Under Fire Saraki Again Loses Bid to Stop His Trial as Lagos High Court Claims Lack of Jurisdiction
For Bukola Saraki, the embattled Senate President, it does not rain, it pours as the Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos Friday dismissed a fresh application filed by him seeking to stop his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Justice Ibrahim Buba said he lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the case, adding that it ought to have been filed in Abuja where the cause of action took place.
Justice Buba said Saraki could not prove that his rights were about to be violated in Lagos. “He has to proffer the reason for the court to hold that his right is about to be violated in Lagos State. The key word is ‘state’,” said the judge. Attorney-General of the Federation, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Inspector-General of Police were the respondents. Others were the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), its chairman Justice Danladi Umar, and members Mr Ataedze Adza, Mr Sam Saba, Mohammed Diri and Mr M.S. Hassan.
Saraki, through his lawyer, Ajibola Oluyede, had sought a declaration that his trial at the CCT falls short of the requirements of Article 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution. He said there was “clear appearance of bias” against him, as well as an “apparent pursuit of a pre-determined agenda for the humiliation and conviction of the applicant.”
The Senate President sought an order nullifying the charges at the CCT, and an order restraining the tribunal from continuing with his trial. The applicant prayed the court to restrain the AGF, EFCC, Saba, Diri and Hassan from continuing with the trial at CCT or any other judicial forum. He further sought a declaration that the “obvious subjugation and use of the respondents against the applicant for the political objectives of the ruling political party at the federal level, the All Progressives Congress, amounts to an exercise of executive power for ulterior motives and not for the public good…” According to Oluyede, the respondents were humiliating and prosecuting Saraki on trumped up charges “with the intention of securing his removal, impeachment and or resignation from office as Senate President.”
He said the respondents’ actions constituted an infringement of the applicant’s fundamental rights to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to be given a fair hearing by an impartial tribunal. Saraki also sought a declaration that “any such further invitation, arrest, harassment, persecution or prosecution of the applicant by or before any of the respondents on the basis of allegations that have only been brought up 12 years after alleged commission in a bid to irritate, harass, humiliate and persecute the applicant is a breach of the applicant’s fundamental rights to a ‘fair hearing within a reasonable time’.
Finally, he prayed for an order restraining the AGF, EFCC, ICPC, IGP and CCB from prosecuting him based on alleged offences he committed while serving as Kwara State governor. Arguing the application, Oluyede said Saraki’s fundamental right to fair hearing was being threatened by the respondents. He said the court has jurisdiction to hear the suit because the anti-graft agencies were planning to arraign Saraki in Lagos. “There is a plan to draw up trumped-up charges against him at a Lagos High Court so as to convict and remove him as Senate President. So we have two scenarios – one in Abuja and the other in Lagos. “He can take his action in any of the states where he fears his right will be infringed. He’s in Lagos because he fears his rights are to be infringed in Lagos,” he said. However, the respondents, represented by Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) filed a preliminary objection to Saraki’s suit. They contended that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain it. Jacobs said there was nowhere in the processes where Saraki showed that he was about to be tried or arraigned in Lagos. Ruling, Justice Buba said he could not grant the application because there was no evidence that Saraki’s rights were about to be violated in Lagos. He held: “If there is no evidence that the infringement or likely infringement cut across more than one state, then the court will not have the vire or jurisdiction to entertain same. “The filing of further affidavit after the court raised the issue of jurisdiction suo moto (without prompting) is not only an after-thought but amounts to fishing. It is too important an issue to be forgotten by the applicant. “Accordingly, this court has no hesitation in coming to the inevitable conclusion that from the materials placed before this court, the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain this matter. Same is hereby struck out.” Earlier, a dramatic verbal confrontation had ensued between Jacobs and Oluyede at the Inner Bar of the court.
The heated verbal exchange saw Jacobs ordering Oluyede out of the Inner Bar, which is reserved for Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Jacobs had set the tone of the disagreement when he accused Oluyede of trying to obtain a “black market order” through the application in order to frustrate Saraki’s trial. He also said that Oluyede ought to be “reported” for bringing such an application to the court. But Oluyede responded by telling Jacobs that he “came here to make unnecessary noise”, adding: “I don’t know what he’s talking about.” Jacobs then told Oluyede that his comments were disrespectful to him as a SAN, adding that it was “unbecoming” of Oluyede to speak to him in that manner. Jacobs then asked Oluyede to leave the Inner Bar and move back to where non-SANs sit. “I insist he should go back,” he said.
At this point, the presiding judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba intervened, saying that Jacobs should not have allowed Oluyede to sit in the Inner Bar in the first place. “You admitted him into the Inner Bar, so you have waived your right,” the judge said. He, however, warned Oluyede not to make him exercise his “powers”, asking the two lawyers to focus on the case they had come for. Oluyede responded by saying: “I’ll ignore my learned friend’s antics.” The statement further infuriated Jacobs.