By Adebisi Onanuga
One major challenge facing the rule of law and administration of justice in Nigeria is the rise in the abuse of court process by lawyers and litigants through frivolous applications.
Oftentimes these processes before different courts are deemed frivolous and a waste of court time.
One of such cases that has lingered is the extradition application against Senator Buruji Kashamu, who represents Ogun East Senatorial District.
The matter has dragged, moving in and out of diverse courts and before different judges for years.
It all started May 27, 2015, when the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) applied to a Federal high court, Abuja, asking for the extradition of Senator Buruji Kashamu on allegations of certain criminal indictments of a criminal act he allegedly perpetrated in violation of the United States Drugs Law.
The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/479/2015 was filed on the eve of the departure of Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) from office as the AGF while a similar case was already before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.
The court in its ruling on the application, given by Justice G.O. Kolawole on July 1, 2015, however dismissed the suit on the ground that the AGF’s office being one created by the constitution has a greater obligation to be seen as law abiding and should give maximum and unqualified respect to every judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction regardless of its opinion as to whether it was right or wrong until such decisions are set aside by the appellate court.
The court further held that to do otherwise is to further deepen an incipient culture of disobedience to court orders and unmitigated acts of unbridled impunity to judicial process even by the citizenry and the proverbial common man whose last hopes lies in the judiciary.
The court noted that certain proceedings were already on in the Lagos division of the Federal High Court on the same matter.
The judge said he would exercise restraint because of a Supreme Court verdict to the effect that where a court is clearly aware that another court of coordinate jurisdiction is sitting on a case with the same parties and subject matter before it, it is an abuse of process for that court to continue with the hearing of the case.
This, however, did not put the matter to rest. Between 2015 and this year, Senator Kashamu, tired of what he termed undue intimidation, harassment and planned abduction, had written protest letters through his lawyers to express his dissatisfaction.
Kashamu, in his letter to the AGF, raised a six-point poser asking whether the AGF’s office was aware of the two British judgments in his favour which was proved by the British High Commission in a letter dated April 27, 2015 indicating that he was free from extradition proceedings in their country between 1998 and 2003 because the Magistrate was not satisfied that he had a case to answer.
He also asked whether the AGF was aware that the purported extradition suit that was instituted against him after the 2015 abduction plot orchestrated by the immediate past administration failed was dismissed by Justice Kolawole who described the action of the NDLEA as “a show of shame”.
He added that the judgment and another one in the suit marked FHC/L/CS/49/2010 are still subsisting and valid, as they are yet to be appealed and/or upturned on appeal.
Kashamu said: “With all these facts of my exoneration by two British courts in a case instituted by the American government, the facts of which are available to the Honourable Minister of Justice, how can anyone rightly seek to subject me to another round of extradition proceedings when we had joined issues in a foreign land (the United Kingdom) – which is better known as US’ closest ally – and the courts found that I am not the person being sought for the drug crime? What is more, the two British court judgments in my favour were not and have not been appealed till date.
“Now, if as stated in your 14th July, 2016 letter that no further steps could be taken until the appeals are determined one way or the other, can any steps be truly and validly taken in view of the subsistence of the two final judgments of the British courts which are yet to be appealed till date? This is in addition to the subsisting orders and judgments in FHC/L/CS/49/2010 and FHC/ABJ/CS/479/2015
“The Extradition Act LN 33 1967 between Nigeria and USA recognised the Extradition Treaty between USA and Great Britain. Signed in London on 22nd December, 1931, the treaty reads in part, ‘Whereas the extradition Treaty concluded between the United States of America and Great Britain and signed at London, on 22nd December 1931 for the surrender of fugitive offenders, has been recognized as binding on Nigeria subject to the modification specified in Schedule 1 hereto.’
“It was this Treaty of 1931 between USA and Britain that prompted the extradition application to the Great Britain by USA against me as seen in ANNEXURES 2 & 3 above. It has been shown that in ANNEXURE 3, the Bow Street Magistrate Court found that no prima facie case has been made out.
“That finding is binding on the USA and United Kingdom and her colony-Nigeria, which adopted the said 1967 Treaty. Therefore, the judicial proceedings in the British court are binding on Nigeria. It is clear that by virtue of Section 3 (4) (b) of the Extradition Act Cap E.25, I had been acquitted and same application cannot be brought against me any longer.”
In a letter written by K.T Turaki to the AGF on January 25, 2016 on the matter, he stated that as a party to most of the suits instituted by Senator Kashamu where there is no any appellate court decision yet setting aside the extant judgments, the AGF as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and member of the revered inner bar is not only under a normal duty but a constitutional duty and obligation to ensure that the process of our courts are not abused by agencies of government and that the sanctity of their extant orders, regardless of whatever issues may ex facie be apparent on them are preserved and perfected.
“By virtue of the Extradition Act Cap E25, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, you are statutorily empowered to handle and coordinate all requests for extradition of any suspect in Nigeria by any country with whom Nigeria has extradition treaty. We verily believe that the purported request for our client’s extradition was only a call for the collaboration of your good offices and other security forces with the American government to harass, intimidate and punish our client for no justifiable reasons,” he said.
Legal experts have expressed the opinion that the judgment of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal which set aside the judgments and orders made in respect of a fundamental human rights case on the basis of being speculative should be tested at the Supreme Court since the 1999 Constitution provides for the institution of a case once a citizen has reasons to suspect that his fundamental human rights “has been, is being or is likely to be contravened” as expressly captured in Chapter IV, Section 46 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.
They contended further that the law should be applied dispassionately to all and sundry, based on jurisprudence and precedents, and not based on personalities or other extraneous considerations.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) was of the opinion that there is no justification in pushing for extradition of Senator Kashamu by the Federal Government as there is nothing in any of the two judgments of the Court of appeal calling for his extradition from within or without Nigeria as the appellate court did not dismiss any challenge by the senator to his extradition process.
According to Olanipekun, the judgments of the two British courts were binding on all persons and parties to the proceedings, including but not limited to the Nigerian government.
He added: “With further respect, we wonder if any country in the world would push for the extradition of its citizen in the peculiar and glaring circumstances of this case.”