Law in the face of corruption war
Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, boldly inscribed in one of the pages of his Chamber's 2012 Table Calendar that 'you cannot live without lawyers and certainly you cannot die without them'. And Louise Arbour, a legal icon, also posited that 'judicial bodies
provide a forum for truth telling'. In the same vein, it was Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams, the first indigenous lawyer who postulated that a lawyer lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country. This underscores the very pivotal role of the legal practice and practitioners in any given society (Nigeria).
But in juxtaposing these facts against the reality in the Nigerian judiciary especially with regards to the fight against graft, one is in a fix as to the abysmal state of some judicial officers who, according to Arbour, are expectedly, to provide a forum for truth telling. A few examples will suffice.
On March 3, 2010, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arraigned former Governor of Nasarawa State, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu (now a Senator) alongside 18 others on a 149 count charge of fraud to the tune of N15 billion, before Justice Ibrahim Buba. Justice Buba was later transferred to Asaba Division and in his place, was Justice Marcel Awokunlehin who also came from Asaba Division. Awokulehin needs no introduction following his controversial ruling in the ex-governor Ibori's multi-billion naira corruption charges which he threw away without blinking an eyelid. On Tuesday, April 27, 2010, the controversial Justice Awokulehin voluntarily withdrew from presiding over the ex- governor Adamu's fraud case, citing personal reasons and 'in conformity with his conscience'.
Justice David Okorowa took over the case and the accused filed a motion asking for its quashing for lack of jurisdiction. The ex-governor and his co-accused specifically argued through their counsels, though shockingly, that the money in question belonged to the people of Nasarawa state and therefore does not fall under the purview of federal government and by extension, the EFCC's eagle eye. But Okorowa, in his landmark ruling, said the former governor had a case to answer and therefore urged the accused to be ready to face trial. This development made ex-governor Adamu and his co travelers to file an appeal and also served the lower court (Federal High Court, Lafia) with a stay of proceeding motion while the appeal last. On March 3, 2011, the EFCC filed a 15 paragraph counter- affidavit opposing the application for stay of proceedings.
Between May 24, 2011 and September 28, 2011, the case suffered four adjournments without hearing, due to what the court described as pre-election matters. When the case eventually came up for hearing before Justice Okorowa, he adjourned sine-die pending the outcome of the appeal. This is in spite the provisions of Section 40 of the EFCC Establishment Act which clearly states that subject to the provisions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, an application for stay of proceedings in respect of any criminal matter brought by the Commission before the High Court shall not be entertained until judgment is delivered by the high Court.
The ex-governor who is at the Makurdi division of the Court of Appeal is still praying the Justices of the Court to hear his appeal on the stay of proceedings at the lower court; this is even when the lower court had adjourned sine-die. Interestingly, the case has also suffered four adjournments without any leeway at the court of appeal. As at June 5, 2012 that the court sat on the case before going on vacation, only one of the three justices was on seat necessitating another adjournment; this time, with a promise to served parties new date. Four times the case had been mentioned at the court of appeal, yet no headway till date. Don't forget that we are talking of N15 billion scam. It is on record that Ex- governor Adamu boasts of the services of counsel like Abdullahi Ibrahim, Dr. M.E. Ediru and Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN.
The news is that Akintola, hitherto an EFCC prosecution counsel in the case of ex- governor Abdullahi Adamu also took a brief from ex-governor Danjuma Goje of Gombe state who was on Monday October 17, 2011, arraigned by the EFCC on corruption charges to the tune of N52 billion before Hon Justice Babatunde Quadri of Federal High Court, sitting in Gombe. Interestingly, Akintola, SAN, on the day of arraignment, approached the court with two applications: one for the quashing of the charges preferred against the accused and the other for bail. However, he became thoroughly flustered by the argument of the EFCC counsel, Wahab Shittu, who insisted that consideration for bail should not be placed before the court simultaneously with a no-case submission. Akintola, SAN, had further argued that the court should dismiss the charge against the accused persons on the ground that the prosecution counsel, Shittu, failed to show the accused and the court, evidence of prosecutorial authority from the Attorney- General of the Federation. More drama on that case is still unfolding at the Federal High Court, Gombe.
At the moment, information has it that Akintola has been asked to return the ex- governor Adamu's file due to what is known in political parlance as 'anti-party activity'. Some lawyers have argued that since Akintola was not on retainer ship with the EFCC, he can take any brief from any Tom, Dick and Harry. I am not a lawyer and therefore may be ignorant of some legal ethics, but how about morality ethics? Besides, if corruption has really eaten so deep of what is left of Nigeria as a nation, so much so that Transparency International, TI, in 2011 ranked Nigeria 143 of the 183 on the corruption perception index, one would have expected that there would be a concerted effort by all to fight the malaise. But on the contrary, the SANs are part of the corruption problems in Nigeria.
In the case of ex-governor Abubakar Audu of Kogi state who is being prosecuted on corruption charges by the EFCC to the tune of N4 billion, the defence counsel, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, had argued before a Kogi State High Court that his client is at liberty to proceed to the Supreme Court as many times as he choose to go; describing such an action as being within the ambit of the law. Indeed, the embattled ex-governor had actually been to the apex court a record three times. Yet, the case which was instituted in 2006 had not entered into trial as it has suffered myriad adjournments at the instance of the accused. This action is however a sharp contrast to Section 19 (2) of the EFCC Establishment Act, 2004, which states that: 'The Court shall have power, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any other enactment; (b) to ensure that all matters brought before the court by the Commission, EFCC, shall be conducted with dispatch and given accelerated hearing; (c) the court shall adopt all legal measures necessary to avoid unnecessary delays and abuse in the conduct of matters brought by the Commission (EFCC), before it or against any person, body or authority'. It is not far-fetched that the quest to make money at all cost and join the league of legal luminaries who have acquired private jets and mansions all over Europe and American at the expense of the wellness of the nation could be attributed for the anomalies in the judiciary and judicial officers with regards to the fight against graft.
It is, however, awful that Senior Advocates of Nigeria will go before a High Court Judge and be scrambling over who is the true representative of an accused in a corruption case. This was the situation when six suspects were arraigned on March 29, 2012, on a 16 criminal charges bordering on conspiracy and criminal breach of trust to the tune of N32.8 Billion naira (Thirty Two billion, Eight Hundred million naira) being public fund from the office of Police Pension. The six who were arraigned before Justice Mohammed Talba of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Gudu, Abuja, were Esai Dangabar, Atiku Abubakar Kigo, Ahmed Inuwa Wada, John Yakubu Yusufu, Mrs. Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula and Sani Habila Zira. Kigo was the director of the Police Pension Office, before he was made permanent secretary. Senior counsels in court were close to pulling their wig and gown to exchange blows over who to defend the accused. Proceedings at the court on the day in question were indeed a shameful sight to behold.
Retrospectively, with the establishment of the Nigerian Law School in 1963 and the subsequent enactment of the Legal Practitioners Act, LPA, Nigerian legal practice took a turn for good. It is a fact well known and contained in the LPA that the award of SAN is expectedly a reward for excellence in the legal practice. The act provides for public identification of advocates whose standing and achievement justified expectation on the part of not only the clients, but also on the judiciary and the general public that they can provide outstanding services as advocates and advisers in the overall best interest of the administration of justice. Chief Gani Fawehinmi joined that rank before his demise on September 5, 2009, at the age of 71. Until his death, he was among the eminent legal luminaries who did not only practiced law for the good of the society and in line with the dictates of his conscience, but lived for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country.
OJELIMAFE writes this piece from Abuja.