by Sani Tukur,
The Federal Government of Nigeria has filed a motion to withdraw the charge of criminal conspiracy against Senate President Bukola Saraki and his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.
An affidavit in support of the motion was filed before the High Court of Federal Capital Territory on Thursday by a litigation officer from the Federal Ministry of Justice, Odubu Loveme.
Messrs. Saraki and Ekweremadu, as well as a former Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, and a former Deputy clerk, Ben Efeturi, were first arraigned before Justice Yusuf Halilu on June 10, 2016 via charge No. CR/219/16.
They all pleaded not guilty on July 27, 2016.
In the motion filed Thursday, Mr. Loveme said counsel to the Federal Government on the matter, Aliyu Umar, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, on September 30 in the office of the Director of Public Prosecution told him that he had studied the case diary and “ had decided to amend the charge in the manner stated on the face of the motion paper”.
Mr. Loveme added that he has, consequently, filed an amended charge.
“That I depose to this affidavit in good faith believing same to be correct to the best of my knowledge and information and in accordance with the Oaths Act Cap 01 laws of the Federation of Nigeria,” he said.
Based on the amended charge, only Messrs. Maikasuwa and Efeturi would face prosecution.
Count 1 of the charge against the two civil servants, is that of Criminal Conspiracy punishable under section 97 (1) Penal Code Act ( Northern States) Federation Provisions Act, 1960, Cap 345, laws of the Federation 1990 as amended.
It read that “ Salisu Maikasuwa and Benedict Efeturi, on or about the 9th day of June 2015 at the National Assembly Complex, Three Arms Zone, Abuja within the jurisdiction of this honourable court agreed to do an illegal act, to wit to make the Senate Standing Orders 2015 as amended without the authority of the 7th Senate of the Federal republic of Nigeria which act was committed by yourselves and that you thereby committed the offence of criminal conspiracy.”
The two officials are accused of fraudulently amending the 2015 Senate Standing Orders without the authority of the 7th Senate “ with intention that the Senators elect of the 8th Senate would believe that the said Senate Standing Orders 2015 ( as amended) was made by the authority of the 7th Senate of the Federal republic of Nigeria.”
They are also accused of forging a document punishable under section 366 of the Penal Code Act ( Northern States) Federal Provisions Act, 1960, Cap 345, Laws of the Federation 1990 ( as amended).
The Nigerian Government also accused them of giving false information with the intention to mislead the public.
The Court had on September 28 adjourned the matter to Friday, October 7 for commencement of hearing.
Mr. Umar, in his written address in support of the motion to amend the charge on Thursday, stated that the sole issue for determination is “ whether the Court can permit the amendment of the charge in terms of the amended charge”.
He said the Court has the powers to permit the amendment based on the provisions of Section 216 (1) of the Administration o Criminal Justice Act.
The Section stated that “ A Court may permit an alteration or an amendment to a charge or framing of a new charge at any time before judgment is pronounced.”
He also quoted Section 216 (3) which states that “ Where a Defendant is arraigned for trial on an imperfect or erroneous charge ,the Court may permit or direct the framing of a new charge, or any amendment to, or the alteration of the original charge.”