The Nigerian judiciary and justice sector kicked off in 2019 and ended with controversial cases that attracted national and even international attention.
The election year saw political and other developments that shook the judiciary with unprecedented occurrences, such as the controversial retirement of former Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, the trial of fugitive former pension boss, Abdulrasheed Maina, the arrests and release of political activist, Omoyele Sowore with another political prisoner, Sambo Dasuki.
Mr Dasuki, a former National Security Adviser was released after four years in illegal detention. Also, the sentencing of a former Abia State governor and senator of the federal republic, Orji Uzo-Kalu, after over 12 years of trial and the prosecution of alleged culprits in the controversial Process and Industrial Company contract with Nigeria are a few of these cases.
PREMIUM TIMES reviews a few.
Confirmed Chief Justice of Nigeria in March 2017, Mr Onnoghen was billed to officially retire in December 2020, after reaching the compulsory retirement age of 70 years.
Mr Onnoghen was born on December 22, 1950.
On January 10, however, the Nigerian government filed charges against Mr Onnoghen, accusing him of omitting a series of bank accounts, bearing local and foreign currencies and domiciled with the Standard Chartered Bank branch in Abuja in his asset declaration form.
The bureau also accused Mr Onnoghen of delaying his declaration of assets and only complying with the requirements after a raid of judges’ residences by operatives of the State Security Service in 2016.
On January 25, the Presidency announced Mr Onnoghen’s suspension following an order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal in its secret chambers and his replacement by Justice Muhammad Tanko who hails from Mr Buhari’s northern region of the country.
Mr Onnoghen later retired from office as CJN on April 5 following a recommendation by the National Judicial Council, which initially kept quiet.
A month after his retirement, the Court of Appeal decided on several applications by Mr Onnoghen against his suspension, after pending the decisions for almost three months. The appellate court condemned the events that preceded Mr Onnoghen’s suspension, but failed to nullify the suspension.
Atiku’s election petition
Also as a fallout of the general elections, at least four presidential candidates proceeded to the election tribunal, challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the polls.
The candidates were: Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party; Ambrose Owuru of the Hope Democratic Party; Aminchi Habu of the Peoples Democratic Movement, and a fourth petition by the Coalition for change which was later withdrawn following an internal crisis in the party.
Prominent among the petitioners was that of Mr Abubakar who accused the ruling All Progressives Congress of tampering with the electronic servers allegedly used to compile the results.
The electoral body, INEC, had declared Mr Buhari the winner of the election with 15,191,847 votes, and Abubakar as the first runner-up polled 11,262,978 votes.
Mr Abubakar, however, alleged widespread election malpractice and that he defeated Mr Bubari with over a million votes. Mr Atiku’s petition against the incumbent was premised on five grounds including the allegation that Mr Buhari was not educationally qualified to contest the elections.
On September 11, the tribunal dismissed Mr Abubakar’s petition after deciding that he failed to prove his case in all the grounds upon which the petition was brought.
The apex court said Mr Abubakar ought to have presented at least 250,000 witnesses to prove his case, ”rather than the 62 witnesses he presented at the tribunal”.
Similarly, the case of the detained political activist and publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore made headlines.
Mr Sowore who contested for President under the platform of the Africa Action Congress, was arrested on August 3, after planning a nation-wide anti-government protest with the hashtag: #RevelutionNow.
The government accused Mr Sowore of a treasonable felony for allegedly “plotting the protest to overthrow the democratically elected President.”
After repeated court orders for Mr Sowore’s release, without compliance by the government, the justice minister, Abubakar Malami, wrote the State Security Service on December 24 asking them to allow the defendant enjoy his bail.
Mr Sowore was released hours later, alongside Mr Dasuki who had been held by the government for four years, since December 2015 on allegations he diverted $2.1 billion meant for the war against terror while he served as NSA.
Yet in the letter written to the SSS by Mr Malami, the minister said the government may challenge the bail granted to the released defendants.
Also in August, a Court in Kaduna state granted medical bail to the detained leader of the Shiite Islamic Movement, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenah.
Mr El-Zazaky has been detained by security operatives since December 2015 after a clash between his Shiite group and the Nigerian army resulted in the death of hundreds of Shiite members in Zaria, Kaduna State.
In December 2016, the court ordered the unconditional release of Mr El-Zakzaky and his detained wife, Zeenah, within 45 days from the date of the order December 2.
The government refused to comply with that directive and only arraigned him for alleged murder after protests for his release increased in May 2018.
In a related application before they were released for the trip, the Kaduna State government listed seven conditions expected to be met before Mr El-Zakzaky would be allowed to travel.
The defendant, however, embarked upon his trip on August 12 and returned shortly after, with complaints that the federal government mounted heavy security at the hospital ”and did not allow him to be treated by trusted medical doctors”.
Mr El-Zazaky is still held by the SSS.
Also in October, the Nigerian government, through the EFCC began the prosecution of former pension Boss, Abdulrasheed Maina for his alleged involvement in the diversion of N100 billion pension fund.
Mr Maina had disappeared in 2012 after he was declared wanted by police for allegedly diverting the money while he served as the head of the pension reform task team.
Mr Maina was in 2013 dismissed by the Federal Civil Service Commission following a recommendation by the Office of the Head of Service.
On July 21, 2015, Mr Maina was taken to court with a former head of service, Stephen Oronsaye, and other accused persons by the EFCC on 24 charges for the alleged diversion
While Mr Oronsaye and the two others involved in the case appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the charges, Mr Maina remained at large.
In 2017, Mr Maina was briefly reinstated in a set of events that sparked off widespread criticism of the Buhari administration.
The government revoked the appointment while Mr Maina remained wanted till he was apprehended and charged to court in a separate trial by the Commission, last October.
Mr Maina’s son, Faisal, is also being prosecuted in a separate trial by the Federal High court for his involvement in the alleged diversion.
In September, the Nigerian Government began the trial of suspects involved in the controversial contract between the country and Irish firm, Process and Industrial Company (P&ID).
The trials were initiated by the EFCC following its investigations into the controversial contract which resulted in a $6.6 billion arbitration award against Nigeria in 2013.
The contract for gas supply and processing (GSPA) was signed by the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and P&ID.
The company was to build gas processing facilities around Calabar, Cross River State, and the government was to supply wet gas up to 400 million standard cubic feet per day.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the agreement was designed to fail as key elements necessary for its success were missing
The arbitration award of $6.6 billion, rejected by the government, grew to $8.9 billion with an additional $2.3 billion in accumulated interest at 7 per cent rate per annum following Nigerian government’s refusal to enter an appeal for over five years.
As part of measures to push forth its objection against the trial, the Nigerian government in September 2019 arraigned a former Director, Legal Services, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Grace Taiga, and two others in separate trials related to the contract in Nigerian courts.
The two others: Muhammad Kuchazi: a commercial director of P&ID, and Adamu Usman, a director of the company in Nigeria, pleaded guilty to the 11 counts of fraudulent involvement in the contract and were directed to forfeit the assets of the agencies they represented.
On September 29, the Nigerian government secured a stay of execution, preventing the implementation of the judgment.
The judge, however, ordered Nigeria to deposit $200 million in the court’s account within 60 days pending its appeal.
In September, a Lagos Division of the Federal High Court sentenced Mr Kalu, a serving Nigerian senator representing Abia State to jail after finding him guilty of N7.65 billion fraud.
Mr Kalu was taken to court in 2007 by the EFCC after the commission accused him of abusing his office, then as governor of Abia.
Mr Kalu was tried alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Udeh Udeogu, who was Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House during Mr Kalu’s tenure as governor.
In an amended 39 counts charge, they were accused by the EFCC of conspiring and diverting over N7 billion from the coffers of the state.
The court presided over by Justice Mohammed Idris also ordered that Mr Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited be wounded up and all assets forfeited to the federal government.