By Fidelis Mac-Leva
* Police accused of connivance
* Embattled magistrate transferred to library, faces probe
A magistrate in Kano State is facing probe over multiple allegations of corruption and official misconduct, Daily Trust investigation reveals.
Magistrate Aminu Ibrahim Fagge, popularly known as Dino, who was before now the presiding judge at Court 34, Rijiyar Zaki, Kano, is enmeshed in a plethora of corrupt allegations bordering on high-handedness and “black market judgments”.
Fagge was said to have connived with the police at Rijiyar Zaki Division to “unjustifiably” send hundreds of accused persons brought before his court to jail either as awaiting trial or convicts without recourse to procedures.
The embattled magistrate, Daily Trust gathered, has since been moved to the library of the Kano State High Court to pave way for “discreet” investigation being conducted by the Kano State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission.
The commission is said to have launched the probe following series of petitions it received against the magistrate.
Although the accused magistrate has denied the allegations, describing them as untrue, the Kano State Police Command failed to respond to the alleged connivance.
Multiple sources at the court where he held sway until January, 2020, when he was transferred to the library of the Kano State High Court, said it took between five to 15 minutes for Magistrate Dino to deliver judgment whenever an accused person was brought before him.
At the Goron Dutse Correctional Facility where our reporter went undercover, some convicts lamented that their lawyers found it difficult filing appeals because they were denied access to records of proceedings.
Correctional officials and inmates narrated how hundreds were “unjustifiably convicted” and sent to jail by Magistrate Dino.
Insider sources informed Daily Trust that between 2018 and 2019, no fewer than 70 persons were sent to the correctional facility from the court where he presided.
This, according to them, led to the congestion of the correctional facility which was hosting about 1,500 inmates although it had the capacity to accommodate 630 inmates.
8 years sentence ‘within minutes’
Ibrahim Mohammed is one of the inmates being detained over an alleged case relating to a missing computer and a cell phone.
Mohammed, who is a second year master’s degree student in electrical and electronics at the Faculty of Engineering, Bayero University, Kano, recalled that when he was taken to the court, Magistrate Dino read out a nine-count charge to him and he was prosecuted within a few hours.
The 35-year-old Mohammed said, “The judge denied me the right to speak and therefore sentenced me to eight years in prison. There were so many anomalies in the entire process of my arrest and prosecution. This injustice has jeopardised my education and ruined my future.”
Another inmate at the Goron Dutse Correctional Centre who simply gave his name as Mubarak, said he was handed a 10-year-jail term by the embattled magistrate for allegedly stealing a cell phone.
Mubarak who has so far spent three years and four months in jail, also said his imprisonment was without an option of fine.
He said, “I have made several efforts to appeal the judgment because I believe that it was too severe on me, but the judge vehemently denied my lawyer access to the record of proceedings. Soon after, my lawyer became frustrated and quit, and I no longer had access to an attorney because I couldn’t afford one.”
Like the case of Mubarak, another inmate, Muhammed Abdullahi, said he was sentenced to 10 years without an option of fine over allegedly stealing a cell phone.
Abdullahi who has already spent three years and four months behind bars, said he made several efforts to appeal the judgment to no avail because the magistrate denied his lawyer the record of proceedings.
Two elderly inmates: Hamza Usman (76) and Rabi’u Usman (72), said they were brought before Magistrate Dino over a debt case of N453,000.00.
They said having paid part of the money (N235,000) through the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) at the Rijiyar Zaki Police Division, they thought the matter would be settled amicably as a civil case.
“To our surprise, we were charged to Court 34, but we did not panic because we believed the judge would prevail on us to make arrangement to pay the balance. But as soon as we were taken to the court chamber, the prosecutor told the judge that, ‘These are the culprits that the complainant and the DPO told you about.’ The judge then ordered us to kneel down, remove our shoes and started hurling verbal abuses on us in Hausa.”
Within less than five minutes, the judge was said to have handed down the following on the accused: two-year jail term without option of fine; two months imprisonment or a fine of N10,000.00 each; four-year jail term or N400,000.00 as compensation.
They were then sent to the Goron Dutse Correctional facility where our reporter encountered them after spending 10 months behind bars. They said they had paid the fine of N10,000 each, but that no receipt was issued.
Malam Rabi’u said he lost his first wife and father while in jail; while Malam Hamza said he sold his only house to pay part of the money he owed even as effort by their lawyers to appeal the case proved abortive because Magistrate Fagge refused to provide record of proceedings requested by their lawyers.
Officials of the Goron Dutse Correctional facility also spoke on the alleged misconduct of Magistrate Fagge, saying it was causing unnecessary congestion at the facility.
According to a management staff of the facility who sought identity protection for fear of losing his job, the magistrate was notorious for handing overbearing punishment on poor and vulnerable petty thieves that had no access to justice.
Some lawyers who had attended court sessions presided over by Magistrate Fagge revealed how corruption was perpetrated through what they termed “conspiracy cycle” between the police, the court and correctional centres.
A lawyer who would not want his name in print said: “When the police make arrests, they prepare FIR (First Information Report) against the suspects and take them to a particular court where they have a rapport with the magistrate, registrar and prosecutor.
“After arraignment, they will meet with the families of the accused to ‘negotiate’ on what would be given to ‘soften’ ground. If you ‘play ball’ they will apply to the court to release you to them for ‘further investigation.’ Then they will substitute the FIR with a lesser offence; but if you fail to cooperate you will remain in prison until God knows.”
Another lawyer explained that the conspiracy cycle of corruption affected legal practitioners and their relationship with clients.
The lawyer said, “If you are handling a matter and you are not part of the cycle, they will do everything possible to frustrate your case. For example, a record of proceeding will not be made available to you.
For instance, at Court 34, Rijiyar Zaki, Kano, a lawyer will be going there for records of proceedings but they will not make them available.
One of the multiple petitions against the magistrate, a copy of which Daily Trust obtained, emanated from the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).
Dated December 28, 2019, the petition signed by Prof. Sadiq Isah Radda and titled: “Alleged Retail Corruption at Court No. 34, Rijiyar Zaki, Kano, by the Presiding Judge, Magistrate Aminu Ibrahim Fagge”, urged the commission to investigate the alleged misconduct of the judge.
The petition reads in part: “Through a whistle-blower, credible intelligence and reliable sources, the above magistrate subjects ordinary citizens to injustice owing to his corruption. He is a willing tool in the hands of influential people to the disadvantage of the weak and powerless. He has become notorious in that regard.
“Kindly use your good offices to halt him and people like him in Kano State. Bringing him to book will send the right signal in the justice sector thereby alleviating the suffering of ordinary citizens, and it will promote the common good in Kano State.”
Following the petition, the Kano State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission wrote and secured approval from the state’s chief judge to carry out investigation.
A letter dated January 3, 2020, titled: “Re: Alleged Retail Corruption at Court N0.34, Rijiyar Zaki, Kano, by the Presiding Judge, Magistrate Aminu Ibrahim Fagge aka Dino”, signed by the Chairman of the anti-graft commission, Muhuyi Magaji Rimingado, reads in part: “We write to intimate the Honourable Chief Judge on the development and to sincerely crave your indulgence to give us the necessary cooperation for the commencement of investigation as a measure to preserve the dignity of the court.”
The chief judge was said to have granted the request for probe and directed the chief registrar of the state to transfer the magistrate to the library of the state high court pending the outcome of investigation.
When contacted, Rimingado confirmed that the commission had received three different petitions bordering on corrupt practices against the judge, including one from the presidential committee and the others from individuals.
He said, “So, we are currently investigating the matter. In fact, it takes me going to prison for some findings. Presently, the judge involved is critically sick hence we could not continue with investigation until the man recovers. We must give the man fair hearing.”
He, however, said he was not aware of any suspension placed on the judge, but confirmed that he was taken away from the court by the judiciary to enable the commission conduct its investigation.
Dino denies allegations
When contacted on phone, Magistrate Fagge denied all the allegations, saying they were not true. Asked specifically to comment on the allegation that he used to compromise justice by taking bribe to deliver phantom judgments that sent over 70 accused persons to jail, he said: “It is not so. How can I do that; it is not possible.”
He also denied that he was suspended, saying he was merely on sick leave and would be back to his duty post by March.
On its part, the Kano State Police Command failed to respond to Daily Trust inquiries on alleged connivance between Magistrate Fagge and the Rijiyar Zaki Police Division.
When contacted, the Kano State Police Command spokesman, DSP Haruna Abdullahi Kiyawa, promised to get back to our reporter on the matter, but failed to do so thereafter.