Jonathan's Transformation Agenda Must Begin From The Judiciary
By Mike Akpati
I do not go to the courts regularly. Usually my routine makes it almost unnecessary to be there though l have always known that the courts are more of a sacred place and why not? There, the law is assumed to hold sway and like the saying goes, the 'Law is blind' and it is the last hope for the common man. But it is known that some persons – mostly the common man, have been convicted in many cases, on mere technicalities and others for several other reasons including just the desire of the sitting Officer of the court's to just jail an accused for the singular reason that he/she did not or could not present a capable lawyer to handle their defence.
Whether you are an opponent of this government or not, you must admit the success of key aspects of the reforms in justice delivery, power sector, telecoms and education. You must admit that the 30 percent affirmative action and women inclusion into government has yielded fruits with the emergence of the first ever female Chief Justice of Nigeria.
It must be remembered that the Judiciary was highly manipulated in the early days of our 3rd Republic democracy by political office holders who made sure that their choice/desires were the court's ruling and for all intent and purpose, any politician or anyone who is against them assured in advance of the courts position except if the strong man was asleep. The spill over effect landed serious and quality Lawyers themselves in serious trouble as they could not understand why many cases suffered in their hands and cried foul, and started asking for internal probe and re-structuring of the system to remove the Chaff from the Wheat as of the sitting Judges/Magistrates, were found to be corrupt as they enriched themselves through outright miscarriage of justice as found by the Justice Kayode Eso's panel.
It is no news that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) at the national level, and during some of their conferences called for the removal of some sitting Court officials for subverting justice. The body and its members heaved a sigh of relief when from the blues, the late President Yar' Adua ordered the Court to swear in Hon Rotimi Chibike Amechi immediately he won his case against Governor Omehia of Rivers state of Nigeria within 24 hours of wining the case. The same was the case with Governor Segun Oni of Ondo state, Fayemi of Ekiti state and many more. The nation hailed the bold decision of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for the appointment of a new and first female Chief Justice of the Federation who was seen as a complete leveler. In the Judiciary, these feats were seen as noble and a new dawn, and the transformation is still going on.
The Courts are known as the last hope of the common man and the beacon of hope where everyone goes to equity with clean hands. But in the High Court of the FCT Abuja, given the history of recent developments going on and the political maneuverings involving a particular case going on now, it is doubtful if this dictum 'the last hope for the common man' still holds sway any more even as the Judiciary is undergoing transformation under the very eyes of the first female Chief Justice of the Federation. Well, before justice is miscarried again, there is a particular case yearning for the attention of Hon Justice Alooma Muktar the Chief Justice of the Federation right now.
As l write, there is spanner in the works to frustrate the good works of the President by those who ought to support it. Some very serious elements of 'Ima mmaduism'. Ima mmadu in Igbo language is 'As man Know Man' in Nigerian English language and it has developed a very serious thread within the top echelon of the High Court of FCT Abuja and the virus is spreading, not knowing yet its final stop and how many would be swallowed up in the end. It has surfaced in some cases being handled at The Judiciary Department High Court of the FCT Abuja and has caused the suspension of a highly placed Chief Registrar of the court! It is a matter of urgent attention for all and sundry because some very wrong steps have been taken already and the steps may set some very wrong judicial precedence. So far, some people are benefitting from it, just as some others are being used as scapegoats for no just cause!
This is a serious case of miscarriage of justice in the FCT Judiciary at the moment as a 'culprit' who is supposed to be innocent until found guilty has been singled out from the maze and suspended from office early this month of August 2013 even as there are clear evidence that she did not act on her own in the first place, nor did she act outside the ambit of the regular court order. Indeed the Chief Registrar of the FCT High Court Abuja is being persecuted for obeying a valid court order
One of the cases under the watchful eyes of the public is the case between BSP ENGINEERING & CONSTRUCTION COY. NIG. LTD and FEDERAL ROADS MAINTENANCE AGENCY (FERMA). In this case, both the trial Judge, Hon Justice Inyang and Vacation Judge, Hon Justice Husseinin Baba Yusuf both ordered the Chief Registrar Mrs. Oluawtoyin Yahaya, by issuance of Enrolled court Order and writ, of attachment to pay the sum of N460,000,000.00 (Four Hundred and Sixty Million Naira only) to the account of BSP. The details of the beneficiary's bank account were specified by the court. The Chief Registrar Mrs Oluwatoyin Musa Yahaya and the Director Litigation Uche Bilkisu Ezinne are signatories to the account, and upon written application by the by the judgment creditors counsel paid as instructed.
There was no preservative order from any court at the time. But TWO months after payment, the Court of Appeal Abuja Division made an order that the money should not be paid! And the Court of Appeal Abuja Division further ordered one of the parties - the Chief Registrar Mrs Oluwatoyin Muas Yahaya, to return the money stating that she paid the money 'SECRETLY'! How would the Court of Appeal Abuja Division uphold that the payment made through the order of two High Courts where two signatories were involved, instruct that the money paid in the course of duty be returned?
While this was going on a well respected Human Rights Activist, Chief Nkereuwem Akpan Udofia without hearing from the Chief Registrar and basing his assumptions and conclusions only on newspaper publications concluded that Mrs. Yahaya was 'corrupt' and was abusing her publicly all over the media.
Chief Nkereuwem Akpan also jumped into the fray by rushing to the Court to obtain the records of the case in order to file a case against the Chief Registrar of the FCT High Court and seeking her removal from office for 'corruption' However, Chief Akpan became embarrassed when he discovered that the Chief Registrar of the FCT High Court was merely obeying a valid Court order and that the Court of Appeal was misled to make the order that the money was released 'secretly'. Shockingly not even the lawyers for the beneficiary of the judgment were magnanimous enough to inform the Court of Appeal that the money was paid through due process.
While impartial observers were angry that Chief Akpan should rush to judgment without hearing both sides but in fairness to that fiery activist and social crusader, when he found out the truth he quickly filed a motion at the Court of Appeal seeking among other reliefs that the ruling be set aside or in the alternative he be allowed to appeal against the decision of the court of Appeal but instead of taking the motion by that fiery and fearless activist the Court of Appeal Abuja, went ahead to hear and make an ex-parte order in the matter.
My opinion is that in the Courts of Appeal's desire to continue its move in the wrong direction, an Ex-parte motion was moved to the effect that the International Passport of Mrs. Oluwatoyin Yahaya and Uche Bilkisu Ezinne be seized and have since been seized and deposited with the Court of Appeal Deputy Chief Registrar, Abuja division without any fair hearing! Worse still, rather than pursue the person to whom Hon. Justice Inyang had ordered that the money be paid to, in person of Mr. Chudi Charles Chukwuani, the Managing Director of BPS, the Judges of the Court of Appeal are hiding under the ambit of the law court, are after the person of Mrs. Oluwatoyin Yahaya for complying with the Court orders of both trial and vacation Judges Hon Justice Inyang and Hon Justice Baba Yusuf!
The consequences of this is that in pursuance of the private interest of some persons hiding under the cloak of their strategic positions have entered the name of Mrs Oluwatoyin Yahaya into the Nigerian Law Report as a Reckless and Criminal Chief Registrar that she is not!
In this particular case, there is no practice direction in the Judiciary regulating or specifying steps to be taken when a trial Judge gives an order for immediate compliance and what is to be done, when or if an appeal is filed or purportedly filed. Whichever way it goes, the Deputy Sheriff (Chief Registrar) stands to be charged with contempt and committal to prison! Should this be allowed while one is performing their official function for which they are paid?
The National Judicial Council needs to urgently come up with a National judiciary policy on enforcement of court orders and interlocutory matters through the attitude of the Court of Appeal. This is vitally important not only to shield the deputy sheriffs, but also to spell out clear rules and regulations to be followed by the trial, appellate Courts and Counsel.
As if the above is not serious enough, on Friday the 2nd of August 2013, a bombshell came the way of the sitting Chief Registrar Mrs. Oluwatoyin Musa Yahaya in form of suspension from office sequel to an order of the National Judiciary Council (NJC). The suspension came in a letter from FCT-JSC and was signed by the Chairman National Judiciary Council - The Honorable Chief Justice of Nigeria. This is shocking especially reading that the suspension bothered on the intervention of the former Chief Judge's verbal telephone instruction! In this particular case also, the Chief Registrar was directed to stop an enforcement which they had concluded in compliance of a court order. The Court order was executed against a person who, at the time of the case, was never mentioned to be a sitting Governor of a state with immunity. It is important to note that neither the counsel nor the trial judge mentioned that the defendant is a sitting governor. But on the 8th day of May 2012 after dinner, Hon Justice L.H. Gummi called Mrs Oluwatoyin Musa Yahaya to say that he had instructed the Director of Litigation to return all the properties removed from a house in Asokoro area of Abuja which belonged to the sitting Governor of Zamfara state because he had immunity! The trial Judge Hon Justice Jude Okeke stated that he did not know that the defendant is a sitting Governor nor did his counsel ever disclose same throughout the proceedings.
For the above reasons also, the Chief Registrar was suspended! The question is, was the Chief Registrar a party to the litigation? Was she in a position to exercise caution where she did not know the subject matter? Was she in a position she could have upturned an already decided case? Why was the suspension necessary without first probing the actions of all concerned? By this suspension and the former case earlier mention, it is clear that an unseen hand definitely desires to sully the person of the Chief Registrar Mrs. Oluwatoyin Yahaya.
A casual investigation on this matter has produced the fact that there are several interests on the seat of the Chief Registrar of the High Court FCT Abuja and the schemes are thick in the bid to unsitting her. But must we besmear people to gain favour from others? What type of campaign of calumny is this? That a woman carrier is been written off in a flash of the pen and committed to be prison for simply performing her official functions in the office? This writer has sounded the feelings of almost everyone in the know and all have come out with their critical views negating the orders and investigations going on which for all intent and purpose is useless as the culprit or so it seems, is by no way near negativity as is being purported! Worse still, Madam at the Top the Chief Justice of the Federation is said to be in the know!
How can this be happening in this era of cleansing in the judiciary? Why is it that no one is determined to read the lines? Why is it that the learned Counsel to the Judgment Creditor, Tochukwu Onwugbufor (SAN) who asked for immediate execution of the Judgment of the court - the Absolute Order, and received the payment has not been questioned to date?
Did Hon Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf ever resolve that only the judgment sum of N460,000,000.00 (Four Hundred and Sixty Million) Naira be paid without execution cost by Garnishee? Were there CTC of the minutes of the officers leading to any eventual approval and release of the fund? As I write, a letter from the Attorney General of the Federation has been sent to the suspended Chief Registrar to explain what efforts she has made so far in recovering the aforesaid amount. This effort can be best captured in a letter addressed to the Deputy Chief Registrar, Court of Appeal, Abuja Division FCT Abuja, dated July 3, 2013.
The campaign of calumny against the person of Mrs. Oluwatoyin Yahaya is very thick. It has been muted that some retired Judge are interested in her removal because of her strict official conduct. This source confirms that the plot is so thick that it is the reason the committee set up to investigate her case was an afterthought otherwise, she has been pulled off the carpet already. In fact, even while in suspension, and while she is yet to be called by the investigating committee, messages have been sent her to return to the office only to hand over. Where is that done? Are there no procedures again in the Judiciary?
Mrs. Oluwatoyin Yahaya has been in the civil service from grade level 6 and rose through the ranks to be the Chief Registrar of the High Court FCT Abuja. From the records obtained about her, all through her meritorious service, she never received any query, reprimand or found guilty of any act that would have painted her in bad light. But here she is today being crucified for the sins others committed and probably received gratification.
This is a test case for the Judiciary and all eyes are watching, all ears are listening to know the outcome of this malady going on in the supposed house of justice. The truth will always prevail. Justice must be done and not perverted because some persons are rising to become sacred cows. Let the sin of Peter not be visited on Paul. We hope the President and his aides are reading this. God help Nigeria
Mike Akpati is a Public Affair Analyst based in Port Harcourt.
GOD Remains All Sufficient.