, one of Saraki’s lawyers, Paul Usoroh (SAN), sought the leave of the tribunal to give a recap of the last proceedings.
The chairman, in his response, accused the defence team of employing delay tactics in the following words:
“I am not happy at the delay tactics by the defence counsel. I must say this out that this delay tactics will not reduce the consequences the defendant will meet from this tribunal at the end of the trial.”
The chairman’s statement, however, did not go down well with Agabi, who immediately expressed “worry about prejudice as evident from the statement threatening consequences even before all the evidences in the case were in”.
Saraki, therefore, asked the chairman to disqualify himself from further participation in the trial.
Saraki insisted that the tribunal chairman was “in a hurry to convict him without giving him a fair hearing or fair opportunity to defend himself”.
The motion, predicated on eight grounds, indicated that the threat of consequences issued by Umar had caused Saraki to lose confidence in the impartiality of the chairman.
He contended that he was no longer confident that he could get justice from the tribunal if the chairman continued to participate in the hearing and the determination of the case.
The senate president said he was worried and lived in “perpetual fear” since the statement was made by the chairman of the tribunal.
He said he no longer believed that justice could be done in the trial, denying the allegation by the chairman that his lawyers had been employing delay tactics to frustrate the trial.
At the resumed trial of the case, Saraki’s counsel, Agabi, informed the tribunal of the pendency of the motion.
He said there was need for the tribunal to determine the motion first because of the fundamental issue raised.
However, counsel to federal government, Pius Akuta, who was holding brief for Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), told the tribunal that the motion was not ripe for hearing and that the business of the day was for the continuation of the cross examination of the prosecution witness.
According to PUNCH, the prosecution had filed a counter-affidavit deposed to by Henry Ejiga, a lawyer in Jacobs’ law firm saying that the statement credited to Umar during the June 7, 2016 proceedings and which Saraki held on to as the basis for seeking Umar’s withdrawal from the trial, was quoted out of context.
The counter-affidavit stated in part:
That as a counsel appearing with the lead counsel in this case, I know as a fact that if the Chairman of this honourable tribunal disqualifies himself, based on this application, the honourable tribunal would have taken over the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal in deciding the appeal.
That I am aware that the Chairman of this honourable tribunal on the said June 7, 2016 stated clearly that his mind is open to do justice to this matter and that he has no prejudice against any of the parties.
That the statement quoted in the affidavit in support, allegedly made by the chairman of the honourable tribunal was quoted out of context without referring to the statement made by the chairman to the effect that his mind was open to do justice to this matter and that he has no prejudice against any of the parties.
That since the charge was filed on September 17, 2015, the defendant has employed all forms of delay tactics to ensure that this matter is not expeditiously heard and to frustrate the prosecution of this case.
Akuta urged the tribunal to continue.
Following the development, the chairman adjourned hearing on the motion until June 21.