As trial of judges is set to begin: How last-minute efforts to save them crumbled

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri:Vanguard
This indeed is the most turbulent period in the history of the Nigerian judiciary.

Never has the judiciary, the third arm of government, in the country’s democracy faced the kind of crisis that has bedeviled it in the last three months.

The crisis is such that it has not only impinged on its integrity, it has also substantially eroded public confidence in the sacredness of the justice system in Nigeria vis-a-vis the aphorism that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man.

The last crisis that shook the judiciary occurred five years ago, after the then President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Ayo Salami, accused the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Aloysius Katsina-Alu, of pressurising him to pervert the course of justice in Sokoto State governorship election case.

Despite the fact that the quarrel that subsequently ensued between the then PCA and CJN exposed the rot inside the over-protected judicial cupboard, that saga, which dominated public discourse in 2011, was gradually buried.

It became business as usual in the judiciary, until October 7 and 8, when operatives of the Department of State Service, DSS, raided the homes of seven superior court judges.

The judges were arrested, among whom were two serving justices of the Supreme Court – Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro.

Meanwhile, barring any last-minute intervention, the expectation is that Ngwuta may, tomorrow, enter the dock to take his plea to a 14-count criminal charge preferred against him by the Federal Government.

He is to be arraigned before Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

The immediate past CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, had explained why the NJC barred the accused judges from further presiding over cases.

He said the NJC reconsidered its earlier position after it was confronted with proof of evidence against the judges affected by the DSS “sting operation”.

That decision rescinded by the then CJN, presiding over the NJC, was a product of the angst expressed, largely, against the manner of search carried out by the DSS.

In fact, information available to Sunday Vanguard suggests that whereas some members of public railed against the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s manner of searching the residences of the judges, the realisation came upon many that the judges were, indeed, not sacred or untouchable. This, upon further disclosures by the DSS of its discoveries.

Interestingly, what appeared to be an unwritten understanding between Aso Rock and the immediate past CJN, regarding what the NJC’s stance would be on whether or not the judges should step aside or not, was allegedly breached.

Therefore, when the NJC initially came out smoking that it was not about to compel the concerned judges to step aside or step down pending the outcome of their cases, Aso Rock felt betrayed.

Between the NJC and the executive arm of government, the rhythm was staccato.

Not to be outdone, while public perception and sympathy appeared to be on the side of the judges, a development that suggested that the growing angst and the attack on the procedure employed by the DSS in its raid may pour cold water on the matter, the DSS did what it knew best how to do: It dug in.

On the face of it – and possibly deeper – the investigations carried out into the matter and the array of witnesses lined up against some of the judges, who may be docked this week, suggest one thing: That it may indeed become easier, in the estimation of the prosecuting authorities that is, for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than would be for the accused to escape.

After the DSS had disclosed that it was in possession of “incriminating evidences” against them, forces within the judicial circles quickly mounted a campaign to forestall their possible trial.

Though it later switched camp, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, was the first to cry blue murder over the raiding of the judges’ homes.

The association threatened to shut down the judicial sector unless the arrested judges were released from detention.

However, the legal body started singing a fresh tune after a meeting its leaders had with the AGF in Abuja where it was confronted with some of the exhibits against some of the judges.

Though it earlier constituted a Committee, co-chaired by two of its former Presidents, Chief Wole Olanikpekun, SAN, and Chief Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, to interface with government, the NBA, at a valedictory session in honour of a retiring justice of the Supreme Court, announced its withdrawal of support for the accused judges.

NBA National President, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, shocked the former CJN, Justice Mohammed, when he demanded that all the judges must step down from the Bench.

The u-turn by the NBA was immediately condemned by the NJC which alleged sabotage.

The Council, headed by the CJN, insisted that heeding the call by the NBA would amount to a violation of the provision of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution.

Meanwhile, the NJC bowed to pressure on November 3 and ordered all the judges to hands-off their judicial functions.

As it became obvious that the internal mechanism to save the judges had failed, lawyers sympathetic to them resorted to litigation, asking courts to declare their arrest illegal.

One of the groups, the Registered Trustees of Advocates for Peoples Right and Justice, asked the Federal High Court in Abuja, to determine whether the DSS has the constitutional powers to investigate corruption allegations.

Equally poised for a fight, the two embattled Supreme Court Justice, Okoro and Ngwuta, in their separate letters to the NJC, blamed their ordeal on their refusal, at various times, to help the All Progressives Congress, APC, to pervert justice in governorship election disputes involving Ekiti, Rivers and Ebonyi States.

Though various courts are still seized with suits seeking to abort the trial of the judges, government, having cleared most of the administrative bottlenecks, is set to kick-start their trial this week.

FG has already lined-up five witnesses that will testify against Ngwuta who was alleged to have stashed huge sums of various foreign currencies in his home.

In the criminal charge, marked FHC/ABJ/C/232, FG, it disclosed that cash recovered from the apex court jurist’s official residence in Abuja included the sum of Thirty-Five Million, Three Hundred and Fifty-Eight Thousand Naira (NGN35,358,000.00); and Three Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Five Hundred and Ninety- Six United States Dollars ($319,596.00), as well as Twenty-Five Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifteen Pounds Sterling (GBP 25,915) and Two Hundred and Eighty Euros (EURO 280.00).

Government said the search also revealed that the defendant possessed about four diplomatic passports, one official and two standard Nigerian passports.

The raid of Ngwuta’s residence followed allegations of corruption FG said was levelled against him.

Though FG initially filed nine-count charge against him, it was subsequently increased to 14 counts by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, pursuant to Sections 104 and 379 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

Documents sighted by Sunday Vanguard revealed the identities of the five witnesses scheduled to testify against the jurist, as well as what will constitute the crux of their evidence.

The witnesses are Aminu N Ibrahim, who is to testify on the search conducted on the defendant’s residence on or about 7/8 October, Ngo Awoikiega, who will testify on the investigation/ interrogation of the Defendant

Others are Mr. Tanko Nuhu Kutana, an Immigration Officer who will testify on the multiple Diplomatic and Standard Nigerian Passports obtained by the Defendant.

Ogudu Nwadire will tell the court how as an Architect to the defendant between 2014 and 2016, he handled several projects for which he received cash payments totalling $100,000.00.

While Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka will testify on how as a building contractor to the defendant between 2014 and 2016, he handled several projects for which he received cash payments from the Defendant totalling $1,000,000.00.

Already, the DSS official responsible for the investigation of the case, Bamai Abu Nehemiah, has deposed an affidavit of completion of investigation into the matter.

According to him, “That I was informed by Hajara H. Yusuf, a Principal State Counsel in the Department of Public Prosecutions of the Federation at her office at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja FCT on Monday, 18th day of October, 2016 at about 12 noon that it is the opinion of the Department of Public Prosecution that the investigations conducted in this case has so far revealed a prima facie case against the Defendant”.

Among exhibits FG said it would tender against the defendant, include Search Warrant; cash recovered from the defendant’s residence; Video CDs of the defendant’s interview; statement of the defendant dated October 12, 17, 24, 25 and 27.

As well as statements of all the witnesses made from November 7 to 13.

Others are House Upkeep And Project Account by Ogudu Nwadire, photographs search at the defendant’s house, NIS Data base printouts of the defendant’s e-passport (both standard and diplomatic); Defendant’s travel history; Sworn Affidavit submitted by the subject prior to renewal/cancellation of any one of his passports; E-Official/Diplomatic Passport Data Form, bill of costs and Order of Payment from Base 4 Services Ltd by Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, Pictures of houses under construction belonging to the defendant.

Similarly, FG, through the office of the AGF, has also slammed a 15-count criminal charge against Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court and his wife Mrs. Olabowale.

Justice Ademola’s wife is currently the Head of Service of Lagos State.

The duo, among other accusations, allegedly received N40million between February 20 and 21, 2014 and another N30 million from Messers Joe Odey Agi and Associates between March 11 and 26, 2015.

Justice Ademola was said to have received N30 million from Agi who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, between March 11 and 26, 2015, with his wife who is a senior civil servant with the Lagos State Government, also pocketing another N30m from the same source.

The defendants allegedly committed offences contrary to Section 8 of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act , 2011 and Section 115 of the Penal Code Law .

The AGF had in the charge marked FCT/CR/21/2016, alleged that Justice Ademola and his wife “corruptly” received a total sum of N248,101,300 and $520,000 as gratification from law firms and other persons between 2013 an 2016.

Three witnesses are also on the sideline, waiting to testify against them.

Some of the charges involving criminal conspiracy to receive and/or obtain gratification contrary to sections 8(1) and 26(1) (c) of the Independent Corrupt Practice Commission Act, 2011, and punishable under sections 8(1)(ii) and 26(1) of the same Law, read;

“That You Adeniyi Francis Adetokunbo Ademola ‘M’ and Olabowale Toluwatope Ademola ‘F’ between 11th and 26th March 2015, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired to receive from Messrs Joe Odey Agi Associates through your respective bank accounts domiciled at GT Bank PLC … the total sum of thirty million naira (NGN 30,000,000.00) and thereby committed an offence contrary to sections 8(1) and 26(1)(c) of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act, 2011 and punishable under sections 8 (1) and 26(1) of the same Law.

Count two: Statement of offence

Criminal conspiracy to Receive and/or obtain gratification contrary to sections 3 l) and 26(1) (c) of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act, 2011 and punishable under sections 8 (1) (i) and 26(1) of the same Law.

Particulars of offence: Adeniyi Francis Adetokunbo Ademola ‘M’ and Olabowale Toluwatope Ademola ‘F’ between 20th and 21st February. 2014 in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court conspired to receive through your respective bank accounts domiciled at GT Bank PLC … the total sum of forty million naira (NGN 40,000,000.00) and thereby committed an offence contrary to sections 8(1) and 26(1) of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act, 2011 and punishable under sections 8(1) and 26(1) of the same Law

Count three

Statement of offence: Receiving gratification, contrary to Section 8(1) of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act 2011 and punishable under the same law.

Particulars of offence: Adeniyi Frances Adetokunbo Ademola, adult, male, 63 years of age, of No 32, Samuel Ogbemudia Crescent, Apo Zone E, Abuja FCT, between the 11th and 26th March 2015, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, corruptly received from Messrs Joe Agi Associates, through your spouses’ bank account number domiciled at GT Bank PLC, the sum of thirty million naira (NGN 30,000,000.00) in the discharge of your official duties as a Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, contrary to Section 8(1) of the Independent corrupt Practices Commission Act 2011.

Even though about 21 Judges across the federation are currently under the radar of different security and anti-graft agencies, only Ngwuta and Ademola have so far been charged to court.

Remarkably, if not for his ordeal, Ngwuta would have stayed on the apex court bench till 2021 when he would have retired upon clocking 70 years.

Justice Ademola on the other hand is due to retire next year. He had earlier expressed his readiness to surrender himself to be tried.

Ademola, who spoke through his lawyer, Mr. Jeph Njikonye, said he was not afraid of defending himself over charges he said were “bogus and trumped-up”.

Previously, he accused the AGF, Malami, SAN, of being the brain behind his ordeal.

Ademola said he had a face-off with Malami while he was serving under the Kano Division of the Federal High Court.

The judge said he reported Malami to the National Judicial Council, NJC, for engaging in professional misconduct.

He said it took the intervention of Kano branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to save the AGF from being debarred, alleging that Malami got freed using a fake apology letter.

Aside Ngwuta, other Judges equally earmarked for prosecution are Justices Okoro, Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division, former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; and judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru Auta.

The NJC had since asked all the arrested Judges to step down from the bench pending their trial.

Meantime, some of the charges against Ngwuta read:

COUNT ONE:

STATEMENT OF OFFENCE

Money Laundering, contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.

PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE

Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, adult, ‘M’, 65 years, of No. 2 Yellow Houses, Supreme Court Quarters, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central District, Abuja, on or about the 4th day of January 2016, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, transferred the total sum of One Hundred and Thirty Million denominated in, Naira and US Dollars, (N130,000,000.00) to Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, a Building Contractor, which sums formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended).

COUNT TWO; STATEMENT OF OFFENCE

Money Laundering, contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.

PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE

Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, adult, ‘M’, 65 years, of No. 2 Yellow Houses, Supreme Court Quarters, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central District, Abuja, on or about April 2016, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, transferred the total sum of One Hundred and Sixty Five Million, denominated in Naira and US Dollars, (N165,000,000.00) to Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, a Building Contractor, which sums formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended).

COUNT THREE STATEMENT OF OFFENCE

Money Laundering, contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.

PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE

Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, adult, ‘M’, 65 years, of No. 2 Yellow Houses, Supreme Court Quarters, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central District, Abuja, on or about April 2016, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, transferred the total sum of One Hundred Million, denominated in Naira and US Dollars, (N100,000,000.00) to Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, a Building Contractor, which sums formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended).

COUNT FOUR STATEMENT OF OFFENCE

Money Laundering, contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.

PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE

Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, adult, ‘M’, 65 years, of No. 2 Yellow Houses, Supreme Court Quarters, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central District, Abuja, on or about May, 2016, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, transferred the total sum of One Hundred and Ten Million , denominated in Naira and US Dollars, (N110,000,000.00) to Nwamba Linus Chukwuebuka, a Building Contractor, which sums formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended).

COUNT TWELVE STATEMENT OF OFFENCE

Unauthorized Possession of More than One Valid Standard Nigerian Passport contrary to Section 10 (1) (a) of the Immigration Act 2015 and punishable under Section 10 (1) of the Act.

PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE

Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, adult, ‘M’, 65 years, of No. 2 Yellow Houses, Supreme Court Quarters, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central District, Abuja, FCT, on 8th October 2016 at Abuja within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, had in your possession, two valid Standard Nigerian Passports and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 10 (1) (a) of the Immigration Act 2015.

COUNT THIRTEEN STATEMENT OF OFFENCE

Making a False Statement for the Purpose of Procuring a Passport contrary to Section 10 (1) (c) of the Immigration Act 2015 and punishable under Section 10 (1) of the Act.

PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE

Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, adult, ‘M’, 65 years, of No. 2 Yellow Houses, Supreme Court Quarters, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central District, Abuja, FCT, on the 5th day of April 2016, at Abuja within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, knowingly made a false statement to the Passport Office concerning the loss of your Standard Nigerian Passport No: A04389985 and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 10 (1) (c) of the Immigration Act.

COUNT FOURTEEN STATEMENT OF OFFENCE

Submitting Multiple Applications to the Passport Office with the Intention of Obtaining Multiple Passports contrary to Section 10 (1) (d) of the Immigration Act 2015 and punishable under Section 10 (1) of the same Act.

PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE

Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, adult, male, 65 years, of No. 2 Yellow Houses, Supreme Court Quarters, Off Shehu Shagari Way, Central District, Abuja, FCT, on the 5th day of April 2016, at Abuja within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, you submitted multiple applications to one or more passport offices with the intention of obtaining multiple Standard Nigerian Passports for yourself and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 10 (1) (d) of the Immigration Act 2015 and punishable under Section 10 (1) of the same Act”.

Source:

Victor Imhangbe

Hey, there! I am Victor Imhangbe and I am the brain behind this great lifestyle blog where you get to read everything from life to education to fashion and pretty much about everything else. I invite you to keep keeping tab on our latest news and updates!

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