Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tinubu refuses to enter dock, knows fate Nov. 30

ACN decries supporters’ arrest
FORMER Governor of Lagos State and leader of the nation’s major opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, yesterday mounted a legal obstacle against his trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for allegedly operating 16 foreign bank accounts between 1999 and 2007 while he served as governor.
The former governor stoutly declined the directive of the CCT to take a place in the dock.
Besides, the ACN has condemned the arrest of its supporters who were travelling to Abuja for yesterday’s court appearance of Tinubu.
The party said the arrest, which should be condemned by all Nigerians, was another instance of the emerging pattern of a police clampdown on the ACN and its supporters.
Specifically, Tinubu through his counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) filed a preliminary objection challenging the competence of the charge and the jurisdiction of the tribunal on the score that it lacked the territorial jurisdiction to venture into the charge.
The CCT yesterday reserved until November 30, 2011 its decision as to whether or not it has territorial jurisdiction to try one of the most influential members of the leading opposition party.
The tribunal would on that same day announce its verdict on Tinubu’s application to quash the three-count charge preferred against him by the Federal Government.
When the matter was called up, the former governor complemented by scores of supporters contested the veracity of the charge and the territorial jurisdiction of the tribunal to adjudicate on the matter.
On the strength of Tinubu’s preliminary objection, he refused to enter the dock, a condition precedent to his entering a plea of either guilty or not guilty, a departure from his position of September 21, 2011 when he willingly made the dock a companion for about three hours.
At yesterday’s proceedings, Olanipekun objected to the invitation of the tribunal’s Chairman, Justice Umar Yakubu, for Tinubu to enter the dock.
Citing legal authorities to support his position, Olanipekun submitted that until his client was arraigned before the court, he could not be put in the dock.
“My lord, with due respect, I will be objecting to the request for the accused to enter the dock. Was it right for the court to command an accused person to go into the dock when he has not been arraigned? Besides, he is challenging the competence of the charge. The objection is on the legality or validity of the charge,” he said.
He referred the court to the case of Edet Vs State (2008) 14 NWLR part 1106 at page 52 to argue further that the defendant did not even need to be in court before his application challenging the jurisdiction of the court and the competence of the charges would be heard.
However, prosecution counsel, Dr. Alex Aigbe Izinyon (SAN), submitted that the accused person should be deemed as being absent from court as the fact that he was in court did not translate to his presence in court unless he took his place in the dock and his plea was taken.
He conceded to the position of Olanipekun that the accused need not be in court before his application challenging the jurisdiction of the court could be argued.
“But when he has not taken his plea, but is in court, he must be in the dock to show his presence in court”, he said.
But going to the heart of his objection, Olanipekun argued that the charges as constituted were nebulous as they did not disclose any prima facie case against the accused person.
It was also his case that the Code of Conduct Bureau breached the condition precedent principle when it refused to invite his client to its office to hear from him before preferring charges against him.
On this leg of submission, Olanipekun tendered newspapers’ publications to show that the tribunal had extended similar invitations to other former governors but deliberately shut his client out.
“What the bureau has done is like putting something on nothing. Neither the bureau nor the chairman has invited the accused person in relation to the three-count charge as stipulated in section 3 of the Code of Conduct Act.
“The bureau must first and foremost call the accused. The chairman of the bureau said they invited other ex-governors. Now the question is why not extend a similar invitation to the accused person? What is good for the goose is good for the gander,” he said.
Attacking the competence of the charges, Olanipekun contended further that the content of the charges was speculative and amounted to hearsay going by the provisions of Section 115, 116 and 117 of the Evidence Act, as the prosecution did not disclose the name of the informant.
Another leg of the objection was that it was an abuse of court processes as a similar case with the same subject matter initiated against the accused person was still subsisting at the Court of Appeal.
He dismissed the contention of the prosecution that the case had been withdrawn, adding that withdrawal of the charges had to be formal with the pronouncement of the court and not a mere letter of withdrawal as the one paraded by the prosecution.
It was his final leg of argument that the court lacked the territorial jurisdiction to hear the case in Abuja, saying the appropriate venue was Lagos where the alleged offence was committed.
“In a criminal trial, the law is that the court must sit at the place where the alleged offence was committed. There is no law that says the tribunal must sit in Abuja over the matter,” he said.
Olanipekun accordingly urged the court to decline its jurisdiction to proceed with the matter and to quash all the three-count charges against Tinubu.
However, the prosecution counsel, Izinyon opposing, urged the tribunal to throw out the objections and proceed with the trial of the accused person.
Izinyon argued that the charge had established a prima facie case against the accused person.
Specifically, he said under Section 17 of the Code of Conduct Act, a nominee, trustee or any agent of a public officer may be deemed to have committed an offence, adding that at this stage, it was too premature to say that the charge was defective.
On the issue of the charge being an abuse of court process, Izinyon said the earlier charges against the accused person had been withdrawn by the Attorney General of the Federation using his powers under Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended) and urged the court to reject the argument.
Making his submissions on the issue of non-fulfilment of conditional precedent, he said that the bureau had the discretion as to whether or not to invite people to make statements before it.
On jurisdiction, Izinyon argued that the tribunal had federal jurisdiction and could therefore conduct its sittings in any part of the country.
He, therefore, urged the tribunal to refuse the objections and assume jurisdiction over the matter.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said in Abuja yesterday that as at the time of issuing this statement, the arrested members were yet to be released by the police.
The ACN recalled that the police also arrested the party’s supporters on their way to Abuja to show support for the party’s leader when he first appeared in court last month.
The party said: ‘’When this is taken along with the recent harassment of journalists at The Nation as well as the arrest and trial of our party chairman in Jigawa State, Dr. Abubakar Fulata, for slandering the state governor by saying he has no requisite qualifications to be governor, one can see an orchestrated and well-coordinated attempt to suppress the opposition in the country, with the police as the arrowhead.
“This is nothing but a clear attempt to subvert democracy and the rule of law. How can we claim to be in a democracy when Nigerians are being wantonly denied of their constitutional rights, including the freedom to associate and move around freely? When did it become an offence for Nigerians to travel from one part of the country to another? What security risks could unarmed and peaceful Nigerians pose simply by traveling from Osun State to Abuja?
‘’It is important to find out who has been giving the orders for the arrest of ACN members on the road. And if the IGP (Inspector General of Police) says he is not the one, then it is pertinent to ask who is really in charge of the police?”
The party described the action of the police against ACN members as misplaced aggression, saying the same police force that had proved to be clinically efficient in harassing and intimidating ACN members had been cowing before Boko Haram, armed robbers and kidnappers.
‘’Or could it be that the police under IGP Hafiz Ringim have been specially trained only to sniff out ACN members, or all progressive-leaning individuals and groups, and ferret them to detention at the slightest opportunity?”  it asked.
The ACN said it was time to call IGP Ringim to order, because he was fast emerging as a threat to the country’s democracy and the enjoyment of civil liberties.
The party said since Ringim’s assumption of office, cases of extra-judicial killings had increased, insecurity had worsened while the enjoyment of individual rights and freedoms had come under assault by the police, wondering whether this was the legacy that he wanted to leave behind after many years in service.
“The police should immediately release the arrested ACN supporters and lay off our members so they can move about freely in their own country, as long as they are not disturbing the peace. If the police persist in their current folly, then they should be blamed for any breakdown of law and order that may result from their undemocratic and unlawful actions,’’ ACN warned.