ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Tribunal issued a warrant for the arrest of Senate President Bukola Saraki on Friday after he failed to appear before the court, the judge said.
The tribunal is a special court that tries asset declaration misdemeanours. It charged Saraki this week with falsely declaring his assets.
“Having sworn to protect the constitution, (he) ought to have shown respect to the tribunal by appearing before it today. I hereby issue a bench warrant for his arrest accordingly. This should be effected by the inspector-general of police,” judge Danladi Umar said.
A police spokesman did not immediately comment.
The Senate president is the third most powerful post in the country. Saraki secured the position in June after a no-contest vote, mainly with the backing of the opposition.
The move outraged some members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who were backing other candidates and were meeting outside of the National Assembly when the decision was made.
The tribunal outlined 13 charges mostly related to the ownership of land held by his company Carlisle Properties Ltd between 2003 and 2011.
Other charges relate to his transfer of $3.4 million to an account outside Nigeria while he was governor of Kwara state, and sending 1.5 million pounds sterling to a European account to cover a mortgage for a London property.
Saraki’s media team has called the allegations “false, incorrect and untrue” and said they had been brought under outside influence. It said the senator did not have a foreign bank account while he was governor.
On Friday, his spokesman said Saraki had sought recourse at the Federal High Court after “the manner in which the case was filed showed that he will not be given justice”.
The high court ordered the sitting to be set for Monday.
“The implication of this ruling by a court of competent jurisdiction is that the sitting today has been overtaken by event,” a statement from his spokesman said.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has also been looking into those close to the Senate president. His wife was called in for questioning in July and on Thursday, the EFCC declared the current managing director of Saraki’s Carlisle Properties, Kennedy Izuagbe, a wanted man.
Izuagbe, who was a former director of Societe Generale Bank Nigeria, is being investigated for conspiracy and money laundering amounting to more than 3.6 billion naira ($180 million).
Societe Generale Bank Nigeria was investigated multiple times for misconduct under the direction of Saraki’s father and its license was temporarily withdrawn in 2006 by the central bank.
Saraki himself was a director at the bank during the 1990s, and the family held a large number of its shares.
President Muhammadu Buhari won his seat on a mandate to clean up corruption. Since his inauguration at the end of May, there have been countless revelations and many investigations have been launched.
Political analysts in Nigeria have said that those heading various government bodies have made a show of cracking down on graft over the last few months, partly in an attempt to curry favour with Buhari and keep their jobs.
A source at the EFCC said cases had been piling up for years, but there was still a lack of political will to prosecute.
A spokesman for Buhari said: “This matter is purely a judicial matter and Mr. President has made it clear that he will not intervene in judicial matters.”
Buhari said he would announce his long-awaited cabinet this month, nearly four months after taking power. His appointees must be approved by the Senate, which reconvenes on Sept. 29.
Additional reporting by Felix Onuah, Additional reporting and writing by Julia Payne; Editing by Kevin Liffey/Ruth Pitchford