TUNDE OYESINA writes on the dust being raised by an alleged corruption tag on the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Barr. Danladi Umar, who was once cleared of the same allegation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)
For the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, it is indeed a trying moment.
Reason: He is facing allegations of bribery and corruption which he was last year given a clean bill of health.
But all that changed a few days ago as the nation’s anti-graft agency–the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had about two weeks ago filed a corruption charge against him before a Federal High Court.
Interestingly, the charge is coming shortly after the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division returned a graft case initiated against Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki to the tribunal.
The appellate court asked Saraki to defend himself on three counts of the 18 counts bothering on false assets declaration slammed on him by the federal government.
Initially, the tribunal had discharged and acquitted Saraki of the 18 counts on the grounds that no prima facie case was established against him as the prosecution had failed to link Saraki with the said charge.
Apparently dissatisfied with the clean bill of health granted Saraki, the federal government through its lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria had approached the appellate court.
In its ruling, the three member panel Court of Appeal led by Justice Tinuade Wilson reversed the acquittal and held that Saraki should go back to the tribunal to defend himself on three of the 18 counts of asset declaration initiated against him by the federal government.
While the trial of Saraki was to commence on February 6, the Federal Government on February 2 slammed a corruption charge on the CCT Chairman barely two years after he was cleared of any corruption allegation by the EFCC through a letter shortly before Saraki’s trial commenced in 2016.
Umar’s travails began when one of Saraki’s lawyer, Ajibola Oluyede had at the beginning of his trial asked Umar to disqualify himself from presiding over the matter on the grounds that there was a pending corruption charge against him by the anti-graft agency which was at the same time prosecuting his client.
But EFCC dismissed the allegation against the CCT chairman, saying there was no strong evidence of corruption that would provide basis for Umar’s prosecution, describing the allegations as “suspicious” and “insufficient.”
Specifically, in a letter addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, the EFCC said Umar was being cleared the second time after its officers had carried out a thorough investigation on the petitions against the tribunal chairman.
The letter reads: ‘‘We would like to reiterate the Commission’s position in regard to this matter as earlier communicated to you and stated that the allegations levelled against Mr. Umar were mere suspicious and consequently insufficient to successfully prosecute the offence.”
The letter, with reference number EFCC/P/NHRU/688/V.30/99, and dated April 20, 2016, was signed by the secretary to the commission, Emmanuel Aremo.
The letter dated April 20, 2016 was the second written to federal authorities by the EFCC to clear Umar after the first letter dated March 5, 2015 through Babachir Lawal’s predecessor, Pius Anyim.
In the letter, the EFCC said there was no strong case against Umar but that there was prima facie evidence to prosecute Umar’s Personal Assistant“, who could offer no coherent excuse for receiving N1.8million into his salary account from an accused person, Taiwo standing trial at the Tribunal.”
Umar had, however, come under intense scrutiny since the commencement of trial of Saraki with many accusing him of being equally tainted and calling on him to excuse himself from Saraki’s case.
Besides, a group, the Anti-Corruption Network had accused Umar of useing his office to purchase N34.9million exotic vehicles, furniture and other household items without recourse to due process.
The ACN, led by Senator Dino Melaye, an ally of the Senate President, dragged Umar before the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions over the allegations.
Umar denied the allegations in its entirety.
But in all of these, the nation’s Justice Minister and Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami could not put Umary on trial as he said there was no “material fact” to put Umar on trial.
According to Malami, it was difficult to initiate any criminal petition against the CCT chairman following his defence against the Melaye-led CAN’s petition and the EFCC’s verdict on the matter.
Malami said: “Deriving from the conclusions, it became difficult for any prosecution to be initiated on the basis of facts as they were presented.
“The position of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation is that in the absence of further material fact in the allegations, we find it very difficult to prosecute Alhaji Umar in the circumstances against the background of his presentation and further conclusion arrived at by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.”
But in a twist, the anti-graft agency through a private prosecutor, Festus Keyamo SAN on February 2 filed fresh corruption charges against Umar.
The charge came two years after the anti-graft agency absolved Umar of any wrongdoing in a case of judicial bribery and racketeering.
Umar was alleged in the charge to have collected N10million from Rasheed Taiwo, a former Customs official who was facing false assets declaration charges before the Code of Conduct Tribunal sometimes in 2012.
The prosecution also accused Umar of receiving N1.8 million of the N10million bribe through one of his personal assistants, Gambo Abdullahi.
The two counts of fraud, however, contradicted Section 12(1) (a) and (b) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2003 as stated by Keyamo in an affidavit prepared on January 25 and stamped on February 2 at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The penalty for the said charge if convicted could attract up to seven years’ imprisonment.
However, examination of the fresh charges indicated that they carry the same substance as the grounds for which anti-graft detectives had earlier cleared Umar.
Umar, while reacting to the fresh charges last Tuesday said he was prepared to fight off the corruption charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Umar, in his comments claimed that he was facing “trumped up charges,” but was nonetheless prepared to vigorously defend himself in courts.
“We’re waiting for the court summons and which judge the case will be assigned to.
“After that, we’ll see how this would play out”, he stated.
He, however, accused the EFCC of “unstable” tactics, saying the charges were brought against him after he had been twice cleared by the same agency.
Umar said he wondered why Keyamo suddenly became the prosecuting counsel in the bribery case, especially since his law firm had been standing as defence counsel for Taiwo.
“Mr. Keyamo was the defence counsel for the ex-Customs official that was charged for falsely declaring his assets,” Mr. Al-Hassan said. “But now he has suddenly become the EFCC prosecutor to charge the CCT chairman for the allegations that his client brought.”
Umar noted that Keyamo appeared for Taiwo until recently when he stopped coming.
“Still, lawyers from his chambers stilled appeared for Taiwo in the last two hearings.”
Umar further stated that the EFCC had nothing on him since it was bringing up the same charges in which the anti-graft detectives had cleared him of any wrongdoing at least two different occasions in the past.
Meanwhile, Saraki had sympathised with Umar for his travails in the hands of the EFCC which suddenly woke up four days to the resume his own case.
In the same vein, the House of Representatives has condemned the seeming manipulation of the nation’s legal system by the Attorney General of the Federation and minister for justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami and the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Alhaji Ibrahim Magu in the latest prosecution of Umar.
At the same time, members of the House of Representatives from Kwara state had urged both the AGF and the EFCC chairman not to compromise the cases being handled by the CCT chairman.
The House resolution was sequel to a motion under matters of urgent public importance sponsored by Hon. Yakubu Barde (PDP, Kaduna) on the “need to ensure sanity in the administration of justice system in the fight against corruption in Nigeria by the Attorney-General of the Federation.”
Leading debate on the motion, Barde, who expressed concern that the chairman of the CCT, Umar had been charged with two count charges of corruption before the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court by the EFCC explained that the same EFCC and the Attorney General had previously cleared Umar of the same allegations which formed the basis of the fresh two count charge.
Any possible convictions or findings which the CCT may make from the same Danladi Umar being charged, may be rendered null and void by the court of Appeal and thereby frustrating the course of Justices,’’Barde said.
Supporting the motion, Hon. Ahmad Aliyu Pategi (APC, Kwara) said that the case against the Senate President was an instance of political manipulation. `EFCC and CCT are political tools used by the present Government to witch hunt perceived enemies,’’ he said.
In his contribution, Hon. Razak Atunwa (APC,Kwara), saidthe shenanigans and intrigues in the CCT and the trial of the Senate president is laughable. No doubt there is connivance between the AGF and the EFCC against the Senate president.’’
Others who supported the motion were Hon. Albert Adeogun (APC, Osun), Hon. Abubakar Kannaike (APC, Kwara) and Hon. Gabriel Onyenife (APGA, Anambra),
However, Hon. Mohammed Monguno (APC, Borno), opposed the motion submitting that “the presumption of innocence gives the judge the right to go ahead in preside over the matter.’ He argued that the case against the Senate President Bukola Saraki was a retrial so Umar could preside over it.
The motion was therefore, adopted by members when it was put to a voice vote by the Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
Meanwhile, the Kwara lawmakers in the House led by Hon. Razaq Atunwa, Hon. Mohammed Zakari and Hon. Abubakar Amuda Kannaike at a press briefing explained that the motion was not about the trial of the senate president but the seeming double standards both the EFCC and the AGF were playing out.
Addressing the media, Atunwa said it was ‘manifestly absurd to allow a judge who was undergoing trial to sit in judgement against others’ as according to him, any judgement given by such judge would be a subject of controversy.
Atunwa maintained that “any judgement or conviction or acquittal by the CCT presided over by Danladi Umar will be ‘null and void’ adding that it ‘is manifestly preposterous’ for the judge to continue with the cases he is handling.
‘Where is the morality in this scenario? On the one hand, the EFCC believes that Danladi Umar is corrupt and on the other hand, he can sit on a case being prosecuted by the EFCC.”
He said both the EFCC and the CCT operates under the Presidency and it will be wrong for the person heading the CCT to be handling cases being prosecuted by the EFCC and at the same time facing allegations of corruption from the same body.
Also speaking at the briefing, Hon. Zakari Mohammed bemoaned the manner both the AGF and the EFCC chairman were handling the CCT chairman’s case, describing as unethical.
The matter is yet to be assigned to a judge.