ONNOGHEN: ACCESS TO JUSTICE WANTS UMAR SACKED

A leading human rights group, Access to Justice has called for the removal of Code of Conduct Tribunal Chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, saying the move will restore confidence in the tribunal.

Reacting to the tribunal’s judgement on suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, Access to Justice (A2Justice) said that the tribunal is not independent of the executive arm of government.

In a statement jointly signed by Messrs Joseph Otteh and Daniel Aloaye, its Executive Director and Programme Officer respectively, A2Justice warned that with the spectre of a criminal charge hanging over the head of the tribunal’s chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, the Executive arm is bound to arm-twist the jurist to do its bidding. It said: “It is clearly feasible to argue, at least theoretically, that all an executive government needs to do to get the Code of Conduct Tribunal groveling to its side is to raise the spectre of pursuing a corruption trial against its Chairman, Danladi Umar. That is just how vulnerable the leadership of the Code of Conduct Tribunal is. There needs to be a change in the chairmanship of the Tribunal if it is to inspire public confidence in itself.”

The human rights group described Onnoghen’s trial as “shambolic,” adding that the outcome of the trial was “pre-determined.”

It also carpeted the procedures adopted by the tribunal in reaching its verdict, saying they were “far too faulty and flawed to be regarded as a judicial process.”

Saying that it had no opinion on the guilt or otherwise of the Supreme Court jurist since he is presumed innocent by the Constitution, A2Justice added that “The bizarre and egregious procedure taken to unseat Justice Onnoghen was an unmistakable indication that no barrel was too deep to plumb in getting to achieve what the Tribunal wanted to achieve, and no rule or principle of law was strong or revered enough to forestall its plan.”

Below is the full text of the statement.


ABSURD. SHAMBOLIC. – TRIAL AND JUDGEMENT OF CODE OF CONDUCT TRIBUNAL IN FRN V. ONNOGHEN PLUMB THE DEPTHS OF TRAVESTY

Today, April 18, 2019, the Code of Conduct Tribunal in a judgment delivered by its chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar convicted Justice Walter Onnoghen on a six-count charge of false declaration of assets. The charges were filed on January 10th 2019 by the Federal Government of Nigeria following a petition to the Code of Conduct Bureau on January 9th 2019 by an organization (the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative). Following its verdict, the Tribunal ordered Justice Onnoghen’s removal from judicial office as Chief Justice of Nigeria, as well as the seizure and forfeiture of the monies in his accounts. It also barred him from holding public office for ten years. The Code of Conduct Tribunal is a quasi-criminal court saddled with the responsibility of handling complaints of non-compliance with the Code of Conduct for Public Officers. The primary objective of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, as provided under its Enabling Act is to establish and maintain a high standard of morality in the conduct of their official functions by public officials.

Access to Justice (A2Justice) takes no position on whether Justice Walter Onnoghen committed the infractions with which he was charged or indeed is guilty of offences related to them. A2Justice abides by the rule of law principle that all persons are equal before the law and that no person should be above the law. However, a cardinal rule of law requirement is that courts and tribunals which exercise judicial powers should be independent of other arms of government and appear, in the perception of reasonable observers, to be so independent.

Unfortunately, the Code of Conduct Tribunal did not offer this guarantee of independence, neither its perception. Far from it. The Tribunal had, from the word go, drawn the handwriting on the wall indicating that it was bent on a particular outcome, and that it would look neither to the left nor to the right in the blind pursuit of that goal. At several pivotal junctures in the course of the trial, the Tribunal appeared to demonstrate that it was clearly on the same side with the government, and was not sitting as an unbiased umpire or judicial arbiter.

Nowhere was this more evident as when Danladi Umar and another member of the Tribunal granted, speaking figuratively, under cover of darkness on January 23rd 2019, an ex-parte Order removing Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria. The bizarre and egregious procedure taken to unseat Justice Onnoghen was an unmistakable indication that no barrel was too deep to plumb in getting to achieve what the Tribunal wanted to achieve, and no rule or principle of law was strong or revered enough to forestall its plan. It will not surprise many that the Code of Conduct Tribunal reached the verdict it did after using very questionable procedures from the very start.

It would be a serious fallacy to characterize the Tribunal’s verdict as one reached after a due process trial using even the lowest possible denominators of what a fair trial represents. The procedures adopted by the Tribunal in the case were far too faulty and flawed to be regarded as a judicial process. To reasonable observers, it would appear that the Tribunal’s procedure and speed were deliberately contorted to enable it reach its pre-determined outcomes, and its verdict was simply a reflection and product of the shambolic trial.

Undoubtedly, Justice Onnoghen’s trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal was, in every way, grossly and grievously unfair, and no fair-minded court or tribunal could have descended to the depths the Code of Conduct Tribunal delved in trying to convict Walter Onnoghen on the charges against him in order to remove him from office. The Tribunal was so desperate to convict Justice Onnoghen that it had to overturn or side-step its previous judgments on similar matters, decisions such as those given in a prior case involving another Justice of the Supreme Court. A cardinal principle of our Common Law system is that similar cases are decided alike in other to prevent arbitrariness and caprice in the adjudication of cases.

This is not a way to fight corruption. There is no positive, but rather, there are plenty negatives to this flawed judgment. This judgment merely shows how much is still lacking in Nigeria’s courts and tribunals and how distanced they truly are from being independent vehicles of justice. Unfortunately, the Code of Conduct Tribunal has been headed for a long time by a person who himself has been the subject of corruption allegations, and that, in itself, is a major weakness.

More than changing its leadership, constitutional reforms must make the CCT a more independent institution. As Danladi Umar himself said in his judgment today, “…CCT also is not under the supervision of the National Judicial Council but the Presidency…’’. A Tribunal under the Presidency cannot be independent of the Presidency, which is a political institution.

Ultimately, the trial and judgment of the CCT will disparage Nigeria’s system of justice in the eyes of the international community. More than that however, they show that, despite elaborate constitutional arrangements to guarantee an independent Judiciary, as well as constitutional rights to a fair trial, the judicial process is still weak and leaking through many crevices leaving many citizens defenceless and exposed as a result. We see this situation in the Code of Conduct Tribunal. No democracy can flourish under such conditions.

For Access to Justice
Joseph Otteh Daniel Aloaye
Executive Director Programme Officer

Send your Press Release, Events, News Tips, Opinions or Informed Commentary to citylawyermag@gmail.com Follow us on facebook at City-Lawyer-Magazine

Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

GADZAMA’S SUIT: WILL COURT SACK USORO TODAY?

Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama SAN will today know the outcome of his lawsuit challenging the election of former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud SAN.

Justice Olukayode Adeniyi of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had at the last adjourned date set down today to deliver judgement in the long-drawn matter following the adoption of final written addresses by the parties.

Today’s judgement is being watched keenly by many in the legal circles, as it may affect the tenure of current NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro SAN should the court rule in Gadzama’s favour. It is recalled that Mahmoud has concluded his tenure, thus the argument by the defendants that the suit has become academic. But the plaintiff argues otherwise.

Also, depending on the judgement, there may be implications for the controversial NBA Constitution going forward.

The case had suffered a setback when Gadzama appealed a ruling by then trial judge, Justice Y. Halilu. The Notice of Appeal stated that the appellant was seeking “an order setting aside the decision of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory contained in the ruling delivered by Hon. Justice Y. Halilu dated 8th November, 2016.”

Gadzama also sought “An order directing the consolidation of all pending preliminary objections/applications filed by the Defendants/Respondents with the substantive suit in this matter” as well as “An order directing accelerated hearing of the matter at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.”

“Having regard to the insinuation made by the trial judge that the Appellant’s case was unworthy or fruitless deserving of being nipped in the bud,” the appellant also seeks “an order of this Honourable Court directing the Chief Judge of the High Court of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to transfer the suit to another judge of FCT High Court for the hearing of all pending preliminary objections along with the substantive suit.”

The appeal was however withdrawn while the matter was also remitted back to Justice Adeniyi who handled it originally before proceeding on vacation.

Though the NBA leadership had at the pre-National Executive Committee Meeting in Port Harcourt set up a 5-member committee to reach out to Gadzama towards amicable resolution of the electoral debacle, the move proved abortive. Members of the committee were Chief Onomigbo Okpoko, SAN (Chairman); former NBA presidents Chief O. C. J. Okocha, SAN and Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; former NBA General Secretary, Mr. Yinka Fayokun and Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Mbanugo Udenze who doubled as Secretary of the committee.

It is recalled that Mr. Darlington Onyekwere had at the last adjourned date adopted the Claimant’s final written address and urged the Court to grant the reliefs sought. He appeared with a team of lawyers for the claimant.

While Miss Christabel Ndeokwelu appeared for the 1st Defendant, the 2nd to 6th Defendants were represented by Mr. Abdulrasheed Usman. Mr. Ede Uko represented the 7th Defendant (Grace Infotech Limited) while Mr. A. A. Malik appeared for the 8th Defendant. Mrs. R. U. Edibo appeared for the 9th defendant.

The defendants however argued that the case had become academic, while the claimant’s counsel posited that a matter does not become academic merely because the act or conduct which gave rise to the action had been concluded. He cited the case of Plateau State v. AG Federation (2006) 3 NWLR (Pt 967) and Peter Obi v INEC (2007) 11 NWLR Part 1046 and urged the court to discount the defendants’ argument that the matter had become academic.

Malik, counsel for the 8th defendant, aligned himself with the submission of the other counsel for the defendants that the case had become academic, moreso as Mahmoud had completed his tenure. He said there was no live issue for the court to determine and that the claimant had failed to prove his case. He however urged the court to nonetheless proceed to judgement.

Gadzama had sued NBA trustees including Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim (SAN) CON, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) OFR, Chief Thompson Joseph Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN) OON, Chief (Mrs.) Priscilla Kuye, Alhaji Murtala Aminu OFR and Chief Anthony O. Mogboh (SAN). They are listed as 1st to 6th Defendants while The Incorporated Trustees of Nigerian Bar Association is the 7th Defendant. Mr. Kenneth Mozia (SAN), Chairman of the ECNBA is the 8th Defendant while Mr. Oluwaseun Ajoba who doubles as the Secretary of the committee is the 9th Defendant.

Others are Hajia Safiya Balarabe, Mrs. Amaka Ezeno, and Mrs. Eucharia Pepple – all members of the Electoral Committee – as 10th, 11th and 12th Defendants while NBA’s ICT Partner, Grace Infotech Limited is the 13th Defendant. Mr. Augustine O. Alegeh (SAN), the NBA President , is sued as the 14th defendant while Gadzama’s opponent who was declared winner of the election, Mr. Abubakar B. Mahmoud (SAN) is listed as the 15th Defendant.

It is recalled that Mahmoud was declared winner of the election with total 3055 votes while Gadzama allegedly polled 2384 votes. But Gadzama had rejected the result, saying in his statement of claim that “contrary to the result declared by the 8th Defendant, at the close of voting, at 12:00 midnight on Sunday, 31st July, 2016, the result of the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President, as collated from and contained on the official voting domain/platform was as follows: Joe-Kyari Gadzama – 2,963; Abubakar B. Mahmoud -2,465.” This was as deduced by his ICT experts who conducted forensic audit of the poll.
Gadzama also wants the court to declare “that the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President held on 30th and 31st July 2016 under the supervision of the 8th to 14th Defendants, which purportedly produced the 15th Defendant as President, was in total violation and disregard of the mandatory provisions of the NBA Constitution 2015, Election Guidelines set down for the said Election fell short of established standards and international best practices, thereby making the said Election null, void and of no effect whatsoever.”

Aside from stating that the Internet voting mechanism, method and system adopted for the conduct of the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election “was not in conformity with the mandatory provisions of the NBA Constitution 2015,” the Life Bencher also impugns the Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) as illegal and unconstitutional.

He is also seeking a “declaration that the integrity of the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President organised by the 8th to 14th, Defendants on 30th and 31st July 2016 which purportedly returned the 15th Defendant as President was fundamentally and incurably compromised by undue influence, overbearing, biased conduct and utterances of the 14th Defendant (Mr Augustine Alegeh SAN, President, Nigerian Bar Association) through the media and at Bar meetings before and during the Election and thereby robbed the conduct of the election of every element of impartiality, independence and transparency as required by established standards and international best practices.”

Flowing from this, the NBA presidential candidate seeks an order of court “nullifying and setting aside the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President held on the 30th and 31st July, 2016 which purportedly returned the 15th Defendant as the President.”

He also seeks the following orders:
“An order directing the 1st to 7th Defendants to set up a newly constituted Electoral Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (ECNBA) which will issue Guidelines and conduct a fresh 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President.

“An order of this Honourable Court that the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association Election as it relates to the office/position of the President should be held through Electronic voting in all branches of the NBA or at least at the three (3) zonal levels established by the NBA Constitution, 2015 and that results should be collated at branch or zonal levels and transmitted to the ECNBA Secretariat for final announcement.

“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 8th to 12th and 14th Defendants from swearing in and/or recognising the 15th Defendant or in any way whatsoever taking steps or giving effect to the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association election as it relates to the office/position of the President held on the 30th and 31st July, 2016, whether by themselves, agents, employees, privies or anybody acting for or on their behalf based on the said Election,” and

“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 15th Defendant, whether by himself, agents, employees, privies or anybody acting for or on his behalf, from parading himself, claiming and/or holding himself out as the President-Elect/President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) based on the 2016 Nigerian Bar Association election as it relates to the office/position of the President held on 30th and 31st July, 2016.”
According to Gadzama, the elections “held in total violation and disregard of the mandatory provisions of the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association, 2015,” adding that while the accreditation process was repeatedly extended, “the list containing the names of the said accredited voters was never released on the election platform (website), neither was it displayed on the screen used to monitor the Election.”

He alleged that “Around 12:01 a.m. of Monday, 1st August 2016, the 8th Defendant announced the end of the election exercise. The 8th Defendant further, for the first time, introduced some persons who were said to be staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and he further announced that the so called INEC staff were there to audit the election result, which was ready. The 8th Defendant also announced that it will take 1 (one) hour to audit the said results.

“Contrary to the expectations of the Plaintiff’s agents, established standards and international best practices, the said agents did not see the dashboard/monitor displaying the result of the Election, even upon voting being declared closed by the 8th Defendant.

“The Plaintiff avers that the 8th Defendant, the Managing Director of the 13th Defendant and the 14th Defendant and the so called INEC staff left the Plaintiff’s poll agents and others in the Situation Room at the NBA Secretariat in Abuja, went to a separate room to ‘audit’ the results.
“The 8th Defendant subsequently came into the monitoring room while the so called auditing was still going on to announce that the auditing was almost done and that the results were to be announced in due course. He remained in the situation room until after 1a.m. when the events in the next-following paragraphs took place.

“Around after 1a.m. on 1/8/2016, Mr. Olugasa, the Managing Director of the 13th Defendant, the 14th Defendant and the so called staff of INEC came back into the monitoring room and got seated.

“After re-introduction of the so called INEC staff; and the 8th Defendant and 14th Defendant had made some speeches, Mr. Ope Olugasa (Managing Director of the 13th Defendant) was asked to display the results on the dashboard.

“But instead of using the laptop that had long been connected online to the big LG Television/Monitor in the situation room, both of which had from the beginning been used to display the limited information about the election exercise described earlier on in this statement of claim, Mr. Ope Olugasa swapped the said laptop with another laptop which contained the so called election result. The 8th Defendant then pronounced the declared results as they were displayed on the big LG Television Monitor.

“The Plaintiff’s agent recorded the scene where the Managing Director of the 13th Defendant swapped the computer that was used throughout to display the votes that were being cast on the display screen/monitor, using Samsung Smartphone GT-I9500, Galaxy S4, with serial number R21D50BP33D.”

He stated that “On Friday, 29th of July, 2016 a day to the election, the names of eligible/verified voters continued to be padded and were never published 28 days ahead of the election, contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian Bar Association constitution and electoral guidelines,” adding that instead of utilising the advertised official portal/domain, the 8th to 14th Defendants “utilised another portal/domain (http://www.nigerianbar.org.ng) for the same Election process, just to enable them manipulate the said Election.

“As a result of this deliberate manipulative step taken by the 8th to 14th Defendants, two sets of results bearing different features but having the same figures were produced from the respective portals/domains. Accordingly, printout of the so called result of the Election from http://www.nigerianbar.org.ng is also hereby pleaded; and the Plaintiff shall, at the trial, show out the said different features, beginning with the different sources (domains) of both results, as can clearly be seen on them.”
Gadzama’s legal team was led by Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN alongside Chief Bolaji Ayorinde SAN, Chief Pius Akubo SAN and Chief Sebastine Hon SAN among others.

Send your Press Release, Events, News Tips, Opinions or Informed Commentary to citylawyermag@gmail.com
Follow us on facebook at City-Lawyer-Magazine

Copyright 2018 CITY LAWYER. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.