THE Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is set to examine the financial records of the Supreme Court of Nigeria from 2009 till June 27, 2022, covering the administrations of six past Chief Justices of Nigeria, CJNs.
The chief justices who were at the helm of affairs for the period were Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu (2010-2011); Justice Dahiru Musdapher (2011-2012); Justice Aloma Muhktar (2012-2014); Justice Mahmud Mohammed (2014-2016); Justice Walter Onnoghen (2017-2019) and Justice Ibrahim Muhammad (2019-2022).
By Ise-Oluwa Ige
The wide task was informed by a petition dated May 30, 2022, authored by one Aliyu Mohammed purportedly on behalf of the concerned staff of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and addressed to the Chairman of the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa.
Vanguard Law and Human Rights sighted a copy of the petition and reports that the original petition was indeed submitted and received on June 1, 2022.
In the petition, the anti-graft agency was invited to unravel the jigsaw puzzle relating to the true ownership of a bank account domiciled at the United Bank for Africa with Account Number 2027642863 from which a cumulative sum of N2.2 billion allegedly belonging to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, was purportedly diverted into.
The probe is also to establish the source of monies that entered the said account during the period.
Besides, men of the EFCC are also expected to investigate the veracity of the allegation that the incumbent Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council, NJC, Mr. Gambo Saleh, purportedly colluded with one Surajo, who is a staff of NJC and son of the immediate past Chief Justice Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, to sell a property occupied by a Justice of the Supreme Court without the knowledge of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko.
The move by the EFCC to investigate the petition appears to coincide with the on-going efforts by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to visit the Supreme Court of Nigeria, SCN on a fact-finding mission regarding an unprecedented memo written by 14 justices of the Supreme Court which detailed allegations of maladministration against the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko.
The committee has promised to announce a date for the assignment soon even as it promised to carry the media along in its assignment.
It is now history that the said memo led to the resignation of Justice Tanko from office on June 27, 2022.
The Petition by Aliyu Mohammed against Justice Tanko-led S’Court and Ahmed Gambo
In the petition, Aliyu Mohammed called on the EFCC to carry out a forensic audit on the activities of both the Supreme Court of Nigeria, SCN and the National Judicial Council, NJC under the watch of Justice Tanko Muhammad.
The petition reads in part: “Presently, there is disquiet in the court. Fingered as arrowhead in the on-going destabilisation and fraudulent activities are Mr. Surajo Muhammad who is the son of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammad and Secretary of the NJC, Ahmed Gambo Saleh.
“A few fraudulent activities in recent times are carefully highlighted hereunder. A thorough investigation is paramount.
“It will interest you to know that a residence of a Justice of the Supreme Court located at the Villa, Abuja was sold by Gambo and Surajo recently. It was sold to a federal agency. This was unknown to the CJN. The CJN expressed disaffection over the shady transaction when the shady deals got to him. The underhand dealings between Gambo, Surajo and the agency so pissed the CJN that he ordered the reversal of the transaction. Before any remedy, the house in question had been demolished; today, the JSC who ought to have been assigned the said residence is homeless.
“Some justices were sworn in on November 6, 2020. As tradition demands, they were supposed to be given three assorted brand new cars each: A Mercedes Benz, Land Cruiser and one utility vehicle. Under Gambo and Surajo’s shenanigans, they (the JSC) were given only a Land Cruiser, albeit refurbished. A Hilux was added after one year and till date, the Mercedes Benz is still being awaited by the Justices.
“This is notwithstanding the fact that these projects were captured in the Capital Budget as the projects were for 2020 fiscal year.
“Today, Surajo could be said to be a defacto Head of the SCN as his father seems to have relinquished the administration of the court to him even when he is not a staff. The Chief Registrar who is supposed to be in charge of administration has been relegated and pushed to the back seat as fraudulent activities fester.
“Let us be mindful of the fact that the abracadabra with which Gambo, who was elevated to the position of Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court in 2014, was appointed the Secretary of the NJC in 2017 when his case file oozes of corruption allegations remains a mystery. His elevation tallied with the time he was supposed to be answering pertinent questions of fraud. Indeed, his elevation is still a mystery to many of us in the anti-corruption community.
“The cases of economic and financial crimes which still hang on Gambo’s head like the sword of damocles are legion. Gambo was alleged to have diverted the sum of cumulatively N2.2 billion belonging to the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He allegedly diverted the sum into his personal bank account domiciled at the United Bank for Africa PLC Account Number 2027642863.
“Following diligent preliminary investigation, same Gambo was alleged to have confessed that the money in question was his as the bulk constitute gift from friends. But further investigation revealed that he, indeed, outside of outright pilfering from the vault of the apex court, collected bribes from various contractors who ended up either executing shoddy jobs or outright abandonment of such contract which would have been paid 100 per cent.
“Further investigation revealed that he obtained N19 million gratification from Ababia Ventures Limited, a private contractor who provides services to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“Other of his fraudulent activities as investigation would further reveal include:
*Obtaining N21 million gratification from MBA Computers Limited, a private contractor who provides services to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
*Obtaining N2.4 million gratification from Welcon Nigeria Limited, a private contractor to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
*Obtaining N6 million gratification from Welcon Nigeria Limited, a private contractor to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
*Receiving N10m gratification from Willysdave Limited, a private contractor to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
*Obtaining N16 million gratification from Dean Musa Nigeria Limited, a private contractor who provided services to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“Even when investigation was successfully concluded, it remains a serious concern that the candidature of such a high profile suspect would be pushed for elevation as Secretary of the highest body of the judiciary, the NJC. Does that mean crime in which ever form, especially economic and financial crimes, are now being rewarded? This is a question begging for an answer.
“It is high time both the EFCC and the NJC took a second look at the activities of the SCN and NJC under Gambo’s watch.
“ There are enough reasons why this petition should not be swept under the carpet. He is believed to be worth over N10b. As a public officer, how did he come about this questionable wealth? He needs to offer some explanations to the anti-graft agency.
“I hope he is not one of the untouchables. His antecedents are enough suggestion on why this petition should not be ignored. A stich in time saves nine.
“Many thanks for your quick intervention,” Aliyu Mohammed signed off, leaving behind his GSM contact: 0702335070233.
The Issues in Aliyu Mohammed’s Petition
A critical study of the petition would reveal that it raised seven (7) major issues including alleged sale of a property occupied by a Justice of the Supreme Court in Aso Villa by the duo of NJC Executive Secretary, Gambo Saleh and Surajo; the son of Justice Tanko Muhammad; short-changing Supreme Court justices appointed in 2020 in terms of the official vehicles they are entitled to; that Surajo hijacked the administration of the Supreme Court from his father and the Chief Registrar of the court; that Gambo Saleh became the Executive Secretary of NJC in 2017 under hazy circumstances; that Gambo Saleh allegedly diverted the sum of N2.2 billion belonging to the Supreme Court into his personal bank account with Account Number 2027642863; that the Federal Government withdrew a N2.2b fraud charge against Gambo after he entered into a plea bargain; that Gambo Saleh purportedly collected N74.4 million gratification from five contractors of the Supreme Court; and that Gambo Saleh is worth N10 billion.
However, some of the allegations in the petition were not clear as sufficient information were not provided by the author.
Upon getting the petition, Vanguard Law and Human Rights consequently made several efforts to reach Aliyu Mohammed for further information on some of the allegations in the petition but the calls never went through.
Efforts to trace him too at the Supreme Court proved abortive as the management said they checked the staff list of the apex bench but that no one answers such name.
It was also reliably learnt that the EFCC had tried several times to reach the author of the petition to no avail, a development that halted the anti-graft agency from swinging into action immediately.
Vanguard Law and Human Rights, however, spoke with the management of both the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council on the issues as raised in the petition.
The Director of Information of the National Judicial Council, Mr Soji Oye spoke for the Secretary of the Council, Mr. Gambo Saleh, while Mr. Ahuraka Isah, the media aide to the former Chief Justice of Nigeria spoke for his boss, Justice Tanko Muhammad and his son, Surajo.
Ahuraka spoke with Vanguard Law and Human Rights before his boss resigned from office while Soji Oye spoke during the week.
Specifically, both the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council said that they were not averse to any form of probe.
According to Mr. Soji Oye: “Let me start by saying that the author of the petition is not a staff of the Supreme Court as he claimed. No one on the staff list of the Supreme Court answers that name. We have also made several efforts to call the GSM number he left, it never rang. Having said that, let us take the issues raised as they affect the Executive Secretary of NJC, one after the other.
“Let me start by reacting to the preamble to the petition where the author was quoting a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Eko who suggested that the Auditor-General of the Federation should once in a while open the books of the NJC. You will be surprised to learn that the Auditor-General of the Federation has an office in the NJC with 11 staff opening our books on daily basis. The Office of the AGF is permanently with us here. We run an open administration,” he said.
The allegation that Gambo colluded with Surajo to sell residence of a Supreme Court Justice in the Villa, ridiculous
The NJC image-maker said the allegation that the duo of Surajo, the son of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council, Gambo Saleh, sold a residence of a sitting Supreme Court Justice sounds ridiculous.
According to Soji Oye, it appears the author deliberately concealed some information about the property in question simply to tar the image of the NJC’s Secretary, Saleh Gambo.
He explained that the said property (House 10, Ibrahim Taiwo Street) belonged to the Presidency and that it was merely allocated to the Supreme Court which the apex bench used as accommodation for a Justice of the Supreme Court.
“It may interest the public to know that the said House No 10, Ibrahim Taiwo Street on the way to the Villa was once occupied by the immediate past CJN, Justice Tanko, before he relocated to his official residence. The property was next to House No 11 occupied by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU.
“What happened was that NFIU had a property close to the said residence of the Supreme Court Justice but it needed to enlarge the office. It applied to the Presidency to annex the residence of the Supreme Court Justice, a request that was granted. The NFIU later approached the CJN who said he was not averse to the decision but that the Presidency should give them a replacement. The building is on No 10, Ibrahim Taiwo Street on your way to the Villa if you step out of the Supreme Court here.
“The Presidency gave the Supreme Court another building located at No 11, Queen Elizabeth Crescent in replacement while NFIU moved in to demolish the building on Ibrahim Taiwo in order to rebuild their office the way they want. Currently, Julius Berger is rebuilding the office for them.
“Come to think of it, does it make any sense for any one to say two persons connived to sell a house belonging to the Presidency to the NFIU?”
In fact, Soji Oye showed Vanguard Law and Human Rights documentary evidence to buttress his claim.
Allegation of diversion of N2.2b S’Court fund against me malicious, misleading
On the allegation that Gambo allegedly diverted the sum of N2.2 billion belonging to the Supreme Court into his personal account maintained with the UBA with Account Number 2027642863, Soji Oye said that could only be a lie from the pit of hell.
“The purported UBA account they claimed belonged to Mr. Gambo is the operational account of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The account was opened in 2009 during the tenure of Justice Kutigi by the Supreme Court. You can do your personal investigation. The account number is not hidden.
“Mr Gambo became the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court in 2014. The said N2.2 billion was the amount that passed through that account since it was opened in 2009 till 2016.
“The account takes care of the welfare of the Supreme Court justices. Justice Gambo was not a signatory to the account. How can the account of the Supreme Court be said to belong to an individual?”
Indeed, Vanguard Law and Human Rights reports that Justice Usman Alhaji Musale was the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court between 2007 and 2010 when the account was opened. He left NJC to become a high court judge.
Justice Sunday Olorundahunsi took over from Musale in 2010 and remained on the seat till 2014 when he also became a high court judge while Mr Ahmed Gambo Saleh took over from Olorundahunsi in 2014 till 2017 when he became the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council. Records also showed that Mrs Hadizatu Uwani Mustapha took over from Saleh in 2017 and was there till August 2021 when she retired after clocking the mandatory retirement age of 60 years while Mrs Hajo Sarki Bello is the current Chief Registrar of the apex bench from August 2021 till date.
Soji Oye said from all indications, the petitioner attributed the said account number belonging to the Supreme Court where the said N2.2 billion passed through between 2009 and 2016 to Mr Saleh to deliberately and maliciously mislead members of the public and tarnish the image of the NJC scribe.
On allegation of collecting N74.4m gratification from S’Court contractors
Also reacting to the portion of the petition that Gambo collected several sums of monies from Supreme Court contractors, Soji Oye said the allegation was also a figment of the author’s imagination.
“The petitioner also listed some figures which he claimed were the bribes collected by Mr Gambo. I ask: where were the purported bribes paid into? All the monies which they claimed were bribes totalling N74.4 million were in the same UBA Account belonging to the Supreme Court and operated by the cashier. These spurious allegations were once investigated and Gambo was given a clean bill of health. I don’t know what their mission is,” he added.
How I emerged the Executive Secretary of NJC—Gambo
Another issue raised in the petition was that Gambo emerged the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council, NJC under circumstances that was less than transparent.
Soji Oye said that contrary to the claim, Gambo’s emergence as NJC ‘s Secretary was not only transparent but also an outcome of his glowing performance at the interview organised for the job.
Vanguard Law and Human Rights indeed sighted a copy of the score sheet used to grade candidates for the top job which revealed that Gambo jostled for the job alongside two others including Mr Aliyu Ibrahim who was the former Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal and Mr Williams Rotimi Daudu who is the Chief Registrar of the National Industrial Court. The score sheet showed that he beat the two others and clinched the job based on his glowing performance at the interview.
That Gambo Saleh is worth N10b, most ridiculous
Soji Oye said that the most ridiculous allegation by the petitioner was that Gambo was worth N10 billion. He said apart from the fact that he merely dropped the figure, there was no scintilla of evidence to back up the claim.
On the shortchanging of new Justices of the Supreme Court over the official cars given to them
The petitioner also linked Mr Saleh to another allegation having to do with shortchanging the newly appointed justices of the Supreme Court with respect to the official cars they were entitled to.
According to Soji Oye: “It does appear to me that the petitioner does not realise that the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council are two different entities with separate managements.
“Besides, the Supreme Court justices were appointed in 2020, Gambo ceased to be the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court since 2017. Maybe, the petitioner did not know. But the truth is that Mr. Ahmed Gambo Saleh as the NJC Secretary does not superintend the affairs of the Supreme Court because they are two distinct entities,” he added.
On withdrawal of N2.2b fraud charge against Gambo
“On the issue of the Attorney-General of the Federation’s withdrawal of a N2.2 billion fraud charges against Mr Saleh after he purportedly entered a plea bargain, the truth is that when the office of the AGF discovered that the charges could not be substantiated, the charges were dropped without any plea bargaining.
“It is imperative for the members of the public to be aware that before his emergence as the Secretary of the NJC, some forces who tried to scuttle his appointment as the Secretary of the Council have re-emerged with antics aimed at tarnishing his image and bringing his good name to disrepute.
“It is on record that these forces in a bid to stop his emergence as the NJC Secretary after the interview to consider his appointment, came up with false allegations in the media alleging that he had diverted N2.2 billion from the Supreme Court from 2009 to 2016 on the day the Council meeting was to hold.
“It should be noted that there has never been a time when Mr Saleh admitted committing any crime before anybody or law court.The sponsors of this malicious allegations believe they own the Judiciary and nobody can become anything within the Judiciary without their approval.
“It is important to reiterate that there is no iota of credibility in the petition as they are not after the truth but are out to smear the good image of Ahmed Gambo Saleh at all cost,” Soji Oye said.
It is ridiculous to say a non-staff took over the administration of the apex court—S’Court
Also speaking for the Supreme Court, the media aide to the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr Ahuraka Isah said: “I have read the petition from A to Z. The entire allegations therein are not only baseless but also rridiculous.
“Let me react to the first allegation by the petitioner on the issue of the son of the Chief Justice of Nigeria hijacking the administration of the court. In the first place, it is very clear that the author of that petition is not a staff member of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as claimed. I say so because it is very ridiculous to allege that an external person who is not a staff of the Supreme Court would hijack the administration of an organised institution like the Supreme Court from both the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Chief Registrar of the Court. This is totally impossible and ridiculous.
“In any event, the petition was unclear as to how the son of the CJN hijacked the administration of the court from the Chief Registrar.”
Ahuraka who also repeated the defence by Soji Oye on the purported sale of a property occupied by a Justice of the Supreme Court by said: “The agency of government that is presently in possession of the property is the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU.
“Tell me, who is that individual that will sell Federal Government building to NFIU? How was the transaction done? Was it in naira or dollar? How is that possible? How can an individual wake up and write this kind of petition and the EFCC has not arrested such persons for misinformation,” he fumed.
Going through the various weighty allegations made against key managers of important public institutions in the judiciary in the four-page petition and the defence so far offered, it is worrisome that the petitioner, Aliyu Mohammed, appears to have signed off with a fictitious name and a non-existing phone number, thereby denying Nigerians, and in fact, the whole world, to get to the root of the purported allegations. The petitioner would do Nigeriansa great service if he could make himself available to the EFCC,at least privately,to assist the investigators in discharging their duties.