It was an interesting time at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Tuesday, as the trial of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, continued.
The first hint that today’s session will be full of intrigues was when the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs remarked cross examination of the first prosecution witness should end today.
He had told the defence team to make sure that the cross-examination of the first prosecution witness, EFCC operative, Michael Wetkas must be concluded today.
But one of the defence counsels, Paul Elokoro, quickly countered that there was no law that backs Jacobs’ request.
He said the prosecution team tendered a huge amount of exhibits against his client.
“We will take out time to analyse these documents. We will not be rushed. We will not be stampeded.”
Again Jocab said the lawyer that started the cross examination should finish it rather than handing over to another lawyer.
He complained that the cross examination of Michael Wetkas, a principal witness, had taken much time because the defence team kept changing the lawyers examining the witness.
“The counsel that started cross examination should finish it. The witness cannot be cross-examined by three lawyers. My learned brother should conclude cross-examining the witness,” he argued while requesting the tribunal to make the order.
“You can have several lawyers, but only one of them will address the court. That’s why we have lead counsel. The lead counsel who has started the cross examination is bound to conclude the case.
“It is not an opportunity for six lawyers to cross examine one witness. Why I am raising this, is that we have already spent days on cross-examination. My lord should regulate the proceedings.”
When the trial started, Kanu Agabi (SAN), Saraki’s lead counsel, had the cross examination of the witness, after which Paul Usoro (SAN) took over.
But on Tuesday, Erokoro (SAN), one Saraki’s lawyer, rose to cross examine the witness to which Jacobs objected.
“There is no law which supports my learned friend’s request. Different counsel can cross examine a witness. If one counsel is tired another one can take over,” Erokoro argued.
“The prosecution has also requested that will close our cross-examination today. That is absurd. We are going to take our time and do things properly. We will not be stampeded.
“We are ready to start cross-examination.”
He said the law stipulates that witnesses should be cross examined by lawyers, not that it must be the lead counsel.
He added that Jacobs knows the law but deliberately tried to be mischievous.
Another lawyer from the defence counsel, William Atedze, drew Jacob’s attention to the fact that Section 349 (7) of Administration of Criminal Justice Act did not say that the representative of a defence counsel doing the cross-examination must be the lead counsel.
Paul Usoro another defencecounsel said the question is more about if the defendant has the right to choose who should represent and cross-examine witnesses on his behalf.
The two lawyers have rested their arguments. Chairman of the Tribunal, Danladi Umar weighed the option of allowing another defence lawyer take over from another lawyer, whether Paul Usoro should be allowed to take over the cross examination of prosecution witness, Wetkas, or if Paul Ilokoro, who was earlier called upon to do so, should be the one to continue.
After a short break, the court ruled that it was the right of the defendant to defend himself of the charges against him.
Relying on relevant sections of the Constitution, Umar rules that the defence has the right to defend himself in the manner he wishes and should be given the right to carefully present his case.
“The Tribunal is bound to give the defendant all the opportunities he needs to defend himself,” the Tribunal Chairman ruled in Saraki’s favour.
Erokoro thereafter continued the cross examination of Wetkas.
Wetkas was asked if he had ever seen the original copy of the exhibits he presented before the tribunal.
Wetkas answered that the documents were with the CCB and that he was only furnished with other copies.
When the CCT chairman asked if he had ever seen the the original, he replied: “I now say I have seen the original”
Wetkas led the EFCC team of investigators who worked on Saraki’s assets declaration forms.
Asked if he ever found out during the course of his investigation whether the exhibits had only one original or several original copies, Wetkas said all documents should have one original copy unless there are other issues involved.
The defence counsel raised a claim made by the prosecution witness that Saraki had ₦1.5bn in his account shortly before he became Kwara governor in 2003.The defence counsel offered him a calculator to add up the figures in Appendix 7A of Exhibit 1.
At this point, Jacobs, raised an objection that the witness does not need to calculate the figures he presented.
The defence counsel, Erokoro, responded, “My lord, as you can see, the documents were dumped for the press in order to scandalise my client. It is obvious they have no coherent figures to prove false assets declaration.”
The chairman of the Tribunal asked Erokoro to proceed on his cross-examination.
Wetkas said the stamp was used to confirm the completion of assets verification documents after their investigation did not carry a date.
“The stamp has no date,” he said.
Erokoro then turned to the court and said, “You heard him, the stamp has no date”.
Erokoro later caused a stir when he said his client was richer than the Kwara government before he became governor.
But Jacobs chided him, saying being rich does not stop a thief from stealing.
During the cross examination, Wetkas admitted that the defendant was worth millions in dollars and pounds before he was governor.
He said this was based on the assets declared by Saraki at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) when he was elected.
“You realised that the defendant was required to declare his assets, those of wife and children below age of 18? What do you see in the (asset declaration form) form?” Erokoro asked the witness.
“Yes. I can see N1.5bn in the defendant’s account. And in the defendant’s wife account, N1.5m in Ecobank,” Wetkas answered.
“The defendant has some shares with African Petroleum worth N3, 645, 550.
“Cash amount of N1, 100: 000, in the name of Tosin Saraki and Seni Saraki.
“Then 16 vehicles: Mercedes, valued at N16m; Mercedes S 500, valued at N20m, Mercedes 500: 6m, Mercedes B 220, valued at N2m; Ferrari 456, GT, valued at 25m, another vehicle valued at N15m, Mercedez SM 20, valued at N8.5m, Peugeot 406, valued at 2.9m, another Mercedes valued at N9m, Mercedez E 320 valued at N11m; Mercedez 2 500, valued at N45m, Mercedez S: 500, valued at N30m, Lexus Jeep (bullet proof), valued at N30m, Lincoln Navigator (bullet proof) valued at N25mn.”
Saraki’s lawyer: “Would you agree that the defendant landed property was close to N3bn?”
Wetkas: “Yes. Over N2bn.”
Saraki’s lawyer: You agree that the defendant was worth about N4bn, $22m, 12 million Euros and 2 million pounds before he became governor.
“Yes. He was worth N4bn.”
Saraki’s is been tried for false assets declaration and fraud related cases.