The leadership of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law has watched with total dismay and shock as it concerns sustained attempts by leading
political figures in Nigeria and their team of lawyers to steadily pervert the course of justice using judicial gambling and legal technicalities.
Of particular concern to us are alleged false assets declarations and operation of domiciliary bank accounts while in gubernatorial office involving the duo of Senators Ahmed Bola Tinubu and Abubakar Bukola Saraki; of which they are standing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja the Capital of Nigeria.
For the records, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) is a creation of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), created by Section 153 (1) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended. The CCT is also a creation of Section 315 of the Constitution, having been created by an Act of the National Assembly of Nigeria and recognized by the Constitution. The CCT is one of constitutionally recognized and statutorily created special courts in Nigeria. Other constitutionally created special courts are the Elections Petitions Tribunals, the Customary Court of Appeal and the Sharia Court of Appeal. There are also statutorily created courts like the National Industrial Court and the judicial panels of enquiry. Other quasi judicial bodies are the National Human Rights Commission, etc.
These special judicial bodies are deemed in the eyes of the law to share same status and operational modes with regular high courts (Federal and State High Courts). In other words, their decisions cannot be entertained in regular high courts (State and Federal High Courts) except in the Court of Appeal and except as case may be or in rare circumstances, in matters of procedures. Specifically, Section 12 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers as contained in Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution expressly forbids or ousts the jurisdiction of the regular high courts in respect of adjudicating on matters or violations of the provisions of the Code of Conduct.
In recent case of AHMED v AHMED (2013) LPELR-21143, the Supreme of Court of Nigeria decided that the Federal High Court; (likewise State High Court) has no supervisory jurisdiction over the Code of Conduct Tribunal. For instance, an appeal filled at the Court of Appeal by Senator Bukola Saraki is meant to set aside the contempt order made by the CCT against him (a judicial decision); whereas the that of the Federal High Court borders on prosecutorial procedures before the CCT as adopted by the legal team of the Federal Government or absence of the Attorney General of the Federation in the instant case.
The informed and lettered explanation above follows sustained attempts by leading politicians accused of being in conflict with the provisions of the Code of Conduct Act of 2004 to belittle and rubbish the relevance and potency of the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Nigeria; by labeling it a court of inferior records or a jurisdictionally castrated court. We see this beyond the letters of the law and their manipulative skillfulness.
It is also a clear case of resorting to judicial gambling and technicalities with intent to pervert the course of justice and rule of law in Nigeria. Our main concern is that the duo of Senators Saraki and Tinubu should not have ignored the summons of the CCT at the first place; particularly on moral and popular grounds. This is more so when the CCT is empowered statutorily to adjudicate on matters under which they were judicially summoned. In all these, the duo of Senators Saraki and Tibunu has portrayed themselves before Nigerians as lawless and “guilty as accused or perceived”.
It is no longer news that the Nigerian Judiciary has uprooted its hallowed foundation laid on three-way traffic of justice (justice to the accused, justice to the victim and justice to the society). Today, judicial abominations abound in its hitherto hallowed confines. Perpetual injunctions are now granted so recklessly restraining the investigative securitization agencies from carrying out their constitutional duties of criminal investigations. Even court judgments have been entered in this country against the armed forces of Nigeria restraining them from performing their constitutional securitization duties.
Elections Petitions judicial assignments in the country have also broken the world record as the easiest and shortest way to acquire illicit wealth in the country’s judiciary. Lobbying to be appointed into its membership is very high and alarming and hotel rooms and higher education campus cultists are now used as couriers or middle persons to deliver the huge bribe sums usually trimmed and enveloped using leading hard currencies. In all these, members of the outer Bar or counsels to the litigants are inescapable accomplices. No matter how clear or literal judicial matters particularly electoral matters are, prospectus winners must bribe to win; otherwise prospectus losers who can bribe become instant winners courtesy of judicial technicalities; for in law, there is always an exception in every issue.
Specifically, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu has severally gone to court and obtained its favour with intent to intimidate, frustrate and cow concerned citizens, who acted on behalf of themselves and other silent majority from asking questions over stupendous wealth associated with his name and ownership. The litigants or applicants, on behalf of other Nigerians, are not saying that Senator Tinubu cannot acquire wealth, but how those wealth were acquired considering his gubernatorial and hitherto career background. Former Governor Peter Odili had reportedly sought and obtained perpetual injunction from being criminally investigated to ascertain whether his wealth is in commensuration with that of a successful medical doctor and a gubernatorial pensioner. Former Governor Rotimi Amechi of Rivers State has refused to appear before the Rivers State Government constituted panel of enquiry to give account of his gubernatorial stewardship. Other instances abound.
As if these were not enough, here comes the case of Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who resorted to judicial gambling and technicalities to evade the Code of Conduct Tribunal’s summons; thereby perverting the course of justice and rule of law. Also Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu has continued to evade the CCT proceedings by resorting to judicial technicalities as well. While Senator Saraki and his team of lawyers raised the issue of procedural blunder (absence of AGF as prosecuting entity), Senator Tinubu and his team of lawyers also laid their refusal to appear before the CCT in Abuja on jurisdictional incompetence.
The Federal Government legal team is also questioning the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in interfering in the proceedings of the CCT. In all, the fact remains that the duo of Senators Tinubu and Saraki would have lost nothing if they appeared before the CCT. Following the foregoing, therefore, the rule of law is endangered in Nigeria. The principle of equality before the law no longer holds water in the country. There are now law for the rich (crooks and saints) and law for the poor. The pre Magna Carta imperial period in England, during which the royal class was above the law and the loyal class was under the law, has arrived in Nigeria.
On the other hand, the case of Retired Col Sambo Dasuki (former NSA) is very outstanding and a positive case in point. Despite obvious persecutorial elements found in his ordeal with the DSS as presidentially packaged, he still submitted himself to the hands of the DSS to be arraigned before a Federal High Court on unsubstantiated and more punitive (on conviction) charge of illegal possession of firearms and the Federal High Court in her wisdom granted him bail on self recognition. Yet he never sought a court order stopping his arraignment. It gladdened and still gladdens our heart to note this.
Conversely, rather than taking a recourse to morality, due process and rule of law, the duo of Senators Bukola Saraki and Ahmed Bola Tinubu went for rule of individualism and judicial gambling. While elements of persecution may not be ruled out in Senator Saraki’s ordeal, but two wrongs can never make a right. In other words, he ought to have submitted himself before the CCT and cleared himself of the accusations. He can on the process raise his objections including issue of procedural competence before or outside the CCT as case may be. He also has right of appeal even to the Supreme Court if he feels the CCT is biased and compromised. Senator Tinubu’s own refusal to appear before the CCT in Abuja is also condemnable and a total affront to the rule of law and the 1999 Constitution. Court summons globally are strictly rested on the principle of obey before complaining.
The political implication or consequence of the foregoing is its possibility of plunging Nigeria into anarchy and lawlessness. Also the manner in which the contempt order or bench warrant of arrest was applied and obtained by the Federal Ministry of Justice against the Senate President is presidentially reckless and witch-hunting. It has also vindicated our earlier position that absence of the Federal Executive Council including the Attorney General of the Federation literally meant that President Muhammadu Buhari has been running an administration without Government since 29th May 2015; slating to approximately 120 days; which is unheard off in the history of democracy in Nigeria.
Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chairman
International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law
Obianuju Igboeli (Miss), Esq., Head, Civil Liberties & Rule of Law Program