In the history of Nigeria, 2016 would arguably be regarded as the most turbulent for the Judiciary in two distinct but paradoxical ways. It was the year that the judiciary stood for trial and also adjudicated far more corrupt cases, which involved political big-wigs from mostly, the last administration.
Also notable is the fact that 2016 was a year that the judiciary, known for its ability to self-cleanse was nudged to increase the tempo of sieving the wheat from the chaff.
In the process, the executive appeared meddlesome and consequently locked horns with the judiciary on how best to prosecute the war against corruption, especially within the judiciary.
A remarkable event that signified this was in October, when there was an early morning clampdown on some judges for alleged misconduct and corrupt practices. Despite criticisms and condemnations of the manner in which the executive used Department of State Services (DSS), to intimidate and arrest the alleged judges, the revelations and findings in their possessions have remained startling.
At the end of the controversial raid by the DSS, about N270million of different currencies were allegedly recovered from the houses of the judges.
Those involved are Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, the suspended Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed LadanTsamiya, Supreme Court Justices, Sylvester Ngwuta and InyangOkoro, in addition to Justice KabiruAuta of Kano State High Court. Some of the judges were subsequently arraigned in the court with different charges, a situation which had never occur before in the history of Nigeria, where a judge is put to trial for alleged corrupt practices.
Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, who had earlier barred from been elevated to the appellate court for gross misconduct, was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly collecting N5million gratification from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Godwin Obla.
Another event that made 2016 remarkable for the judiciary, was the sanctioning of some judges in October by the National Judicial Council (NJC). Those affected were the former chief judge of Enugu state, Justice Innocent Umezulike. NJC forcibly retired him for delivering judgment in a case 126 days after final addresses were adopted by parties, and for other instances of abuse of office.
The NJC also recommended justice Auta of the Kano state judiciary for dismissal and prosecution over an allegation that he collected N197million from Alhaji Kabiru, who wrote a petition to the NJC against him.
Others who were disciplined by the NJC last year were Justice Oluyinka Gbajabiamila (Lagos State High Court), Justice Idris M. J. Evuti (Niger State High Court), Justice Tanko Yusuf Usman (Niger State High Court), Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia (Federal High Court, Ilorin Division), Justice Mohammed Yunusa (Federal High Court, Enugu Division), Justice OlamideOloyede (Osun State High Court) and Justice B.T. Ebuta (Cross River State High Court).
Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Rickey Tarfa, was arraigned by the EFCC over allegation of obstruction to justice.
Also, the year witnessed the retirement of Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who had reached the terminal age. And in line with the tradition at the apex court, President Muhammadu Buhari sworn in the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Walter Onnoghen, as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), pending his confirmation. But most jurists have continued to query the rationale behind his appointment in acting capacity. They pointed out that it would only unsettle the judiciary and create uncertainties.
2016 witnessed the emergence of former Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), in a first of its kind electronic voting and universal suffrage as the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), after he was declared winner of the NBA election held late September. Mahmoud polled 3,055 votes to emerged winner in the controversial poll, followed by Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN), who scored 2,384 votes out of 5,439 votes cast.
As stated earlier, the Judiciary in 2016, recorded more cases of corruption involving big-wigs more than any other year in recent times. These cases included that of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, who is facing three charges. In the first case, he is charged with money laundering and illegal possession of firearms.
The ex-NSA was arraigned before Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja in September. In the second case, Dasuki was charged with former Director of Finance, office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu; a former Executive Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Aminu Baba-Kusa and his two companies – Acacia Holding Limited, and Reliance Referral Hospital Limited for allegedly diverting public funds running into billions of naira.
In the third case, Dasuki was charged along with ex-Minister of State for Finance, Bashir Yuguda, a former Director of Finance at the office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu, a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, his son, SagirBafarawa and their company, Dalhatu Investment Limited for allegedly stealing about N9.2billion from the office of the NSA. Dasuki is still under government custody and in his efforts to secure freedom appealed to the ECOWAS court. ECOWAS court also ordered his freedom. As at press time, he is still in custody.
Similarly, the judiciary was also busy trying to determine the guilt or otherwise of the director of Radio Biafra, NnamdiKanu, who has been calling for the self-determinations of South Easterners in Nigeria. His attempt to secure freedom was denied him by the court, after he was earlier granted bail by a previous judge.
The trial of the current Senate President, Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), also lingered through the year 2016. He is facing a 13-count charge of false assets declaration. The case has witnessed delays as the prosecution has not been able to move beyond calling its first witness.
A former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to the immediate past President, Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamo Dudafa, was arraigned at the Federal High Court in Lagos for alleged money laundering. He is facing two separate charges.
In the case before Justice BabsKuewumi, he was arraigned with some companies, which pleaded guilty on September 15, to laundering $15,591,700 (about N5billion). Wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Dame Patience, has claimed the monies in the companies’ accounts are hers. She is praying the court to unfreeze the accounts to enable her have access to her funds.
Also on the list of corruption cases in 2016 was former spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh. He is facing trial in two courts. Former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Alex Badeh is also on trial with a firm, Iyalikam Nigeria Limited on a 10-count charge before Justice OkonAbang of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
There was also the case of N7.382 billion involving Badeh’s predecessor as the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mohammed Diko Umar (rtd) before Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja. 2016 was a year that EFCC re-arraigned former Abia State Governor Orji UzorKalu at the Federal High Court in Lagos along with UdehUdeogu and Slok Nigeria Limited.
Also, former Oyo State Governor Rashidi Ladoja, was re-arraigned at the Federal High Court in Lagos, eight years after he was first arraigned, for allegedly converting N4.7billion from the state treasury to his personal use. The EFCC charged him along with Waheed Akanbi, his aide before Justice Mohammed Idris on eight counts of money laundering and unlawful conversion of public funds.
Other former governors tried in 2016 are Muritala Nyako (Adamawa), Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Jolly Nyame (Tarba), Gabriel Suswan (Benue) and former Imo State Governor, Ikedi Ohakim.
Former ministers in past government also faced trial over corruption cases. They included former Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode and former Minister of State for Finance Senator Nenadi Usman. They were arraigned by the EFCC on a 17-count charge of laundering about N4.6billion.
Former Minister of Interior, Abba Patrick Moro, a Deputy Director in the ministry, F. O. Alayebami; former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, Mrs. Anastasia Daniel-Nwobia and a firm, Drexel Global Tech Nigeria Limited were also arraigned before Justice NnamdiDimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
They were accused of defrauding 675, 675 graduate applicants of about N675,675,000, having been made to pay N1,000 each as processing fees for 5,000 job openings.
Also, a former Defence Minister and Chairman, Board of Trustees, PDP, Haliru Mohamed Bello was arraigned with his son, Abba and a company, Bam Projects and Properties before the Federal High Court, Abuja.
They were accused of receiving N300million from the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA). Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) Managing Director/Chief Executive Ibrahim Abdulsalam was also arraigned at the Federal High Court in Lagos for allegedly stealing N2.8billion.
Also in the news was the case by EFCC on how MrsAminatTitiAbubakar, wife of former Nigeria’s Vice-President, AlhajiAtikuAbubakar was defrauded of N918 million by some business partners including a former governorship aspirant in AkwaIbom State, NsikakabasiAkpan Jacobs before a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja. The EFCC arraigned Jacobs, Abdulmalik Ibrahim and Dana Motors on a 15-count charge of conspiracy, stealing and fraudulent conversion of properties belong to THA Shipping Maritime Services Limited, a company in which she had vested interest.
Others who also faced trial in 2016, were former Head of Service of the Federation (HOS), Stephen Oransanye is being tried in two separate courts on two charges. He is standing trial before Justice OlasumboGoodlcuk of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Oronsaye was among others charged with criminal breach of trust for allegedly converting about N382.9million belonging to the Presidential Committee on Financial Action Task Force (PCFATF) to personal use between 2013 and last year (2015).
Four former Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) director generals were charged for corruption-related offences. They included: Patrick Akpobolokemi, Calistus Obi and HarunaJauro are all facing trial at the Federal High Court in Lagos for alleged fraud.
There is no doubt that 2017 will witness more legal fireworks at the courts. But the question is: how prepared is the judiciary to handle the challenge? The answer definitely lives in the womb of time.