The Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, ordered the arrest of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki following his refusal to appear in court to face a 13-count criminal charge that was preferred against him by the federal government.
The tribunal which is headed by Justice Danladi Umar, directed the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mr. Solomon Arase and other relevant security agencies in the country to arrest the Senate President and produce him in court on Monday for arraignment.
Saraki was in the charge before the CCT, marked ABT/01/15 and dated September 11, 2015, alleged to have falsely declared his assets, contrary to the constitutional requirement.
He was accused of deliberately manipulating the assets declaration form that he filed prior to his assumption of office as the Senate President, by making anticipatory declaration of assets.
The offence was said to have been committed while Saraki held sway as a governor.
Aside allegation that he owned and operated foreign bank accounts while being a public officer, Saraki is expected to explain before the CCT how he acquired some assets which the federal government believes were beyond his legitimate earnings.
Meantime, Saraki who was billed for arraignment yesterday, refused to appear before the tribunal, even though he sent his team of lawyers, led by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. J.B. Daudu, SAN, to file memorandum of conditional appearance on his behalf.
When his case was called up, one of his lawyers, Mr. Mahmud Magaji, SAN, notified the tribunal about the ruling by Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, which had on Thursday, summoned the Ministry of Justice over the charge against Saraki.
Justice Mohammed had after he heard an ex-parte application by Saraki, also summoned the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Umar and that of the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, Mr. Sam Saba, to appear before him on Monday.
They were specifically asked to appear to show cause why an interim order of injunction stopping Saraki?s trial should not be granted.
Meantime, irked by Saraki?s absence at the tribunal for the commencement of his prosecution yesterday, the Ministry of Justice, prayed the Justice Umar-led panel to order for his arrest.
Moving the oral application for a bench warrant to be issued against Saraki yesterday, a deputy director in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. M.S. Hassan, maintained that the accused person, ?cannot sit in the comfort of his chamber and object to his trial in absentia?.
The prosecution further contended that Justice Mohammed lacked the powers to summon the CCT and CCB chairmen, even as it accused Saraki of engaging in ?forum shopping? in a desperate bid to scuttle his trial.
Hassan argued that going by the provision of section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, Saraki, could only object to the trial after he had entered his plea to the charge against him.
?My lords, the provision of this section is clear to the effect that any objection to a charge shall be raised after plea, which means that the accused person must be in court and the charge read to him before any objection.
?Moreover, paragraph 17 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 constitution, as amended, empowers this tribunal to try the accused person?.
The prosecuting counsel described Saraki?s contention that he cannot be prosecuted in the absence of a substantive Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, as ?a clear misconception of the law?.
He argued that the power to initiate criminal proceeding before any court or tribunal is not limited to the AGF alone, adding that section 175 of the constitution provides that any officer in the office of the AGF is qualified to initiate criminal proceeding in any court of law or tribunal in Nigeria, except the court martial.
Placing reliance on decided case law in FRN vs Adeyemi, 2010, 10-NWLR, and section 2 & 4 of the Law Officers Act, the prosecution stres-sed that in the absence of a substantive AGF, the Solicitor General of the Federation could perform all the duties that were imposed by the law on the office of the AGF.
?We also rely on section 24(3) of the CCB &Tribunal Act to submit that the charge against the accused person is proper and competent.
?The Federal High Court lacks the power to compel this court before it. They are both superior courts of record with coordinate jurisdiction, and are both recognised by the constitution. Appeals from this court go straight to the Court of Appeal.
?The Federal High Court does not have supervisory jurisdiction over this court. It only has power over inferior tribunals, not a court of competent jurisdiction as this court.
?The accused person cannot stop us from performing our constitutional duties. He cannot sit in the comfort of his chamber and say my lawyer will do it for me. This is a criminal case, not a civil matter.
?We therefore urge my lords to issue a bench warrant for the arrest of the accused person?, the prosecutor added.