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The Judiciary, the burden of justice in 2015

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

The year 2015 was quite an eventful one for the judiciary. Aside the determination of election disputes by different tribunals across the federation, the year under review also witnessed the prosecution of many politically exposed persons over alleged economic sabotage. Remarkably, the year kicked-off on a low-point, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed and other Justices of the Supreme Court were on January 5, locked out of their respective offices by protesting members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN.

Supreme Court in session
Supreme Court in session

The Union which embarked on a nationwide indefinite strike, equally prevented Justices of the Appeal Court and  Judges of both High and Lower Courts within the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, from conducting any form of legal activity. JUSUN protest was aimed at compelling the federal government to comply with a court judgment that granted financial autonomy to the judiciary.

Financial autonomy

Meantime, with the 2015 general election looming, legal activities commenced with so many political matters, prominent among which was plethora of cases that sought to disqualify President Muhammadu Buhari from participating at the poll.    Most of the suits queried Buhari’s eligibility to contest the presidential election on the premise that he lacked the basic educational qualification.

Similarly, the Court of Appeal in Abuja, on March 3, cleared the legal coast for ex-President Goodluck Jonathan to seek for a re-election. The appellate court held that Jonathan was legally qualified to run for a second term in office, saying his first tenure as substantive President of Nigeria commenced on May 29,  2011.

Stay of execution of 12 soldiers : On March 12, the Court of Appeal in Abuja stayed the execution of the death sentence that was passed on two of the 12 Nigerian soldiers that were convicted in 2014 by a Military Court Martial over their alleged complicity in acts of mutiny. The soldiers were on September 15, 2014, condemned to death by the General Court Marshal which sat at the Army Headquarters Garrison, Mogadishu Cantonment in Abuja.

They were charged with offences that ranged from disobedience to particular order, insubordination, false accusation, criminal behaviour, conspiracy to commit mutiny and mutiny under the Armed Forces Act 2004.

FG sues NASS: The Federal Government, on April 22, dragged the National Assembly to the Supreme Court, seeking for an order nullifying all the proposed amendments to the 1999 constitution. In an originating summons it filed through a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, FG, prayed the apex court to declare as unconstitutional, the amendments as proposed by the lawmakers.

It contended that the said Fourth Alteration Act 2015, was not passed with the mandatory requirement of four-fifths majority of members of the Defendant (National Assembly), and the mandatory due processes provided for under the relevant sections of the extant Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.

Extradition of Okoyomon to the UK: Justice Evoh Chukwu of the Federal High Court in Abuja, on May 4, ordered the extradition of the former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Security, Minting and Printing Company, NSMPC, Mr. Ehidiamhen Okoyomon to the United Kingdom to face corruption charges.

EFCC arraigns Sylva: The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,EFCC, on May 18, re-arraigned the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Timipre Sylva, on a six-count criminal charge bordering on alleged diversion of public funds to the tune of N6.5billion. Sylva, who was previously arraigned before the court on June 5, 2012, pleaded not guilty to all the six-count charge against him. The charge was eventually withdrawn on June 1.

The Supreme Court, on June 5, ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited to pay the sum of N30,288,681 to four communities in Delta State. The apex court found the company culpable for the oil spillage that adversely affected the communities ýabout 32 years ago. The benefiting communities were Obotobo, Sokebolo, Ofogbene (Ezon Burutu) and Ekeremor Zion (Ezon Asa). Some leaders of the communities had in 1983, dragged the oil company before a High Court of the then Bendel State.

Criminal charge

The Federal High Court in Abuja, on June 10, dismissed a 42-count criminal charge pending against the Former Governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva. Trial Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed ruled that the charge which was preferred against the erstwhile governor by the EFCC, constituted an abuse of court process.  Sylva was in the charge, alleged to have used three separate companies and siphoned the sum of N19.2 billion from the Bayelsa State treasury.

…Nyako and Ikedi Ohakim too: Similarly, the EFCC, on July 8, separately docked former Governors of Adamawa and Imo State, Admiral Murtala Nyako (rtd) and Ikedi Ohakim before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court over allegations bordering on money laundering, abuse of office and misappropriation of public funds.

Whereas Nyako was accused of diverting over N40billion from the Adamawa State treasury between January 2011 and December 2014, Ohakim on the other hand was alleged to have amassed about $2m from the public coffers and used same to acquire a mansion at the Asokoro District of Abuja.

Illegal diversion of funds

Nyako was arraigned alongside his son, Abdulaziz and two others, Zulkifikk Abba and Abubakar Aliyu. They are answering to a 37-count criminal charge dated July 7. Five companies that allegedly served as conduit pipes for the illegal diversion of the funds-Blue Opal Limited, Sebore Farms & Extension Limited, Pagoda Fortunes Limited, Tower Assets Management Limited and Crust Energy Limited, were equally charged as the 5th to 9th accused persons.

On July 10, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC, conferred the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, on 21 senior lawyers in the country. The new SANS emerged from a total list of 124 applicants. Stephen Oronsaye: The EFCC, on July 13, arraigned the former Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye before the Federal High Court in Abuja on a 24-count criminal charge.  Orasanye was alleged to have used some companies and diverted over N1.9billion from the national treasury under the guise that the funds were used for biometric data capture project.

He was docked alongside his alleged accomplice, Mr. Osarenkhoe Afe.  On July 14, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the same high court, granted bail to the former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido and his two sons, Aminu and Mustapha. Justice Ademola Adeniyi of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on August 31, struck out the suit that sought to remove the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu from office ýon the premise that ýthe Senate Standing Orders 2015, that produced them, was forged.

Justice Adeniyi terminated further hearing oýn the matter after the plaintiffs who are five Senators, Abu Ibrahim, Kabir Marafa, Ajayi Boroffice, Olugbenga Ashafa and Suleiman Hunkuni, applied to withdraw the suit. On September 1, the Federal Government docked the erstwhile National Security Adviser, NSA, to President Goodluck Jonathan, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) before the Federal High Court in Abuja, over his alleged possession of illegal firearms.

The Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, on September 18, ordered the arrest of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki following his refusal to appear in court to face a 13-count criminal charge that was preferred against him by the Federal Government. The tribunal which was headed by Justice Danladi Umar, directed the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mr. Solomon Arase and other relevant security agencies in ýthe country to arrest the Senate President and produce him in court for trial. Saraki was eventually arraigned before the CCT on September 22.

Tribunal affirms Akpabio, Ambode’s election: On October 14, the Akwa Ibom State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuj, affirmed the former governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio, as the winner of Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial Seat.                                     In its judgement, the Justice Goddy Anunihu-led tribunal dismissed the petition that was lodged against Akpabio’s election by the Allý Progressives Congress, APC, and its candidate for the Senatorial District, Chief Inibehe Okori.

The Supreme Court, on October 20, upheld the election of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State.The apex court, in a unanimous judgment by a panel of seven Justices, struck out the appeal that was lodged before it by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the April 11 governorship election in Lagos State, Mr. Olujimi Agbaje.

The panel which was led by Justice Tanko Muhammad, held that Agbaje’s appeal was devoid of merit. On October 21, the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that sat in Abuja ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct re-run election in 18 Local Government Areas in the State.

The tribunal headed by Justice Sadiq Umar, said it was satisfied that over 500, 000 electorates in the local government area were disenfranchised during the governorship election that held in the state on April 11, 2015. According to the panel, the petition which was filed against governor Emmanuel Udom of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its candidate at the poll, Chief Umana Okon Umana, succeeded in part.

Rivers

On October 24, the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that sat in Abuja, nullified the April 11 governorship election that brought governor Nyesom Wike to power. The three-man panel tribunal headed by Justice Suleiman Ambrosa, upheld the petition that was lodged against the election ýby the All Progressives Congress and it gubernatorial candidate in the state, Dr. Dakuku Peterside. The tribunal maintained that the petitioners successfully proved that the governorship pollý was characterised by violence and corrupt practices.

Dasuki

On November 3, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court gave the former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), the nod to travel abroad for medical treatment. Trial Justice Ademola Adeniyi hinged his decision to give Dasuki ýthree weeks medical leave abroad on his “deteriorating health condition.”

Saraki’s lawyers stage walk-out

Following the decision of the CCT to commence full-blown hearing on the 13-count criminal charge against the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, despite the pendency of an appeal before the Supreme Court, all his lawyers, on November 5,  staged a walk out on the tribunal. Saraki’s legal team, comprising of three Senior Advocates of Nigeria and 24 lawyers, through their leader Mr. Mahmud Magaji, SAN, said they were not comfortable to take part in what they termed “judicial rascality.”

On November 7, the Taraba State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that sat in Abuja, nullified the election of Governor Darius Ishaku of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.  The tribunal headed by Justice Musa Danladi Abubakar declared the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state, Senator Aisha Jumai Alhassaný, as the bona-fide winner of the April 11 governorship poll in the state.

Orubebe, Suswam, Dokpesi docked

The Federal Government, on November 9, docked the erstwhile Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Peter Orubebe, before the CCT on a four-count criminal charge bordering on money laundering and alleged bribery to the tune of N70milion.   On November 10, the EFCC, docked the former governor of Benue State, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja over a nine-count criminal charge bordering on money laundering.

Suswam who piloted the affairs of Benue State from 2007 to 2015, was arraigned ýalongside his former Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Omodachi Okolobia over allegation that they looted about N3.1 billion, being proceeds of shares owned by the Benue State government and Benue Investment and Property Company Ltd.

On November 27, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the appointment of 30 new Judges for the Federal High Court.                                Former Chairman of DAAR Communications Plc and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi was on December 9, docked before the Federal High Court in Abuja over alleged N2.1billion fraud.

Dokpesi was arraigned before trial Justice Gabriel Kolawole along with his firm, Daar Investment and Holdings Ltd, he was later granted bail to the tune of N400 million. On December 14, the EFCC, arraigned the former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) before an Abuja High Court sitting at Maitama over a fresh 19-count criminal charge. Dasuki was docked alongside the erstwhile Director of Finance in the Office of the NSA, Mr. Shuaibu Salisu, former Executive Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Commission, NNPC, Aminu Baba-Kusa, as well as his companies, Acacia Holding Limited and Reliance Referal Hospital Limited.

The accused persons were alleged to have illegally diverted over N13.6billion from the national treasury. On December 15, an Abuja High Court at Maitama sacked the Acting National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Uche Secondus. The court order followed a suit that was filed by the erstwhile Special Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Political Matters, Mr. Ahmed Gulak.

Nnamdi Kanu charged

On December 22, the Federal Government slammed a fresh six-count criminal charge against the embattled leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu.Kanu was charged before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court alongside two others, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi.

The trio were accused of committing treasonable felony, an offence punishable under Section 41(C) of the Criminal Code Act, CAP C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. On December 24, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja declined to nullify the election of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.

The appellate court, in a unanimous judgment by a five-man panel of Justices, dismissed two separate appeals that sought to nullify the outcome of the April 11 governorship election in the state.The two appeals were lodged by candidates of the Labour Party, LP,Chief Great Ogboru and that of the ýAll Progressives Congress, APC, Olorogun O’ tega Emerhor.

 


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