Judicial Black Market: Anambra as Case Study

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

I have told the story before on this page of my experience on 14th June 1993, when the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) suspended the release of the results of the presidential election held two days earlier, in deference to a court injunction obtained by the Chief Arthur Nzeribe-led Association for Better Nigeria (ABN). Following the development, there was a meeting at the then NICON-NOGA Hilton (now Transcorp) hotel where no fewer than six governors of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) were gathered to deliberate on the next line of action.

Right in my presence, three of the Governors, (two from South and another from the North) made calls to their respective states. While I had no idea about the people at the other end of the telephone lines, the instructions were very clear: they should go and meet Justice so, so and so to be granted order ex-parte to compel NEC to release the presidential election result.

Looking back today, the real issue was not that the Governors wanted and got the court orders they requested but rather that each was specific as to which Judge whoever they were sending should go to. What that implies is that it is not all judges that are susceptible to such manipulation and corruption. However, the danger, as I pointed out in the past, is that in a society where you have a preponderance of Judges who can give out any court order (and definitely not for free), the system is in jeopardy. Sadly, the general feeling in our country today is that in most of our courts, justice is for sale and to the highest bidders.

Before I go further, I need to stress that I am a defender of our judiciary, essentially because we live in a country where people peddle a lot of rumours and where most politicians judge others by their own standards. Yet, even at that, I also do not believe it is in our collective interest to gloss over what has become a serious problem. In fact, if I had any doubts about the magnitude of the rot within the judiciary, they were cleared by the several mails and calls I received, including from very prominent citizens, after my recent column on “The Assault on Supreme Court”. The conclusion I could draw from some of the well-meaning interventions was that it is not only elections that are rigged in Nigeria, many judgements, especially on election petition matters, are now also traded.

However, it is comforting that the authorities are aware that the integrity of the judiciary is gradually being eroded by some of these judgements. That, I guess, is the basis for the ongoing ‘National Conference on Election Petition Tribunals’ in Abuja organized by the Court of Appeal in collaboration with the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES). While the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa should be commended for the idea, I am of the opinion that Justices of the Supreme Court should also begin to do that kind of self-examination.

Meanwhile, if there is any issue that illustrates the problem of our democracy vis-a-vis the judiciary, it is in the peculiar politics of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State. While elections are fought in some other places with violence, PDP politicians in Anambra are more civilized in that they always ensure elections in the state are never settled by ballot (or bullets like in Rivers) but rather by the courts. But if you look at the cases, and the interventions of the judiciary on them, you get a sense that there is something untidy, especially since it would seem almost every politician in the state has his/her own court while judgements in most of the cases are almost always subject to interpretations and interpolations. And if examinations were set as to who was a Governor, Senator or House of Representatives member from/in Anambra State at a specific period, the likelihood is that students would fail!
At a point, Mr Peter Obi, who replaced Dr Chris Ngige (whose election was nullified after three years in office), was himself replaced by his deputy, Dame Virgy Etiaba, following a kangaroo impeachment. Obi went to court and was returned to office after which an election was held at a time he was again in court to argue that his tenure had not expired. Of course Dr. Andy Uba won that election in 2007 and was sworn in before he was removed 14 days later by the Supreme Court on grounds that Obi had not completed his tenure. That elicited several court cases with injunctions upon injunctions. But all those were in the past. Today, Anambra politics is back in the news and so is the judiciary as its “ambush tool”.

For those who may wonder why I know so much about Anambra, it is because early in 2007, I decided to write a book on politics in the state since I found it rather fascinating. But as it would happen, a few weeks after I started gathering materials, I got the Aso Rock appointment that put paid to the plan. I may return to the idea one day, in the light of all the current drama, including the musical chairs in the National Assembly.

Senator Uche Ekwunife recently lost her seat at the Court of Appeal on the strength of intra-party crisis and efforts to conduct a fresh election have been marred by several court cases. Between 2007 and 2011, Ikechukwu Abana was sacked by the court and replaced by Annie Okonkwo while Joy Emordi was also removed by the court and replaced by Alphonsus Igbeke, all in the Senate. Incidentally, the same Emordi had also replaced Emma Anosike in the previous Senate based on a judgment of the Court of Appeal before Margery Okadigbo also replaced John Emeka in the senate. The number of times House of Representatives seats had changed membership based on court orders in several constituencies within the state at different times is beyond ridiculous.

Meanwhile, the drama is not about to abate. To conduct a replacement for Ekwunife in the Senate has become a subject of several litigations. The All Progressive Congress (APC) wants to replace the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige who ran the election last year with Mrs Sharon Ikeazor while the PDP is plotting to present a fresh candidate in former Governor Obi who didn’t contest last year. I understand someone has already secured a court order from a Judge who, rather than go with the Supreme Court ruling on an already settled matter, relied on the dictionary meaning of the word “fresh” to rule that anybody can participate in a process called fresh election! Meanwhile, Chief Chris Uba, Chief Annie Okonkwo and Chief John Emeka are laying claims to the three senatorial seats.

While the logjam continues and INEC is in a bind, the Ejike Oguebego-led executive of the PDP in Anambra, recognized by Supreme Court ruling last month as the authentic leadership of the party in the state, is seeking other judicial reliefs. Ordinarily, by holding that the Oguebego executive remained the authentic leadership of the party in Anambra, the apex court was giving validity to the list submitted for election last year by this faction of the party. The implication of the ruling, which formed the kernel of media interpretation, was that Senators Andy Uba and Stella Oduah, as well as no fewer than nine House of Representatives members had lost their seats. But in refusing to make any declarative pronouncement following its verdict, Supreme Court has taken with its left hand what it gave with the right because Uba and Oduah cannot now be dislodged from the Senate and with that, Anambra politicians have again descended on the courts shopping for all manner of reliefs.

What the foregoing says clearly is that there is an interesting intersection between politics and the court in Anambra State but it did not start today. For instance, on 22 July 2003, Justice Samson Egbo-Egbo, at the instance of Hon. Eucharia Azodo, granted an ex-parte injunction asking Dr. Ngige to stop parading himself as Governor and hand over to his then deputy, Dr. Okey Udeh. Following the public outcry that greeted the said order, the Judge, a week later, “set the record straight” by denying making such order, putting the blame at the doorstep of the court registrar: “The order I made was not the one drawn up by the senior registrar. One would have expected him to lift the five orders I made.”

However, the then Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Chief Akin Olujimi, was convinced that Egbo-Egbo did make the order and he told the judge so clearly in court: “You have clarified the issue, but there would have been no need to ask the applicant to sign an indemnity if you have not granted an injunction”. Eventually, Egbo-Egbo was eased out of the bench but the judiciary is still replete with many judges like him.

However, like I stated earlier, I have always found Anambra politics interesting, right from 1998 when 17 aspirants jostled for the PDP gubernatorial ticket in the state. At the end of the deadline for payment of a scandalous non-refundable screening fee of N2.1 million imposed on each aspirant, only ten remained. When the primaries held, Prof. ABC Nwosu, who was then the party’s secretary in the state, was declared winner. The other nine aspirants, including a former Daily Times editor, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, cried foul, alleging that the then state chairman of the party, Chief J. A. Okonkwo, had already made up his mind as to whom he wanted to impose.

With that, the aspirants jointly petitioned the PDP National Exco which subsequently dissolved the State Exco, a request that was granted and a 24-man panel was sent from Abuja to conduct fresh gubernatorial primaries. But Okonkwo refused to give them the party’s register so as to frustrate the exercise which eventually produced Mbadinuju, who then enjoyed the support of two wealthy businessmen from the state, Sir Emeka Offor and Dr ABC Orjiakor. Meanwhile, this was happening at a time the submission of candidates’ lists to INEC had lapsed. Not surprisingly, that has been the story of Anambra State PDP at every election cycle since then–with different factions always submitting different lists to INEC after which the battle would shift to the courts immediately the elections were concluded.
Incidentally, Major General Bagudu Mamman (rtd) who conducted the 1998 primaries (which produced Prof ABC Nwosu) that was canceled had sent a rather instructive petition to the PDP secretariat. In the letter dated December 27, 1998 and addressed to the PDP National Electoral Appeal Panel, General Mamman wrote: “I am constrained to forward this letter to your committee in view of this decision reached to uphold the appeal forwarded by Dr. Mbadinuju, an aspirant at the just concluded primaries we conducted in Anambra state, and the implications your decision may have with respect to the overall performance of PDP in Anambra state, peoples welfare, peace and security of the PDP followership in the state…”

After making damaging allegations on how members of the PDP National Exco were collecting “bribes and gratifications” to manipulate the process, General Mamman now zeroed in on Mbadinuju: “For the avoidance of doubt, the complainant, Dr. Mbadinuju admitted buying result sheets in Abuja from the national secretariat for N1 million. Furthermore, the complainant admitted printing and forging results to win the primaries. The complainant offered bribes and inducement of up to N5 million to the National Electoral Panel (NEP), Anambra State which was out-rightly rejected.”

As if that was not disturbing enough, General Mamman added in his letter a self-incriminating statement: “The NEP Anambra viewed the exercise as an internal FAMILY AFFAIR (emphasis his) and decisive application of our powers to sanction Dr. Mbadinuju and his group would not be in the overall interest of the party in Anambra State, as the complainant lost the election despite the concessionary addition of 28,000 votes in his favour to save his face in his home local government as no election took place there, as I was physically present at Ihiala LG on the 21st December 1998.”

The pertinent question now is: How credible is an election which requires allocating bonus votes to candidates “to save face” in their respective home bases? But that is not even the issue here as Mamman ended his letter with what might have turned out a prophesy and this was in December 1998: “If by this action you are giving us an insight of the PDP substance and nature of leadership the PDP intends to offer Nigeria, then there is no hope for our country.”

Well, there is hope for our country because the people eventually replaced the PDP with “Change” even though a “Commonsense” Senator now claims Nigerians were probably being promised “Chains” without paying much attention to what some propagandists were saying. Whatever the case may be, it should worry all of us that in Anambra State, the PDP and the judiciary are enmeshed in a sordid dance of shame that appears to defy all the known rules of engagement in our fledgling democracy. But while the PDP leaders from Anambra would need to reflect on the nature of their politics which has become very disruptive to the peace and progress of the state and our country, it is also important for our judicial officers to understand that they are fast losing credibility by offering themselves as willing tools for desperate politicians.

Yesterday, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, confronted the Appeal Court Justices at their conference and he did not mince words: “The Court of Appeal, in one judicial division, ordered INEC to conduct fresh election ‘in which only the duly qualified candidates shall participate’. In another division, the Court of Appeal, under similar circumstances, nullified the election, disqualified the candidate and allowed the political party to submit the name of another candidate for the re-run election. Yet in another division, the Court of Appeal nullified the election and ordered INEC to conduct fresh election but is silent about the status of the disqualified candidate, thereby giving room for endless commentary and new rounds of litigation on the eligibility of the disqualified candidate to participate in re-run elections.”

Unfortunately, as damaging as Yakubu’s statement was, there is nothing he said that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, did not say when he spoke at the Annual Conference of the Court of Appeal in January this year. Justice Mahmud said: “As the guardians of the law, we must not only be just but also convey certainty in our justness…it bears reminding that the overriding objective of every legal system in the world is to do justice. However, this cannot be achieved where there is confusion as to the state of the law as pronounced by the court.”

On the conflicting judgements from the Court of Appeal, Justice Mohammed said: “As your lordships will agree, where an aggrieved person perceives, whether rightly or wrongly, that they will not receive justice, such a situation can indeed bode ill for the community in which he lives and can lead to acrimony and anarchy. We must not ignore the negative perception that is occasioned by conflicting judgments delivered at various divisions of the Court of Appeal. Such judicial contradictions only result in untold hardships to litigants in their quest for justice. They further cast your lordships in an unfavourable light and leave the judiciary at the mercy of innuendos, crass publications and editorials.”

Strong words from the CJN but they are not enough. Since the National Judicial Institute (NJI) has the mandate to train and educate, there is need to put in place a structure for the training and retraining of our judges. Beyond that, the National Judicial Council (NJC) will do well to beam its searchlight ‎on Judges, especially those who sit on electoral disputes. The NJC will also need to monitor high court judges, many of who willfully misinterprete judgments of the appellate courts thereby encouraging endless litigation. The message must be clear: While the politicians can afford to dance naked in the public arena, that is a luxury those who man the temple of justice in our country can ill-afford.

  • Mayo

    While acknowledging the fact that there is corruption in our Judiciary, equating the instructions by 3 Governors to their aides to contact ‘specific’ judges as proof of corruption is wrong. There is a common saying in statistics – Correlation does not imply causation – meaning the fact that A & B are seen together doesn’t mean A causes B. With time, legal practitioners get to know on which side a Judge leans. They get to know which Judges will always impose the maximum punishment available under the law and which ones will give the least or look for a work around because they believe in ‘2nd chances’, which Judges believe in a literal interpretation of the law versus those that believe the law moves with the times, they get to know which Judge will remember that the electoral act specifically said the court had no jurisdiction in that matter and so would order INEC to announce the results since the earlier court order was null and void. And so when they have an option to choose a Judge, they make choices based on this. This is similar to deciding which Judge to approach to sign a search warrant.

    Bottom line – the event that transpired in that hotel room is not conclusive enough to be adduced as evidence of corruption in the Judiciary. Why is this important? Getting the facts right is important because if you go to court based on the wrong deductions, the courts will throw out the case. This is the reason why the Supreme court can rule that Bode George was convicted for a crime that did not exist in our statutes at the time he was convicted.

    • share Idea

      Thanks very much for educating us and Segun that always tries to slant PDP and pretend that all the atrocities of APC especially at federal level does not require journalistic discussion.

      It is strange that Segun will still be have with scheme of things in the country under APC when you consider where the country was before their came onboard

    • Yemmie

      The author presented that scenario to actually attempt to absolve some judges of corruption. It wasn’t aimed as an evidence of corruption in the Judiciary. I guess we already have so many evidences of that already so he didn’t bother.

      • Mayo

        You are partially right. What happened is that a few sentences later, the writer said – ….However, the danger, as I pointed out in the past, is that in a society where you have a preponderance of Judges who can give out any court order (and definitely not for free),…., this goes back to implying it was done for money. In addition, Segun has written about this same incident before. Please note that I’m not saying there isn’t corruption in the Judiciary.

        • “Korede

          Segun only want readers to put their interpretations to that statements. I do not think you need to mention a particular jugde if the order is valid one. Any judge will grant the order if it is a valid one in Law. I think that is the latent message in Segun’s piece.

          • Mayo

            Generally, I agree with your statement ..I do not think you need to mention a particular jugde if the order is valid one.…. But sometimes, the law is not specific or the law gives options and leaves the final decision to the discretion of the Judge. Please see my response to @Hero below for a specific example.

    • Hero

      I can now conclude about your personalities as low IQ or alien in Nigeria. Must you contribute in everything? Rather than keep quiet you will just be criticizing without using your number 6. All your analysis on Judges are ruse. A judge should be sound in all ramification and as well be a person of integrity.

      • Mayo

        LOL. Read what you wrote and then decide between you and I, who has the low IQ. And, no, I didn’t criticize. I only suggested a different angle to Segun’s scenario.

        In case you don’t know, it is not uncommon to have multiple penalties of varying degree for the same offense. The presiding Judge then has discretion on which of them to apply. For example when the guy who stole billions from the Police Pension funds was charged the court, his offense had the following options as punishment, (A) jail term of 2 years (B) fine of 250,000 (C) both the 2 year jail term and fine of 250,000. There are Judges who will always impose the maximum penalty once there are options, and there are those who will pick the least. Over time, lawyers and prosecutors get to know which way a Judge leans and will try to get a Judge that ‘leans their way’. It is also quite possible for the Judge to be bribed.

  • John Paul

    The presidency and national assembly should enact legislation – ASAP – to clarify the place of card readers in our elections

    Card readers were dealt a heavy blow by the judiciary during the last election petition circle. Nigeria cannot afford to go into the 2019 elections with any ambiguity regarding the place of card readers in our elections

    We now have a deep pocket opposition – albeit with looted funds – so we need as many checks and balances as possible, in place, prior to the 2019 elections

  • Thompson Iyeye

    All these clearly point to a dysfunctional society called Nigeria that is corrupt and chaotic. It does not matter whether it is Anambra or Zamfara. The judiciary is simply a reflection of the society at large. These again are symptomatic of a structurally defective and deficient country. Restructure Nigeria and a lot will fall in place. The country will continue to sink until we take the step.

    • remm ieet

      The sad thing is that the same people who are benefiting from the chaos will not be prepared to restructure Nigeria. Unbeknown to most Nigerians the system of justice administration is overloaded due to the perennial of failure of Nigerians who have held strategic positions to plan for their country. This is why those who should not have been lawyers in the first place are adjudicating in sensitive issues and further complicating the governance process.

    • “Korede

      My own question on this restructuring Nigeria as the solution to our problem is

      Will the restructuring also change Nigerians holding political offices

      Will it automatically wipe out corruption?

      Will it make jobs available to the unemployed?

      Will it stop violence during elections?

      Will it put an end to crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping et al?

      I can go on and on.

      I am yet to know how it will become the magic wand that will solve all our problems.

      • KWOY

        In vain do the Hausa/Yoruba resist a change that is inevitable! We have gone beyond the level of these kinds of imbecilic arguments dropping out from your saliva-filled mouths

      • Thompson Iyeye

        There is no magic wand to mitigating these symptoms you mentioned. It is lazy to expect things to change automatically overnight. A people desirous of progress have got to invest the efforts it requires. We seem to want quick fixes for everything. It just does not work that way in real life.

        Restructuring will reduce the effects of these symptoms. It will not eliminate them completely. It is only in a utopian environment that all problems get solved.

  • Alhajivinco

    There is nothing wrong with different jurisdictions of the same court, like the Court of Apeal, giving varying judgements. That happens in the USA where the Circuit Courts of Appeal give conflicting judgements on similar issues and facts. What is important is that they base their decisions on law and fact and common sense. Not for reasons of gratification or other corrupt motive. It then becomes the duty of the Supreme Court to resolve the conflict(s).

    • BankyMons

      Well said.

    • 9jaRealist

      Abegi, tell them.

  • zimuzor

    Anambra state has had more Governors since 1999 than any other state. Check this out: Mbadinuju, Ngige, Obi, Etiaba, Uba, Obi and Obiano . This is a horribly high turn-over

    • BankyMons

      You don’t need to repeat Obi’s name just to drive home your point do you? Plus Anambra has performed extremely well between 1999 and now when compared to other states, why did you fail to point that out?

      • zimuzor

        The article was not a comparative analysis of the performance of states but a case study of Judicial black market. I did not repeat Obi’s name to drive home any point, I established the sequence of Governors in Anambra state since 1999. You may well do an article on the performance of states since 1999. I will be happy to read same

      • niaja niaja

        That is the point of this article by Segun; To illustrate how same facts are wildly viewed differently by judges resulting in this sequence of maladministration.

  • niaja niaja

    Segun! I have always been your fan and will always be. You have always provoked real intellectual dialogue through your articles before and after your sojourn at Aso Rock. I had opportunity to run into your during your stint at Harvard. I know many of us your fans have and always remember. I must confess, I admire commentators who respectfully disagree without insults and name calling on this page.

    The Nigerian judiciary is not in isolation compared to what obtains in even advanced democracy like the United States. Often times, a Republican or the party itself brings a political or ideological case to a right leaning judge to preside. That was the case in President Obama’s executive action on immigration and Affordable act. While Affordable Act was decided in the favor of Obama administration by the apex court, the executive action on immigration is still pending before the supreme court. That explains the fight on who become the next judge of the court.

    In our own case, Nigeria is a complex society where we have refused as people to allow sustainable growth in all facets of our nation. What the Nigerian politician in contemporary Nigeria resorted to is simply getting elected through every means possible. Every election is challenged from the lowest court to the highest court. Agbaje could have challenged the election in Lagos for “whatever” reason with the expectation of winning at one of the levels of our court system. The reverse was the case in Anambra then and Rivers of today.

    I rightly agree that the pronouncements of some lower courts projects the judiciary negatively, but the apex court time and time have gotten the interpretation of the law on point. Recent rulings in Anambra Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) state leadership crisis, Taraba governorship election bothering on PDP nominating process, Rivers state among others clearly show the apex adherence to clearly interpreting the law. Kogi state is another case the apex court will eventually overturn some months or years from now.

    Segun, as the fight on our national cancer; corruption gathers steam, the government and Nigerians must absolutely be prepared for appeals, appeals and appeals. It is part of the judicial process irrespective of our general view of what occurs outside the court.

  • KWOY

    You talk thrash a lot

  • Maigari

    Thanks Mr. Adeniyi for a well presented opinion. That said, however, may it time the NJC nay the Executive and the Legislators re-read the opinion of Justice Ayo Salami on the way the NJC is composed. I the current circumstances whoever is the CJN has the explicit power to decide the composition of the NJC and that is a negation of the principles on which the Judiciary should run. The Court Judges apparently have the autonomy to interpret evidence presented before them and with a “lackey” NJC perhaps that explains the seeming inability of the Judiciary to stand up and be counted on the administration of justice and act which only the Judiciary could deliver to Nigerians especially on the conduct of ours many a times convoluted elections and the electoral process itself.

  • Orlando

    The entire blame on the debacle in Anambra should be on the PDP national headquarters as they are ‘The Party’ or body recognized by INEC to submit names of candidates. Ejike Oguebego can win court cases all he wants but as long as the national headquarters continue to employ impunity in their dealings by corruptly submitting names that did not win elections, sometimes did not even participate, the courts will continue to be the battle ground to settle such problems and most often than not, without success but with conflict and confusion.

  • caltu

    Is there an avenue to take these conflicting pronouncements to the Supreme Court for a single interpretation that will guide the judiciary in such matters in future. No matter how we try, a loose law will always be subject to different interpretations, particularly for those who do not have justice , but to fill their pockets in mind. May be a good starting point is to enact quite specific laws with clear interpretation.

  • Oduche Azih

    I am an Anambrarian and I foolishly presumed that I am fairly well briefed about the very many twists and turns in the judicial saga that is politics of Anambra State. I have found myself disagreeing with Olusegun Adeniyi on other matters, but on this one I am compelled to express my profound agreement and gratitude. By the time I finished reading this current VERDICT, my head was spinning. Things have actually been much worse than I thought. Please Segun, you have to write that book.

  • American

    Segun, talking about judicial black market in Anambra, is ekiti’s case not worse than Anambra ? Direct your attention to ekiti state and come back to anambra thereafter. Thank you.