Thursday, August 27, 2009
MILLION NAIRA BRIBERY SCANDAL: IS ADENIJI JCA REALLY GUILTY OR JUST MESSED UP BY THE NJC?
When a young man sets out in employment in the Civil Service (Government employment) a popular prayer in Yoruba land for the employee is-
“Oko oba, ada oba
Ko ni sa e lese”
Literally this translates – “May you not be injured by the king’s (government) cutlass and hoes”
But factually it is a prayer against occurrence of mishaps and crisis in the civil service career.
That prayer, if ever said for D.A Adeniji, 72, a former Justice of the Court of Appeal and a South-Westerner from Ile-Ife the cradle of Yoruba civilization has not proved efficacious.
In year 2004, his long judicial career of 31 years starting from the Western State magistracy in 1973 ran into stormy waters and drowned, as he was dismissed from office by Olusegun Obasanjo, the then President of the Federal Republic, alongside one colleague of his Okwuchukwu Opene for corrupt enrichment.
Both judges were members of a three man Election Appeal Tribunal which sat in Enugu in that year and heard the Appeal of one One Senator Ugochukwu Uba against Honourable Nicholas Ukachukwu.
The third member of the Tribunal was K.B Akaahs J.C.A. He was the only one of the trio who left Enugu un-blemished and unscathed.
At the end of the hearing of the appeal which he lost, the respondent Nicholas Ukachukwu fired a petition against Justices Opene and Adeniji who found against him claiming that while Opene J.C.A received 15 million from his opponent, Justice Adeniji received 12 million naira. See cover story exhibit.
Upon receipt of the petition, the National Judicial Council, (NJC) set up a 3 man panel to investigate the case.
The Panelists were Justice Owolabi Kolawole, (now deceased) Justice Olakanmi and Justice Darazo. However some curious, disturbing facts attended the sitting of the NJC Panel and which facts appeared to have affected proper justice delivery in the case.
The first is that both Judges (Opene and Adeniji) accused of receiving bribes were tried together, even where the facts of the allegations clearly showed that they were allegedly bribed on different dates by different persons.
Secondly the Justice Kolawole Panel was epileptic in terms of membership participation in the hearing of the petition.
For example while the Chairman of the Panel was present when all the 14 witnesses in the matter gave their testimonies and cross-examined, while Justice Olakanmi was present for only 9 witnesses before he was removed from the panel. In Justice Darazo’s case, he was opportuned to be present for only three witnesses while Justice Gumi came on board to hear just one witness. The report of the panel was signed by Justices Kolawole, Darazo and Gumi
Thirdly proceedings in the matter suffered a near seven-month break (from April 17 2004 to November 3 2004 due to the serious illness of the Chairman of the Panel – Kolawole.
Final hearing in the matter took place on 4th November 2004 and the ruling was delivered on 17 November 2004. Thus only one panel member heard all the witnesses through while the others heard less than a quarter of the witnesses. It was clear then that Justice Darazo and Gumi relied on hear say evidence of the clearly unhealthy Justice Kolawole or documentary hear say evidence of the record of proceedings of the panel before they came on board to participate in the summing up and evaluation of the evidence before the panel.
Two weeks after delivering the ruling, the Chairman of the panel, obviously very sick still, died. Going through the record of proceedings of the Kolawole Panel and its subsequent findings as the Squib has done it is reasonable to believe that the epileptic membership of the panel as well as the prolonged adverse ill health of the now deceased Chairman of the Panel as well as the seven month hiatus in the proceedings gravely affected the correctness of the record and eventual findings of the Panel. See cover story exhibit for panel’s report.
A single important fact illustrates this point. In its official record, the Panel stated that one Okafor (PW4) gave evidence that he took one Barrister Joy Anyamene in his cab to where Justice Adeniji lived and witnessed how money said to be 12 million naira packed in 3 “Ghana-Must-Go” bags was taken in to him and that Justice Adeniji came out of the house to give him a gift of ten thousand naira. In its findings, the Kolawole Panel substantially found Adeniji J.C.A guilty of the allegation of receiving 12 million naira bribe, essentially on the strength of Okafor’s evidence. According to the Panel, that piece of evidence was damning but Adeniji J.C.A did not deem it necessary to even cross-examine the witness on the allegation.
The truth however was that this “damning evidence” was never given by Okafor against Justice Adeniji but against Justice Opene! The Squib confirmed this truth when it went through the Final Written Addresses of the Counsel for the Petitioner one Ikechukwu Ezechukwu Esq.
The address at page 3 thereof clearly stated that PW4 (Okafor) in company of a Joy Anyamene a lady lawyer, took bags loaded with money in his car, to a house where Justice Opene was and that the Judge (Opene) gave him N10,000:00! In fact in Nicholas Ukachuwu petition the petitioner did not alleged that Justice Adeniji received any money from Joy Anyamene or that same was witnessed by PW4 Okafor.
In fact Justice Adeniji raised this point in his suit FHC/ABJ/CS/2005 ADENIJI Vs AG FEDERATION & OR and the point was not denied or challenged by the defendants. The trial Judge in that matter B.F.M Nyako, now recently recommended for elevation to the Court of Appeal, noted this in her judgement of 15/6/07.
“Another issue that arose from the proceedings is that some of the evidence or testimonies given against Opene J.C.A were attributed to the Plaintiff.
This was not challenged by the Defendants. It will thus be accepted as admitted. I have not had the opportunity to see the records of the deliberations of the National Judicial Council and how and what it used to come to its conclusion even where the wrong evidence was attributed to the Plaintiff and it is so expunged. This does not vitiate the proceedings of the National Judicial Council but part of the Panel’s proceedings (Please See Case Law page).
Much to Justice Adeniji shock and dismay, he lost his case before Nyako J at the Federal High Court Abuja and has now proceeded to the Court of Appeal.
In 2008 the now bitter and frustrated Justice Adeniji wrote to the police on the matter, asking and indeed encouraging the police to investigate Honourable Nicols Ukachukwu allegation of collection of twelve million naira allegation against him but that move has also drawn a blank. See cover story exhibit.
The police appeared not too eager to carry out the request. No report of their investigation has ever been made despite constant pressure from Justice Adeniji.
However it was not as if no evidence at all was given against Justice Adeniji before the Kolawole Panel. There was evidence from one Bonti Oniugbo who claimed he followed one Emeka Okeke who works for the family of Senator Uba (the appellant in the appeal before the Opene Panel) to Justice Adeniji at a guest house.
However the said Emeka Okeke was not produced before the Panel. Worse, Onuigbo said he was only told by Emeka that the money they allegedly carried was 12 million naira. Also he was not there when the said Okeke gave the money to Adeniji JCA or when the judge collected the money! Even the alleged place of the bribey was not right. The witness mentioned guest house but the judge never stayed in a guest house while in Enugu but rather was with Justice Fabiyi of the Court of Appeal Enugu. With him was also Akaahs JCA.
Unfortunately the Kolawole Panel held that Justice Adeniji received the 12 million naira bribe twice! The first from Emeka Okeke and secondly from Joy Anyamene! The same Anyamene who in truth had nothing to do with Justice Adeniji.
To back its findings the Kolawole Panel also relied on a Yoruba proverb Justice Akaahs said Justice Adeniji told him when the bribery scandal broke out on the pages of newspapers. The proverb goes thus: Eni to ba je ki won fi ori oun fo agbon ko ni ba won je n be. (He who allows his head to be used to break a coconut will not partake of the eating).
The panel however translated the proverb thus “Whoever allows coconut to be broken on his head will never live to eat from the coconut”. According to the panel the proverb means “anybody who discloses a plot hatched to do evil will not live to see the result of the evil”.
But this is a wrong interpretation of the proverb as anyone grounded in Yoruba language will testify. Rather the more truthful interpretation will read akin to this:-“He who allows himself to be used as solution to a dangerous and difficult problem, will not partake of the eventual benefits or rewards of the solution.”
However the Kolawole Panel held the proverb to mean that-Adeniji JCA was subtly threatening Akaahs JCA to “either fall in line or be eliminated”!
It is significant that the then Attorney-General of the Federation Chief Akin Olujimi SAN did not support the recommendation of the NJC that both Justices Opene and Adeniji be removed from office. He was however over-ruled by the president Olusegun Obasanjo.
Since their dismissal from office, Justice Adeniji has not kept mum on his fate. He has gone to court, to challenge his dismissal, and he is still there. He has challenged the police to investigate the allegation against him and prosecute him if found culpable but the police has done nothing.
Anyone who has interacted with Justice Adeniji since his dismissal in service 2004 will appreciate the bitter irony of his situation. Though found to be guilty of collecting no less than 24 or 27 million naira bribe in 2004 by the Kolawole panel, the judge has been existing largely on charity and goodwill of friends and sympathisers ever since. He could ill afford to pay for legal fees both before the Kolawole panel and the B.F.M Nyako court where his cases have been heard. In the Kolawole panel, he partially represented himself and at other times was represented by the chambers of Dodo S.A.N free of charge. Before Justice Nyako he was represented free by Chief Gboyega Awomolo S.A.N. At a point he could not afford the cost of air travel to attend his cases in Abuja and according to the judge, “Lawyer Femi Falana has been kind to me too, giving me some amount of money each time I saw him but at a point in time I had to tell Femi “stop giving me all this ten thousand naira, ten thousand naira what I want you to do for me is fight for me.”
This magazine believes that the struggle for justice should not be left alone for the tired, impoverished and sagging shoulders and coffers of the judge (Adeniji JCA). The many grievous lapses in the handling of this matter, must give concern to all those who believe that it is better for a thousand offenders to escape justice than for an innocent man to be unjustifiably punished.
The Squib calls on the NBA to rise up in defence of this judge. Judges no matter their height on the bench, are and will always be legal practitioners and so are always members of the bar too.
No organization or body can champion the redressing of Justice Adeniji’s plight better than the NBA. May God give our great association the courage to do the right in this matter.