Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed, a Federal High Court judge who last week tried unsuccessfully to sabotage the false assets declaration trial of Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had played a similar role in the past at the behest of the embattled senator. Justice Mohammed, who was characterized by several judicial sources as a justice for hire, stepped in earlier this year to thwart Mr. Saraki’s trial for a loan scam. The Special Fraud Unit of the Nigerian police had sought to prosecute Mr. Saraki for duping a bank.
Police investigators alleged that Mr. Saraki took a loan of N11.97 billion from the defunct InterContinental Bank of Nigeria. However, in May 2015, Justice Mohammed cleared Mr. Saraki of any wrongdoing even as evidence surfaced that the senator had used his protégé, Lai Mahmood Alabi, to wipe away 87% of the debt through dubious means.
The special fraud unit had accused Mr. Saraki of obtaining the loans between 2000 and 2009, part of the period coinciding with the senator’s tenure as governor of Kwara State. The investigators also accused Mr. Saraki of using several companies, including Joy Petroleum, Skyview Properties Ltd, Dicetrade, and Limkers Nigeria Ltd in the fraudulent loan transactions. The Code of Conduct Tribunal has included most of the companies in an indictment of Mr. Saraki. The Senate President’s trial is set to commence in Abuja tomorrow.
Investigators allege that Mr. Saraki used the loans to purchase properties in London, Lagos and Europe. The real assets were also not declared in the senator’s Code of Conduct Assets declaration forms as required by law.
Police and judicial sources told SaharaReporters that Mr. Saraki and Justice Mohammed colluded with Nigeria’s former Attorney General, Mohammed Adoke, to force agents of the special fraud unit to abandon the senator’s loan fraud case despite overwhelming evidence.
One legal analyst said it was curious that Mr. Saraki’s lawsuit, aimed at scuttling his new trial, came before the same Justice Mohammed. “The deal was for Justice Mohammed to grant Senator Saraki an interlocutory injunction, but the judge apparently played safe knowing that the SSS [State Security Services0 and the EFCC [Economic and Financial Crimes Commission] had been investigating judges involved in corruption,” one the source added.
The source, a senior lawyer, told SaharaReporters that Justice Mohammed must have known that he had no jurisdiction to entertain the case brought by Senator Saraki to stop his trial. “The issue of the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal to try assets declaration cases is already settled by the Constitution,” said the lawyer. He added: “It’s ridiculous to argue that the Code of Conduct Tribunal needed the signature of the Attorney General of the Federation to institute charges. The issue had been settled by the Supreme Court in 2002 when Wole Olanipekun raised an objection at the apex court in a case involving governors who wanted the court to determine their tenure status within the confines of the law as to whether their tenure in 1992 was a legitimate ground to disqualify them from running for office again.
“The Supreme Court ruled that the office of the Attorney General is a perpetual office that could function with or without the person of the AGF.”
Our legal sources said it remained unclear what verdict Justice Mohammed would give tomorrow. However, Senator Saraki appears not to be taking chances. His legal team has filed an appeal asking that the arrest warrant against him be quashed.
Yesterday, Mr. Saraki traveled to Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State. One source close to him alleged that the senator had consulted with a marabout in Ilorin. The senator later flew back to Abuja in a private jet and then moved into a Senate Guest House occupied by former Senate President, David Mark.
The source close to the embattled senator told SaharaReporters that Mr. Saraki’s team was working assiduously to take on former Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, adding that Mr. Tinubu was directly involved in the Senate President’s travails. “We will soon release Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s own asset declaration forms that he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau. Nigerians will see that he [Mr. Tinubu] has assets that were equally not declared to the CCB [Code of Conduct Bureau],” the source said.
Mr. Saraki and his wife have been targets of a long running investigator by several anti-corruption and law enforcement agencies, including the EFCC and the special fraud unit of the Nigerian police.
Over the years, SaharaReporters had done investigative reports on Mr. Saraki’s reported theft of funds from Societe Generale, a bank in which his late father owned controlling shares, as well as extensive money laundering schemes during his eight-year tenure as governor of Kwara State.
Saraki maneuvered himself into the Senate Presidency after striking an alliance with the leadership of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
A source in his camp told SaharaReporters that the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, do not intend to compel Saraki to attend his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal tomorrow, instead Mr. Arase who helped scuttled the case relating to forgery of Senate rules brought against Senate Ike Ekweremadu is expected to assist Saraki to appear before Justice mohammed’s court tomorrow where the federal judge is expected to issue a ruling stopping Saraki’s trial at the CCT altogether.