A JUDGE IN SEARCH OF JUSTICE
For many decades, he had dispensed justice from the Bench without fear or favour. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, as Justice David Adeniji is searching for fairness and justice.
His involvement in the election petition appeal on the dispute arising from the April 2003 election in Anambra State brought his illustrious career to a disastrous end. The former justice of the Court of Appeal was sacked in 2004 by the then Olusegun Obasanjo regime.
However, he insists that he was a victim of circumstances, since he was punished through the evidence from another man's case that was wrongly imported into his case. Since then he has been searching for justice.
'I have approached the office of the Attorney General of the Federation to seek for redress of the case. I have approached the office of the Inspector General of Police and even mobilised the police to investigate me. As the last option, I approached the court,' he said.
When Sunday Sun met him in his modest house, a somewhat too modest building in the Abule-Egba area of Lagos, which he said he acquired during the monetisation policy, Justice Adeniji poured out his agony.
How trouble started
I was a member of that panel that sat on the appeal involving Hon. Nicholas Ukachukwu and Dr Ugochukwu Uba. We were in Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, from where we were drafted for the assignment in Enugu. The team included Justice K.B Akaahs, Justice Opene, and I.
On our way to Enugu, Justice Akaahs advised that we put up with Justice Fabiyi (now of the Supreme Court). I was reluctant because I had never met Justice Fabiyi before. But my partner said there was no problem. We went there, and the gentleman accommodated us. At the end of the hearing of the appeal, two of us in our judgment ruled in favour of the appellant, Dr Ugochukwu Uba. But Justice Akaahs, with whom I stayed, favoured the respondent, that is, Nicholas Ukachukwu.
After the verdict, Nicholas Ukachukwu wrote a petition against us that N12 million was brought to me as bribe in my place of sojourn. There were 11 of us staying in that place at that time, including three drivers, three orderlies, three of us who are judges, a lady we engaged to cook for us, and a security man at the gate. We were eating together on the same table in the morning and in the evening.
After the court proceedings, we listened to radio and television before going to bed; we always said our prayer together throughout our stay there.
In the petition, Ukachukwu alleged that the money was brought to me in my guesthouse. The guesthouse of the Court of Appeal, Enugu, was close to Justice Fabiyi's quarters, but we did not use it, as we all enjoyed staying together. However, Justice Opene was staying in a different location.
Trials and travails
First, we were asked to respond to the petition; Justice Opene and myself, which we did. Before then, we were summoned to Abuja to see the President of the Court of Appeal, Honourable Justice Umar Abdullahi. He met us but did not say much. He merely said that he called us for certain things and that he had thought over it, so we should go back to our station.
Later, we were asked to attend certain sittings in Abuja. When we got there, I found out that it was a full enquiry. I had no lawyer because I was not prepared for it. I defended myself and denied the allegation. I called my witness, my orderly, Inspector Njoku, who testified that nobody brought any money or Ghana-must-go bag to our residence. I also told them that I never saw any Ghana-must-go.
The mystery witness
The expected star witness in my case, which the petitioner identified as one Emeka Okeke, who was said to be a personal assistant to the appellant, Ugochukwu Uba, never appeared throughout the sittings of the panel. It was this Okeke that they said brought the money to me in our residence. Ugochukwu Uba himself came to the panel and it was at that panel that I saw him for the first time. He said he had never met me before nor ever sent any message to me. He also told the panel that the man called Emeka Okeke was never known to him. He said he did not have any P.A called Okeke and that it was all lie.
Under cross examination, I asked their witness, one Bontius Onuigbo, if he believes that after our existence in this world, there will be judgement. He said yes. I asked him if he was there when these so-called Ghana-must-go bags were given to me. He said no. He said he helped to bring the bags containing money into the sitting room and then he was asked to go out by Emeka Okeke, who allegedly brought the money there. And that he saw me and one other man in the sitting room and that thereafter, Emeka Okeke came out to meet him and told him that the bag contained money; that it was N12 million. I asked him if Emeka Okeke was still alive, and he said yes. I asked him again for the purpose of clarity if he was physically present, he said no. He said he was only told that the money was given to me.
Also, there was another petition written by the Anambra Democratic League (ADL) on the same N12 million. They said the money was not actually brought to me but I went to Justice Opene's place and there the N12 million was put into a car with a mobile policeman together with one Emma Obi, a friend of Emeka Okeke, and these people and myself drove from Opene's place with the N12 million to Justice Fabiyi's house, making it two versions of how the money was brought.
Ugochukwu Uba called two witnesses, a Sergeant-at-arms and one other witness to show that of all his personal assistants there was no Emeka Okeke. He tendered the letter of appointment of his personal assistants to show that there was never any Okeke there.
Curiously, the mysterious Emeka Okeke was never called to testify.
I found that quite strange. Everything was mere hearsay throughout and what I said was never controverted. How a man who was completely a stranger in a place but only came there to spend few days would now stay there to collect money running into millions of naira in a huge Ghana-must-go bag, and nobody from that house could come out to say he saw him with something unusual or that he received any visitor till he left? No money was traced to my bank account and no one ever came out to say he saw me or helped me to take the huge bag into my room or into the car I brought from Port Harcourt. We are talking of very heavy load; N12 million cash is not what you can just carry casually.
The panel came out with a verdict that I received the N12 million, because one Ndubuisi Okafor had testified that he helped one lawyer, Joy Anyamene, to take a sum of N15 million in three Ghana-must-go bags to Justice Opene where he was sojourning.
He said that after the lady had taken the three Ghana-must-go bags to Justice Opene, the latter came out to give the driver N10,000 as a gift. Shockingly, that evidence against Justice Opene was now used, whether deliberately or erroneously, to nail me.
They said because I did not cross-examine the witness, they were convinced that Justice Adeniji took N12 million bribe from Ugochukwu Uba. So, the evidence given against Justice Opene was imported into my case and ascribed to me. The petition written against me did not mention any Ghana-must-go bag containing N15 million. The petition against me was just about N12 million. And that was what I defended.
At the enquiry, I was never asked anything about any three Ghana-must-go bags of money. That was another aspect of the hearing, which was unfair. This is because it was never put to me at the enquiry.
Struggle for redress
Convinced that I had been unjustly treated and made to suffer for what I did not do, I sued the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the National Judicial Council (NJC). When I raised the point that they had imported evidence from another case to my case and that particular evidence was used as the basis for the verdict against me, they did not have any answer. So I was not cross-examined on it at all. Rather, I was cross-examined on peripheral matters. After that, I thought the battle was over.
I started developing apprehension about the judgement when the Federal High Court, Abuja, adjourned the matter thrice. Obviously, that gave cause for apprehension. I couldn't understand why we were almost out of the three months limit for rendering of judgement before it was adjourned till the following morning again. And when it was delivered, Justice Binta Nyako agreed that, indeed, the evidence in another matter was wrongly ascribed to me and that since there was no cross-examination on it, it was deemed admitted by the respondents. Then, she went on to say that she expunged it from the record and that does not distract the entire proceeding but part of it. The question now is, which other part was left the judge did not say. That is why I believe that she gave an open-ended judgement.
It was the evidence of Ndubuisi Okafor that was used against me and the court correctly found that it was wrongly ascribed to me and expunged same from record. This means that the whole charge against me has gone. Curiously, however, the same court that established this vital point still went ahead to dismiss my suit. That was why I described that judgement as an open-ended judgement.
Encounter with the police
I went to the police so that I could be investigated. And for two years I was going to the office of the Inspector General of Police to investigate and prosecute me if need be. I went to the IGP's office at least 10 times. It was during the time of Mike Okiro. I met the officers there and they took my papers. All I asked from them was to investigate me in respect of an alleged crime using available records and documentary evidence as guide to conduct their investigation. The names of those mentioned and their contacts were supplied, including that of Nicholas Ukachukwu, the petitioner. All these took a lot of physical and financial toll on me. I went there several times without any positive result.
When the police did not write to me after several visits, I mobilized them to ensure that they went to Enugu to find these people: Ndubuisi Okafor, Onuigbo, Emeka Okeke, Nicholas Ukachukwu and the rest of them. Later, I learnt that the same Ukachukwu wanted to contest election again in Anambra. I was informed that his name has been forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). I contacted the police that Ukachukwu was going to contest in Anambra and that they should use the opportunity to get in touch with him and get his side of the investigation.
All the police needed to ask is for him to produce his witness, Onuigbo, so that he can tell the police what he told the panel and also help to locate the mysterious Emeka Okeke, who they said brought the money to me but never appeared throughout the sitting of the panel. It is only the police that can unravel the puzzle. If the police find enough proof to prosecute me, they will proceed. But if there was nothing against me, they will say so in their report. Then I will go and rest. Unfortunately, the police have not done anything. It is their duty and I believe they should act.
I approached the AGF's office
I approached the office of the Attorney General of the Federation with my complaints hoping that his intervention would resolve the issue. There, I was referred to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP). I had to do that because I wanted my case to be determined one way or the other. I went there several times but there was no action from that office. It was quite frustrating and I started losing faith in the system.
Out of frustration, I was determined to go with my camp bed to stage a protest in Abuja at the IGP's office. I was determined to remain there until my case was looked into. However, I was persuaded to drop the idea and instead allow the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) to intervene in the matter. That was how the Ikeja branch of the NBA took up the matter. As I talk to you, the national body of the NBA is aware and are looking into the matter.
The Obasanjo angle
Honestly, I believe I am a victim of political power game. I strongly believe that I was confronting the powers that be, then. It was during (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo's period. Chief Akin Olujimi (SAN) was the AGF then. He actually recommended to Obasanjo that there was no justification for my dismissal recommended by the panel in view of the fact that evidence in another case was wrongly ascribed to me. But for reasons best known to him, Obasanjo rejected the recommendation and said I should be dismissed from service.
After Olujimi left the government, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN) took over.
He was one of the three senior advocates consulted by the government to give their legal opinion on the recommendation of the panel. Two of the senior advocates in their responses said there was no ground for my dismissal. Ojo withheld his response for about three months. So when the immediate past AGF, Chief Michael Aondoakaa, came to the office, I wrote him but it was a dribble throughout. Now I'm getting frustrated and losing faith in the system.
You see, I'm powerless, and the powerful people are there. I strongly believe that it was not a mistake that they imported evidence from another man's case into my case and used it to nail me. It was deliberately done to find something to nail me. But God will judge every one of us.
It would interest you to know that even the original manuscript of the proceeding of the panel could not be produced when we demanded for it at the high court. They said the record could not be traced. I found that shocking and unbelievable.
Even now, I'm still at a loss. I was enmeshed in this type of situation and that is why I will not give up. So far, in my struggle to get justice, I fight for myself alone. I cannot speak for anybody. My consolation lies in the fact that I did not stay in a hotel during the sittings of our appeal panel in Enugu. You could imagine if I had stayed alone, I doubt if anybody would even listen to me not to talk of believing my story.
So who will come and bear witness? There will be nobody. But God has a way of doing things and I thank God for directing me to stay with my colleagues in Enugu. I am a victim of circumstances; so many things put together. I did not write or instigate any petition against anybody, yet I'm the one to suffer for it. I did not collect any N12 million, yet I am the one suffering from it. I did not see three Ghana-must-go bags, yet I am suffering for it.
When we gave that judgment, there was tension everywhere but I followed my conscience and gave the verdict. I had expected commendation but the powers that be felt otherwise. It was a very painful experience. They decided to nail me by all means. It is most unfortunate.
My appeal to new AGF
I appeal to the new Attorney General in the name of God to revisit my case. My file and records are there. Let him look at it and ensure that justice is done. Of course, I cannot go back to the Bench again because I have passed retirement age. But if they clear my name, let them pay me my entitlements and then I can go in peace. I will leave the rest to God. God knows those who contrived this callous act and He will surely judge everybody.
I don't know anyone in Enugu. I don't know Dr Ugochukwu Uba and Nicholas Ukachukwu. If I see them now, I won't be able to recognise them. Not even Onuigbo who came to the panel to lie. He said Emeka Okeke was his relation and that he would come to the panel. Till today, we have not seen Okeke.
Curious things at the panel
At the beginning, it was Justice Kolawole, an Egba man, and Justice Olakanmi, the Chief Judge of Oyo State. They heard about 14 witnesses out of 18 witnesses that came to testify. Two of them heard all of us. Then Justice Olakanmi dropped out. They brought in Justice Darazzu, the Chief Judge of Bauchi State. He heard three witnesses. The last one was Justice Gummi, who was brought in to join them.
All the principal witnesses had given evidence before Darazzu came in. Both Justices Darazzu and Gummi sat to write the verdict. That is the usual practice because they just needed to study the witness while giving his testimony to form a correct opinion of him. It was only Justice Kolawole that heard all the witnesses. So, it was what Kolawole told them that they relied on. That in itself puts a big question mark on the integrity of the panel.