Monday, September 21, 2015 12:15 pm
*Legal fireworks at the Tribunal
Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Umar Danladi adjourned proceedings for one hour today to decide on the ‘propriety and impropriety’ of the absence of Senate President, Bukola Saraki in court today.
The tribunal issued a bench warrant against the Senate President on Friday, but the execution was delayed following the assurance of his lead lawyer, Joseph Bodunrin Daodu, a senior advocate, that he would bring him to court.
It was one hell of legal fireworks as lawyers, including the Tribunal members argued back and forth on various issues, stalling the commencement of the trial of the senate president over a 13 count charge of false declaration of assets.
Rotimi Jacobs, also a senior advocate of Nigeria represented the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation took over the prosecution’s role from MS Hassan this morning and went straight to ask Daodu why Saraki is not court. Jacob stressed the need to respect the rule of law, adding that objections to the trial could only be made after a plea of guilty, or not guilty has been made by the accused.
Jacob, who had represented the Federal Government in many cases, pointedly asked Daodu to explain to the court why Senator Saraki was not in court.
Tribunal Chairman interjected and facing Daodu asked: What happened?
Daodu in a calm and measured voice first of all expressed appreciation for the Tribunal’s patience and urged it to continue to exercise the patience in the interest of justice and the rule of law.
He said his client was absent because of “new developments”, since last Friday, when he gave a promise to produce the Senator. The first he said was a case his client has filed at the Court of Appeal, seeking a stay of proceedings at the Tribunal and reminded the court that once an appeal has been filed on a point of law, proceedings must be halted.
Then he raised an observation that he made on Friday: that only two members of the tribunal sat on Friday, instead of the three that constitution prescribed to sit “at all times”. He hammered the point home that because of this inadequacy, everything done by the tribunal on Friday, amounted to a nullity, as the court was ‘incompetent’.
This issue was to ignite heated exchanges between Danladi Umar and Daodu on one hand and between daodu and Jacob on the other.
It would seem the lawyers read different legislations or have different understandings of the laws as all parties sought to rubbish the point raised by Daodu. Tribunal Chairman quoted portions of the law that say that a two-member panel of the Tribunal can form a quorum and thus make the Tribunal competent.
This was an ammunition for Daodu as he latched on it to say that the disagreement on the interpretation of the law could only be resolved at the Appeal Court, apparently one of the issues that the team may have filed before the court.
Jacob sprang up to join issues with “his senior brother’ , saying that he is demonstrating a contempt for the tribunal and that it was wrong for him to come to court to challenge the tribunal’s competence. He went back to the issue hotly contested at the last session: whether any other officer other than the attorney-general could file the action against Saraki. To Jacob, the matter is a decided law by the Supreme Court that the AG’s power could be exercised by any officer in his office.
He therefore urged Daodu to stop wasting the court’s time by moving his motion for a stay of the Tribunal’s sitting, but he quickly foreclosed a possible success of the motion, since only a superior court has the power to stop the tribunal and the legality of its composition.
Umar Danladi, apparently uncomfortable, with the tread of argument threw in the point: that his tribunal is out to justice. Lawyers must seek to say the truth and resist hiding behind technicalities to obfuscate truth. To Daodu, Umar said that members of the public are looking up to him for proper direction. He restated that it is settled law that two persons can make a quorum for the tribunal.
Daodu remained unswayed and said this issue about the tribunal’s competence can only be decided by a higher court. He therefore the tribunal to stay proceedings to allow the court of appeal rule on a number of issues that they have raised.
“I urge you with profound respect to adjourn proceedings and allow the Court of Appeal to decide”, Daodu said.
At this stage Umar Danladi ruled out several precedents that showed that two persons can form a quorum at the tribunal. Then, the second member of the tribunal intervened at this stage, and asked Bodunrin Daodu to address the tribunal on Sections 305 and 306 of the Criminal Procedure Act.
This triggered another hot exchange. Rotimi Jacob, in response to Daodu’s submission that the law does not apply to the tribunal, rebuked the older lawyer accusing him of misinterpreting the law.
“They don’t have monopoly of this knowledge. The law says proceedings must not be stayed in criminal trial, The law says: don’t stay. A plea must be taken first before any complaint. My Lord, You must ask my senior colleague here to produce the accused”. Jacob later apologised for his harsh words against Daodu.
Umar again directed his questioning to Daodu: asking him why he reneged on producing Saraki. He read out the order of the Federal High Court, which Saraki’s legal team has been hiding behind, that it does not implicitly and explicitly stop proceedings at the tribunal.
Daodu stuck to his guns, restating that the clear meaning of court ‘s order was that trial be stopped.
At this stage also, the second member of the panel asked Daodu about the implicit meaning of the letter from Daodu’s chambers which informed the Tribunal of the appeal at the Court of Appeal, to stop Saraki’s arrest and the trial: Does this letter also mean we should stop trial? Implied in the loaded question was that the letter sent by Daodu on his letter head is not the same as a proper document filed at the higher court to signal that the proceedings at the tribunal are being challenged.
Umar Danladi, wearing a cynical smile asked for the umpteenth time from Daodu: Why didn’t he come?
Daodu referred to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s case four years ago, when the same judge stopped proceedings following the injunctions gotten by Tinubu’s lawyer, Wole Olanipekun, also a senior advocate.
“But Tinubu was here”, Umar said.
Moments after, the Umar announced that the court was breaking for one hour to rule on the ‘propriety or impropriety of his coming or not”.