By Bolaji Adebiyi in Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has directed the Chief of Judge of Sokoto State, Justice Bello Abbas, to promptly investigate two petitions by Malam Hassan Danbaba and his lawyer, Mr. Yusuf Dankofa, alleging gross misconduct by Justice Umar Sifawa of Sharia Court 1, Sokoto.
In a letter dated April 28, 2017 and signed by the Secretary of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Mr. Danladi Halilu, the CJN directed the Sokoto CJ to ensure that the Sokoto State Judicial Service Commission took necessary action on the petition.
Danbaba, a grandson of the late Sardauna Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, had filed the petition dated March 24, 2017, complaining that Sifawa mocked the Sharia court system in Sokoto State in a suit between him and the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Vice Chairman (North-West), Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir.
Sifawa had while ruling on a motion filed by Abdulkadir, who sued Danbaba for alleged defamation of character, issued a warrant of arrest against Danbaba.
But Danbaba filed a notice of appeal on the grounds that the court erred by issuing a summon on March 13 and March 22, 2017 giving him only two days to appear before it for his defence.
He also filed a motion on notice praying for the stay of the courtâ€™s proceedings, pending the determination of his appeal at the state High Court and asserted that the Sharia court breached his right to fair hearing and fair trial.
Temporary relief came his way, when Justice Malami Daji of the Sokoto State High Court ordered that all actions relating to the criminal charge against Danbaba at the Upper Sharia Court 1 be stayed, pending the determination of his suit against the Upper Sharia Court and Abdulkadir.
The presiding judge adjourned the matter to April 18, 2017.
Danbabaâ€™s case in the petition filed on his behalf by his counsel, Dankofa, and also addressed to the Grand Khadi of Sokoto State was that he was wrongfully served a criminal summons through a proxy to appear at the Sokoto Upper Area Sharia Court to answer to allegations levelled against him by Abdulkadir.
He complained in the petition: â€œSir without fair hearing, the court sat and out of manifest bias issued a bench warrant against our client when the judge knew that there were pending applications challenging his jurisdiction and that a date had already been given by the court for all parties to appear.â€
Danbabaâ€™s lawyer further outlined his grievance: â€œSir, our client was wrongfully served a criminal summons through proxy to appear before the above court to answer to some allegations levelled against him by the complainant. He was served and given two days to appear before the court.
â€œUpon the receipt of the said summons, we filed a notice of preliminary objection challenging the proprietary of the summons as a gross violation of section 36(6)(b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended which provides that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and that since the accused was not even served personally, the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter and that the court should in that circumstances strike out the case.
â€œSir, we were in court on March 16, 2017, to argue our preliminary objection having filed and served the complainant. On that day, neither the complainant nor his solicitor was in court and the senior judge who came in at 10a.m. told us that his colleague who would preside over our case sent words to him that he will not be sitting and as such we should take a date. Upon telling the court that we came in from outside jurisdiction, one of the registrars of the court was called upon to give us date and we took March 30, 2017 as the next adjourned date. This is in the records of the court.â€