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DELTA STATE AND JUDICIAL CORRUPTION IN NIGERIA

One of the most unfortunate things about life is not that we do not know what is right, but that we always choose to do the wrong things. A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization; a civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its crucial problems is a stricken civilization; a civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.

On this backdrop, therefore, I opine that a Judiciary that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent Judiciary; a Judiciary that chooses to close its eyes to its crucial problems is a stricken Judiciary; a Judiciary that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying Judiciary.

Corruption on the Bench had in the past been heard of only at the level of Magistrate Courts where judges and court bailiffs made big businesses of the process of securing bails for accused persons. The unseeming act has, however, found its way to our High Courts, Election Tribunals, Appeal Courts as well as Supreme Court where highly suspicious decisions and orders have now become a celebrated routine among corrupt judges/justices. With the emergence of Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar as the Chief Justice of the Federation, stakeholders in the judicial system are beginning to have a glimpse of hope and heave a sigh of relief.

Delta State has suffered so much injustice in the hands of criminal politicians and made possible by ungodly elements in the Nigerian Judiciary. The bulk of the trouble came to the fore when James Onanefe Ibori, A.K.A Odidigborigbo of Africa; a notable criminal who imposed himself as a fearless, trained mafia with the ability to get whatever he wanted from anybody, anywhere, any time and at whatever cost- which inspired him to go as far as fighting tooth and nail along with the likes of his Cousin and successor Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan to ensure that Goodluck Jonathan was not sworn in as Acting President at the period of the Late President Yar' Adua's long absence resulting from ill health which eventually led to his (Yar' Adua's) demise - a fight he however lost for obvious reasons.

In the case of James Onanefe Ibori – An Ex-Convict, it was this same identity dish that the ex-governor served that Nigeria judicial system lapped up with relish and which resulted in him retaining his seat as governor of Delta State in 2003 despite overwhelming evidence linking him to a September 28th, 1995 case involving theft of building materials and a conviction for Criminal Breach of Trust and Negligent Conduct. Following the fresh trial, the Supreme Court confirmed both the High Court and Court of Appeal's decisions that the then governor James Onanefe Ibori was not sufficiently identified. This is more so given the way well known and famous cases in Nigeria against James Onanefe Ibori have gone in the past! Thank God we have been vindicated by the Southwark Crown Court in the United Kingdom, which with the overwhelming evidence before it and his (Ibori) admission to theft, forgery, etc, convicted and sentenced the former governor. What the Nigeria judiciary could not do because of some form of inducement despite the police report, judicial report and the Judge Avwal Yusuf's testimony. Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, who prior to 2007 served as Secretary to the state government, facilitated the illicit deals, most of the contracts that went to one of Chief Ibori's front companies, Rivbed, Sagicom or Sigaries were heavily over-inflated. His Deputy Governor Prof. Amos Utuama's name has also featured prominently in the money laundering activities of Chief Ibori. During his tenure as Ibori's Commissioner for Justice/Attorney General, his (Utuama's) Prime Chambers account at Zenith Bank in Nigeria was generally used to transfer funds that helped spread bribes to a variety of lawyers and judges/justices.

The Uduaghan electoral cases, his ex-convict cousin with the assistance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) rigged him (Uduaghan) into office. While the people of the state complained of his non-performance by diverting their resources for personal and family use, and embarking on enrichment of some of our lawmakers and judges/justices, he has again been rigged in with the support of INEC and the purported judgment of I. T. Muhammad, JSC; O. O. Adekeye, JSC; and M. U. Peter-Odili, JSC delivered on March 2nd.

The summary of the facts against Uduaghan was that on the 26th April, 2011, INEC conducted election into the seat of Governor of Delta State wherein it woefully failed to conduct the elections in six local government areas comprising of Bomadi, Burutu, Warri North, parts of Warri South, Warri South West and Ethiope West, without the constitutive elements of a due electoral process, some of which includes; absence of the receipts of sensitive electoral materials, accreditation, collation and recordings on all INEC forms like EC 40A and EC 40C.

In buttressing the facts that due electoral process was not followed, in the judgment delivered by the Trial Tribunal, Justice Joy Uwana invalidated a total of 137,526 unlawful votes; 103,287 for Uduaghan and 23,278 for Ogboru, that there were no ballot papers in support of the polling unit results and that the ballot papers provided were inconsistent with the scores recorded on the polling unit results, but failed to implement same reasons to the 100 polling units of the 116 polling units in Warri North ravaged with high inconsistency of the ballot papers with the polling unit results, thereby refusing to invalidate a total of 201, 432 votes; 175,583 for Uduaghan and 9,220 for Ogboru which were also unlawful votes. Shockingly it (the Trial Tribunal) struck out the motion that Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan was not duly elected or returned as the governor of Delta State not having polled the highest number of lawful votes cast at the said election, and not less than one quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two thirds of all the local government areas in the state where elections were duly conducted, dismissed the petition and held that the return of Uduaghan as the governor was lawful and affirmed.

Dissatisfied with the judgement, the Petitioner filed an appeal to the Appeal Court. The Court struck out the appeal without looking at the merit of the case. Moreso, been dissatisfied with this decision, the Petitioner lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court, prayed the court to allow the appeal, set aside the Appellant Court's decision and its reasons on the ground that it gave its reasons for its decisions outside the provisions of Section 285 (7) of the 1999 Constitution and to invoke Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to declare the Petitioner the governor-elect and be returned and should be returned as the duly elected governor of Delta State having scored the highest number of 401, 336 lawful votes cast as against Uduaghan's 246, 926 lawful votes.

Surprisingly, the Apex Court set aside the judgment delivered by the lower court, declined its consent as rightly argued by the appellants to invoke Section 22 so as to exercise natural justice and compensate for prejudice caused by reason of the delay and struck out the appeal. The aforesaid Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act 1990 empowers the court (Supreme) to step into a situation where the Appeal Courts are found to have been negligent in duty and to assume jurisdiction to determine the appeal of such litigants.

The controversy is that the purported lead judgment delivered by Justice I .T. Muhammad struck out the appeal, no consequential orders granted and order as to costs. While in the contributing judgment of the Chairman of the panel, Justice Walter Onnoghen, allowed the appeal, abided by all the consequential orders made in the said lead judgment including the order as to costs, delivered by his learned brother, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad. And also, in the contributing judgement of Justice Olufunmilola Oyelola Adekeye abided by the consequential orders including the order of costs.

It is a fact from his (Onnoghen, W. JSC) contributing judgement, that the panel comprising of the five sitting justices met and agreed that the lead judgement be delivered by Justice Ibrahim .T. Muhammad, allowed the appellant's appeal, granted all consequential orders including order as to costs. But the panel's agreed lead judgment was set aside, the purported judgement had sway because of some form of inducements. The gross error identified in this case is that the Supreme Court rather based its judgment against the appellants' appeal solely on the third segment of the preliminary objection filed by INEC that the appeal that rose from the Trial Tribunal to the Court of Appeal had lapsed its constitutional provision of 60 days and that the appeal to the Supreme Court should be struck out. The Supreme Court agreed with the Petitioners that the Court of Appeal judgment was a nullity, but went ahead to strike out the appeal on the request made by INEC, without considering the request of the Petitioners to invoke Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act.

To state in clear terms the preliminary objection filed by INEC was based on the Petitioners' Appeal that rose from the Trial Tribunal to the Court of Appeal and not a Cross Appeal filed by the said INEC; this preliminary objection which was in three segments reads as follows, that:

a) Based on the Appellants' contention that the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction to deliver reasons for its decision after 60 days as the appeal against the decision has been entered at the Supreme Court, this Appeal is incompetent.

b) This appeal constitutes an abuse of process for the reason that the Appellants' contentions in this Appeal are essentially the same as the contention in the Notice of Appeal filed by the Appellants on the 6th and 18th January, 2012 respectively.

c) Based on the contention of the Appellants that the Court of Appeal was bound to render the reasons for the decision along with its determination of the Appeal and that the decision was therefore in breach of the Constitution, the appeal from the decision of the election Tribunal was not heard and disposed of within 60 days of delivery of the judgment of the Trial Tribunal and therefore lapsed.

Suffice to state here, that the preliminary objections filed by Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, PDP and parts of that filed by INEC (segments a and b stated above) were dismissed by the Supreme Court, but held the last part (segment c) of the said preliminary objection filed by INEC.

It is pertinent to note that the legal meaning of nullity is “something which may be treated as nothing, as if it did not exist”. The implication of this is that the Appeal Court judgment is nothing and infact never existed and therefore no part of it can be used as a basis for another judgment as you cannot build something on nothing. Going by this, therefore, the Supreme Court cannot justify its decision to give their judgment based on the third segment of the preliminary objection filed by INEC to the Appeal Court. Granting this request made by INEC implies that the Supreme Court in one respect declared the Appeal Court's Judgment a nullity and in another respect built its judgment on that same nullity- this is exemplary of building a house without foundation-definitely such a house cannot stand the test of time. If building a house on a poor foundation is bad enough as it would lead to collapse of that building, how much more would the collapse be of a house having no foundation at all? The best and right thing to do is to break down that house that has no foundation, dig a foundation and rebuild it.

Indeed, it is worthy of note here the flexibility of the Supreme Court to reverse its decisions of 2nd March, 2012 in order to correct injustices, as Oputa JSC has stated in Adegoke Motors Ltd .v. Adesanya & Odesanya (1989) 3 NWLR (pt 109) 250 S.C.: 'We are final not because we are infallible rather we are infallible because we are final. Justices of this court are human beings, capable of erring. It will certainly be short-sighted arrogance not to accept this obvious truth. It is also true that this court can do incalculable harm through its mistakes. When therefore it appears to learned counsel that any decision of this court has been given per incuraim, such decision shall be overruled. This court has the power to overrule itself (and has done so in the past) for it gladly accepts that it is far better to admit an error than to persevere in error' (at 274-275).

Therefore, as court of justice, the Apex Court has the power to control its own procedure so as to prevent it being used to achieve injustice. The judiciary must know this point that it carries one of the most urgent tasks because it stands like 'the yellow fever' (Traffic Warden) at the cross-road that must decide in which direction the traffic must go. The National Judicial Council (NJC) must rise above pride and arrogance to humbly admit the wrong of the Learned and revered Justices and correct this damaging and disastrous error for the sake of our democracy, the legal practice and posterity, because every judgment of the Supreme Court is a reference point and in fact law in itself.

The boast by Dr. Uduaghan that no court in Nigeria can remove him from office is not new or strange to Deltans; it was always the boast of his successor Chief James Onanefe Ibori.

From the smallest court to the Supreme Court, James Ibori had his way in every single case involving him. Whenever a court fixed a date for judgment, the rumour would spread round Delta State that Ibori had “settled” the custodians of our justice system. Infact, the PDP faithfuls would even go as far as telling some exact phrases to expect in the judgments, and amazingly these rumoured phrases would appear in the judgments as exactly rumoured-clear evidences or proofs that transactions actually took place somewhere to determine the outcome of the case in Ibori's favour.

The only rumour that had shocked Deltans was the one that came about four days to the Governorship elections of April 2011. The rumour which spread like wild fire through the whole of Delta State had it that Uduaghan had “settled” and “perfected” transactions with INEC to rig the election in favour of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and the PDP categorically stating the number and specifying the names of Local Government Councils which would be given to Uduaghan and the PDP to win the election-incredibly, the election results came out as rumoured. Deltans, therefore do not need a prophet to be convinced that their destinies were been traded, by institutions originally meant to defend and protect them.

When Uduaghan started boasting that no court in Nigeria has the capacity to remove him from office or deny him access to the seat of Governor of Delta State-Deltans did not see it as a surprise; their boastings had always been centered on the belief that they had the resources to buy the conscience of any judge/justice in Nigeria. This manner of boasting has continued and was recently reaffirmed by Comrade Ovuozorie Macaulay, Secretary to Delta State Government in a heart-to-heart chat with his close friends and political associates at the end of the wedding reception of his son on Saturday 23rd March, 2013 at Event Centre Asaba, Delta State, when he informed them that they had succeeded in bribing Justice Tanko Muhammad, Justice Christopher Chukwuma-Eneh, and Justice Suleiman Galadima with the sum of N1.8 billion to pervert judgment on the review case before them, as it did on the judgment of 2nd March, 2012. Through the corruption ravaging the Nigerian Judiciary an Ex-Convict, criminal and perpetual liar, in the person of James Onanefe Ibori had defied all odds and breached the Nigerian Constitution to become Governor of Delta State- a State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria for a solid eight year period. This reminds one of the soul-touching words of George Washington that “only few men have the virtue to withstand the highest bidder”, surprisingly though, such few men have not been found in the Nigerian Judiciary.

Undoubtedly, our brand of democracy defies plain logic. It does not accommodate honesty, integrity and truth. The dreaded virus that tears apart the moral potency of human society has successfully borrowed itself into the inner recesses of the hearts of men and women who represents our judiciary. Allegations of corruption in the judiciary were so rife and it will be a disgrace if our dear Delta State is buried in the rubbles of a most expensive experiment in compound failure. It is a fate that is easily avoidable. Despite the admonitions made by some past Chief Justices of the Federation and the National Judicial Council, our judicial system is still crumbling due to the continuous involvement of some members of the Judiciary in corrupt practices, succumbing to political pressure, harassment or/and threats from higher powers etc. The reprimands did not stop low rating and the negative perceptions the public holds for members of the judiciary. They did not reduce the tide of allegations of corruption being lobbed at magistrates and judges/justices. Also, the public is utterly disappointed with the quality of judicial pronouncements and the character of some men and women who serve in the judiciary.

Improper conduct by judicial officers is definitely a matter of national worry. In the past two decades or so, some High Court judges have been dismissed, disciplined or suspended either because they compromised their office or because they were guilty of denigrating their professional integrity. An internally generated moral purge must commence immediately such as the recent effort being made by the NJC under the leadership of Honourable Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar which has resulting in meting out disciplinary actions on some erring judges/justices. Honourable Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar should implement zero tolerance for corrupt members of the judiciary that she inherited. The urgent need to restore confidence in the judicial system-a system so full of rot is now. Nigerians and the international communities still expect the law, truth and good conscience to stand.

Despite the frantic effort by credible and reputable members of the National Judicial Council, particularly under the headship of Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar to sanitize and redeem the image of the Nigerian Judiciary, certain bad elements are still bent on dragging the institution to the mud. But the fight for self cleansing must not in any way stop; Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar and her formidable team must not be deterred by any form of intimidation, lobbying etc. but rather continue in the good work they have begun. They must rise to fight the present trend of perversion of justice that have seen justice been offered for sale in our judiciary, whereas we see the inscription at the front desk of our courts stating that, “justice is not for sale”. This must be followed and practiced to the letter.

The Supreme Court Justices must be aware of the fact that no man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent, and therefore must not allow or join hands with the forces of evil to impose an unwanted, unpopular election rigger, treasury looter, inefficient and incompetent man like Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan on the people of Delta State.

According to - Martin Luther King, Jr. every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Therefore as well meaning, patriotic deltans are fighting to oust the evil cabal that had held Delta State captive for the past 14 years, the Judiciary must stand on the side of truth, fairness and equity and most importantly for posterity sake, this is so because if the Judiciary fails in the discharge of its duty, then evil and all sorts of crimes would prevail over good just like the Holy Bible says in Ecclessiastes 8:11, that' “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil”.

If the Supreme Court desires to write its name in gold and restore the hope of the masses in our Judiciary, then it has no option but to reverse its judgment of 2nd March 2012 which formed the basis of our discussion-the review case before it concerning the governorship election in Delta State.

Comrade Omonigho Akpahwe is a public affairs analyst and writes from Benin City, Edo State.

Email: [email protected]

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Articles by Omonigho Akpahwe