Bukola Saraki: The Final Forensic Summersault Of A Proxy War


By Davidson Iriekpen



At the weekend, former President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, hailed the Supreme Court’s judgment, which overturned the Federal High Court’s 2018 decision regarding an alleged N3.5 billion fraud case against Melrose General Services Limited, a company believed to be linked to him.

Even though he had since moved on after several plots to upstage him as the Senate president failed, especially since the same Supreme Court had first cleared him of any wrongdoing over the alleged false declaration of assets charges filed against him by the federal government at the Code of Conduct Tribunal were dismissed, he could not have glossed over this one victory. It connotes too much to wave at merely.

In December 2016, the federal government approved the sum of N522.74bn to be paid to the 36 states of the federation as part of the reimbursement of the over-deduction on the Paris Club loan from 1995 to 2002.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Ibrahim Magu, had claimed that the loan refunds were illegally diverted through the account of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

It added that its investigation revealed that following receipt of the fund, the NGF, in an alleged connivance with Saraki as its chairman, remitted huge sums of money to private consultants, who eventually laundered about N19bn. It further alleged that a sum of N3.5bn was lodged into Melrose General Services’ account.

The anti-graft agency, believed to have been drafted into the “pull down Saraki” project, submitted a report to President Muhammadu Buhari, linking the former Senate president and some of his aides to the diversion of the sum of N19bn from the N522.74bn Paris Club refund.

EFCC arraigned Gbenga Makanjuola, Deputy Chief of Staff to Saraki, for alleged fraud amounting to N3.5billion before Justice Babs O. Kuewumi of the Federal High Court, Lagos, on an amended 11-count charge bordering on alleged conspiracy, accepting cash payment beyond threshold and money laundering to the said amount.

Makanjuola was charged alongside Kolawole Shittu, and pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them.

But on April 27, 2018, a Federal High Court in Lagos, presided over by Justice Cecilia Olatoregun, ordered the final forfeiture of the said money to the federal government.

Dissatisfied with the verdict of Justice Olatoregun, Melrose General Services approached the appellate court for redress, asking it to set aside the pronouncement of the lower court.

In June 2019, Court of Appeal in Lagos, dismissed the appeal and affirmed the request of EFCC for the final forfeiture of the money. It further held that Melrose’s appeal lacked merit and ordered the firm to pay N100,000 cost to the EFCC.

The appellate court also held that Melrose could not show that the said funds were lawfully earned by it. Justice Tijjani Abubakar, who wrote the lead judgment, added that section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud Act, 2006, which the EFCC relied on to seek forfeiture of the said funds was constitutional.

Justice E. Tobi and Justice O. A. Obaseki-Adejumo, both of whom concurred with the verdict, also agreed that the company was not denied fair hearing in the matter.

However, delivering judgment last Friday, the court panel led by Justice Akomaye Agim not only set aside the judgments of the lower courts and dismissed the case in its entirety, it also ruled in favour of the appellant, Melrose General Services.

The victory at the apex court by Saraki was not the first time he would be vindicated from obvious political machinations, the core of which was perpetrated during and by the Buhari government.

His rat race with the Buhari administration started after he emerged the president of the senate without the consent of the establishment, which wanted someone else. But Saraki, on the other hand, was driven by the fact that the same establishment was going to stab him on the back after they had agreed, albeit in principle, that he would be the senate president.

Seeing that his political career, which had just peaked at the time, was likely to fizzle out in flash if he lost the battle to be the senate president, Saraki took his destiny in his own hands, and went all out to “snatch” the seat from the establishment.

Sadly, for the establishment, that he became the senate president through subterranean moves was not principally their concern, but that he went to the whole extent of engaging the opposition, to the point that he made a member of the opposition party his deputy as part of the deal. Neither Buhari nor president Bola Tinubu forgave him.

However, for context, it’s important to note that when the federal government first arraigned Saraki for alleged false assets declaration before theCode of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar, had dismissed the entire 18 counts charge on the grounds that the prosecution, with its four witnesses and 49 exhibits tendered, only led hearsay evidence.

The government appealed the ruling and on December 12, 2017, and the Court of Appeal asked Saraki to enter defence on three counts. He proceeded to the Supreme Court to challenge Appeal Court’s decision.

On July 6, 2018, a five-man panel of the Supreme Court led by Justice Dattijo Mohammed, unanimously brought the case an end.

The apex court, in its lead judgment delivered by Justice Centus Nweze, ruled that in clear conscience, there was no basis for the Court of Appeal to have held that Saraki had a case to answer on the three counts as according to the justice of the apex court, the entire evidence of the prosecution was based on hearsay.

Justice Nweze further held ruled that the Court of Appeal was guilty of “forensic summersault” which he said was capable of making ill of jurisprudence. The court held firmly that “The prosecution is duty bound by law to call all key witnesses to be able to establish prima facie case against anybody,”

Thus, responding to last Friday’s verdict, Saraki noted that the ruling vindicated his earlier stance that the case was politically-motivated and a veiled attempt to witch-hunt him because he emerged President of the Senate against the wishes of certain forces.

In a statement by his Head of Media, Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu, the former Senate president said the ruling had revealed the truth and affirmed his earlier position of innocence. He added that the legal suit was a proxy war, aimed at persecuting him, undermining his political career, and tarnishing his reputation.

“As much as this case was between the EFCC and Melrose General Services Limited, it was a proxy war, with Melrose serving as a mere pawn in a larger scheme to victimise and persecute me. It was always clear that this case was a thinly veiled attempt by the Buhari administration to weaponise the legal system for political gain.

“The allegations of ‘Paris Club Fraud’ were nothing more than a smokescreen designed to weaken the institution of my office, undermine my political career, and tarnish my reputation through spurious accusations similar to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), which also acquitted me of all charges.

“As I said in my first appearance at the CCT, this is a politically motivated case. The case was trumped up in the first instance because I emerged as the President of the Senate against the wishes of certain forces.

“The fact that this case was even brought to court, based on dubious evidence and procedural irregularities, is proof of the length that some people will go to manipulate the legal system for political gain. It was a disservice to the Nigerian people and a waste of our limited but valuable judicial resources,” Saraki said.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, therefore, lauded the judiciary for ensuring that justice prevailed, and charged all to be inspired by the verdict in the fight against corruption and abuse of power for the promotion of Nigeria’s democracy.

“I am profoundly grateful to the Almighty Allah, the ultimate arbiter of justice, for guiding the Supreme Court to this righteous verdict. I applaud the judiciary for their meticulous examination of the evidence and adherence to due process, which has ensured that justice prevailed. I also thank Melrose’s legal team for their tireless efforts in bringing this case to a just conclusion.

“Moving forward, we all have to canvas for fairness in the fight against corruption. We should see this verdict as an inspiration to champion the rule of law, promote democracy and its institutions, and tolerate divergent views,” Saraki added.


Credit: Thisday

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