2020: Cases, events that shaped judiciary during pandemic

2020: Cases, events that shaped judiciary during pandemic

Imo govt saves N300m by sacking pension consultant

Like every other segment of the society, the justice sector faced an unprecedented challenge in 2020 with the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In this edition of Law and Human Rights, we, examine some events and cases that formed talking points for the judiciary in 2020.

By Henry Ojelu & Onozure Dania

Court sacks Ihedioha, Lyon

The year 2020 began in the justice sector with the shocking sack of former Imo State governor, Emeka Ihedioha and Bayelsa State governor-elect David Lyon by the Supreme Court. The apex court declared Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the state. In the unanimous judgment of the seven-member panel, read by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the apex court agreed that results in 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded during the collation of the final governorship election result in Imo State.

Justice Kekere-Ekun said with the results from the 388 polling units added, Mr Uzodinma pulled a majority of the lawful votes and ought to have been declared the winner of the election by INEC.

In the case of Lyon, a five-member panel of the apex court led by Justice Mary Odili nullified his election on the grounds that his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, presented false information to INEC in aid of his qualification for the November 16 governorship election in State. The apex court consequently ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Messrs Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo.

CJN suspends court sitting

In the wake of the restriction of movement imposed by the federal government to tackle the spread of Covid-19, the Chief Justice of the Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad for the first in the history of the judiciary issued a directive suspending all court sittings across the country. Matters that are urgent, essential or time-bound according to extant laws were however exempted. The initial two weeks directive was later renewed with instruction to all courts to abide by Covid-19 prevention measures.

Virtual court proceedings

In keeping with COVID-19 social distancing directive by the CJN, the Lagos State Judiciary spearheaded the first-ever virtual court proceeding in the country.

Led by the Chief Judge, Justice Kazeem Alogba, the state judiciary held its first virtual court sitting on May 4, 2020. Justice Mojisola Dada, a Lagos State Judge, delivered judgment in the criminal trial of the State against Olalekan Hammed.

The proceedings began at 11 am and had a lot of judges and lawyers watching at different locations. Some judges who partook in the proceedings include Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye, Justice Josephine Oyefeso, Justice Sherifat Solebo, Justice Afeez Dabiri.

Other participants from the bar include the State’s Attorney General & Minister of Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), the prosecutor, Ms Titilayo Shitta-Bey, and some senior advocates like Funke Adekoya, Tayo Oyetibo, Olukayode Enitan amongst others.

Supreme Court nullifies Uzor Kalu’s conviction

Nigerians who had presumed that the war against corruption was gaining traction with the conviction of former Abia State governor and member of the ruling party, Orji Uzor Kalu, were shocked in May when the Supreme Court, nullified the judgment of a lower court that convicted and sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment.

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The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a seven-man panel of Justices led by Justice Amina Augie, held that the Federal High Court in Lagos acted without jurisdiction when it convicted Kalu, his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and former Director of Finance in Abia State, Jones Udeogu.

It held that trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, was no longer a judge of the Federal High Court as at the time he sat and delivered the judgment that convicted the defendants for allegedly stealing about N7.1billion from Abia state treasury. The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has now fixed February 15, 2021, for the commencement of the retrial.

Metuh’s conviction, reversal

After four years of fainting drama in court, former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh was on February 25, 2020, sentenced to seven years in prison over allegation of receiving N400million from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) in 2014.

On February 5, 2018, Metuh appeared in court on a stretcher after Justice Abang ruled that he would have his bail revoked if he didn’t show up for the continuation of his trial. Again on March 14, 2018, Metuh appeared in court on a wheelchair. On May 21, 2018, he collapsed while making his way to the dock for cross-examination.

His conviction was, however, upturned this month by the Court of Appeal. A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, in a unanimous judgment, held that Metuh and Destra’s trial before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court was tainted with elements of bias and prejudice against the defendants.

Justice Stephen Adah, who read the lead judgments in both appeals, said from the record of proceedings, it was evident that the judge portrayed himself as someone who had an axe to grind with the defendants and his team of lawyers. No new date has been fixed for the retrial.

Army General convicted for stealing

On June 16, 2020, a Special Army Court Martial, headed by the army’s chief of policy and plans, Lamidi Adeosun, found former General Officer Commanding (GOC) 8 Division Sokoto, Major General Hakeem Otiki, guilty of stealing public property, diverting operational money, engaging in private businesses and disobedience to service orders, The tribunal ordered that he should be demoted from major general to brigadier general and dismissed, he also came in a wheelchair, for the hearing of the army court-martial.

Akpata emerges NBA President

On July 30, Mr Olumide Akpata, emerged winner of the Nigerian Bar Association’s (NBA) national elections, after defeating two other contestants who are Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs). The win made him the NBA’s first non-SAN President in years. But it was not without crisis, from some Senior Advocates of Nigeria and the body of SANs, who felt the NBA president should only remain with the SANs.

Akpata won the election with a total of 9,891 votes of the total 18,256 ballots cast, while his closest rival, Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) polled 4,328 votes and Dele Adesina (SAN) polled 3,982 votes.

Akpata’s decision to contest for the position was initially met with mixed reactions. However, tweets and other posts seen across various social media platforms suggest that he has managed to meaningfully captivate/appeal to the conscience of the young lawyers who, interestingly, make up the majority of NBA membership.

NBA splits

The dis-invitation of Kaduna Governor, Nasir El-Rufai by the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) as a speaker at its August annual general conference began messy as a splinter group, New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA), emerged.

Shortly after the controversial election of the new NBA leadership, the dis-invitation of El-Rufai, to the NBA conference as a guest speaker, sparked more crisis in the association.

In less than a week after the announcement of its creation, one of the conveners of the New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA), Abdulbasit Suleiman, claimed 5,000 lawyers had already subscribed to the membership of the NNBA.

The matter was however settled with the intervention of stakeholders from the bar and bench.

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On August 7, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari assented into law, the Companies and Allied Matters (CAMA) bill into law. The new law introduced new provisions to reflect modern commercial realities as well as reduce compliance costs and regulatory hurdles for businesses in Nigeria.

However, a lot of controversies trailed the passing of the bill. While some saw it as a welcome idea, others saw it as a move by the government to gag the church.

The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, and other religious bodies which have traditionally promoted the principle of “separation of the Church and the State”, believe that it gives the government the power to manipulate the law against its core interests and values.

Also, a prominent advocacy group, the Social and Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, asked the government to rescind assent to the law and send it back to the National Assembly to delete its “repressive” provisions. It threatened to sue if its requests are ignored.

Supreme Court gets 8 new Justices

After years of clamour for more Justices to be appointed to the Supreme Court to aid the speedy dispensation of cases, President Muhammadu Buhari in November approved the recommendation by the National Judicial Council for the appointment of eight justices.

The justices sworn-in were Lawal Garba, (North West), Helen Ogunwumiju (South West), Abdu Aboki (North West), and M M Saulawa (North West). Others are, Adamu Jauro (North East), Samuel Oseji (South-South), Tijani Abubakar (North East), and Emmanuel Agim (South-South). Their elevation has increased the number of justices on the apex court bench from 12 to 20.

Maina slumps in court

There was a mild drama on December 10, 2020, when the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Taskforce Team, Abulrasheed Maina, collapsed before the Federal High Court in Abuja, during the resumed hearing of the 12-count money laundering charge, filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Maina, who is facing trial alongside his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Limited, slumped beside the dock where he was permitted to sit by the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang. The court had initially issued a warrant for his arrest after he absconded to Ghana.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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