Tinubu Floors Code of Conduct Bureau, Charges Quashed!

The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Wednesday quashed charges of maintaining foreign bank accounts against former governor of Lagos State, Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu.

The three-count charge brought against the former governor by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was quashed for want of merits, as the tribunal held that there was no basis to continue with the trial. Tinubu was accused of operating 16 foreign bank accounts outside the shores of the country between 1999 and 2007 while he was governor of Lagos State.

Delivering his ruling, which lasted for about an hour, the Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Umar Yakubu, held that the prosecution did not produce affidavit of evidence to buttress its accusations as the evidence before the court bordered on accusations in the initial charge. According to him, once an amendment charge is presented before the court, it is conceived as a fresh charge and the previous charge stands dismissed.

The tribunal also held that CCB failed to show how Tinubu operated the said foreign accounts, as names traced to the accounts were not his but those of his close relatives, but the prosecution did not state that Tinubu committed the alleged offence through his agent or allies. “No prima facie case has been established against accused applicant. The prosecution failed to file affidavit evidence in support of the count-amended charges. The tribunal has no jurisdiction to proceed. The charges are hereby quashed and the accused person discharged,” he said.

The tribunal also held that CCB did not follow due process in amending charges against the accused. It held that CCB ought to have submitted reports of its investigation to the tribunal before adding the charges. He said: “Judgment cannot be done by ambush.”

Ruling on the five grounds raised in objection by the accused applicant for quashing the charges, the tribunal resolved three grounds against Tinubu and two in his favour. Counsel to the accused, led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), had argued that the charges, as currently constituted, were nebulous and empty, as they did not disclose any prima facie case against the accused person.

The accused applicant also argued that CCB breached the condition precedent principle when it refused to invite Tinubu to its office to hear from him before preferring charges against him. He also raised an objection that the trial was an abuse of court processes as a similar case with same subject matter initiated against the accused person was still subsisting at the Court of Appeal.

He argued further that the court lacked the territorial jurisdiction to hear the case in Abuja, saying the appropriate venue should be Lagos where the alleged offence was committed. He urged the tribunal to decline its jurisdiction to proceed with the matter and to quash all the three-count charge against Tinubu.

On the first issue as to whether the tribunal has jurisdiction to entertain the charge, the chairman maintained that the Act establishing the tribunal empowers it to entertain and rule over such charges, thereby resolving the issue against Tinubu. “I am not persuaded by the argument,” the tribunal chairman said.

On the second issue that CCB did not invite Tinubu before the trial, the tribunal resolved in favour of the accused applicant, as he stated that the Bureau did not produce evidence that it invited the accused over complains about his asset declaration. He said the invitation was a condition of precedent before filling charges against an accused person by the Bureau. The tribunal ruled that CCB breached the law by not giving prior invitation to the accused.

Ruling on the third ground, the tribunal resolved against the accused applicant as it said that the matter at the appellate court bordered on his immunity as the then governor of Lagos State and could not be seen as the case was abandoned and it was not an abuse of court process.

On the fourth issue relating to territorial jurisdiction of the tribunal, it resolved against the accused applicant as it held that it had no territorial limitation as far as the country was concerned. “This is a tribunal and the jurisdiction is nationwide; it is just like saying the jurisdiction of the National Judicial Council (NJC) is only within Abuja and that it has no right to entertain issues bordering on Nigerian judges outside Abuja,” the tribunal held.

However, the fifth ground, which the accused applicant challenged with regards to the continuity of the trial on the grounds of non-availability of evidence of charge, was resolved in Tinubu’s favour. The tribunal held that the evidence of charge before it is as regards the one count charge against the accused before it was amended, as it could not be used as evidence in the amended charge. “Whenever a charge is amended, the new charge is constituent,” the tribunal held.

The tribunal chairman lauded Tinubu for making himself available throughout the trial, as he said it was not mandatory for the accused challenging jurisdiction of the court to appear before it. Meanwhile, counsel to CCB disagreed with the ruling of the tribunal, as he said his team would study the judgment and possibly go on appeal.

Tinubu, who was accompanied by Governors Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola, Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, and a host of his political allies, almost turned the tribunal into a carnival.

Reacting to the ruling, Tinubu said: “I thank God for today (yesterday) and for this judgment in my favour.  Today’s verdict shows there is still hope for this country.  That the judiciary can still dispense justice with judges on the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). They are courageous judges who dispensed justice without fear or favour. “I thank my legal team, led by the indefatigable Wole Olanipekun (SAN), for their brilliant work.  I am happy this has come to an end.  The attempt to rubbish my name based on unsubstantiated charges, as I said, would fail.  After my time in political office, I should enjoy my rights of going into personal business.”

Also speaking, Osun State Governor Aregbesola commended CCT for being courageous in arriving at a just decision to strike out the vexatious charges. Aregbesola lauded the judges for carrying out critical evaluation of all issues canvassed before the tribunal by both the complainant and the defendant.

His Ekiti State counterpart, Dr Kayode Fayemi, said the charges against Tinubu constituted an abuse of court process judging by the manner the prosecution withdrew it and filed an amended charge. This, he said, robbed the tribunal of jurisdiction.