EDITORIAL: THE JURIST AS A PUGILIST: WHY DANLADI UMAR MUST GO

On March 29, 2021 the public was treated to a bizarre tragi-comedy through a viral video clip where a high-ranking jurist and Chairman of the influential Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar unleashed a slap on a hapless security guard at the popular Banex Plaza in Wuse, Abuja.

The victim, one Clement Sargwak, a 22-year-old employee of Jul Reliable Guards Services Limited posted as a security guard to the plaza, recounts the vicious and inglorious assault thus: “After I informed him (Mr. Umar) about his wrong parking, he came out and slapped me, when he slapped me the driver also came down and slapped me and they tore my uniform and they stepped over me severally.

“…. When the man arrived with the security men, the Oga (Mr. Umar) slapped me again in front of the police and ordered a police officer to also slap me, which he did and thereafter ordered me to kneel down and I obeyed. As I went on my knees, the Oga (Mr. Umar) also kicked me in my face and hit my mouth.” Mr. Sargwak has a clearly bruised lip to show for the physical assault on him by Mr. Umar.

Mr. Samuel Ihensekhien, a solicitor for BANEX Plaza, alleges that “It was brought to my attention that on March 29, Mr. Sargwak was assaulted and harmed and was on the verge of almost being killed by Mr. Danladi Umar. And he was subsequently taken to the Maitama Police Station….

”They (the police) were very surprised, and the DPO saw the footage and immediately ordered he (Sargwak) be released on bail forthwith. He was then handed to the Banex manager and from there he was taken for medication.”

The unprecedented spectacle has expectedly caught the attention of a global audience and especially the legal community.

In a feeble and ill-advised attempt to exonerate himself from the macabre incident, Mr. Umar states that he “was accosted by the Plaza guard in a very rude manner on arriving there (plaza),” adding that he “was drawn into an unnecessary altercation and subsequently assaulted, with this degenerating into an attack and injury by a mob that was chanting secessionist and sectional slogans.”

Instructively, the much lampooned press statement by CCT’s Head, Press & Public Relations, Mr. Ibraheem Al-Hassan, also made reference to the alleged “mob” which he described as “consisting of BIAFRAN boys.” Mr. Al-Hassan would later admit that it was Mr. Umar who directed him to weave the “BIAFRAN boys” spin into the macabre tale. What is more, the statement went ahead to conclude that sympathy in such circumstances usually goes to the “low personalities.” Yet in a fleeting sombre moment, the CCT admits that the incident “ought not to have happened.”

Mr. Umar claims he has reflected on the incident, adding that “the entire incident was avoidable” and that “I regret being drawn into responding to the situation.” However, perhaps torn between ego and genuine remorse, Mr. Umar curiously feels “upset” and even “highly disappointed” that his action has been “misconstrued” in the narrative trending on social media!

The “Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers 2016” as issued by the National Judicial Council (NJC) states in Rule 1 (1.1) that “Propriety and the appearance of propriety, both professional and personal, are essential elements of a Judge’s life,” noting that “members of the public expect a high standard of conduct from a Judge.” When in doubt, a judge should ask the question: “How might this look in the eyes of the public?” The National Judicial Council directs in Rule Four 4(ii)(b) directs that “bad behaviour, whether in or out of Court” is a necessary disqualifying factor.

Notwithstanding the controversies that have trailed the recent recruitment of Court of Appeal judges, it is safe to conclude that the NJC would not have recommended a street-brawling jurist-turned-pugilist for appointment as a judge of the all-important Code of Conduct Tribunal. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that Mr. Umar superintends an entity that stands as a sentinel for good conduct among public officers. And to think that Mr. Umar has been the Acting Chairman or Chairman of CCT for more than 14 years!

It was in this exalted role that he sat in judgement on former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. He was unsparing, at all times projecting himself as an epitome of good conduct and morality. Perhaps with hindsight, he was rather combative in dealing with the counsel that appeared before the tribunal.

What is more, in finding Justice Onnoghen guilty of non-declaration of assets, Mr. Umar based the tribunal’s judgement on the “admission by the defendant in his own handwriting ….,” adjudging same as “a partial confession.” He further held that “hard facts” had been adduced by the prosecution to establish its case. There is no gainsaying that aside from Mr. Umar’s admission of “being drawn into responding to the situation,” the “hard facts” in the public domain compel a guilty verdict against him.

It is recalled that Mr. Umar was on February 2, 2018 slammed with a two-count charge of corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for alleged receipt of N10,000,000.00 (Ten Million Naira) bribe from one Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo, a former Deputy Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service sometime in 2012 for a favour to be afterwards shown to him in relation to a pending Charge (No. CCT/ABJ/03/12) and contrary to Section 12(1)(a) & (b) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2003. The charges were however dropped.

We strongly deprecate the ethnic slurs prevalent in the statement authorized by Mr. Umar which border on xenophobia, contrary to section 26 of the Cybercrimes Act 2015 and punishable with 5 years imprisonment and/or a minimum N10 million fine. Also, to classify some Nigerians as “low personalities” is just as appalling and unacceptable. It raises the poser whether these categories of persons can ever obtain justice in Mr. Umar’s court.

It is apparent that the only ‘offence’ committed by the security guard is that, in the words of Mr. Umar, “I was accosted by the Plaza guard in a very rude manner on arriving there.” For a jurist who was acclaimed in the CCT’s statement to have frequented the Plaza for about 18 years, he must be aware of the presence of police operatives on the premises. That he opted to literally take matters into his own hands instead of order the arrest of the security guard to answer to any misfeasance is highly inappropriate and condemnable. It does grave injustice to the NJC’s Code of Conduct which especially admonishes propriety in all circumstances. Clearly, Mr. Umar performs adjudicatory and quasi-judicial functions. It is therefore immaterial that Mr. Umar is answerable to Nigeria’s President, and may only be removed by him upon endorsement by the National Assembly.

Mr. Umar has brought palpable odium to his high office. We call on Mr. Umar to immediately resign from office. It is the only path of honour to redeem whatever is left of his honour. In the event that he fails or refuses to do so, President Muhammadu Buhari should promptly activate the process for his removal by transmitting a letter to that effect to the National Assembly.

We commend the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for its resolve to prosecute Mr. Umar at the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) if a prima facie case is established against him, and urge the lawyers’ association not to relent in this regard.

Finally, we urge the Nigeria Police to thoroughly investigate the incident – including the xenophobic slurs – with a view to bring any culprit to justice and ensure closure especially for Citizen Sargwak.

 

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NBA MAY DRAG CCT CHAIR TO DISCIPLINARY C’TE OVER ALLEGED ASSAULT

  • VOWS TO INVESTIGATE THE MATTER

  • CCT CHAIR MAY BE DISBARRED

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) may drag the embattled Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Umar Yakubu Danladi to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) of the Body of Benchers for professional misconduct.

An indication to this is contained in a press statement by the NBA over the alleged assault by the CCT Chairman on a security guard which was caught on a video that has since gone viral.

Giving an indication that the lawyers’ body may have made up its mind on the controversy, the association said it “frowns at any display of naked power by a public officer especially one who, by virtue of his high office, is expected to exhibit a high standard of conduct,” adding that “The situation is all the more critical when it involves the head of an agency of government set up to ensure compliance, by public officers, with the code of conduct.”

Noting that Danladi “is expected, by the extant rules that regulate the conduct of legal practitioners in Nigeria, to maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and not to engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a member of the legal profession,” NBA stated that “Prima facie evidence available at the moment raise questions regarding whether such standards have been met.”

Signed by the NBA Publicity Secretary, Dr. Rapulu Nduka, the statement concluded that “In view of the foregoing, the NBA shall through its relevant Committee, investigate the circumstances leading to the altercation, and depending on its findings, will ensure that appropriate action is taken to address this occurrence.”

The 15-member NBA Disciplinary Committee is chaired by Mr. Yunus Ustaz Usman SAN and co-chaired by Funke Aboyade, SAN.

It is recalled that the CCT Chairman was caught on video camera together with his security detail allegedly assaulting a 22-year-old employee of Jul Reliable Guards Services Limited posted as a security guard to the Banex Plaza in Wuse, Abuja. The victim has reportedly been hospitalized and was quoted by an online newspaper as expressing worry over his safety.

A press statement by CCT’s Head of Press and Public Relations, Ibraheem Al-Hassan admitted that there were exchanges between the CCT Chairman and the security guard, adding that “An incident like this when it happened (sic), sympathy usually goes to the low personalities. Though is (sic) unfortunate as I said, it ought not to have happened.”

Also speaking on the matter, longstanding LPDC Prosecutor, Mr. Jibrin Okutepa SAN said: “From the press statement of the CCT which cannot be issued without the approval of the chairman and which press statement has not been denied by CCT HQ, it is my respectful view that the Chairman’s conduct in the circumstances in engaging in public altercations with security man was undignified of the office of Chairman of CCT. That conduct ought not to be celebrated by any right-thinking members of the society.

“As lawyer and chairman of CCT no reasonable person should celebrate the conduct of the chairman as corroborated by the press statement. The government must not allow this matter to be swept under the carpets. It is not one of those issues that should be treated with levity.

“The HAGF and FGN must not condone this conduct. It must take action.The Chairman cannot be allowed to be sitting over conduct of other public officers when his conduct is in public court.”

If NBA files a petition at the LPDC and Danladi is found guilty, he may have his name struck off the roll of legal practitioners. It is recalled that the CCT Chairman headed the tribunal’s panel which gave an unprecedented order removing former Chief Justice of Nigeria, retired Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen from office.

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