Assets declaration: Judge withdraws from Saraki’s suit

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Justice Abdulkadir Kafarati of the Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday withdrew from the enforcement of fundamental human rights suit instituted by Senate President, Bukola Saraki. Justice Kafarati also returned the case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, for re-assignment to another judge. 

The judge premised his refusal to deliver judgment in the case slated for yesterday on the ground that an online medium, Saharareporters, had made a wild allegation against him in respect of the case that he was compromised to the tune of N2 billion by Sarari to deliver judgement in his favour. Justice Kafarati said since he had been maligned by the reports, the honourable thing for him to do was to disqualify himself from the case.

The judge, who quoted vividly the online reports, said he had been caught between two dimensions. “If I grant the prayers of the applicant, the reading public will say yes, the judge has been compromised. If I refuse the prayers, they will say the judge has been threatened or intimidated. “In the instance case, I am already caught in-between two devils because any attempt to give the judgment in this matter, even though it is ready for today (yesterday), but the attempt can be used by the wicked people to justify their malicious publication against my person. “I was even called a high level corrupt judge and this is very unfortunate; that a publication from a medium that is supposed to be objective was dished out in the most reckless manner. “I regard them as people without conscience who derive pleasure in publishing what they know is not true simply because they wanted to assassinate a character.

“The most honourable thing for me to do is to disqualify myself from this case. I hereby disqualify myself from this case and the file is returned to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment,” he said. It would be recalled that Saraki had filed a legal action at the Federal High Court to seek enforcement of his fundamental human rights to a fair trial on the falsification of assets charges brought against him by the Federal Government at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Saraki, through his lawyer, Mr. Raphael Oluyede, claimed in the suit that he could not get justice from the CCT Chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, who is being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, and who is being used by the same Commission and its lawyer to prosecute him.

Justice Kafarati had on March 1, heard and fixed Tuesday for judgment in the case. The judgment was to come on the heel of an earlier verdict of the Supreme Court, which had on February 5 validated the Senate President’s trial before the CCT. Incidentally, the CCT itself on March 18 fixed Thursday to deliver its ruling on another application by Saraki, challenging the validity of the charges and the tribunal’s jurisdiction to entertain the case. An earlier application by Saraki seeking an order halting his trial was dismissed by CCT, and the tribunal’s ruling became a subject of appeals which he lost at the Court of Appeal and finally laid to rest by the Supreme Court’s judgment on February 5. Both his suit before the Federal High Court and his fresh application before the CCT are anchored primarily on the same grounds.

He argued, essentially in the two legal actions, that the charges had been rendered invalid, robbing the tribunal of its jurisdictions due to the failure of the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, to invite and confront him with the alleged infractions in his assets declaration forms before filing the charges. He contended that the failure of CCB to confront him with the said infractions constituted a breach of his fundamental human rights to fair hearing and by extension rendered the charges a nullity. Meanwhile, a human rights group, Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, has warned politicians to stair clear of Saraki’s trial in the interest of the nation’s criminal justice system. The group at a press briefing in Lagos yesterday decried the high level politicking and interference by politicians in the trial, saying the interference could rubbish the judiciary.

CLO President, Igho Akeregha, who addressed the press, urged politicians to allow the court to maintain the accepted standards within the judiciary in handling matters, including the allegations leveled against the Senate president. He said: “The courts must not allow it’s hallowed chambers to be used by politicians to settle scores but should ensure that justice is not only done but must be seen to be done. “CLO therefore urge the CCT handling this case to be fair and upright in its adjudication by not giving into any form of intimidation, inducement or harassment.

Anything to the contrary poses a grave danger to the judiciary.” The group noted that making contradictory pronouncements makes a mockery of the judiciary and its processes, saying “It will be foolhardy for the judiciary to allow some politicians that have accused it of corruption to paradoxically use it to deliver corrupt judgment.” Akeregha explained that the judiciary is an institution that must not be destroyed because of some individuals who are bent on settling personal scores. He said the warning became necessary because it is dangerous for the nation if the citizens stay aloof and allow the judiciary to be destroyed in pursuit of personal vendetta. He said CLO would not support any framework that compromises the anti corruption agenda in favour of gaining political leverage over any group or individual no matter how well couched.

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