Law News
A review of the justice sector in 2014
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed

Judiciary autonomy

The January 13, 2014 judgment of Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja upholding independence and financial autonomy for the judiciary at both the federal and state levels was easily one of the most striking or landmark judgments of the year just concluded.

Observers described it as a judgment rightly pronounced to bring to an end an apparent violation of the Constitution that had gone unchallenged for many years.

But it was also one judgment that had troubled the hitherto quiet waters of the judiciary and seen the system bogged down in conflicts in 2014 as its enforcement had proven almost impossible.

It would be recalled that in a bid to compel government at all levels to abide by the court’s judgment, judiciary workers under the aegis of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria had made several threats and indeed embarked on industrial actions and picketed courts across the federation more than once last year.

In the latest development, the JUSUN leadership, through its President, Marwan Adamu, has given another directive to its members across the nation to resume the suspended strike since January 2, 2015. An end remains to be seen of the protracted imbroglio, which began last year and spilled into the new year, flowing from the said court judgment.

Rivers State crisis

The year 2014 would also not be easily forgotten by litigants, legal practitioners, judiciary workers and every other stakeholder in the Rivers State judiciary, where activities are currently totally paralysed.

The crisis that had its root cause in 2013 came to a head in 2014 when the National Judicial Council suspended Justice Peter Agumagu on March 26, 2014 after he was sworn in on March 18, 2014 as the substantive Chief Judge of Rivers State.

Apart from suspending Agumagu as the CJ, the NJC also issued a query on him, asking him to explain within four days why he should not be punished for submitting himself to be sworn in as the CJ of Rivers State, when he had not been recommended by the NJC.

But Agumagu’s hurried swearing in by Governor Rotimi Amaechi was premised on a judgment delivered by Justice Lambo Akanbi of a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt on the same March 18, 2014.

Akanbi, in the suit numbered FHC/PH/S/421/2013, had nullified the NJC’s recommendation of Justice Daisy Okocha (arguably the most senior judge in the state) for the seat of the Rivers State CJ, thus paving the way for the swearing in of Agumagu, said to be Amaechi’s preferred candidate.

Quite ironically, Justice Akanbi had earlier on February 19, 2014 declared Agumagu’s appointment as Acting CJ of the state unconstitutional.

This was in a suit marked FHC/PH/CS/358/2013 filed by three individuals – Boma Goodhead, Ajeyante Samuel and Kengema Unity Forum- asking for a declaration that Agumagu, not being a judge of the High Court, could not act as the CJ of the state.

That was after Amaechi had earlier appointed Agumagu to act as the CJ following the retirement of Justice Iche Ndu on August 20, 2013.

Currently, there is an ongoing legal battle between Agumagu and the NJC.

There are also pending before the Court of Appeal, the five and six grounds notices of appeal filed by Justice Okocha and the NJC respectively, against the judgment of Justice Akanbi, validating Agumagu’s appointment as substantive CJ of Rivers State.

Ekiti desecration

The memory of the year 2014 will not be complete until mention has been made of the September desecration of the judicial temple in Ekiti State in the hands of politicians.

Specifically on September 25, and weeks after Governor Ayodele Fayose scored victory at the June 21 governorship election in Ekiti State, persons believed to be political thugs had reportedly besieged the Ekiti State High Court in Ado Ekiti, venue of an Election Petitions Tribunal, where Fayose’s victory at the polls was being challenged by the unseated Governor Kayode Fayemi and the All Progressives Congress.

While the presiding judge in the matter, Justice John Adeyeye, was beaten up and his suit torn into shreds, record books belonging to the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Ayodeji Daramola, were equally torn by the political hoodlums.

The September 25 incident was preceded by a similar development three days earlier, when thugs stormed the venue of an Election Petitions Tribunal, where Fayose’s eligibility to stand for the election, which he had already won, was being challenged.

The presiding judge in the tribunal, Justice Olusegun Ogunyemi, had to be ferried to away to safety, while hoodlums hijacked the proceedings and aborted the court’s sitting.

The September 25 attack forced the CJ to shut down all the state-owned courts.

Sanusi vs Federal Government

On April 3, 2014 Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Lagos Federal High Court entered judgment in favour of a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi against the Federal Government and its agents, over unlawful detention and seizure of Sanusi’s passport by the Department of State Service.

Buba had awarded a cost of N50m in favour of Sanusi against the respondents in addition to an order compelling the FG to tender a public apology to him.

In a related development, on May 12, 2014, Justice James Tsoho of the Lagos Federal High Court also restrained the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria from investigating allegations of financial recklessness levelled against Sanusi after his suspension as the CBN Governor.

FG and Abacha’s N446.3bn theft case

The Federal Government, through the office the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, on June 19, withdrew a nine-count of N446.3bn theft against the son of the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, Mohammed Abacha.

Abacha had been accused of unlawfully receiving about N446.3bn allegedly stolen from the coffers of the Federal Government between 1995 and 1998.

But on June 19, Adoke said the charges were withdrawn following the “emergence of some fresh facts in the matter.”

Suspected killers of Funsho Williams freed

On June 30, 2014, Justice Ebenezer Adebajo (retd.) of the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere discharged and acquitted the six persons accused of killing a one-time Lagos State governorship aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Funsho Williams.

Williams was murdered in cold blood on July 27, 2006 in his house at Corporation Drive, Dolphin Estate.

The men accused of killing him were Bulama Kolo, Musa Maina, David Cassidy, Tunani Sononani, Mustapha Kayode and Okponmwasa Imariabie.

But after six years of trial, Adebajo finally set them free due to the failure of the prosecution to establish a prima facie case against them.

Bamidele Aturu’s death

On July 9, 2014, Lagos-based lawyer and rights activist, Bamidele Aturu, died at the age of 49 at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital in Lagos after a brief illness.

Aturu distinguished himself by identifying with the masses as exemplified when the Lagos State Government banned commercial motorcycles, popularly called okada from operating in the state.

He was also noted for representing popular Yoruba actor, Babatunde Omidina ( Baba Suwe), in 2011 when he was arrested by the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency for allegedly trafficking cocaine.

Alegeh elected 27th NBA President

On July 27, 2014, Mr. Augustine Alegeh was elected the 27th president of the Nigerian Bar Association after polling 691 out of a total votes of 1459 shared among five candidates in an election that held in Abuja.

The 50-year-old indigene of Ikabigbo in Etsako Local Government Area of Edo State was sworn in Owerri, Imo State during the NBA’s annual conference held between August 25 and 26.

Justice Atilade succeeds sister as Lagos CJ

Justice Oluwafunmilayo Atilade was on August 20 sworn in as the Chief Judge of Lagos State to succeed her blood sister, Justice Ayotunde Phillips who held the office till her retirement on July 26.

EFCC loses N600m money laundering case against Ikuforiji

On September 26, 2014, a Federal High Court in Lagos dismissed 56 counts of money laundering against the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji and his aide, Oyebode Atoyebi.

Before they were discharged by Justice Ibrahim Buba, the two had stood trial for nearly four years by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which charged them with money laundering to the tune of about N600m.

But Justice Buba set them free for the failure of the EFCC to prove the allegations.

Okey Wali’s abduction

On October 11, 2014, the immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Okey Wali, SAN was abducted by unknown gunmen in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.

He was however released unhurt 13 days after.

EFCC withdraws $1.69m fraud charges against Ajudua

On October 16, 2014, the EFCC withdrew an allegation of $1.69m it brought against an alleged serial fraudster Fred Ajudua and one Charles Orie.

The two men, who had been on trial for the alleged offence since 2003, were discharged by Justice Kudirat Jose of the Ikeja Lagos State High Court after the EFCC had said it became impossible to bring its principal witnesses, who are foreigners, to court to testify against the accused.

In a similar development, the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal on November 14 admitted Ajudua to N10m bail and gave him permission to travel abroad for medical treatment.

The appellate court’s judgment had overruled the decision of Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye of the Ikeja Lagos State High Court, where Ajudua was standing trial for allegedly defrauding a former Chief of Army State, Lt-Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi (retd.) to the tune of $8.3m.

Justice Aloma Mukhtar retires as CJN

On November 20, 2014, Justice Aloma Mukhtar bowed out of office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria following her attainment of the statutory retirement age of 70 years.

Mukhtar was the 14th Chief Justice of Nigeria and the 13th indigenous CJN. The first female CJN hails from Kano State as stayed in the office for a period of two years.

She was succeeded by Justice Mahmud Mohammed who hails from Taraba State.

Obasanjo’s contempt case

On December 5, 2014, Justice Valentine Ashi of an Abuja High Court sitting in Wuse Zone 2, restrained former President Olusegun Obasanjo from publishing his autobiography titled, My Watch.

However, on December 9, Obasanjo went ahead to present the said book publicly in Lagos, leading to the judge asking security agents, including the police and operatives of the Department of State Service, to confiscate the book from all stands.

The former President was also given 21 days within which to explain why he should not be punished for flouting the court order.

But Obasanjo through his legal team, led by Gboyega Oyewole, filed an appeal challenging the confiscation order.

Court quashes proposed probe of Alison-Madueke

On December 17, Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja voided two separate summons issued by the House of Representative on the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, inviting her for interrogation for allegedly squandering N10bn of public funds to charter jet for unofficial purposes.

Appeal court stops Akingbola’s N47.5bn theft trial

The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal on December 31, stopped the EFCC from going ahead with the trial of a former Managing Director of the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc, Erastus Akingbola, accused of stealing N47.5bn belonging to the bank.

Justices Amina Augie, Samuel Oseji and Abimbola Obaseki-Adejumo quashed the 22 counts against Akingbola and his co-accused Bayo Dada, on the grounds that the charges before the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja amounted to abuse of court processes.

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