BY ROTIMI DUROJAIYE
According to Justice Samson Uwaifo, a retired justice of Nigeria’s Supreme Court, “a corrupt judge is more harmful to the society than a man who runs amok with a dagger in a crowded street. While the man with the dagger can be restrained physically, a corrupt judge deliberately destroys the foundation of society.”
The Nigerian Bar Association has formally requested the police and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission to probe and prosecute former Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa for the perversion of justice.
This followed Bulkachuwa’s confession of influencing the decisions of his wife, Zainab Bulkachuwa, while she was serving as the President of the Court of Appeal.
Bulkachuwa, an All Progressives Congress Senator between June 2015 and June 2023, confessed on June 10, 2023, boasting about how he, on different occasions, influenced his wife’s decisions to the advantage of many of his colleagues in the Senate.
He said this during the valedictory session of the 9th Senate.
In the NBA’s first reaction to the comments on Wednesday, NBA president, Yakubu Maikyau, called for the probe and prosecution of Bulkachuwa by the ICPC and the police.
Later on Thursday, Maikyau said in a new statement that he had kept his vow to formally write to the ICPC and the Inspector General of Police to take up the case against the former Senator.
“Further to my Statement of 14 June 2023, I wish to inform you that I have, today, written letters to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), requesting for the immediate investigation and prosecution of Senator Adamu Muhammad Bulkachuwa for the admissions/confessions he made in his valedictory remarks,” Maikyau said.
“And I must thank particularly, my wife, whose freedom and independence I encroached upon while she was in office, and she has been very tolerant and accepted my encroachment, and extended her help to my colleagues”
Maikyau, who promised to give updates “on further developments in the matter,” restated NBA’s avowed commitment to “continue with our fight for the enthronement of the rule of law and the defence of the integrity and independence of the Judiciary in Nigeria.”
The NBA president had said on Wednesday that Bulkachuwa’s claim of helping his colleagues to influence the decisions of his wife during her time as the Court of Appeal president “were clearly admissions by the Senator, that he did attempt to, and/or actually perverted the course of justice/interfered with due administration of justice.”
This, Maikyau noted, “makes him liable to be investigated and prosecuted even on his admission.”
The NBA’s reaction came four days after Bulkachuwa confessed during the valedictory session of the 9th session.
The 41-minute video clip, which emerged on the Internet on Monday, showed Bulkachuwa, who failed to secure a re-election to the Senate, saying to his colleagues, “I look at faces in this chamber that have come to me and sought for my help when my wife was the President of the Court of Appeal.”
Former Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, who presided over the valedictory proceedings, shocked by the comments, had to interrupt the submissions of the 83-year-old.
But Bulkachuwa defiantly expressed his concluding thoughts on the matter before conceding to Lawan’s call on him to desist.
Concluding his remarks, the former Senator said, “And I must thank particularly, my wife, whose freedom and independence I encroached upon while she was in office, and she has been very tolerant and accepted my encroachment, and extended her help to my colleagues.”
Bulkachuwa’s wife, who retired from the Court of Appeal’s bench in 2020, had vast influence in the Nigerian judiciary, surpassed by only that of the Chief Justice Nigeria.
The office of the President of the Court of Appeal is vested with exclusive powers in the administration of electoral petitions.
As the President of the Court of Appeal, she had the sole responsibility to constitute all tribunals and courts that adjudicated all election petitions that arose from the 2019 general elections, including the presidential poll.
She could reconstitute panels or replace members of the various tribunals and courts in deserving situations.
It was also her responsibility to constitute the Court of Appeal’s panels that also adjudicated the appeals against the decisions of election petition tribunals on the governorship, state House of Assembly and the National Assembly elections.
The Court of Appeal, which Mrs. Bulkachuwa superintended during the time her husband said he secured her help to the advantage of many of his colleagues in the Senate, is the final arbiter on state House of Assembly and National Assembly elections.
CSO’s want NJC to probe Bulkachuwa
Consequently, civil societies under the umbrella of Citizen’s Gavel have petitioned the National Judicial Council to probe the confessions made by Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa regarding the alleged influence exerted on his wife.
The civil societies on Thursday noted that they demanded “for an immediate and independent investigation into these allegations.”
“Senator Bulkachuwa’s voluntary admission during the valedictory session of the 9th Senate-Assembly has shaken public trust in the judiciary. He openly acknowledged that he had encroached upon his wife’s freedom and independence while she held the esteemed position of President of the Court of Appeal between April 2014 and March 2020. Furthermore, he expressed gratitude to his wife for extending her help to his colleagues, raising concerns about potential bias and favouritism in judicial decisions.
“The impact of these revelations cannot be underestimated. The integrity of the judiciary is crucial for the impartial administration of justice in a democratic society, regardless of the parties involved. The National Judicial Council, as the custodian of the judiciary’s independence and the entity responsible for disciplining judicial officers, must play a pivotal role in investigating these serious allegations.
“According to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers in Nigeria, Rule 8 of the Code of Conduct emphasizes that judicial officers must not allow their family, social, or political relationships to improperly influence their judicial conduct and judgment. Senator Bulkachuwa’s confession strongly suggests that Retired Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa may have been subject to improper influence by her husband in rendering judgments that favored his friends.
“In light of these grave allegations, we humbly call upon the National Judicial Council to undertake an independent investigation and inquiry into Senator Bulkachuwa’s confession. Additionally, we urge a comprehensive judicial review of all the judgments delivered by Retired Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa during her tenure as the President of the Court of Appeal. Such measures are essential to address the concerns of compromised judgments, bias, and favoritism raised by Senator Bulkachuwa’s statement.
“We firmly believe that justice must not only be done but must also be seen to have been done. The recent revelations have significantly undermined the impartiality and independence of the judicial process. The lack of transparency and accountability has cascaded into a drastic reduction of trust and confidence in the judicial system, which has recently worsened by 72% (in 2022) in comparison to 67% (in 2020). The National Judicial Council, through this investigation, needs to restore public confidence in the judiciary is of utmost importance, and an independent and respected judiciary is crucial for upholding the rule of law.
“By upholding the principles of transparency, accountability, and integrity, we can restore faith in the judiciary and reaffirm its vital role in our democratic society,” the release signed by Rachael Adio, Communications Associate, said.
It portends danger to dignity of the judiciary – Agbakoba, others
A former president of the NBA, Olisa Agbakoba, described Bulkachuwa’s remark as “a monumental disgrace for our institutions.”
Agbakoba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, recalled how his client, Usman Tuggar, lost an election petition to Senator Bulkachuwa concerning the Bauchi North senatorial seat.
“I represented Usman Tuggar in relation to the disputed elections between him and Senator Bulkachuwa for Bauchi North senatorial. We lost in three courts. Senator Bulkachuwa seems to suggest why,” Agbakoba said in a statement.
Calling on the authorities to arrest Senator Bulkachuwa, the erstwhile NBA president and constitutional lawyer, said the lawmaker’s revelation “is blight on my confidence in our systems.”
He urged President Bola Tinubu “to cleanse the system in a most dramatic and fundamental process if he wishes to succeed.”
Another lawyer, Malcolm Omirhobo, said Bulkachuwa’s confession “portends danger to the dignity of the judiciary.”
Omirhobo, a human rights lawyer, said the senator’s remarks showed the “phony judgements” that emanated from Mrs. Bulkachuwa and the appellate court while she served as its president.
“It will reduce the integrity of the judiciary, and the public will find it hard to trust and respect the judgements of our courts,” the lawyer pointed out, adding that “there are many like this infamous couple in Nigeria.”
A former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, said Mrs. Bulkachuwa was “neither honourable nor interested in justice.”
Odinkalu opined that Mrs. Bulkachuwa’s subversion of justice, as revealed by her husband, has “tarnished” the image of serving judges whom he said would be seen as “trading judicial decisions in their bedrooms.”
He urged serving judges to speak up and insist on an independent inquiry into Bulkachuwa’s revelation.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Uwem Nwoko, tackled Justice Bulkachuwa for using her position to influence the decisions of her husband’s friends.
Nwoko stated that she’s a big disgrace to her family and to the Nigerian system.
He further stated that this should not be used as a benchmark to judge the Nigerian judiciary because that is not what they truly represent.
He revealed that they’re committed to delivering fair and transparent judgments, no matter what the case may be.
According to him, “For her and for those who worked with her, it’s a big disgrace to her as a person; it’s a big disgrace to her family; it’s a big disgrace to what she represents, but I am very consciously putting it that we should not use this revelation as a benchmark for judging the judiciary. Yes, her husband has come to relate to them because these things raised suspicions. There were certain decisions that called into question the standard applied, but they were denied. Today, the shame is on her, the shame is on her family, and the shame is on her husband, who led her to compromise the integrity of the system. But my caution is that we should not use it as a benchmark for judging the Nigerian judiciary because that is not all that we represent, but for her as a person, for her family, and for her husband, they are a big disgrace to the Nigerian system. ”
Public confidence in Nigeria’s judiciary plummets
Bulkachuwa’s rare confession serves as a validation of the suspicion of bias the opposition PDP had against Mrs. Bulkachuwa after she appointed herself to head the five-member panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court in 2019.
The PDP, along with its then-presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, was challenging the election of former President Muhammadu Buhari.
The party alleged that Mrs. Bulkachuwa would not adjudicate on the case impartially due to her tie to her husband, then a senator-elect on the platform of the APC, and her son, Aliyu Abubakar, who was a governorship aspirant on the platform of the party.
Mrs. Bulkachuwa later stepped down from the panel and replaced herself with Mohammed Garba, who chaired the panel and eventually saw the proceedings through to the end.
Mrs. Bulkachuwa retired from the bench as President of the Court of Appeal after clocking the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judicial officers in 2020.
In the waning days of her headship of the appellate court in February 2020, she shared her four-decade experience with journalists in Lagos.
Specifically, Mrs. Bulkachuwa denied an allegation that she took a N6 billion bribe.
“There was a time when allegations were flying around that I was given N6 billion, and I laughed. So, if I was given N6 billion, do you think I would still be here?” she wondered.
The jurist went on to distance her judicial duties from her husband’s political life.
In 2022, Senator Bulkachuwa, a staunch ally of then-President Buhari, could not secure the APC ticket for Bauchi North, prompting his defection to the PDP.
In the 9th Senate, Mr Bulkachuwa was the chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“My husband is a politician, but politics is a no-go area in the house. Even my children are aware of that. No politician is invited to the house. My husband can pursue whatever he wants to pursue as a politician, but we hardly discuss politics in the house. All these help to guard against any influence from any politician,” Mrs. Bulkachuwa had averred during a presser in Lagos in February 2020.
However, her claims are at variance with Senator Bulkachuwa’s revelation at the Senate valedictory session on June 10.
NJC probes seven judges
In a face saving mode, the NJC said on Friday that it has approved the investigation of seven judges who were accused of engaging in sundry acts of corruption.
The legal body, which is statutorily empowered to discipline erring judicial officers in the country, said it set up panels to probe the judges, after a two-day meeting it held on June 14 and 15.
The meeting, according to a statement that was signed by the Director of Information at the NJC, Soji Oye, was chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Kayode Ariwoola, who doubles as the Chairman of the Council.
Even though the NJC did not disclose names of the judges under probe, it, however, revealed that they are “judicial Officers from the Court of Appeal and State High Courts.”
The Council said it considered reports from various Investigation Committees and the Preliminary Complaints Assessment Committees on petitions written against 33 Judicial Officers from both the appellate and the high courts, and agreed with the recommendation of the Committee that the seven judges have questions to answer.
In January 2023, the ICPC announced that 52 ministries, departments and agencies of government had declined to respond to the Ethics and Integrity Compliance Scorecard deployed in 2022 by the ICPC, and were hence classified as ‘High Corruption Risk’.
Among those so classified were the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the National Judicial Institute.
“Failure to respond to such simple demands by ICPC for reviews or tools to improve operational practices may be symptomatic of a system deficit, impunity or a cover-up for fraud and administrative felonies. This calls for a systems study and review of the MDAs, and where necessary, investigation and other law enforcement interventions,” ICPC warned.
In December 2020, the ICPC said that the judicial sector led the Nigeria Corruption Index between 2018 and 2020.
The commission further said that about N9, 457,650,000 was offered and paid as bribes by lawyers to judges.
Overall, Bolaji Owasanoye, chairman of the ICPC said that “the justice sector had the highest level of corruption with a score of 63. The level of corruption in the justice sector was heightened by stupendously high amounts of money offered as bribes to judges by lawyers handling high electoral and other political cases.
“Follow-up discussions indicated that the cases of outright demand and offer of bribes are mostly linked to election matters.
“Money involved in the high-level corruption in this sector was categorised into money demanded, offered or paid. Demands are made by court officials, including judges, while lawyers or litigants make bribery offers and payments.
“The total amount of money reported by the justice sector respondents as corruptly demanded, offered and paid between 2018 and 2020 was N9,457, 650,000”.
According to the study, percentage of those most responsible for bribe for judgement cases were: Lawyers (27.17 %); litigants personally (21.96 %) court staff (clerks, registrars etc) — (21.54 %); judges (16.88 % cent), government MDAs (7.37 %); no experience on the matter (3.06 %); chose not to say (1.01 %), and others 1.01 percent.
In June 2022, Odein Ajumogobia, Nigeria’s former minister for energy and petroleum resources accused the law firm of one of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria of professional misconduct in the $130 million Rivers State Government vs Saipem SPA, Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited and Ors case.
One of the partners in the law firm had claimed in her letter to Saipem that her firm’s leading partner was close to Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges and, “the presence of our lead partner in the matter will significantly switch things in favour of Saipem”.
In 2017, the EFCC preferred an 11-count charge bordering on perverting the course of justice and offering gratification to public officials against a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Joseph Nwobike. The EFCC alleged that Nwobike offered gratifications to some judges of the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court to influence them to act contrary to their official capacities.
In October 2016, the Department of Security Services raided the homes of several judges in six states of the federation arresting and detaining 15 of them.
During the raid, the DSS said it recovered a huge stash of money in local and foreign currencies. Seven judges were arrested, and have since been released on bail.
The NJC, the body responsible for recruiting and exercising disciplinary control over judicial officers, rejected a request to investigate the judiciary, citing separation of powers and rule of law.
The NJC also informed the DSS that it was not amenable to “invitations being extended to judicial officers by departments and agencies of government for any reason.”
“I represented Usman Tuggar in relation to the disputed elections between him and Senator Bulkachuwa for Bauchi North senatorial. We lost in three courts. Senator Bulkachuwa seems to suggest why”
In May 2022, Ejembi Eko, a retired justice of Nigeria’s Supreme Court bemoaned the corruption and indiscipline that pervades Nigeria’s judiciary.
In a valedictory speech, the retiring justice accused the NJC of applying double standards in the discipline of erring judicial officers.
Eko said that while some judges found culpable of misconduct were barred from getting promotions, others that committed similar breaches had their promotion stalled for some years.
In June 2022, Tanko Mohammed, the chief justice of Nigeria resigned, citing ill-health as the reason for his decision. Mohammed had, before his resignation, been denounced by his colleagues at the Supreme Court.
Fourteen Supreme Court judges in a protest memo accused Mohammed of not giving justices their legitimate entitlements.
In response, Mohammed told the judges that the Supreme Court was cash-strapped and cannot grant their requests.
On February 6, 2023 the Supreme Court declared Ahmad Lawan as the All Progressives Congress authentic candidate for Yobe North Senatorial District.
Lawan, who was the president of the Nigerian Senate, never participated in the party’s primaries, a fact affirmed by the Federal High Court Damaturu division and Appeal Court, Gombe division, which confirmed the decision of the trial court that declared Bashir Machina the Senatorial candidate for Yobe North.
In the lead judgement, Justice Cletus Nweze faulted the approach of Bashir Machina in commencing the suit at the Federal High Court Damaturu division by way of originating summons and without oral evidence to prove allegations of fraud.
But in a dissenting decision by Justices Emmanuel Agim and Adamu Jauro, the apex court said Lawan never participated in the APC primary held on May 28, as he withdrew voluntarily to participate in the presidential primary held on June 8, 2022.
The minority decision held that the conduct of another primary on June 9, 2022 where Lawan emerged was in breach of Section 84 (5) of the Electoral Act as the APC never cancelled that held on May 28 before organising another. Some legal minds have described this as a curious judgement.
In January, the Supreme Court also declared Godswill Akpabio, a former governor of Akwa-Ibom State and ex-minister of Niger Delta Affairs and the new Senate President as the validly nominated candidate for the APC for Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial seat election held on February 25.
In a unanimous judgement of its five-member panel led by Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the Supreme Court held that the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal were wrong to have assumed jurisdiction in the suit because the issue of candidate nomination lies squarely with political parties.
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal had on November 14, 2022 set aside the judgement of the Federal High Court Abuja, and removed Akpabio as the APC candidate for Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.
A three-member panel of justices led by Danlami Senchi held that Akpabio, having contested the presidential primary of the APC, could not participate in the valid primary of the party held on May 27, 2022 and monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission which produced Udom Ekpoudom as the candidate.
On January 14, 2020, the Supreme Court removed Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo State and affirmed Hope Uzodimma as winner of the March 9, 2019 election.
INEC had declared Ihedioha winner of the election but Uzodimma, who came fourth, challenged the outcome of the election in court.
According to INEC results, Ihedioha, who ran under the platform of the PDP, secured 273,404 votes in the election; Uche Nwosu of Action Alliance had 190,364 votes; Ifeanyi Ararume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance polled 114,676 votes while Uzodimma of the All Progressives Congress secured 96,458 votes.
In a unanimous decision, a seven-man panel held that Ihedioha did not win a majority of votes cast in the election, and gave it to Uzodimma who came fourth and ordered that he be sworn in as governor.