Anxiety across Nigeria over alleged plot to use judge to scuttle general elections

Former President, Goodluck Jonathan

There is widespread apprehension across Nigeria over suspicion that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was plotting to procure a judge of the Federal High Court to scuttle February’s general elections.

On Wednesday, a pro-democracy group, Movement for the Advancement of Democratic Progress, raised the alarm that certain anti-democratic forces were working to get a last-minute injunction to either postpone the polls or get the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Muhammadu Buhari, disqualified on flimsy grounds.

The group, in a release made available to PREMIUM TIMES, alleged that “agents loyal to the corridors of power have hatched a plan to use an Abuja Federal High Court under Justice Niyi Ademola to perpetrate the perfidious act”.

The group also alleged that the sum of N20bn has been budgeted to fund this anti-democratic project.

“The surreptitious act is akin to the event of 22 years ago when an anti-democratic group, the Association for Better Nigeria, ABN, aligned with the military junta of the day and an Abuja high court judge, Justice Bassey Ikpeme, to halt the June 12, 1993 poll barely 48 hours to the election,” the group said.

“A scenario similar to that of 1993 is being played up by agents of the federal government in Abuja, using anti-democratic forces that are now going to the courts under different names and guise to attempt to either get the election postponed on the grounds that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not ready or to get General Buhari disqualified “on flimsy excuses that can truncate our hard-earned democracy.”

The group’s statement came a day after the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, warned about a gathering of individuals with the sole objective of truncating the general elections, particularly the February 14 presidential poll.

“We want to call the attention of Nigerians and the International community to the repeated calls for the postponement of the forthcoming presidential election,” Garba Shehu, Director of the APC Presidential Campaign Organization, said on Tuesday.

“We do not have any difficulty to discern that these groups are working out the script of some agents in the ruling party.”

According to the pro-democracy group, the anti-democratic forces have perfected their plans to scuttle the election, as was done in 1993.

“Like they did 22 years ago, the anti-democratic forces have identified a judge of an Abuja high court, Justice Niyi Ademola, through whom they plan to grant the perfidious injunction,” the group said.

“Like Abimbola Davies of the inglorious ABN was used, another Yoruba man is being used this time around, who unfortunately is an ‘honourable’ member of the Bench. They have perfected yet another last-minute ambush on our democracy, just like they did in 1993, simply because the handwriting of an impending change in the country is crystal clear on the wall.”

The group claimed that Justice Ademola has become something of an easy target in the hands of those who do not appear to wish Nigeria well.

It alleged that the cases that sought to frustrate the defection of many of the federal lawmakers from the ruling party to the APC were taken to Mr. Ademola’s court, where agents of government and the ruling party had utmost confidence that their bidding would be done.

The release however added that the desperation of those who are afraid of losing the forthcoming elections had beclouded their judgement from appreciating the fact that things have changed significantly in Nigeria from what obtained in 1993.

“It is important to raise the alarm and sound a note of warning to those who are either afraid of free and fair elections or are blinded by filthy lucre that political awareness in the country has increased tremendously and the international community is watching.

“The already compromised judiciary cannot afford to have its name further dragged in the mud through the actions of one suspicious judge. He must be prevailed upon not to allow himself to be used to plunge Nigeria into unimaginable crises,” it stated.

The group, which insists that the mood of the country at the moment is unwavering about the need to proceed with the elections slated for February 14th and 28th, added that it was in possession of information about the reward being dangled at Justice Ademola if he does the bidding of his Abuja-based paymasters.

It claimed that it would, at the appropriate time, further expose the suspected judge by revealing the details of his illicit deal with “the agents of destabilization.”

The group urged every well-meaning Nigerian to raise their voices in lawful agitation against election postponement and to encourage INEC not to cave in under the enormous pressure of postponement that may not just further tarnish the image of the country but could also injure the peaceful coexistence of the federating units in Nigeria.

Judiciary under test

Close to 50 leading lawyers in the country, many of them in the velvet rank of the bar, have offered their services as volunteers to defend Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the APC, against whom a suit seeking his disqualification in the presidential election comes up on February 9 at the Federal High Court in Abuja.

There are two other suits against the former Head of State – a fresh suit, which is yet to be assigned to a judge, seeking an order declaring Mr. Buhari ineligible to contest the presidential election and a criminal suit before an Abuja Magistrate Court for allegedly claiming under oath that he possessed a certificate he did not obtain.

Director of Legal Services for the APC, Muiz Banire, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday that the call of volunteers is growing by the day many of whom include past presidents of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.

Mr. Banire, himself a law professor, would not open up on the legal strategy of the party but claimed that the current mood in the country today is “benumbing and mystifying, demanding of all citizens to watch and pray, but requiring of APC partisans to exercise extreme caution and restraint because forces determined to derail democracy are out in full throttle.”

The cases put the Nigerian judiciary again through a stress test, the type that, 22 years ago, led to the annulment of a popular presidential election of June 12 1993, from which the judiciary suffered its worse reputation as a partisan body in the history of the country.

In the case of June 1993, Justice Ikpeme, now late, on the eve of the June 12 elections, granted a controversial injunction, at the instance of a pro-military administration body, the Association of Better Nigeria, led by famous businessman, Arthur Nzeribe, and Mr. Davies, restraining the then electoral management body, National Electoral Commission, NEC, led by Humphrey Nwosu, from conducting the election.

The then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, latched on to the court order as a ground for annulling the election, even though the election was conducted due to popular uproar against the order.

General Babangida had argued that there was a subsisting order restraining the holding of the election when it was held.
The current case against Mr. Buhari comes up next Monday for mention before the courts of Justice Ademola, making him the man with an unusually challenging task of determining the course of democratic consolidation in Nigeria today.
Last Tuesday, the judge granted an order for court documents to be served on Mr. Buhari through newspaper publications.

A judge and his cases

Mr. Ademola, a judge at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, is a man who has traversed a checkered landscape of praise and contention in his judicial pronouncements, and the Buhari case is going to elicit even wider commentary on his career.

He practiced in Lagos as a lawyer before his elevation to the Bench some years back, at a point, serving as the Secretary-General of the Lagos Branch of the NBA.

The third line in three generations of judges, Mr. Ademola’s grandfather, Adetokunbo Ademola, was appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria, by the departing British administration in 1958, and served in that position until his retirement in 1972. His father, Hon. Justice Adenekan Ademola, rose to the Federal Court of Appeal, as it was then called before his retirement.

Those who are informed about his rise to the Bench said that Mr. Ademola fought very hard to be appointed a Judge in the Lagos State Judiciary, in 2001, under the Bola Tinubu Administration, but his application failed on presumed “integrity issues.”

At that time, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, now the Vice Presidential candidate of the APC, was the Attorney General of Lagos State.

Many familiar with his story claimed shock when, eventually, he was made a Judge of the Federal High Court some years later.

Legal and judicial minds are intrigued that Justices Adeniyi Ademola and Abdul Kafarati – the latter of whom various groups have called for his investigation by the NJC – are two recurring decimals whenever Administration cases come up for consideration. They both also appear to enjoy the trust and confidence of the leadership of the Federal High Court system.

If the orders to put the election on hold, restrain INEC from putting the APC candidate on the ballot, on ground of alleged non-production of certificate or otherwise truncate the pools are made, Justice Ademola will be swimming into the very eye of the emerging political storm in the country which many commentators have suggested is an agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

A case review of Justice Ademola’s ouvre reveals a mixed bag of strong libertarian tenor and a mainstream conservative predilection.

Last year alone, he ruled against INEC’s power to ban political parties and in that process freeing the bandwidth of political choices available to citizens through political associations. Yet he was also the judge who determined that 37 defecting PDP legislators had to first vacate their seats, a ruling that was pooh-poohed because he was thought to have gone beyond his brief in his ruling.

The case before the judge was whether the opposition APC with a new numerical advantage in parliament had the right to effect changes in the House leadership.

Last October, lawyers to the acting governor of Adamawa state, asked the National Judicial Council to investigate Justice Ademola for refusing to furnish them with copies of his judgement, and in June of 2014, he was thought to have handled a controversial bail judgement for Dr. Sani Shaibu, the Director of Pension Accounts in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service.

Dr. Shaibu who was on trial over missing N5.7 billion pension funds, accused the judge of serial bribe solicitations through proxies as a condition to sign the bail papers. The judge later told the National Mirror newspaper in an interview that he had answered the query.

Whatever way he rules on the Buhari case however, echoes of a family history will also ring again because his family pedigree is not alien to controversy and accusation of partisanship.

In his book, My March Through Prison, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, erstwhile Premier of Western Nigeria, recounted the role played by CJN (Chief Justice of Nigeria) Ademola in fighting him politically, even as a Judicial Officer, and in the manipulation of the Judiciary, including the reshuffling the Lagos Judiciary, in order to ensure that a Judge that was sympathetic to the NPC and NCNC Coalition was appointed to preside over his treasonable felony trial, all to ensure that he was jailed at all costs.

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