Supreme Court frees Saraki on false assets declaration charge

The Supreme Court has dismissed the charge of false assets declaration brought against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

Justice Centus Chima Nweze, in a lead judgment of a five-man panel, upheld Saraki’s appeal, set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove its case.

The Court of Appeal had, in a December 12, 2017judgement, held that the prosecution established a prima facie case against Saraki on three out of the 18 counts contained in the charge and ordered him to enter defence in relation to the three counts.

The apex court dismissed the entire charge and held that the prosecution failed to discharge its responsibility of proving its case.

The apex court upheld the June 14, 2017 ruling of the CCT, which freed Saraki. It was of the view that all the evidence presented by the prosecution were hear-say evidence and therefore not admissible.

The Supreme Court noted that the witnesses that were vital to the prosecution’s case, who would have provided direct evidence were not called.

The court, after discharging Saraki, proceeded to also dismiss the cross-appeal filed by the prosecution.

Other members of the panel were Justices Dattijo Mohammed, John Okoro, Amina Augie and Ejembi Eko.

In his lead judgment, with which the other four justices agreed, Justice Nweze faulted the prosecution for not appealing  the tribunal’s finding, to the effect that the evidence led by its (prosecution’s) witnesses were hearsay evidence, which are not admissible and cannot be accorded probative value.

Nweze also faulted the Appeal Court for partially voiding the decision of the CCT, by which it (Appeal Court), restored three out of the 18 counts contained in the original charge against Saraki. The CCT had dismissed the entire charge.

Nweze was of the view that the documentary evidence,  including Saraki’s assets declaration forms and his bank statements, tendered by the prosecution, amounted to documentary hearsay, because the witnesses, through whom the prosecution tendered them, we not the makers.

Nweze said: “Surely, the hearsay evidence of PW1 (EFCC operative) cannot by any stretch of logic move into the direct evidence of PW4 (Saraki’s account officer).

“What is more is that the hearsay evidence of PW1, the building block of of PW4, having been declared inadmissible, cannot be the basis of conclusion that the prima facie case has been made out in Counts 4, 5 and 6.”

Nweze said the Appeal Court was right in  agreeing with the CCT on the point that “practically, all the material evidence produced by the prosecution witnesses was hearsay. The actual person or persons or authorities who have knowledge about the facts sought to be proved were not called to testify before the tribunal.

“In all, from my intimate reading of pages 2323, 2325 and 2341 (of the record of appeal), I have only one observation to make.

“The lower court was caught up in an analytical mix-up, the mix-up that occasioned the inexcusable conclusion that a prima facie case has been made out with regard to counts 4, 5 and 6.

“This cannot be, since the same lower court has dismissed the testimonies of the witnesses as hearsay.

“I, therefore, take the view that having regard to the negative and unpleasant comments of the lower court on the probative value of the testimonies of PW1(see pages 2329, 2331, 2332 and 2333, Volume 5 supra), PW2 in pages 2334, 2335 and 2336, Volume 5, PW3 (see pages 2325, 2326, 2334; and PW4, whose testimony was woven around the inadmissible evidence of PW1, the lower court’s view that the prosecution made out a prima facie case in counts 4, 5 and 6 was a juridical equivalence of a forensic somersault.

“Such an approach which speaks ill about our jurisprudence is clearly unsupportable.

“For this court to agree with the lower court will be to supplant the constitutional provision of proving the guilt of the appellant beyond reasonable doubt.

“This court cannot lend its juridical stature and acclaimed eminence to such a caricature of justice.

“I, therefore, make bold to say that the lower court was in grave error when in the absence of material evidence no matter how slight ‘linking the defendant to the commission of the offences charged’ yet proceeded to hold that the prosecution was only able to establish prima facie against the defendant in Counts 4,5and 6. That cannot be.

“Against this background, therefore, I have the duty to vacate the judgment of the lower court.

“In its place, I find and hold that from the testimonies of the four prosecution witnesses, the prosecution failed to make a prima facie case against the appellant.

“I, therefore, in the penchant command of section 302 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act enter an order discharging the appellant.

“Accordingly, I restore the ruling of the trial tribunal in favour of the appellant. Appeal allowed. The appellant is discharged,” Nweze said.

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