By Henry Ojelu & Onozure Dania
The judiciary for many reasons, attracted so much attention in 2018. From the conviction of several high profile persons to landmark judgments on critical national issues, the nation’s third arm of government recorded remarkable performance in its role of interpreting the law. In this edition, Vanguard Law and Human Rights, undertook a review of some of the outstanding cases and judgments in 2018.
Joseph Nwaobike, SAN
The year started on a dramatic note with the conviction of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Joseph Nwaobike. Nwobike was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on five counts charge on March 9, 2016 but the charge was amended on two different occasions with the prosecution eventually increasing the counts to 18. In the charges, the EFCC accused the SAN of offering monetary gratification to judges of the Federal High Court to influence them to give judgments in his favour.
Nwobike was also accused of having constant communication, through text messages, with the registrar of Justice Musa Kurya, Mrs. Helen Ogunleye. It alleged that the SAN, on one occasion, gave an envelope, believed to be containing money, to Ogunleye to give to the judge, and followed up with a message that the registrar should tell ‘him to discharge the order.’
At the conclusion of the trial, Nwobike was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment by a Lagos High Court judge, Justice R.I.B Adebiyi on allegation of perversion of justice. Following the judgment, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, stripped Nwaobike of his SAN title. He has since appealed against his conviction.
Olubadan crisis: 21 Ibadan Obas sacked
The chieftaincy crisis brewing in the ancient Ibadan City was temporarily rested as the Oyo State High Court sitting in Ibadan in January declared the judicial commission of inquiry set up by Governor Abiola Ajimobi to review the 1957 Chieftaincy Declaration of Ibadanland as unconstitutional, illegal and of no effect. Ajimobi had on May 19, 2017, set up the commission headed by Justice Akintunde Boade (retd), to review the 1957 chieftaincy declaration and other related chieftaincies in Ibadan.
The commission had submitted its report to the governor on August 18, 2017 recommending 32 beaded-crown Obas in Ibadan while the Olubadan would remain as paramount ruler of Ibadanland. But former governor of the state and Osi Olubadan of Ibadanland, Sen. Rashidi Ladoja, dragged Ajimobi and Boade to court, claiming that the composition of the committee would affect his ambition of becoming the Olubadan. Delivering judgment, Justice Olajumoke Aiki, said Sections 10,12 and 25 of the Oyo State Chiefs Law do not empower the governor to set up the committee. Aiki held that the governor cannot delegate power on a matter he has not power over. Vexed by the judgment, Governor Ajimobi has since appealed the decision of the High Court.
Pastor Jolly Nyame jailed
The EFCC in May secured the conviction of former governor of Taraba State, Pastor Jolly Nyame. Nyame was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 14 years in prison after a prolonged trial that lasted more than a decade. He was accused of looting over N1.64 billion during his eight years in office from 1999. In a scathing remark, the trial judge, Justice Adebukola Banjoko while delivering his judgment, said the former governor behaved “like a common thief with an unbridled greed.
“I am morally outraged with the fact of this case,” he said, adding that even though an investigation into his activities began in 2006, he kept on offending.
“That makes him a non-repentant sinner or the most audacious chief executive Nigeria ever had,” the judge said.
Joshua Dariye gets 14 years
Barely one month after Nyame was jailed, Senator Joshua Dariye met the same fate as he got 14-year prison term for fraud. The former Plateau State governor was imprisoned by the same Federal Capital High Court, Abuja that put Dariye behind bars.
In her judgment, Justice Adebukola Banjoko found Dariye guilty on 15 of the 23-count charge filed against him by the EFCC. The court found the former governor guilty of criminal breach of trust and diversion of ecological fund meant for Plateau State.
The court in its judgment held that Dariye as a public servant entrusted with, and having dominion over N1.1 billion ecological funds for Plateau State, was guilty with the manner the cheque was cleared and disbursed contrary to the real intent of the fund.
More revelations in Evans trial
The trial of alleged billionaire kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, alias Evans which began in 2017 continued in 2018 with more intrigues and revelations by suspects and witnesses. The trial began with Evans’ lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje opting out of the case. With a new counsel, Larry Ajanaku, Evans suddenly began to change his earlier narrative.
To the shock of many who watched him narrate his crime before television cameras, Evans suddenly recanted his tale, saying he was coerced by police. With the development, much of the trial shifted to trial-within-trial. In one of his shocking revelations during trial-within-trial, Evans told the court that the police threatened him with dead bodies in an attempt to make him sign a written confession he did not make.
He also narrated the horrible treatment meted to him inside the prison. Despite the few revelations, not much progress had been made in another of the five trials as Evans insisted that much of his confessions were under duress. Expectedly, the trial will occupy the Lagos Court docket in 2019.
Despite several court orders granting former National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) bail, the Federal Government continued to incarcerate the ex-spy chief while pursing the three cases of money laundering and illegal possession of firearms pending before the Federal High Court, Abuja and the High Court of the FCT.
Dasuki is being tried before Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court for money laundering and illegal possession of firearms. Trial resumes in the case on October 3. He is being tried with some others in two charges pending before Justice Hussein Baba Yusuf of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Maitama, Abuja. In both charges, the defendants are accused of diverting public funds.
The trial of former spokesman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Olisa Metuh, continued before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja with drama. Metuh is facing trial for allegedly diverting N400 million from the office of the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. He is also being tried in a separate court for alleged destruction of his statement at the office of the EFCC. After much hide and seek game over his non-appearance before the trial court, Metuh slumped inside the courtroom at one of the hearings.
Weeks after the incident, the development remained one of the much discussed issues in the country. With the incident, Metuh refused to turn up for his trial prompting the EFCC to seek court’s permission to continue the trial in his absence. Much of the trial since March has been conducted in his absence.
Little progress was made in the trial of leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu who is standing trial at the Federal High Court in Abuja on five counts for treasonable felony, among other charges. Until recently, Kanu has not been seen since September 22, 2017 after soldiers invaded his Afara home in Abia State during an operation staged by the Nigerian Army to quell the secessionist activities of IPOB in the South-East zone. Following Kanu’s long disappearance, the trial court in February ordered a separate trial for his co-defendants, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi. On March 28, 2018, the court further asked Kanu’s three sureties Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, a Jewish priest, Immanuu-El Shalom, and an accountant resident in Abuja, Tochukwu Uchendu to produce him (Kanu) or risk going to prison. With Kanu’s resurgence, the direction of the trial remains uncertain.
Senator Bukola Saraki
In a dramatic turn of events, the Supreme Court on July 5, 2018, laid to rest the trial of Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on assets declaration and sundry charges instituted against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal by the Federal Government. A five-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Dattijo Muhammad unanimously upheld Saraki’s appeal, by dismissing the remnant three counts, declaring the evidence led by the prosecution as hearsay.
Hours after the end of his tenure, former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose reported himself to the EFCC for trial over the N4.7 billion fraud allegation against him. He was subsequently arraigned on October 22, 2018 along with his company, Spotless Ltd, before a Federal High Court, Lagos on an 11-count charge of conspiracy and money laundering.
He was later remanded at the anti-graft agency’s facility till October 24, for the hearing of his bail application by his counsel. The court in its subsequent sitting granted him bail in the sum of N50million. Fayose who maintains that his trial was mere persecution for his strong criticism of Buhari government, has since been set free having met his bail conditions.
Senator Ademola Adeleke exam malpractice
In what appeared to be a politically motivated trial, the old sins of Nigeria’s dancing senator, Ademola Adeleke was unearthened by the police which filed a case of examination malpractice against him. The lawmaker is facing charges of examination malpractice, criminal conspiracy, impersonation, breach of duty, and aiding and abetting.
He was accused of conspiring with four others to carry out the acts while writing NECO exam on July 21, 2017. According to the Police, Adeleke registered for NECO in 2017 by impersonating students of Ojo/Aro Community High School in Osun State.
According to the police, when he was arrested on July 27, 2017, he signed a statement admitting that he registered but did not sit for the examination. However, according to a result obtained from NECO, Adeleke has seven credits and one pass in the examination he claimed he didn’t participate in.
Police said it also discovered that in his application, he claimed he was born on June 12, 1997 (20 years old) even though he was 57 at the time. The trial is still at the preliminary stage.
MTN $8.1bn repatriated fund Fraud
Telecommunication giant, MTN Nigeria on October 30, filed a suit challenging the $8.1 billion fine by the CBN, over alleged forex remittances infractions.
The dispute over $8.1bn repatriated funds started when the CBN alleged that MTN used improperly issued certificates to transfer funds out of Nigeria after MTN converted shareholder loans in its Nigerian unit to preference shares in 2007, but MTN denied the allegations.
CBN said MTN’s banks failed to verify that the telecom group had met all the country’s foreign exchange regulations. However, the parties involved have agreed to settle out of court; the outcome of the settlement will be made known by January, 22, 2019.
Estate agent jailed 1,230 years
On March 15, 2018, an Estate Agent, Babatunde Habeeb, who defrauded accommodation seekers of N28 million, under false pretence of giving them accommodation, was sentenced to 1,230 years imprisonment. This elicited a lot of jubilation from people and it also gave people the assurance that justice can still be attained in Nigerian courts.
Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye convicted Habeeb, also known as Babatunde Salaudeen, of 82 counts of conspiracy and obtaining the cash by false pretence from 101 accommodation seekers.
The judge sentenced Habeeb to 15 years imprisonment for conspiracy and 15 years on each of the 81 counts of obtaining under false pretence. The sentences totaled 1,230 years. The court held that Habeeb conspired with his older brother, Alhaji Ishola Salaudeen, and obtained the cash under the pretext of renting out 13 apartments to the complainants.
The 13 apartments are in a building on 59, Oriola Street, Alapere-Ketu, Lagos, owned by Alhaji Salaudeen. Justice Ipaye also ordered that a one-storey block of flats be forfeited to the Federal Government. The judge directed that the building be sold and the proceeds shared among the complainants. According to her, this would send a strong signal to would-be property fraudsters.
Senator Peter Nwaoboshi
At the beginning of the last quarter of the year, the EFCC dragged Senator Peter Nwaoboshi before a Federal High Court, Lagos over alleged N322 million fraud in April 25. The commission alleged that Nwaoboshi and Golden Touch Construction Projects purchased a 12-storey property known as Guinea House, Marine Road, Apapa, Lagos for N805 million between May and June 2014. The anti-graft agency claimed that N322 million of the N805m was part of proceeds of “an unlawful act, to wit: fraud.”
Nwaoboshi pleaded not guilty to the charge and has since been granted bail. Trial has been fixed for February this year.
NBA President, Usoro arraigned
In what perhaps appears as one of the biggest catch for the EFCC, the commission on December 10, dragged the President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos over allegation of money laundering. Also named in the charge are Akwa Ibom State’s Commissioner for Finance, Accountant-General and Attorney-General, Nsikan Nkan; Mfon Udomah, Uwemedimo Nwoko and Margaret Ukpe, who are said to be at large. Over 14 senior advocates made his defence team. Led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, the team scored its first victory with the botched arraignment of Usoro on December 10. On his subsequent arraignment one week after, Usoro was granted bail in the sum of N250 million with one surety. With the trial slated for February 2019, much courtroom drama is expected with such high profile case.
Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla
The trial of Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, a serving judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos, for unlawful enrichment, taking property by a public officer, corruption and forgery continued at Lagos State High Court, Ikeja.
The EFCC in a 27-count charge alleged that she received $793,800 from various sources between 2012 and 2015. Standing trial with the embattled judge is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Godwin Obla, who the EFCC claimed gave the judge a bribe of N5 million.
Obla is facing two counts of offering gratification in the sum of N5 million to Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia while serving as a judge. They are facing 31 counts of corruption before Justice Hakeem Oshodi. They are also jointly charged with two counts for perverting justice. Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla pleaded not guilty.
Prosecution concluded its case against the defendants in September. The defendants opted for a no-case submission, which had been dismissed by the court and they have opened the defence now. The matter was adjourned to February this year.
Rickey Tarfa, SAN, is facing two separate cases of corruption and perverting justice before Justice Adedayo Akintoye of a Lagos State High Court, Igbosere and Justice Aishat Opesanwo of the Ikeja High Division of the court.
The EFCC arraigned Tarfa at Igbosere on March 10, 2016 on a 27-count charge, which was subsequently amended to 26 counts. He was accused of offering monetary gratification to two judges of the Federal High Court, Justices Hyeladzira Nganjiwa and Mohammed Yunusa, to allegedly pervert the course of justice.
The EFCC claimed that between June 27, 2012 and January 8, 2016, Tarfa paid a total of N5.3m in several tranches into Justice Nganjiwa’s account. He was also accused of paying into Justice Yunusa’s account, a total of N800,000 in three tranches between February 9 and November 30, 2015.
Tarfa filed a no-case submission, which was dismissed by the court and he has since opened his defence and had called witnesses so far to prove his case.