THE “Close-Up”chat Bilesanmi Olalekan had with Justice Francis Shoremi, reported in  Sunday Vanguard, October 4, was very revealing. For example, the eminent jurist is a profoundly religious man. By his own testimony, he is a church leader; a senior apostle of the Cherubim Church; patron of so many Bible societies.

He has been chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Abeokuta branch, and has one of the highest honorary conferments of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church, “the Crown Office of the order of Aladura Worldwide.” Outstanding achievements in the church all. And when asked if he is led by the Holy Spirit while delivering judgment, he agreed by recounting that when he was in the high court, some of his actions led to people calling him “Baba Aladura.” But Justice Shoremi has me worried by his opinion about bribe taking and corruption.  It appears that the learned justice has difficulty separating morality from law.

He appears to be in a fuzzy state regarding the position of our common law and religious belief systems, be they Christian, Islamic or traditional religion. His words: “Bribe taking is between you and your God.” Yes, my Lord. After this life; when you stand to answer before God or Allah. But, in Nigeria, bribery and its attendant corruption are criminal offences. Would my Lord discharge and acquit somebody charged with bribery, when there is abundant evidence, and ask him/she to go and be judged by God? Is that our law? I thought our law would first charge a person for bribery/corruption, and bring him/her to trial before a magistrate or judge, then on appeal to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Isn’t that why we have institutions like the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (I.C.P.C.), which, by the way, was reported sometime ago in This Day newspapers, as currently investigating the Appeal Court judges who heard the case of Chief T. A. Orji vs Chief Onyema Ugochukwu.

When asked about any landmark judgments he has made since becoming a judge, sixteen years ago, he singled out the case involving the present governor of Abia State,  Chief T. A. Orji, which was delivered this year.

He said the main planks of the case were whether  Orji     (and his deputy) Comrade Chris Akomas were civil servant/public officers before the election; and, if they were, did they resign their appointments thirty days before the election, and whether Chief T. A. Orji was member of a secret society? Justice Shoremi said: “They said he was a civil servant because he was living in the government quarters and using government car.” That is not true, my Lord. Orji was a permanent secretary in the Civil Service of Abia State, as well as the chief of staff to the governor. He admitted the facts he pleaded and proceeded to tender letters of retirement and resignation as Exhibits “LC1” “LC2” (through his deputy governor) in an attempt to demonstrate that he duly retired/resigned respectively.

Exhibit “LC1” and “LC2” were admitted in evidence. However, the lower tribunal found that Exhibit “LC1” and “LC2” did not meet the requirements of retirement. For example, the said retirement letter was not signed and therefore had no probative value. Akomas, was a commissioner in the government of Governor Orji Uzor Kalu. He tendered Exhibit “LC3” to establish his resignation. They pleaded these material facts, my Lord, and the records reflect them. Because the retirement/resignation letters were not dated or signed by Orji and that of his deputy not certified received, they did not meet the requirements of the law. My Lord being a pious man will admit that Orji did not say that he was not a civil servant or a public officer. Akomas did not also deny their retirement/resignation.

However, their lawyers introduced a new argument that they were both not public officers or civil servants. And you agreed with them in spite of all the references Ugochukwu’s lawyers made to the constitutional provisions which said they were. How quickly you all agreed with them that one wonders why you refused to acknowledge Orji’s own sworn admission that he was a permanent secretary, a civil servant. Justice Shoremi was kind enough to educate us on the method used by any panel of judges to reach a decision: They hold a conference to discuss the pros and cons of the case. And they did so in the Abia governorship case. My Lord, was this conference before the handwritten lead judgment read in open court by Justice Ibiyeye, your brother judge? Or after? Because he had two weeks after this conference of yours to type it. And how can that handwritten judgment (the product of your conference) be the typed one that was extracted, with difficulty, from the Court of Appeal Registry about eight  days after the judgment had been delivered?

My Lord, you have tried very hard in your answer to state that Okija is not a secret society and, therefore, Orji was not a member. And you would have the readers believe that your position had been supported by a prior Supreme Court ruling where the Igbo go to settle matters; where you just take an oath. But the Supreme Court never decided in Onyenge vs Ebere that Ogwugwuakpu Okija is not a secret society.

The Supreme Court (and even the trial court) was never     invited in that case to decide whether or not the Ogwugwuakpu Okija is a secret society.  That issue never arose in that case. I am told that decisions of courts are only binding on the issues which they considered and decided.  And the issue which was decided in Onyenge vs Ebere is whether or not oath procured from Ogwugwuakpu Okija shrine, when taken, qualifies as a binding customary arbitration. The court was never called upon to determine whether the shrine harbours a secret society and whether or not the shrine is synonymous with the secret society was never canvassed or decided either in the lower courts or apex court.

Jacob-Abang is resident in Calabar, Cross River State


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