The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, pleaded “not guilty” on Tuesday to multiple charges of fraud brought against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau.
He was thereafter granted bail on self recognition.
He faces a 13-count charge bordering on corruption and alleged false declaration of assets.
Mr. Saraki arrived the tribunal Tuesday morning after failing to appear on Friday and Monday.
As the case opened, Mr. Saraki’s lawyers argued that the matter was not a criminal case, and challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
The prosecution opposed the argument. The tribunal ruled that the matter was criminal and directed Mr. Saraki to go ahead with his plea.
“I hold that the trial before the tribunal is purely criminal,” said the chairman of the tribunal.
On jurisdiction, the prosecution counsel argued that according to section 2 of the Administration of Justice Act, 2015, the matter could be heard alongside any preliminary objection regarding the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
The new law was signed by former President Goodluck Jonathan in March 2015, as part of a major reform of Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
The Act is expected to speed up corruption cases before the courts, by dealing with issues of preliminary objections, adjournments, and jurisdiction.
The law says such objections must be addressed by the courts concurrently with the corruption charge, unlike the past when interlocutory injunctions could go to the Supreme Court and return, before the main trial begins.
Asked to take his plea, Mr. Saraki said, “I believe that I am here as the Senate president to indicate my respect for the tribunal. I am puzzled why I am being compelled”.
He pleaded not guilty.
On the various assets he acquired, which the Code of Conduct Bureau said his earnings did not qualify him to acquire, Mr. Saraki said he got them through his investment in rice farming.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge concerning his failure to declare his assets when he was Kwara State governor.
He also denied making false declaration of assets.
He pleaded not guilty on the charge regarding his alleged use of foreign bank accounts while serving as a public officer in Nigeria.
Mr. Saraki arrived the tribunal premises at 9:32 a.m., accompanied by “about 50 senators and some members of the House of Representatives”, his spokesperson, Yusuph Olaniyonu, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Some of the senators in court, according to a PREMIUM TIMES reporter at the trial, are Theodore Orji, Sam Egwu, Ike Ekweremadu, Shaba Lafiaji, Aliyu Wamakko, Rafiu Ibrahim, Tayo Alasoadura, Hamma Misau, Samuel Anyanwu, Sabi Aliyu Abdullahi, among others.
This newspaper learnt that the Senate President and his supporters first converged on the National Assembly early on Tuesday morning from where they took off in a convoy of buses for the tribunal.
One of the senators, who asked not to be named, said he and his colleagues decided to provide cover for the senate president to prevent him from being arrested or humiliated by the police.
A supporter of the Senate President, now also inside the courtroom, told PREMIUM TIMES, “We are already seated. No shaking. The plan is to humiliate the man, not minding if they break the law or violate the procedure.
“We have nothing to fear. After Saraki has exercised his fundamental human rights in relevant courts, we are here to to show the lies contained in the charges.”
Mr. Saraki had on Monday released a statement, saying he was now ready to attend his trial, days after he battled frantically to use the courts to halt the trial.
The matter was adjourned to 21st, 22nd and 23rd October for hearing