SERAP calls for sanction as Saraki’s lawyers walk out on tribunal

Bukola Saraki docked

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to “urgently investigate the conduct of lawyers to the Senate President Bukola Saraki, for walking out on the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Thursday  after the tribunal refused their application for stay of proceedings in the asset falsification trial against the Senate President.”

The organisation said that “It is the role of Sakari’s lawyers to serve their client’s best interests but in doing so they should not act in a manner that would put the administration of justice and the society’s confidence in the judicial system and the fight against corruption at risk.”

Mahmud Magaji (SAN) and Ahmed Raji (SAN) on Thursday withdrew their services as lawyers representing Saraki following their perceived dissatisfaction with the ruling of the tribunal on their application for stay of proceedings.

They said that they were displeased with the decision of the tribunal refusing their application to stay proceedings in the trial pending the determination of an appeal they filed before the Supreme Court.

But in a statement today signed by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP said that, “Walking out on the Code of Conduct Tribunal for simply and correctly applying section 305(e) of the newly enacted Administration of Criminal Justice Act is disrespectful. It offends the basic rule that lawyers should act with integrity and professionalism, maintaining his or her overarching responsibility to ensure civil conduct.

“SERAP believes that a lawyer’s duty to the court is a fundamental obligation that defines a lawyer’s role within the adversarial system. Lawyers should at all time act to promote the rule of law and the public’s confidence in the administration of justice and not to be seen to undermine it or facilitate an infringement of the law.

“As we have seen many times, without the rule of law, the rule of the jungle takes hold and the economically and socially vulnerable fall victim to the strong and nobody is safe. The rule of law also creates a disincentive for would-be corrupt officials.

“Senior lawyers especially have a responsibility to act as the guardians of the rule of law by contributing to a strong judicial and legal system which is crucial to a well-functioning democracy and which in turn is necessary to satisfactorily prevent and combat years of official corruption in the country.”

“If at all Saraki’s lawyers are dissatisfied with the ruling of the Tribunal there are laid down processes that they should have followed to demonstrate their role as officers in the temple of justice rather than granting media interviews and literally abusing the Tribunal. We urge the NBA to urgently investigate what exactly happened and to punish any professional misconduct that may have occurred.”

Saraki’s lawyers had applied to the tribunal to stay proceedings in the trial pending the decision of the apex court.

In its ruling, the tribunal, presided over by Justice Danladi Umar, upheld the argument of the prosecution that staying proceedings would hamper speedy trial.

Umar held that if the tribunal continued with the trial while the appeal is going on before the apex court, the respondent would suffer no injury.

Besides, the judge declared that the Court of Appeal had dismissed the same application which they appealed before the apex court.

Reacting to the decision of the tribunal before withdrawing their representation, the lawyers described the ruling as “travesty of justice”.

Magaji said: “This is judicial rascality and I cannot be part of this process.

“I therefore withdraw my representation as the respondent’s counsel.”

Speaking in same vein, Raji said: “We have pending application before the Supreme Court.

“I believe that in the hierarchy of court, we have the tail and the head and the tail cannot dictate for the head as we have seen here.

“I also withdraw my services as lawyer to the respondent.”

The lawyers subsequently staged a walk out after their submissions.

At this stage, more than 45 senators who accompanied Saraki to the tribunal raised their voices in support of the action of the lawyers, disrupting the proceedings.

Responding, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacob (SAN), said the lawyers were entitled to their decision to withdraw from the case.

Jacob, however, noted that the behaviour of the senators amounted to contempt of the tribunal and an attempt to intimidate the judge.

Justice Umar berated the lawyers for their attitude, saying they acted in “gross disrespect to the tribunal”.

Umar subsequently asked Saraki if he could defend himself or would hire the services of another lawyer to continue with the trial.

In response, Saraki said: “My Lord, as a law abiding citizen of this country, I submitted myself to the court.

“However, what happened this morning, I find myself in a new terrain because I am a medical doctor and not a lawyer capable of defending myself.

“I will need one month either to plead with my lawyers to come back or to secure the services of another lawyer.”

The prosecution counsel, however, opposed Saraki’s request arguing that granting him one month to search for lawyer would further delay the trial.

In a short ruling, Justice Umar granted one week for the respondent to get his lawyer and adjourned the trial till November 19.