For the judiciary, like the other arms of government, 2019 will be eventful. ADE ADESOMOJU and OLADIMEJI RAMON look at some of the issues that will dominate the judiciary in the new year.
The election year is here, and many are already anxious about what the outcome of many pre-election cases pending before different courts across the nation will be.
One of such cases is the disputed governorship ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ogun State.
Although the Ibadan Division of the Court of Appeal on December 18, 2018, decided against Senator Buruji Kashamu as the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ogun State, the end of the matter remains to be seen.
Before the judgment of the Ibadan Court of Appeal which invalidated the Adebayo Dayo-led faction of the party in Ogun State, there had been a yet-to-be resolved appeal over the legality or otherwise of the faction pending before the Supreme Court.
On the other side of the divide is the national leadership of the PDP which is backing Ladi Adebutu as the governorship candidate of the party in the state.
New Chief Judge of the Federal High Court
The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Karafati, who was in office in acting capacity for about nine months from September 2017 to June 2018, when his appointment was confirmed, is already on his way out.
Abdu-Kafarati, who was born in 1954, will bow out of office later this year when he clocks the mandatory retirement age of 65.
Expectedly, the process for his replacement will begin months ahead of his retirement.
This will culminate in the recommendation of a candidate, most likely the next most senior judge in the court, by the National Judicial Council to the President.
The President will in turn send the name of the candidate to the Senate for confirmation.
If the candidate is confirmed by the Senate, the President then appoints the candidate as the next Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
All of these are expected to take place within the year.
Lagos new Civil Procedure Rules
The newly-amended Lagos State High Court Civil Procedure Rules 2012 is expected to come into effect this month when the court resumes from the Christmas and New Year holidays.
But lawyers, particularly members of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch, had expressed their readiness to oppose the amended Rules, which, among others, prescribe a cost of N100,000 minimum against any lawyer who “unjustifiably scuttles a court hearing,” and N50,000 cost against any lawyer, “who scuttles the hearing of an interlocutory application.”
Days will tell, how the stand-off will be resolved between the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke, and the leadership of the NBA.
NJC to conclude investigation into EFCC’s petition against judges
Last year, following the judgment of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal to the effect that a serving judge could not be investigated or prosecuted unless after the judge has be disciplined by the National Judicial Council, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had filed petitions against three judges it was then prosecuting.
The three judges were Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia and Justice Hyeldzira Nganjiwa, of the Lagos and Yenagoa Divisions of the Federal High Court in Abuja, respectively, and Justice James Agbadu-Fishim of the National Industrial Court.
The three judges, according to the charges instituted against them, were accused of receiving gratification from lawyers in the course of discharging their judicial functions.
On October 4, 2019, the NJC disclosed in a statement that it had dismissed Justices Ofili-Ajumogobia and Agbadu-Fishim.
It was learnt that the disciplinary panel set up by the NJC to look into the case against Nganjiwa has yet to conclude hearing.
The outcome of the hearing is being awaited in the judicial circle.
Badeh’s trial to be formally closed
No doubt, the murder of the immediate-past Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh, has brought an abrupt end to the charges of money laundering instituted against him by the EFCC.
Badeh was gunned down along the Abuja-Keffi Road by suspected assassins on December 18, 2018.
The prosecution had closed its case after calling 22 witnesses to testify against him.
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja had in November 2018 adjourned the trial till January 16, 2019 for him to open his defence.
But as it stands, the prosecution is likely to request that the case be struck out when it comes up on January 16.
What happens to Justice Ngwuta?
It is already over two years since a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, was barred from sitting after the raid by operatives of the Department of State Services on his house and those of some other judges in October 2016.
He was subsequently charged with money laundering before the Federal High Court in Abuja and with breaching the Code of Conduct for Public Officers before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
The cases were going on when the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal ruled that judges could not be investigated or prosecuted when they had yet to be disciplined by NJC.
Following the Court of Appeal’s judgment, the Federal High Court in Abuja struck out the charges against the apex court’s judge on March 23, 2018 and the CCT followed suit on May 15, 2018.
In the aftermath of the Court of Appeal’s judgment, the EFCC did not only appeal against the judgment, it also filed petitions against three judges it was prosecuting.
However, while the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, which was prosecuting Ngwuta, had filed a Notice of Appeal against the judgment of the Federal High Court that struck out the charges against Justice Ngwuta, it did not file any petition against him at the NJC.
The NJC has not made any public statement concerning Justice Ngwuta, who has been receiving salary for upwards of two years without sitting.
It is expected that his case will take a definite shape this year.
Ladoja’s N4.7bn case
This year, the 11-year-old trial of a former governor of Oyo State, Chief Rashidi Ladoja, for an alleged fraud of N4.7bn, will come to an end. Last year, the case enjoyed accelerated hearing before Justice Mohammed Idris. At the last hearing on November 27, 2018, the judge fixed January 18, 2019 for the prosecution and the defence to adopt their final written addresses, after which a date will be fixed for judgment.
Will Ladoja be vindicated and freed or will he, like his Plateau and Taraba states counterparts, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, respectively, be found guilty and sent to jail? Whichever way the pendulum swings, Ladoja’s case is one through which lens the judiciary will be assessed this year.
Orji Kalu’s N7.65bn case
This year, the N7.65bn fraud trial of a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, which began in 2007, entered its 12th year in court. It remains to be seen how the case, which is already at an advanced stage, will fare this year.
In the first quarter of last year, amid a plethora of objections, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission managed to close its case, even though it was unable to field its star witness, one Michael Udoh, a former cashier at the Abia State Government House in Umuahia, who was said to have “disappeared”.
In the trial, which is fraught with drama, the last was that the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, on November 12, 2018 revoked the bail given to the ex-governor 12 years ago, following his repeated absence from court as a result of his trips to Germany for a surgery.
Justice Idris, in his ruling, ordered Kalu to submit himself to the EFCC within 24 hours of his return to Nigeria, failing which he should be arrested and detained by the EFCC.
It is uncertain when the case will resume this year for Kalu to open his defence.
Buhari’s anti-graft war
In June 2016, the EFCC arraigned a former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Adesola Amosu (retd.), and others before the Federal High Court in Lagos for an alleged fraud of N22.8bn.
The EFCC listed 40 witnesses that would testify against Amosu and others. By June 2018 when the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, was elevated to the Court of Appeal, the EFCC was still on its second witness.
In November, the defendants were re-arraigned before Justice C.J. Aneke, who took over the case from the elevated Justice Idris.
Hearing will be starting afresh in the case, two and a half years after it started.
Amosu’s case captures the fate of most of the well over 20 high-profile corruption cases filed in courts across the country pursuant to President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption fight by anti-graft agencies.
Though the acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Magu, said in November that the anti-graft agency recovered N738.9bn proceeds of crime between May 2015 and October, 2017, none of the notable high-profile persons charged with corruption since 2015 have been convicted in court.
A large chunk of the recovered money by the EFCC and kept in the Central Bank of Nigeria cannot yet be spent, as the court cases surrounding them have yet to be dispensed with.
Out of the legion of corruption cases initiated three and a half years ago when the Buhari administration came on board, not more than four have reached the judgment stage at the lower court.
In all the four cases, the defendants were discharged.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the President of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Prof Yemi Akinseye-George, believes the Buhari anti-corruption fight has largely succeeded, as the government had created a scare in the land for those who have the propensity to steal.
The SAN said under the Buhari administration, the anti-graft agencies had enjoyed greater independence and freedom to operate, as the President is not meddling in their activities.
“We can see the emergence of political will in this government because the President did not prevent the anti-corruption agencies from working. They had a commendable level of independence. Although, it wasn’t perfect, there is a greater scare in the land that if you steal, you will be punished. So, impunity has reduced,” Akinseye-George said.
He noted that though lack of leadership hamstrung the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, the appointment of Prof Bolaji Owasanoye as the agency’s chairman, will give fillip to its anti-graft activities.
Akinseye-George added that the loot recovered by the anti-graft agencies, especially the EFCC, was evidence that government’s anti-corruption fight had been fairly successful.
He commended the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Daudu and FRN, where the apex court validated the Doctrine of Unexplained Wealth, by holding that “anybody who is found in possession of assets beyond his known means of income shall be made to explain.”
“Then, the implementation of the ACJA has begun, the Federal High Court has issued a Practice Direction, taking a cue from the FCT High Court and I know that Lagos State is about to issue a new Practice Direction. All of these are aimed at fast-tracking corruption cases in court. So, I think the stage is being set, because you will never get to a point when you’d say you’ve finished the war against corruption, it is an unending war. What we have seen is a bold start,” Akinseye-George said.
He, however, said more emphasis must be put on the management of recovered assets to engender greater public trust.
He said, “There is a need for greater information in the public as to the details of what has been recovered. And going forward, we need an effective legal framework on the management of proceeds of crime. There is a law called POCA, the Proceeds of Crime Act, which has within its framework, the management structure, whereby money recovered can be ploughed back and used for developmental projects. But that law has not been passed. It is necessary to pass POCA and I think government should prioritise it because it is going to enhance asset recovery and reduce all these allegations with respect to mismanagement of recovered proceeds of crime.”
The Legal Adviser of Amnesty International, Dr Kolawole Olaniyan, however, regretted that “real progress is yet to be made with respect to prosecution of grand corruption cases.”
“High-ranking corrupt officials rarely end in jail, as suspects continue to exploit the flaws in the justice system and the anti-corruption legal and institutional mechanisms, to the point where individuals are profiting from their crimes,” Olaniyan said.
He believes that the tendency of the Buhari government for selective obedience to court orders had injured the anti-corruption fight.
“Mr Buhari cannot on the one hand blame the judiciary for ‘failing to work’ with his government in the fight against corruption while on the other hand, appearing to be deliberately disobeying judgments by the same judiciary.
“Mr Buhari should embrace the rule of law as a logical extension of his commitment to ‘kill corruption’. The rule of law can check corruption and abuses of power. If the fight against corruption is to succeed (and by extension, the rule of law is to be upheld), it is vital that court orders are rigorously and predictably enforced,” Olaniyan added.
The National President,Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, believes the Buhari anti-corruption fight was frustrated by the friction between the executive and the legislature in the last three and a half years.
He said, “Whereas Mr President and the Vice-President were pulling in one direction, the leadership of the National Assembly, Saraki and Dogara, were pulling in the opposite direction, as they did not quite accept the strategy of fighting corruption by the executive. That contradiction alone caused this government a tremendous setback. The two arms of government need to collapse their energy and build a consensus around the fight against corruption.”
For government to achieve success in the anti-graft war, Ugwummadu believes that, “The element of corruption in the judiciary must be stamped out. There must be proper funding of the judiciary; recruitment process of judges must not be left to the whims of politicians and there must a proper reward and punishment system for judges.”
Another lawyer, Mr Femi Aina, said, “In my general assessment, I don’t think the government has performed creditably well in the anti-corruption fight in the sense that they have only managed to convict two politically-exposed persons, in the persons of Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame. And it is very disturbing that government has been able to bring most of the people who were charged to court to justice and these people are still playing active roles in the next elections.”
Culled from Punch