In this report, AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH writes that it has become seemingly attractive for the elite to revel in the ‘’Judges’ Corruption Mantra’’, a situation which beams light on the judiciary’s role in addressing this issue.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had in his January 23, 2018 ‘’Special Press Statement’’ ask President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek second term in 2019.
But that has been the most debated aspect of the statement. The former president had also threw a jab at his former party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the judiciary. He alleged that the then Sen Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), during the 14 month long leadership crisis of the party, procured judgement in its favour from the Supreme Court.
On July 12, 2017, a five-man panel led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justices Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, alongside Justices Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Olukayode Ariwoola and Musa Dattijo Muhammad unanimously declared the Markafi-led National Caretaker Committee (NCC) of PDP, the legitimate leadership of the party.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour who read the lead judgement did not just sack Sen Ali Modu Sheriff-led camp, the other faction in the leadership tussle, but accused Sheriff of engaging in forum shopping, saying he “displayed infantile desperation to cling to office at all cost”.
Sheriff said he was begged by some PDP stakeholders, especially governors of Ekiti and Rivers State, Ayo Fayose and Nyesom Wike, respectively to become chairman of the party, a situation some watchers claim was in view of his presumed ‘’financial and political clout’’ to provide alternative platform. But he soon fell out with them, resulting in bitter brickbats which culminated in the allegation that he was hijacked by ‘’enemies (APC)’’. At this point his erstwhile political associates and sponsors no longer wished to be identified with him, rather they began to denounce him.
This situation was made manifest in the run up to the party’s Port Harcourt national convention in 2016 which turned out to be very controversial. In the build up to that convention fixed for May 21, Sheriff, the then National Secretary, Prof. Adewale Oladipo and National Auditor, Mr Fatai Adeyanju, approached Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos and secured an injunction barring the PDP from conducting elections into their offices pending the determination of substantive suit seeking to protect tenure of the applicants.
Notwithstanding, the PDP went ahead with the convention and elected the Makarfi-led caretaker committee. However, Justice Buba on May 23, 2016 sacked the Makarfi-led PDP caretaker committee, declaring his newly constituted interim committee, as invalid and illegal. He directed the then Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, to enforce his order and to ensure that the Makarfi’s committee does not take over the party’s national headquarters, ruling that Sheriff remains the national chairman of PDP.
On the same day, in Port Harcourt, Justice Abdullahi Liman gave a contrary judgment that now seem to give the approval to the action of the Port Harcourt convention. He gave the order following an exparte motion filed by the members of the Makarfi-led faction of PDP. Justice Liman directed the Sheriff-led committee to desist from parading themselves as national officers or members of the national executive committee or national working committee as doing so would negate decisions reached at the national convention of May 21.
The conflicting judgements sparked a flurry of legal firestorm. At the last count, 19 conflicting judgments and orders followed, aggravating the confusion over the propriety and legality of those orders and judgments.
However, Sheriff appealed against the judgement of Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt delivered on July 4, 2016 at the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division. And on February 17, 2017, Justices B.G.Sanga and A.A.Gumel gave lead judgement in a split decision of that court to uphold the appeal of Sheriff-led committee, just as Justice T.S.Orji-Abadua in the three man panel upheld Justice Liman’s decision of July 4, 2016.
Not satisfied, Makarfi group approached the Supreme Court on February 27, 2017 asking the apex court justices to discountenance Appeal Court decision and uphold the judgement delivered by Justice Liman on July 4, 2016.
On July 12, 2017, however, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of Justice Liman of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, delivered on July 4, 2016, and the subsequent dissenting judgement of Justice T.S.Orji-Abadua, a member of the three-man panel of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, which both validated the removal of Sheriff as the National Chairman at the party’s national convention held on May 21, 2016
The Supreme Court judgement was loudly applauded in the country for diffusing the simmering ethno-political tension ravaging the nation. Analysts, likened the judgement by the jurists to a great physician simply removing a tumor causing cholera, migraine headache, ankle pains and severe weakness in the ethno-political cycles.
But, clearly prompted by the vagaries of the 2019 general election, Obasanjo, for the first time, commented on the judgment which delivered victory for PDP.
He said “The recent show of PDP must give grave and great concern to lovers of Nigeria. To claim, as has been credited to the chief kingmaker of PDP, that for procuring the Supreme Court judgement for his faction of the Party, he must dictate the tune all the way and this is indeed fraught with danger’’.
Obasanjo who failed to name the ‘’kingmaker’’ that claimed to have purchased the Supreme Court judgement, also did not disclose how much was claimed to have been paid and to whom it was paid. Like the saying goes, he who alleges, must prove.
Expectedly, the PDP had ferociously denied the claims made by Obasanjo who incidentally served two terms as president under its platform. The former ruling party claimed that the judgment was popular and was in the interest of democracy.
However, analysts opine that the Judiciary cannot afford to tuck in this allegation on the grounds that it was a hazy allusion to an unknown person.
According to Barr Muktar Abanika, “this is the perfect time and perfect personality with which to lay perfect example. Judiciary cannot afford to toss away this propitious opportunity’’.
For what it’s worth, it would seem that the former president wasn’t spotlessly clean in his dealings with the judiciary during his tenure. Wikileaks cable released on Wednesday, September 07, 2011 revealed how the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Muhammed Uwais, confided in the then US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell, the several pressures mounted on the justices of the Supreme Court by Obasanjo to enable him (Obasanjo) have his way in the case instituted against him by his main opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari was the presidential candidate of the defunct, All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in the 2003 presidential election. In his alleged revelation, Uwais had met with Campbell in Lagos, where he alleged that he and other Supreme Court justices were experiencing ‘pressure and harassment’ from President Obasanjo because the presidency was concerned that the court might not ‘do his bidding’.
Uwais was reported to have sought a meeting with the new American ambassador so that ‘someone knows what is happening here’ in case ‘something happens’ to him.
The CJN was alleged to have also disclosed to the US ambassador the threats and pressures on him as regard the ‘complicated effort of James Ibori’, the former Delta State governor, to run for the governorship election of 2003 ‘against the background of his alleged conviction for stealing roofing materials years earlier.’
Specifically, Uwais was reported to have told US Ambassador that attempts had then been made to bribe, blackmail, intimidate and threaten him. “I have not asked Obasanjo for anything and he feels that I cannot be controlled like some others,” Uwais was quoted in the cable.
Obasanjo was said to have been nervous about the Supreme Court judgment on the ‘severely flawed elections’, which Buhari was hellbent in
Interestingly, watchers opine that the same Obasanjo is now taking the judiciary to Golgotha on charges of corruption, judgement buying and selling. Could this be because it is easier to accuse judges and get away with it in Nigeria, since the judges are barred by ‘’judicial code of conduct’’ from all manners of media engagements, some analysts have asked.
Still, others aver that the judges are also armed to compel anybody irrespective of his status and age to answer to charges of contempt of court, disparaging judicial officers or discourteous remark towards a court of law and its officers in manners that defies the authority, justice and dignity of the court.
The Nigerian judges must come to terms with, and tackle three sets of enemies: the few judges in their midst, driven by greed and avarice and no honour; politicians that go about painting judges in grotesque pictures just to cover up their failures and lastly, lawyers that collected monies from litigants and pocketed same but return to explain to his client that other parties bided higher; and at any given opportunity, they lend voices to judicial corruption discourse.
In this context, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, or to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
In August 2014, Ram Kumar Singh, a practicing advocate since 1983, had sent a notice to the Supreme Court as well as the Chief Justice of India, alleging that the current Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court was “pro-government” and “unfit to administer in his present capacity”. He had also leveled allegations against the Chief Justice of India, saying the apex body was “captured by corrupt gang of people”.
The court said the allegations were “contemptuous, wild and reckless”. It therefore barred Singh from entering both the district court and the Allahabad HC (including Lucknow Bench) for six months. Following the order, advocate Singh, who was present in the court and had argued his case in person, was taken into judicial custody.
Eventually, the court’s order read: “We are of the view that any lenient or sympathetic approach, if adopted by the Court, would give a wrong message to all concerned and may cause serious damage to the authority of the Court. The allegations are apparently scandalous and lower down the authority of the Court. We, therefore, hold the Contemnor guilty of criminal contempt.” Holding the lawyer guilty of “maligning the reputation” and “lowering the authority of the court” through his comments, the Allahabad High Court sentenced him to four month imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 1,500.
On November 08, 2003, a combative criminal defense lawyer who represented some of the most notorious defendants in Northern California (USA) went to jail to serve a 20-day sentence for “extremely offensive” and “utterly unprofessional” conduct during a trial four years ago. She also was fined $4,300 for contempt.
Maureen Kallins, 54, who began practicing law in 1976, left a packed courtroom with her hands cuffed behind her back after a judge refused to modify her sentence for contempt of court.
Kallins received five contempt sanctions from the judge during the 1999 trial, in which she represented an accused rapist who was subsequently convicted. Her appeals were recently exhausted.
Kallins had been a well-known legal figure in Northern California, particularly for her aggressive style in the courtroom and her tendency to enrage judges and prosecutors.
Appellate courts chastised her for “outrageous” conduct and for being so “out of control” in one trial that it became “the trial from hell.”
The 2011 Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, led by Justice Kumai Bayang Akaahs, (now JSC) on October 5, 2011 summoned the National Publicity Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Mr. Rotimi Fasakin for allegedly calling the five justices of the tribunal “a cash and carry panel”.
The said controversial press statement led to the tribunal summoning Nigerian Tribune’s Editor, Mr Edward Dickson and reporter, Christian Okeke, who were later discharged and acquitted after giving evidence that it was issued by Fasakin. In what could have served as a lesson for our politicians of today, the panel also allowed Fasakin to walk out of the court a free man. Since then, some critics believe the attacks on judges have not just increased but added some dimensions.
A High Court in Ahoada East LGA of Rivers State was bombed on 6 January, 2015. Justice Charles Wali was to hear a suit instituted by the then Speaker of the House, Otelemaba Amachree, and others seeking an injunction to retrain a member, Evans Bipi, from parading himself as the Speaker of the Assembly when the incident occurred.
On 22 May, 2015, angry youths took to the streets in some parts of Kano State, protesting what they called an abuse on the Prophet Muhammad by some members of Tijjaniya Movement during a lecture in Kano. The accused person and a female who organised the lecture were to be arraigned before the Kurna Sharia Court the same day it was set ablaze.
A new dimension in the art of delaying criminal cases was witnessed in Ekiti State prior to the swearing in of the Governor, Ayo Fayose. The governor was undergoing trial for allegations of financial misappropriation during his first term as governor between 2003 and 2006 when he was removed from office through an impeachment.
Prior to the swearing-in, a group, E-11, and others challenged Fayose’s eligibility to contest the election. In a bid to stop the case from been heard, Judges, lawyers, court officials, and journalists on September 22 and 25, 2014 were beaten or assaulted. Judges’ suits and court records were also torn into shreds, while they also smashed windows and furniture of the courts. Curiously, Ekiti State Chief Judge stepped out to administer oath of office and allegiance to Fayose. A big lesson could have been served on the politicians if the Chief Judge refused to administer the oaths.
A horrible precedence had been set. All the corrupt governors or ‘’very important persons’’ need to do is to cause the disruption of a criminal trial by sending thugs to beat up judges and force a shut-down of the “helpless” judiciary.
A similar case was reported in Bayelsa State where thugs on March 30, 2015 attacked a Federal High Court in Yenogoa, the state capital, in order to prevent the court which was in session to deliver a judgment on Senator Heineken Lokpobiri’s case against senatorial candidate, Foster Ogola, over the validity of the latter’s candidacy for Bayelsa West senatorial district.
Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Austine Alegeh, had during the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2015-2016 legal year and the swearing-in of newly conferred Senior Advocates of Nigeria to accuse some judges of rendering judgments for a fee.
Alegeh said: “It is indeed very worrisome that certain judicial officers still engage in rendering judgments for a fee. Instances abound where judicial officers have resorted to turning the law on its head and making pronouncements which are at variance with the provisions of the law. A few others have formed the bad habit of ignoring judicial precedents even when such authorities are brought to their attention by counsel’’
Even in some developed countries, legal critics have argued that it would not have been out of place for a competent court of jurisdiction to summon the NBA president the following day to name those he found with his privilege position engaged in “rendering judgments for a fee’’.
The former Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh went into the air on 19 October, 2015 to accuse the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa of undue interference in the activities of various election petition tribunals and other judicial cases, aimed at swaying in favor of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Again, not even one example of cases or judges was cited except just to bring the judge or the judiciary into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt. In other climes, the court would not only have debarred the former party spokesman who ostensibly is a lawyer, but maybe he would be made to cool off in prison.
At this point in time, the judges cannot afford to continue to look the other way; they must draw lines and go to equity by taking recourse to self-defense or self-help. But it is trite that he who goes to equity must go with clean hands. They must get rid of the ‘’few’’ indulged in tearing images of the judiciary to shreds, analysts opine.