The Nigerian Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, with the collapse of his Supreme Court trial case risks losing his position at the National Assembly, 14 years jail term, 10 years ban from holding public office and forfeiture of any asset related to the alleged offence if convicted. He has been charged by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for allegedly falsifying his assets declaration form. The Code of Conduct Tribunal, empowered by the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Tribunal Act can legally prescribe any of the punishments contained in Section 23 of the Act on an offender.
The section 23 of the Act provides; “(1) Where the tribunal finds a public officer guilty of contravening any of the provisions of this act, it shall impose upon that officer any of the punishments specified under subsection (2) of this section.” The Section 23(2), however, states: “The punishment which the tribunal shall impose include any of the following: (a) vacation of office or any elective or nominated office as the case may be; (b) disqualification from holding any public office (whether elective or not) for a period not exceeding 10 years; (c) seizure and forfeiture to the state of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office.”
The prescribed sanctions are also provided for in the 1999 amended constitution, paragraph 18 of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule. However, the section 23(3) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act softens the blow on the penalty as the Act employs the word “include” which points that the prescribed sanctions may not be as exhaustive as it appears. If found guilty under the Section 23(3) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Saraki may also be punished for perjury as his asset declaration process was also done under oath, an offence which carries a penalty of 14 years jail term as prescribed by the Criminal Code Act. The Section 118 of the Criminal Code Act states; “Any person who commits perjury is liable to imprisonment for 14 years. If the offender commits the offence in order to procure the conviction of another person for an offence punishable with death or with imprisonment for life he is liable to imprisonment for life.”
What constitute as perjury has however been argued but the law provides in Section 117 of the Criminal Code Act that; “Any person who, in any judicial proceeding, or for the purpose of instituting any judicial proceeding, knowingly gives false testimony touching any matter which is material to any question then pending in that proceedings, or intended to be raised in that proceeding, is guilty of an offence which is called perjury.
Explaining further on perjury as an offence, Mr. Sebastine (SAN) said what constitutes perjury depends on the law creating the crime. "Whether merely falsely swearing to an oath amounts to perjury", he said, "depends on the law creating it". Agreeing with the earlier definition, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said perjury depends on the provisions of the law creating it, adding that merely falsely swearing to an oath, including false declaration of assets, cannot amount to perjury under section 117 of the Criminal Code Act. He continued that for a false declaration on oath to amount to perjury under the section, the deponent must have done so in a judicial proceeding or intended such declaration on oath to be used in a judicial proceeding.