January 2, 2014

Judiciary in 2013: The good, the bad and the ugly

Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

Undisputedly, the Nigerian Judiciary, in 2013, had its fair share of ‘the good’, ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly’!

Remarkably, since inception of the Nation, 2013, remains the first judicial year that was successfully completed under the headship of a female Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN.

Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar emerged as the first female CJN on July 16, 2012, and has barely spent one year and five months in office.

Though 2013 started on a tensed note with the judicial axe dangling dangerously on necks of several judges fingered for varying cases of corruption and abuse of power, activities however kicked off fully with the conviction of one of the alleged masterminds of the October 1, 2010, Independence Day bomb blasts that killed 12 persons, Mr Edmund Ebiware, on January 25.

Ebiware was sentenced to life imprisonment by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja, after he was found guilty on a 3-count terrorism charge that was entered against him by the Federal Government.

*Aloma-Mariam-Mukhtar, CJN: Promises reformation

*Aloma-Mariam-Mukhtar, CJN

As trial of several alleged terrorists, pension and crude oil thieves, were going on in various courts across the federation, the CJN, in May 19, swore to weed out all the incompetent and indolent Judges from the Bench.

Her warning was sequel to public outcry that trailed the slap-on-the-wrist sentence that was handed to a self-confessed pension thief, Mr John Yakubu Yusufu, who after he admitted that he connived with six other civil servants and stole over N23billion from the Police Pension Fund, was simply asked to pay a paltry fine of N750, 000 by Justice Abubakar Talba.

The trial Judge was eventually suspended for one year by the National Judicial Council, NJC.

On June 7, Ademola Adeniyi of the Abuja Federal High Court remanded the former Director of pension accounts in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, OHCSF, Dr Sani Teidi Shaibu in prison custody.

Teidi, alongside a former manager with the defunct Oceanic Bank Plc, Mr Udusegbe Omoefe Eric, were said to have conspired and diverted over N5 billion meant for pensioners across the federation. The duo are still cooling their heels inside Kuje Prison.

Meantime, eighteen days after they were abducted by gunmen while on their way to attend a wedding ceremony at Benin, the Edo state capital, wife, daughter and driver of Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, on May 27, regained their freedom.

The same day, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, narrated before a Federal High Court in Abuja, how the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, used fake companies to defraud the federal government to the tune of N894 million whilst he was in office.

The anti-graft body made the revelation two days after Senator Mohmmed Ali Ndume, who was accused of having a romance with the Boko Haram sect, begged an Appeal Court in Abuja to stop his trial.

Also, on May 30, the embattled former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva failed to persuade the FHC in Abuja to quash the 6-count criminal charge that was preferred against him by the EFCC.

Justice Adamu Bello said he was satisfied that the Ex- governor had explanations to give over allegation that he stole about N6.5billion from the Bayelsa state treasury.

On the political side, the Supreme Court, on May 31, dashed the hope of ex-Governor of Ekiti State, Chief Segun Oni of the PDP to return to power.

A 5-man panel of the apex court struck out his appeal and affirmed the election victory of Governor Kayode Fayemi.

Likewise, the court, on June 21, dismissed an appeal that sought to sack Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State from office.

The appeal which was filed by the governorship candidate of the Democratic Peoples party, DPP, in the April 26, 2011, gubernatorial election in Delta state, Chief Great Ogboru, was dismissed as grossly lacking in merit.

On July 9, Justice Bilkisu Aliyu of the FHC jailed four kingpins of the Boko Haram sect, Shuaibu Abubakar, Salisu Ahmed, Umar Babagana-Umar and Mohammed Ali, for life.

They were found guilty of masterminding the explosion that rocked office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in Suleja, Niger state, prior to the April 16, 2011, presidential election.

At the end of its 2-days crucial meeting, the NJC, on July 18, found the former Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Hassan Gunmi, who had resigned to become an Emir in Zamfara state, guilty of judicial corruption.

More so, after a protracted and ongoing crisis over the headship of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, on July 17, withdrew the suit he filed with a view to stopping the Governor of Plateau state, Mr Jonah Jang, from parading himself as the factional chairman of the body.

On July 25, an Abuja high court at Apo, aborted plans by the PDP to organize a convention for the purpose of electing its national officers, even as another court presided over by Justice Abdul Kafarati, issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from prosecuting the Managing Director of Capital Oil and Gas Limited, Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah and his company over their alleged complicity in petroleum subsidy fraud.

Wielding the big stick, the NJC, on July 29, sacked the Acting Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Shadrack O.E. Nwanosike, after it was discovered that he falsified his age.

The same day, Justice Kolawole of the FHC, held that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had no power to de-register any political party in the country without recourse to the 1999 constitution as amended.

The court further nullified the de-registration of 28 political parties by INEC on December 6, 2012, even as it declared section 78(7) (ii) of the Electoral Act as unconstitutional, invalid, null and void.

On August 2, Justice Suleiman Belgore vacated the interim order that stopped the PDP from conducting a special convention to elect its national officers.

Eighteen days later, an Abuja Chief Magistrate Court, remanded the Chairman of the party in Omuma Local Government Area of Rivers state, Mr. Charles Amoefule and the Assistant Secretary of the party in the state, Mr Godwin Leo in prison custody over a radio announcement. They regained their freedom on August 22.

On August 23, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, failed to persuade an Abuja High Court to set aside the decision of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA that disqualified from contesting the November 16 governorship election in Anambra State.

Justice Ahmed R. Mohammed of the FHC, on August 28, gave the Federal Government the nod to extradite an alleged Nigerian Al-Qaeda leader, Lawal Olaniyi Babafemi, to the United States of America to face charges bordering on terrorism.

On August 30, the same court voided the suspension of the Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC Senator Andy Uba, from the PDP.

Determined to regain his status, Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State on September 3, sued the Speaker and members of the State House of Assembly for refusing to allow him resume duties after his over nine months medical sojourn in abroad following his involvement in a plane crash.

As the division in the PDP widened, seventy nine members of the National Assembly who decamped to the new faction of the party known as the nPDP, on September 11, went to court to challenge moves by the Bamangar Tukur led faction to declare their seats vacant.

On September 19, Justice Adamu Bello of the FHC, discharged and acquitted four directors of the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, accused of complicity in the illegal diversion of funds meant for supply of learning facilities to secondary schools across the federation.

The EFCC had alleged that the four directors, Molkat Mutfwang, Michael Aule, Andrew Ekpunobi and Prof. Bridget Sokan, used bogus companies and defrauded the government to the tune of about N787 million.

Same day, the same court, declined to grant bail to two Nigerians, Abdullahi Mustapha Berende and Saidi Adewumi, accused of recruiting new members for an Iran based terrorist organization.

Few days after the CJN, called for stiffer punishment for judges caught in any act of corruption, a retiring Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Stanley Shenko Alagoa, in his valedictory court session on October 4, admitted that some judges collect bribe from politicians and traditional rulers to pervert the course of justice.

On October 18, Justice Elvis Chukwu of the FHC declared the Alhaji Kawu Baraje led nPDP illegal, just as he banned its operations in Nigeria.

Similarly, following his petition dated October 1, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, on the same day, appeared before the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, to substantiate his allegation against the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr Joseph Mbu.

The Governor had accused the CP of insubordination, recklessness, saying he encourages gross violation of human rights in his state.

On October 23, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of an Abuja High Court, declined to stop the trial of former Chairman and Secretary of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on fuel subsidy probe, Farouk Lawal and Mr Boniface Emenalo, over their alleged involvement in bribery and corruption.

Two days later, Justice Kolawole, refused to hand over the $15million that was allegedly offered to the EFCC in 2007, by convicted ex-Governor, Mr. James Ibori, to the Delta State Government.

Meanwhile, on October 31, embattled ex-President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, who had voluntarily resigned from office, likened himself to the biblical Joseph, saying he was betrayed and sold out by most of his hitherto trusted friends and colleagues on the Bench.

Salami who spoke at a valedictory court session organized in his honour by the Court of Appeal in Abuja, said he was a victim of executive witch-hunt, alleging that the NJC, played into the hands of desperate politicians that wanted his ouster by all means.

The same day, the Supreme Court, halted plans by the factional governorship candidate of the PDP in Anambra state, Mr Tony Nwoye, to flag off his campaign, though he was subsequently declared the authentic flag-bearer of the party on November 4.

On November 6, an appellate court in Abuja re-instated former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, as the National Secretary of the PDP.

Justice Adeniyi, on November 15, sentenced a kingpin of the Boko Haram sect, Mustapher Umar, who had on April 26, 2012, bombed office of the Thisday Newspaper in Kaduna State with 12 camp gas cylinders, to life imprisonment.

Furthermore, on November 25, an Abuja Magistrate Court, remanded an official of INEC, Mr Chukwujekwu Okeke, over alleged corrupt role he played in events that bungled the Anambra Governorship election at Idemili North in Anambra State. He later regained his freedom on December 2.

On Nov 29, Justice Adeniyi, dismissed the 16-count criminal charge preferred against the Lebanese co-owner of Amigo Supermarket, Mustapha Fawaz, and his compatriots, Abdullahi Thahini, accused of importing arms into Nigeria illegally.

On December 4, the FHC in Abuja ordered that Charles Okah, who is a younger brother to ex-leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Henry, be subjected to a psychiatric test.

Okah, alongside one Obi Nwabueze, are facing trial over the 2010 Independence Day twin bomb blasts at the Eagle Square, which caused the death of about 12 people, leaving several others injured.

On December 5, the Commissioner of Police in Rivers State, Mr Joseph Mbu,  appeared before the NHRC to answer to allegations that were raised against him by Governor Amaechi.

Likewise, the Abuja FHC, on December 11, declared that the House of Representatives, acted in breach of Section 11(4) and (5) of the 1999 Constitution, when it on July 10, 2013, assumed the law making functions of the Rivers State House of Assembly.

Poised for a last fight, the Alhaji Tukur led PDP, on December 12, asked the FHC Abuja to declare seats of the five ‘rebel governors’ that left its fold and defected to the All Progressive Congress, APC, vacant.

Specifically, the five Governors the PDP urged the court to quickly remove from office , were Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers, Alhaji Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano and Alhaji Abdulfatai Ahmed of Kwara state.

On December 13, the Supreme Court, discharged and acquitted former board members of the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, including its Chairman, Chief Olabode George, and also voided the 2-years jail term they each served as a result of a Lagos State High Court judgment on October 26, 2009.

Among those freed by the court were former Managing Director of the NPA, Mr Aminu Dabo, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminu Tafida, Captain Oluwasegun Abidoye, Alhaji Zanna Maidaribe and Mr. Sule Aliyu.

They were all members of the NPA board from 2001 to 2003 when it was dissolved by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

In the same vein, an Abuja High Court, same day, dismissed the land-grab’ case that was initiated against the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, by the EFCC.

Finally, on December 20, the mastermind of the Christmas day bomb blast that killed about 44 persons and wounded 75 others at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church at Madalla, Niger State, in 2011, Kabiru Umar, a.k.a Kabiru Sokoto, was sentenced to life imprisonment by Justice Adeniyi of the FHC Abuja.

As the legal curtain has fallen on 2013, there is no doubt that in view of the 2015 general elections, 2014 will be a litmus test for the Nigerian judiciary.