AMID tight security, former Lagos Governor Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) yesterday. But the matter could not go on, as the prosecution served the defence a new charge, shortly before the session.
Tinubu is charged with alleged operation of foreign accounts, more than four years after he left office.
Attempts by the prosecution to convince the court to read the charge was rejected. CCT chairman Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar insisted on fairness and justice in the handling of the case.
He adjourned the matter till October 26 for objection to the charge before the court.
Tinubu’s lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), informed the three-man panel that he was served neither the old charge, which was amended yesterday, nor the new one filed on Tuesday and served on his lawyers in the court yesterday.
He said Tinubu, out of utmost respect for the judiciary, chose to voluntarily honour the invitation which he knew about first in the media. The summons was later dropped in his office, he said.
Justice Umar praised the leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) for his exemplary conduct, which he advised Nigerians to emulate.
“That is evidence of respect for the rule of law. Service requires to be personal. Out of respect, he chose to come; that is good enough. We want Nigerians to take a cue from that,” Justice Umar said.
Tinubu was at the Tribunal 30 minutes before the sitting began. He was clad in a blue kaftan, a blue cap and a pair of black shoes to match.
At exactly 10:33a.m., members of the Tribunal emerged from the chamber.
The prosecution counsel, Dr. Alex Iziyon (SAN) introduced his team. Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) introduced nine other Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) for the defence.
They are: Former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), Charles Edosomwan (SAN), Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), Dele Belgore (SAN), Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), Kabiru Turaki (SAN), Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), Deji Sasogbon (SAN) and Dele Adesina (SAN).
Others are former West African Bar Association President Mr. Femi Falana, Mrs Jumoke Anifowoshe, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, Blessing Umuapo, Charles Musa, Babatunde Ogala, Dr. Muiz Banire, Funsho Olukoga, Dapo Akinoshun, Olanrewaju Obadina, Silas Onwuguonu, Moses Ideh and P.C. Okafor.
Sola Iji, Oye Akintola, Ganji Ajape, Soji Olowolafe, Gbenga Adeyemi, Bayo Idowu, Iyiola Oladokun, Joshua Alogu and Francis Alogboh were also there.
Iziyon informed the Court of the new charge, which the defence counsel did not object to.
Olanipekun told the Tribunal that Tinubu was not personally served the old charge, adding that “personal service is fundamental in the case”.
His words: “No personal service was effected on him. It was only dropped somewhere; he heard of it … but out of respect for the court, he chose to come to honour the tribunal. I urge your lordship to direct that all processes be rightly served.”
Iziyon admitted that Tinubu was not personally served the summons. He blamed this on what he called the inability of the bailiff to see the former governor.
But the Tribunal overruled him, saying since Tinubu is no longer in office, serving him could not have been difficult.
Tinubu remained calm while the proceedings lasted.
Iziyon urged the Tribunal to read the new charge to Tinubu for his plea to be taken. The defence kicked.
Olanipekun said: “My lords, we want to object to the motion. We have perused through the amended charge. We, as counsel to the defendant, intend to raise a similar and more fundamental objection. The objection will also affect the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to take up this matter. We will need time to prepare our motion. We need time to prepare a formal motion.”
But Iziyon insisted that the amended charge be read to Tinubu.
Citing various authorities, Olanipekun submitted that “by asking that the charge be read, the court is assuming jurisdiction”.
“My lords, the jurisdiction you have is to first determine whether you have jurisdiction or not. Your lordships could not have side-tracked the right of the defendant to Preliminary Objection. It is unfair for the prosecution to insist that the defendant should take his plea. This is the same charge that was served on us this morning. Section 36 of the Constitution is very clear on this. I don’t think even in Libya that this kind of procedure will be allowed because nobody is in charge now,” Olanipekun said.
Replying, Iziyon told the Tribunal that he would not object, if the Defendnat wanted to oppose the charge, “but for him to say he should not take his plea, no”. “Arraignment is different from trial.”
Justice Umar said: “We have to look at this case generally. We are here for justice for all. This is a court of summary trial. You (Iziyon) served the amended charge today; they did not object to that. They observed that they want to object to the charge, they did not object to you serving them. Issue of jurisdiction is very fundamental. We cannot proceed if we don’t have jurisdiction. I’m of the opinion that we grant them the necessary time to raise a motion to challenge the charge; we should not be jumping the gun.”
The CCT Chairman appealed to counsel for cooperation so as to decide the case expeditiously.
“Bear in mind that the prosecution in this court is summary; please, do not delay…we want to dispense this case so quickly; we want a fair trial,” he added.
Upon agreement by parties, the Tribunal gave the defence 14 days to file its written address on the Preliminary objection. The prosecution has 14 days to reply. The Defendant will then have five days to reply on point of law.