· Says Jacobs, Senate President’s lawyer close allies
Apparently unimpressed by the slow pace of the trial of the Senate President Bukola Saraki over false assets declaration, the Federal Government has dropped its counsel in the matter, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN).
In the place of Jacobs, the government has picked Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Dipo Okpeseyi (SAN) to handle Saraki’s prosecution.
The Senate President was arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) last year on a 13-count charge of false declaration of assets while he was the governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
Since Saraki was first arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on September 22, 2015, the case has faced several hitches, largely due to the Senate President’s rush to the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court to stop his prosecution.
The commencement of trial proper was slated for last Friday but was stalled by a fresh application Saraki filed to challenge the tribunal’s powers to try him.
Saraki, who stormed the tribunal with a contingent of 66 lawyers headed by a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), argued that the charge against him was brought in violation of all due processes and in violation of his right to fair hearing as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
A reliable source at the Federal Ministry of Justice who sought anonymity, told The AUTHORITY that the government was not comfortable with the new development where Saraki employed the legal services of Agabi whom Jacobs served as a Personal Assistant when Agabi was the AGF and Minister of Justice.
The source also disclosed that the current Chairman of the CCT, Justice Danladi Umar, also cut his teeth in legal practice at Agabi’s Chambers.
According to the source, the Federal Government is not at ease with the close affinity between Agabi and Jacobs because their relationship has been that of a “master and servant”.
“Everyone knows that Rotimi Jacobs was a Personal Assistant to Chief Kanu Agabi while the latter was AGF and Minister of Justice.
“This relationship has triggered government’s suspicion that Jacobs might not be able to continue with the pace and energy at which he began the prosecution of the embattled Senate President.
“It is not as if Jacobs would sell out or bungle the case, but because of the close relationship between Agabi as Jacobs’ former boss, he might lack the will to prosecute the matter till the end.
“It is on that basis that the Federal Government has replaced Rotimi Jacobs with Dipo Okpeseyi, who is a member of the government’s new crack team of prosecutors that have been engaged to take up the prosecution of the Buhari-led anti-corruption initiative” the source said.
The AUTHORITY recalls that after the Supreme Court’s decision on February 5 this year, which dismissed Saraki’s appeal, the Senate President approached the tribunal with the application which had been determined right from the tribunal to the apex court.
When the parties arrived at the tribunal last Friday, the prosecution lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs, informed the CCT that he was ready for commencement of the trial, and that his witnesses were in court.
But responding, Agabi informed the court about a fresh motion he filed, challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
He said the motion was served on the Federal Ministry of Justice and not personally on the prosecution lawyer.
Jacobs protested what he described as the wrong service of the new motion by the defence, arguing that it was part of the ploy by the defence to prevent the commencement of trial in the case.
He noted that, while Agabi effected personal service on him, requesting the rescheduling of the resumption of proceedings in the suit, he (Agabi) chose not to serve him the fresh motion.
Jacobs noted that the issue raised in the new motion had been decided earlier by the tribunal, and up to the Supreme Court.
He said the Supreme Court’s judgment in the similar motion by Saraki has since been report and cited as “Saraki vs FRN: SC 2016 NWLR at page 531.”
This scenario where Agabi “deliberately” refused to serve the new application in Saraki’s suit on Jacobs further confirmed the FG’s fears of a deliberate attempt to frustrate the trial, the source said.
Consequently, Jacobs urged the tribunal to allow the prosecution to open its case, noting that under Section 368 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) the defence could raise objection at any stage in the case, but that the tribunal was empowered to reserve its decision which it could give with the judgment.
In his response, Agabi apologised for the service of his fresh application on Jacobs’ client. He blamed the error on the fact that he was new in the matter.
He sought a date for the hearing of the motion, arguing that it was the law that once a motion was filed, even if it was frivolous, the court must hear it and pronounce on it.
Tribunal Chairman, Danladi Umar, adjourned to March 18 for the hearing of Saraki’s new motion and possible commencement of trial.
He directed Jacobs and Agabi to file all necessary papers before then. He also directed that henceforth, all processes should be served on the prosecution lawyer in person.
Saraki, in the new motion filed on March 4, wants the court to quash the charge against him or strike it out and discharge him of the offences on the ground, among others, that the tribunal lacked the jurisdiction to try him.
He argued that the process leading to his arraignment was wrong and that he was denied fair hearing.