Senate President Bukola Saraki tried but failed to stop his appearance at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Tuesday. His case is unlike other public officers who were able to stop their prosecution through injunctions. JOSEPH JIBUEZE reviews some high profile cases that were never concluded due to restraining orders or interlocutory appeals.
The word change may have finally come to the judiciary. A high-ranking public official has appeared before a court to face criminal charges.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Senate President Bukola Saraki’s ex-parte application seeking to set aside the bench warrant issued for his arrest. The appellate court said it would not interfere with the proceedings pending at the lower court.
Justice Armed Mohammed of the Federal High Court also refused a similar application by Saraki. He, instead, adjourned for hearing of the Senate President’s substantive suit.
Justice Mohammed held that, in view of the constitutional and radical nature of the issues raised in the respondents’ objection, the only reasonable thing for the court to do was not to waste time on interlocutory applications.
To observers, these developments augur well for the anti-corruption crusade being promoted by President Muhammed Buhari.
They said that Saraki’s trial could have been halted by an injunction, restraining the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) from trying him over alleged irregularities in his asset declaration.
Several factors could have been responsible for the judiciary’s new-found resolve not to obstruct justice or slow down the process through injunctions.
Primarily, it is believed that judges are also implementing the new Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, designed to check the abuses that criminal trials are fraught with in the country.
The Act repealed the Criminal Procedure Act and the Criminal Procedure Code as applicable in all Federal Courts and courts in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
To ensure speedy trial, the Act provides that objections shall not be taken or entertained during proceedings or trial on the ground of an imperfect or erroneous charge.
After the plea has been taken, any objection against the charge raised by the defendant shall only be considered along with the substantive issues and a ruling thereon made at the time of delivery of judgment.
The Act provides that accused persons are at liberty to file interlocutory appeals if they so desire, but, an application for stay of proceedings pending appeal will not be taken during the trial.
Cases stalled by
Not a few high-profile cases have been stalled by injunctions and interlocutory appeals arising from them. They all follow a similar pattern.
Defence lawyers twist the legal process to the advantage of their clients. After a charge has been filed, they (lawyers) file applications challenging the charge for reasons, ranging from the charge not being properly filed; being outside where an alleged crime occurred; being brought under a wrong law, among others.
Even in situations where the judge dismisses such objection, the defendant proceeds on appeals and once an appeal is filed, the defendant will ask for a stay of further proceedings pending the outcome of the appeal.
To exhaust the complete remedy in a case from trial court to the Supreme Court could take over 10 years, when the original litigants could have been dead and substituted. And in some cases, the substitutes could also have died and substituted.
The process of interlocutory appeals aggravates the situation to the extent that by the time the Supreme Court decides that the case be continued at the lower court, most of the witnesses might have died or documents no longer traceable.
The Odili case
The case of former Rivers State Governor, Dr. Peter Odili, stands out because unlike others, he was never arraigned.
In March 2007, he obtained a remarkable Federal High Court injunction restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from investigating his tenure.
Soon after he left office, he secured a “perpetual injunction” that permanently restrained the EFCC from “arresting, detaining and arraigning Odili on the basis of his tenure as governor.”
Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, who made the order, added that the EFCC had no power to “in any manner, howsoever, investigate the account or financial affairs of a state government”.
In March 2008, “for the avoidance of doubt”, Justice Buba issued an order that the EFCC could not “arrest, detain, arraign and/or prosecute (Odili) on the basis of its alleged investigations into the affairs of Rivers State” during Odili’s tenure.
The judge declared that the “purported findings” of the EFCC’s investigations were “invalid, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.”
Perhaps, more baffling is why the EFCC has not contested the ruling till date. It was learnt that an EFCC official claimed that through some unexplained error, the commission was never even aware that the 2008 injunction had been issued until the time to appeal it had expired.
“These professions of total ignorance are hard to fathom, considering that this was one of the EFCC’s most important cases,” a source said.
The Oduah case
There is also the case of former Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah. Justice Mohammed Yunusa of the Federal High Court in Lagos had, on August 26, restrained anti-graft agencies, including the EFCC, from questioning or arresting Mrs. Oduah, over the purchase of two bulletproof vehicles until her suit is determined.
According to her, unless the court intervened, “the APC (All Progressive Congress) will unleash repression against her and others and this may cause the country to recede to a one-party state, with gross adverse effects and irreparable damage to our nascent democracy.”
The bulletproof vehicles, acquired under her watch by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), were said to have cost N255 million, an amount that sparked public outcry.
But the judge stopped the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) from inviting the former minister for interrogation.
The EFCC, it was learnt, did not file any application to discharge the restraining order within the time allowed to do so.
Justice Yunusa adjourned till November 16 for hearing of her suit.
In September 2004, British authorities in London arrested ome-time Plateau State Governor Joshua Dariye on allegations of money laundering and seized about £90,000 in cash from him. Dariye allegedly skipped bail and returned to Nigeria to resume office.
An English court sentenced Dariye’s associate to three years in prison in April 2007, for laundering more than £1.4 million of public funds found to have allegedly been stolen by the governor.
At the expiration of Dariye’s tenure, the EFCC charged him with 14 counts of money laundering. But more than seven years after he left office, the case is still pending.
The frustration by the EFCC to prosecute him is a perfect case study of the court’s ability to generate delays so extreme that they are almost a form of impunity.
Soon after he was charged, the Federal High Court granted him bail, and his lawyers subsequently filed a motion asking that all of the charges against him be dismissed.
When the motion was denied, Dariye appealed and the lower court had no choice but to halt proceedings until the former governor’s appeal could be heard.
The Court of Appeal eventually ruled against Dariye in June 2010. Just as trial was about to resume in January 2011, Dariye appealed to the Supreme Court and in April 2011, Dariye contested and won election into the Senate.
Abdullahi Adamu, now a senator for the second term, was a former governor of Nasarawa State. He was in the saddle between 1999 and 2007. He became a senator four years after leaving office. In February, 2010, Adamu was arrested by the EFCC for alleged embezzlement of public funds. On March 3 of the same year, he was arraigned alongside 18 others on a 149-count charge of fraud involving over N15 billion, but the case is said to have been stalled due to an interlocutory appeal. Adamu’s case suffered delay right from the beginning with the transfer of the presiding judge of Federal High Court, Asaba Division, Justice Marcel Awokuleyin disqualified himself from the case citing personal reasons
Former Gombe State Governor, Senator Danjuma Goje and four others, were first arraigned in court on October 17, 2011 on alleged conspiracy, fraud and money laundering charges. He allegedly embezzled N52 billion public funds. The case is still pending.
Prior to his current charge by the CCB, Senator Saraki had been a subject of investigations by the Special Fraud Unit of the Police, following allegations of a loans scam preferred against him. The loans were allegedly secured by Saraki between 2004 and 2009 when he was the governor of Kwara State.
Saraki had sued the Inspector-General of Police. In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/231/, he sought to restrain the SFU from investigating an allegation of N9 billion fraud, leveled against him. He subsequently filed a fresh suit seeking to stop the police from prosecuting him, which reportedly, is still pending.
Orji Uzor Kalu
Abia State’s former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu was one of those swooped on by the EFCC immediately after he left office in 2007. On July 27, 2007, Kalu was arraigned before an Abuja High Court on a 107-count charge of money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds in excess of N5 billion. The agency accused Kalu of diverting billions of naira belonging to the Abia State government to Slok Airlines. Kalu pleaded not guilty to the charges. An interlocutory appeal is said to have stalled the case.
Some socio-political groups in Abia State, including NdiAbia League, Abia Youths Consultative Forum and Abia Peoples Congress – jointly petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari to order the anti-graft agency to expedite action on Kalu’s case and bring his prosecution to its logical conclusion.
“It is shocking that the trial of Kalu by the EFCC is still on eight years after he left office. Abians are disturbed by this ugly development. It s inexplicable why EFCC has gone to sleep, leaving the case hanging for eight years now. We hope the EFCC has not been compromised on the matter as it is being insinuated in some quarters,” the groups said.
In July 2007, former Taraba State Governor Rev Jolly Nyame was arraigned on a 41-court charge. He was alleged to have embezzled N1.3 billion. Trial commenced in his case, but it is still pending.
Former Jigawa State Governor Saminu Turaki was docked on a 32-count charge on allegations that he stole about N36 billion from the treasury over an eight- year period. He was granted bail in the sum of N100 million on July 27, 2007 by Justice Binta Muritala Nyako. The case was reportedly transferred to his home state and is said to be pending at a Federal High Court in Jigawa.
A former Adamawa governor Boni Haruna was arraigned before a Federal High court sitting in Abuja on an amended 28-count charge of embezzling the sum of N16m. The case is still pending.
In September 2013, Tunde Oladunjoye, a principal prosecution witness in the trial of former Ogun State Governor, Gbenga Daniel, withdrew from testifying in the case; accusing the prosecutor of improper handling of the trial. Daniel was charged by the EFCC with mismanaging state funds while he was governor in the Gateway State between 2003 and 2011. The commission docked him at the Ogun State High Court, Abeokuta, on a 38-count charge of fraudulent conversion of land, failure to declare assets, stealing and corruptly acquiring properties.
A former Chairman of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Farouk Lawan and its Secretary Boniface Emenalo, were charged with collecting $620,000 as bribe from oil magnate Femi Otedola. It was in order to remove the name of his company from those indicted by the committee which probed monumental oil subsidy fraud and uncovered a defrauding of the country.
They were arraigned on February 1, 2013 at the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Gudu, Abuja. Their trial started under Justice Mudasiru Oniyangi. As progress was being made, the judge was elevated to the Court of Appeal. After the loss of several months, the case was re-assigned to a new judge, Justice Adebukola Banjoko on June 11. On November 18, Justice Banjoko surprised a packed courtroom when she announced that she was withdrawing from the trial and would no longer adjudicate the case. The case was to be re-assigned to a new judge and it is still pending.
A former Chairman of House Committee on Power, Ndudi Elumelu, sought to stop his trial until the EFCC showed him a copy of the proof of evidence it intended to use in prosecuting him. Elumelu and 29 others were charged by the EFCC before the Abuja Federal High Court over allegation of defrauding the Federal Government of N5.2 billion earmarked for rural electricity projects. Twenty-one of the accused persons were corporate persons.
Shortly after his impeachment in 2006 as Ekiti State governor, Mr. Peter Ayodele Fayose, was charged over allegations of financial misappropriation under his watch between 2003 and 2006. He escaped arrest by EFCC operatives who laid a siege while he was featuring on a live programme in the studio of an Abuja-based television. Contrary to reports, the EFCC said it has not dropped the charges against Fayose, who contested and won the governorship election almost a year ago.
The case, the anti-graft agency said, will resume after the governor’s tour of duty.
Immediately after he picked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship ticket, the E-11 group and others challenged Fayose’s eligibility to contest the election. In a determined bid to stop the case from being heard, thugs disrupted proceedings and physically assaulted a High Court Judge to ensure the case was never heard.
The first attack occurred on September 22, 2014 when thugs invaded the Ekiti State judiciary headquarters where Justice Isaac Ogunyemi was to deliver a ruling on the case. The thugs beat up workers and the presiding judge and lawyers had to run for dear lives. They smashed windows and furniture.
In the words of the Chief Judge, Justice Ayodeji Daramola, “the policemen and other law enforcement agents deployed within and without the premises in large numbers were looking on completely uninterested and unconcerned while these thugs were on the prowl beating and maiming workers and court users.”
On September 25, thousands of people believed to political thugs stormed the High Court premises, beating and maiming the staff. Unconfirmed sources said the Presidency directed the military and the police to ensure that the courts remain sealed until after Fayose’s inauguration as governor on October 16. Soldiers, armed to the teeth barricaded the court premises with Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC), as from October 7, turning back judges, lawyers and litigants on the basis of an alleged “bomb” threat.
On October 13, the NJC directed Justice Daramola to make a formal announcement to reopen the courts. He did on October 14, after two weeks of forced closure, even as workers stayed off. Two days later, Justice Daramola swore in Fayose as governor.
After the acquittal of former Delta State Governor James Ibori by Justice Marcelleous Awokulehin on a 170-count charge of sundry allegations including financial misappropriation and money laundering, a Court of Appeal, sitting in Benin, the Edo State capital upturned the ruling.
It was in an appeal against the lower court by the EFCC.
Ibori fled to the Dubai, United Arab Emirate (UAE) after the reversal of the lower court verdict and the pressing of fresh charges against him by the anti-graft agency. It was at the UAE that Ibori was arrested by INTERPOL and extradited to the United Kingdom (UK) for trial over the same offences for which he had been discharged and acqitted in Nigeria.
The former governor was found guilty as charged and was jailed 13 years by a UK court.
The way forward
A senior lawyer, who also prosecutes for the EFCC, said: “The EFCC should tell Nigerians why these cases and others have not been concluded. While the courts are to blame for delays, there is more to their non-conclusion than meets the eye. It will take a Buhari administration to deal with corruption in all honesty. I will urge the President to order an investigation into why these cases and others have been pending for nearly 10 years.”