*EFCC retrieves N1.8 m to be used as exhibit
*Attorney General approves prosecution of Umar, removal from office
Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
The Presidency is in dilemma over what to do with the embattled Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar, who has been embroiled in a N10 million bribery scandal, forcing the two other members of the tribunal to refuse sitting with him.
The two other judges of the CCT, Robert Odu rtd and Agwaza Atedze had in a joint letter to former President Goodluck Jonathan and copied to the EFCC, drew the attention of the government to the N10 million bribery allegation made against Umar, saying that the issue had brought serious embarrassment to them and the tribunal.
“May we with respect, draw His Excellency’s attention to the allegation of N10 million bribe made against Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar, current chairman of Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja, which is being investigated by the EFCC”, they reportedly said.
This allegation has been widely reported in the media, besides embarrassing comments from legal practitioners who have been calling to express their disappointment over the shocking development, although investigation is yet to be concluded.
“We, the two members of the CCT and the entire staff are embarrassed and saddened by this allegation because a tribunal set up to check corruption should not be accused of being corrupt. This would not be in keeping with the transformation agenda of the administration.
“We are mindful of the fact that the Federal Government has zero tolerance policy for corruption, and this is the reason for the establishment of the CCT as one of the agencies to fight corruption in all its ramifications.
“It is our prayer therefore that this allegation will be looked into so that the tribunal can start sitting in the interest of litigants and their counsel,” the two members said in the letter dated April 4, 2014.
Sunday Vanguard investigations spanning weeks indicate that although the Presidency has been embarrassed by the gamut of evidence adduced by key government officials against Umar, it was however handicapped by the fact that the said man is handling the trial of persons suspected to be corrupt.
It was learnt that the Presidency was however carefully studying the bribery case against Umar so as to take a definite and prompt action that would not tarnish the image of the CCT and the administration.
Confusion is said to have become the lot of the Presidency as to whether to move against Umar based on the advice of the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, to former President Jonathan, that Umar should be removed from office based on the scandal or to initiate a new probe of the bribery scandal.
Adoke was also said to have authorised the EFCC on June 25, 2014, to prosecute Umar and his PA based on the findings by the commission.
In the investigation carried out by the EFCC under its recently removed Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, Umar was alleged to have demanded and collected the sum of N1.8 million from one Rasheed Taiwo, a former Deputy Comptroller General of Customs, who was arraigned at the CCT over false declaration of assets.
To pave the way for the prosecution, EFCC crack investigators swopped on Zenith Bank, through which Taiwo allegedly paid the first tranche of N1.8 out of the N10 million to Umar through his PA, Gambo Abdullahi, and retrieved the cheque number and details of the transactions.
The Zenith Bank cheque for the amount of N1.8 million was issued by Taiwo Rasheed Owolabi on December 12, 2012 from his Bourdillon Branch on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, and received the same day by Gambo Abdullahi in his Usuma Branch, Maitama Abuja.
Evidence available to Sunday Vanguard also shows that with the payment of the N1.8 million into Abdullahi’s account, his balance in that account rose to N1, 900, 448, 41. The money was promptly withdrawn the same day by the Abdullahi, who told EFCC investigators that he handed over the cash to Umar by hand.
EFCC’s findings showed that Umar used his telephone number, 08033367814 to communicate with Taiwo whose phone number with which he established constant communication with the CCT chairman was given as 08074455022.
Based on the findings, the former EFCC chairman, in a memo dated June 24, 2014, and addressed to the Attorney General of the Federation, Adoke, said that it was obvious from their findings that the CCT chairman might have collected the said amount of money from Taiwo.
The agency said however that it was unable to carry out forensic analysis of the telephone number of Umar, since he insisted that he had since lost that phone.
Lamorde said: “We write to bring to the attention of the Honourable Attorney General to the case which was reported by one Mr. Rasheed Taiwo (DCG Rtd) of 6 A Milverton Road, Lagos, against the chairman of CCT, Justice Danladi Umar and his Personal Assistant, Gambo Abdullahi in December 2012.
“Available circumstantial evidence suggests that the Tribunal Chairman might have indeed demanded and collected money from the complainant through his PA. Efforts made to recover the telephone handset used by Justice Umar have proved abortive, as he claimed that he lost the handset in 2012.
“This has made it impossible to subject it to independent scientific analysis with a view to corroborating the allegation.
Justice Umar also admitted that he met privately with the complainant in his chamber of the CCT. This has since been considered most unethical and highly suspicious conduct on his part.
“There is a preponderance of overwhelming evidence to however prosecute Gambo Abdullahi, who could offer no coherent excuse for receiving N1.8 million into his salary account from Taiwo, who is an accused person standing trial at the CCT.
“The full money has been recovered from him in May 2014 and aptly registered as exhibit. The fact that he made two contradictory statements on the reason he was paid the money, is clearly an attempt to cover the reason the money was paid to him,” Lamorde concluded.
EFCC did not stop there.
The commission promptly raised a two-count charge against Dandali Umar and Ali Gambo Abdullahi. The charge sheet sighted by Sunday Vanguard, was signed by Andrew Akoja, of the Legal and Prosecution Unit of the EFCC.
Count one: “That you Danladi Yakubu Umar and Ali Gambo Abdullahi, being public officers in the CCT, Abuja, on or about December 2012 in Abuja, within the Judicial Division of the Honourable Court, did engage in culpable conspiracy to obtain the sum of N10 million from one Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi for a favour to be shown to him in connection with the discharge of your official duties and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 26 (1) (c) of the ICPC Act 2000 and punishable under Section 10 (a) (11) of the same Act.
Count two: “That you Danladi Yakubu Umar and Ali Gambo Abdullahi, being public officers in the CCT, Abuja, on or about December 2012 in Abuja, within the Judicial Division of the Honourable Court, did engage in culpable conspiracy to obtain the sum of N10 million from one Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi for a favour to be shown to him in connection with the discharge of your official duties and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 26 (1) (c) of the ICPC Act 2000 and punishable under Section 10 (a) (11) of the same Act.
Findings, however, showed that although the case file for the two accused persons was prepared since June 2014, it was not clear why the EFCC later dropped Umar’s name from the charge sheet and took only his PA to court, where the matter is still pending.
The EFCC has remained silent on Umar till date.
An EFCC source said last night that the commission would not comment on a matter that was before a court so as not to commit contempt.
An attempt by Sunday Vanguard to speak with the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, proved abortive at the weekend, since his lines indicated that they had been switched off.
It was however learnt that the lacuna that has kept Umar in office till date might not be unconnected with the provisions of the law, which make it impossible for the President to remove him from office without getting two thirds majority support from the National Assembly.
It was also leant that the National Judicial Council, NJC, whose opinion on the matter, was sought by the immediate past government, had said that they had no hand in removing him from office but that the EFCC should thoroughly investigate the bribery allegation against him and bring him to book.
In a four-page memorandum written by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria to the Presidency on the issue of Umar, Justice Aloma Marian Mukhtar, made it clear that since it is the President who has the power to appoint the CCT chairman, it is also the President who has the power to remove him from office with the approval of the NASS.
The former CJN who headed the NJC said: “The National Judicial Council, on the recommendation of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, has no power to either discipline or recommend removal from office of the Chairman of the CCT to the President. Hence, the reason why Council was unable to investigate the allegations levelled against Hon. Danladi Yakubu Umar, Chairman of the CCT.
“It is hereby advised that in consonance with the Rule of Law, which is one of the cardinal principles of this administration, the case before EFCC against Umar should be allowed to follow due process.
“Since Constitutionally the Chairman of the CCT is not a judicial officer, the power to discipline and remove him from office, lies with the Presidency, please,” Mukhtar wrote on May 26, 2014 to the Presidency, washing off her hands.
But Mohammed Adoke in another memo to President Jonathan dated May 7, 2015, asked the President to set in motion measures to get Umar removed from office.
Adoke said: “That under the constitution your Excellency may remove the chairman of the CCT upon an address supported by two thirds majority of each House of the National Assembly praying that the chairman of the CCT be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office in question on grounds of misconduct or for contravention of the law.
“I am of the humble opinion that the current state of affairs in which the CCT is unable to sit while the institution is increasingly diminished by a pall of suspicion, should not be allowed to fester as it will expose the institution to public ridicule and undermine this administration’s effort to combat corruption.
“IN the light of the foregoing therefore, Your Excellency may wish to initiate the necessary steps for the removal of the CCT chairman from office,” the former Attorney General wrote.
It was learnt that the Presidency might soon take action and reconstitute the CCT to be able to assist the government in its anti-graft war.
A source said the continued stay in office of Umar with the corruption scandal hanging in the air was giving the Buhari administration a serious cause for concern.
How soon action is taken to save the face of the new administration remains to be seen.