2016 can be described as an eventful year in the history of the Judiciary. From the arraignment of high profile persons, a contentious Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) election and arrest of some judicial officers to the appointment of an acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), it is a year to remember. Eric Ikhilae, Adebisi Onanuga, Joseph Jibueze and ROBERT EGBE highlight some of the issues that made news.
The outgoing year will be remembered for a lot of reasons.
It was the year that judges, including two justices of the Supreme Court, were arrested for corruption allegations. We serve you a treat of major developments that shaped the judiciary in the year.
Those arrested in the wake of the raid were Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro both of the Supreme Court, the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya , Justice Kabiru Auta of Kano State High Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The summary of money recovered from some of the justices are as follows: Justice Ademola – N54million, $171, 779.00, £80.00, 1,010.00 rupees, and €4,400.00; Justice Ngwuta – N35, 208,000, $319,475, £25,890, €280 , 380 UAE, 420 Gambia Dalais, four Argentine Notes, and 20 Ghana Cedis; Justice Okoro: N4, 350,000, $38, 833, £25,890, and €1,000.00.
Justice Ademola and his wife Olabowale, in a 15-count charge filed against them by the Federal Government, were accused of “ N248,101,300 and $520,000 as gratifications from law firms and others between 2013 and this year.
Justice Ngwuta was arraigned for allegedly transferring the total sum of N505 million “denominated in naira and US dollars” to a building contractor, Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, between January and May 2016. The N505milion was alleged to be part of proceeds of Ngwuta’s “unlawful” activities.
Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, whose house was not raided, was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly collecting N5million gratification from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Godwin Obla. She had earlier been barred from elevation to the appellate court for gross misconduct.
She and Obla were arraigned on a 30-count charge at the Lagos High Court for allegedly conspiring to pervert the course of justice last May 21. EFCC said Obla transferred N5million to Nigel & Colive Ltd, a company the judge is a sole signatory to. The judge and Obla pleaded not guilty.
Saraki’s trial at CCT
The trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) dominated the news in 2016. He is facing a 13-count charge of false assets declaration. The case has witnessed delays since the charge was filed on September 14, last year. Although Saraki took his plea on September 22, 2015, the prosecution has been unable to move beyond calling its first witness. It took the defence 14 adjournments, spanning over seven months to cross-examine the first prosecution witness. The trial will resume on January 11.
Trial of Dasuki and others
Former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki is facing three charges. In the first case, he is charged with money laundering and illegal possession of firearms. The ex-NSA was arraigned before Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja on September 1, last year. In the second case, Dasuki was charged with former Director of Finance, office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu; a former Executive Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Aminu Baba-Kusa and his two companies – Acacia Holding Limited, and Reliance Referral Hospital Limited for allegedly diverting public funds running into billions of naira. In the third case, Dasuki was charged along with ex-Minister of State for Finance, Bashir Yuguda, a former Director of Finance at the office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu, a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, his son, Sagir Bafarawa and their company, Dalhatu Investment Limited for allegedly stealing about N9.2billion from the office of the NSA.
Oronsaye and others
The former Head of Service of the Federation (HOS), Stephen Oransanye is being tried in two separate courts on two charges. He is standing trial alone before Justice Olasumbo Goodlcuk of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). He was arraigned on March 15, 2016. Oronsaye, who was the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Financial Action Task Force (PCFATF) under President Goodluck Jonathan, is among others charged with criminal breach of trust for allegedly converting about N382.9million belonging to the PCFATF to his personal use while he headed it between 2013 and last year.
The former spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh is facing trial in two courts. He is being tried with his company, Destra Investments Ltd, before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja on a seven-count charge of breach of trust, corruption and money laundering. He was also arraigned before Justice Ishaq Bello of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on January 21. He was charged with destruction of evidence.
Badeh and his predecessor
Former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Alex Badeh is standing trial with a firm, Iyalikam Nigeria Limited on a 10-count charge marked:FHC/ABJ/CR/46/2016, before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja. They were charged with breach of trust and corruption. Badeh was said to have committed the offences while serving as the Chief of Air Staff in 2013. There is also the case involving Badeh’s predecessor as the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mohammed Diko Umar (retd), who was arraigned on May 11 before Justice Binta Nyako of the Feederal High Court, Abuja. He is being tried on a seven-count charge bordering on money laundering, criminal breach of trust and corruption involving about N7.382billion. It alleged that Umar removed the money from the account of the Nigerian Air Force while he was the Chief of Air Staff.
The EFCC re-arraigned former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu at the Federal High Court in Lagos along with Udeh Udeogu and Slok Nigeria Limited on 34 counts of diverting N3.2billion Abia funds. They were first re-arraigned on September 27 before Justice Anwuri Chikere of the court’s Abuja division after the case got to the Supreme Court on interlocutory appeal following Kalu’s first arraignment in 2007. Kalu and his co-accused allegedly diverted about N3.2billion from the Abia’s treasury while he was the governor.
Eight years after he was first arraigned, former Oyo State Governor Rashidi Ladoja, was re-arraigned at the Federal High Court in Lagos for allegedly converting N4.7billion from the state treasury to his personal use. The EFCC charged him along with Waheed Akanbi before Justice Mohammed Idris on eight counts of money laundering and unlawful conversion of public funds.
Other former governors whose trials made news include Muritala Nyako (Adamawa), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Jolly Nyame (Tarba), Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Gabriel Suswan (Benue), and former Imo State Governor, Ikedi Ohakim.
Former Aviation Minister Chief Femi Fani-Kayode and former Minister of State for Finance Senator Nenadi Usman were arraigned by the EFCC on a 17-count charge of laundering about N4.6billion. They pleaded not guilty.
Former Minister of Interior, Abba Patrick Moro, a Deputy Director in the ministry, F. O. Alayebami; former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, Mrs. Anastasia Daniel-Nwobia and a firm, Drexel Global Tech Nigeria Limited were arraigned on an 11-count charge before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Fedeeral High Court, Abuja. They are accused of defrauding 675, 675 graduate applicants of about N675,675,000, having been made to pay N1000 each as processing fees for 5,000 job openings.
Also, a former Defence Minister and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Haliru Mohamed Bello was arraigned with his son, Abba and a company, Bam Projects and Properties. They were arraigned on January 5 on a four-count charge of money laundering before Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja. They were accused of receiving N300million from the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Mohammed Dasuki on March 17, last year for political campaign under pretext that it was meant for a housing project named “Safe Houses”.
Four former Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) workers were charged for corruption-related offences. One of them, Temisan Omatseye, was convicted for contract splitting and is on appeal after being granted a post-conviction bail. The EFCC former acting Directors-General Calistus Obi and Haruna Jauro at the Federal High Court in Lagos for alleged fraud involving N682.9million.
Obi, a former NIMASA Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Service, took over from Patrick Akpobolokemi, who is facing over five separate fraud and theft charges both at the Federal High Court and Lagos State High court.
Obi was relieved of his duties less than a week later, and was replaced by Jauro, who was Executive Director, Finance and Administration. Jauro was charged along with Dr. Dauda Bawa and Thlumbau Enterprises Limited on 19 counts of converting a total of N304.1million belonging to NIMASA.
A former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo (aka Tompolo) was arraigned in absentia in no fewer than two charges along with Akpobolokemi. EFCC, on March 22, arraigned Tompolo in absentia over N34billion fraud after he failed to turn up despite being declared wanted. He was said to be “at large”. EFCC, in the 40-count charge before Justice Ibrahim Buba, said they allegedly diverted N34 billion for personal use, adding that the money accrued from the public private partnership agreement between NIMASA and Global West Vessel Specialist, said to be owned by Tompolo. Other charges of stealing, advanced fee fraud and money laundering involving about N22.7billion are still pending against Tompolo before Justice Buba.
The EFCC arraigned activist-lawyer Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa at the Federal High Court for allegedly dealing in a seized property. The commission said Adegboruwa and Jonathan Udeagbala, said to be at large, allegedly conspired on August 13, 2013 to lease a property at House 105, NICON Town Estate, Lekki, which EFCC said was a “subject of interim orders of attachment made by Justice Christopher Balogun of the Lagos State High Court” on June 18, 2012. But, On September 22, Justice Ayisat Opesanwo of the Lagos State High Court vacated the interim order of forfeiture.
The EFCC arraigned a former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Amosu (rtd) on June 29 along with a former Chief of Accounts and Budgeting at the Nigeria Air Force, Air Vice Marshal Jacob Adigun and a former Director of Finance and Budget Air Commodore Olugbenga Gbadebo at the Federal High Court in Lagos. EFCC accused them and some companies of converting N21billion from the Nigeria Air Force on March 5, 2014 in Lagos. They pleaded not guilty.
A former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamo Dudafa, was arraigned at the Federal High Court in Lagos for alleged money laundering. He is facing two separate charges. In the case before Justice Babs Kuewumi, he was arraigned with some companies, which pleaded guilty on September 15 to laundering $15,591,700 (about N5billion). Wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Dame Patience, has claimed the money in the companies’ accounts is hers. She is praying the court to unfreeze the accounts to enable her have access to her funds. In late November, other account belonging, with about N9billion, were frozen.
Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) Managing Director/Chief Executive Ibrahim Abdulsalam was arraigned at the Federal High Court in Lagos on April 7 for allegedly stealing N2.8billion. He was arraigned along with Nnamdi Udoh (said to be at large), Adegorite Olumuyiwa, Agbolade Segun, Clara Aliche, Joy Ayodele Adegorite, Randville Invesment Ltd and Multeng Travels and Tours Ltd on 21-count charge. They pleaded not guilty.
Lekki building collapse case
Lekki Gardens Managing Director, Mr Richard Nyong, was arraigned before an Ebute Metta Chief Magistrate Court. The Lagos State government is prosecuting Nyong over the collapse of a five-storey building still under construction and in which about 30 people, including construction workers, died.
Oniba of Iba kidnap case
Suspected kidnappers, Duba Furejo, Ododowo Isaiah, Reuben Anthony and Yerin Fresh, who allegedly abducted the Oniba of Iba, Oba Goriola Oseni, were arraigned at the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja. The defendants are standing trial on an eight-count charge of kidnapping of the monarch, conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, robbery, armed robbery and felony preferred against them by the Lagos State Government.
Titi Abubakar vs Nsikakabasi Akpan Jacobs
Also in the news was the case by EFCC on how Mrs Aminat Titi Abubakar, wife of former Nigeria’s Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was defrauded of N918 million by some business partners including a former governorship aspirant in Akwa Ibom State, Nsikakabasi Akpan Jacobs before a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja. The EFCC arraigned Jacobs, Abdulmalik Ibrahim and Dana Motors on a 15-count charge of conspiracy, stealing and fraudulent conversion of properties belong to THA Shipping Maritime Services Limited, a company in which she had vested interest.
The trial of a Lagos socialite and lawyer, Fred Ajudua who allegedly duped former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-General Ishaya Bamaiyi right inside Kirikiri Prisons made headlines throughout the year and will continue to make headlines next year. Ajudua is scheduled to be re-arraigned for allegedly defrauding General Bamaiyi of $1 million. He is to face a fresh 28-count charge before the court presided by Justice Josephine Oyefeso.
Ricky Tarfa (SAN)
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Rickey Tarfa, was arraigned for alleged obstruction of justice. The EFCC said he prevented the arrest of his clients who are suspects in another matter. He was also accused of bribing a judge, an allegation he denied.
Thirty-five new judges were appointed to the Federal High Court bench, but the process was faulted by a human rights group, the Access to Justice, who alleged the vacancies were not advertised.
Following the retirement Justice Mahmud Mohammed, President Muhammadu Buhari swore in the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Walter Onnoghen, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in acting capacity. Many have faulted the appointment of the head of an arm of government in acting capacity. The fear is that the judiciary’s independence is in jeopardy.
In October, the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, for compulsory retirement and Justice Kabiru Auta of Kano State High Court for dismissal. The NJC recommended Auta for prosecution over an allegation that he collected N197million from Alhaji Kabiru, who wrote a petition to the NJC against him.
Justice Umezulike was retired for delivering judgment in a case 126 days after final addresses were adopted by parties, and for other instances of abuse of office.
The judge, during his book launch, allegedly received a donation of N10million from a businessman, Prince Arthur Eze, who had “vested interest” in two cases that were before the judge.
Other judges who were also disciplined by the NJC in the year were Justice Oluyinka Gbajabiamila (Lagos State High Court), Justice Idris M. J. Evuti (Niger State High Court), Justice Tanko Yusuf Usman (Niger State High Court), Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia (Federal High Court, Illorin Division), Justice Mohammed Yunusa (Federal High Court, Enugu Division), Justice Olamide Oloyede (Osun State High Court) and Justice B.T. Ebuta (Cross River State High Court).
New Supreme Court justices
Four Justices were appointed to the Supreme Court bench this year while four retired. The Justices elevated to the Supreme Court Amina Augie, Ejembi Eko, Adamu Galinje and Sidi Bage. Those who retired from the bench were Justice Muhammad Muntaka-Coomassie, Justice Suleiman Galadima and Justice John Fabiyi.
Former Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) was declared winner of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) election held in late September. He polled 3,055 votes to beat his challenger Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN), who scored 2,384 votes out of 5,439 votes cast.
But, Gadzama told the High Court in Abuja that he polled 2,963 votes, rather than the 2,384 announced by the electoral committee. He said Mahmoud actually polled 2,465. The contentious election was also the first time NBA would deploy electronic voting and universal suffrage.
Among deaths recorded in the judiciary in the year were Justice Evo Chukwu, who died on June 9, aged 51; former Supreme Court Justice Niki Tobi, who died on June 16, aged 75; former Minister of State for Labour, Mr. James Ocholi (SAN), who died in an auto crash alongside his wife and a child on March 6, former NBA Secretary-General of the NBA, Mr. Obi Okwusogu (SAN), who died in Lagos on November 22, Mr. Deji Sasegbon (SAN), who died on December 10, aged 63; human rights lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, who died on November 26, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, who died on November 3, aged 91 and a Port Harcourt-based lawyer, Mr. Ken Atsuete, was assassinated on August 28 at his home.