It is now clearer on how the fate of Senate President Bukola Saraki should be determined. That is whether he should step down from his post on account of standing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged false declaration of assets during and after his tenure, as governor of Kwara State.
While the argument over Saraki’s stepping down raged, another public office holder, ironically trying Saraki for the alleged false declaration, disclosed that he (the judge) had been cleared by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of all the allegations of corruption leveled against him. Justice Danladi Umar, Presiding at Code of Conduct Tribunal, had all along been similarly faulted for not stepping down, on moral ground, from trying Saraki.
The Senate President, some would say out of desperation (through his defence counsel), had cited Justice Danladi Umar’s precarious position as a major reason for him not to be tried by the judge. Quite rightly, Justice Umar dismissed Saraki’s motion. The major value of the judge’s ruling is that the allegations of corruption (since dismissed by the EFCC) can no longer hinder Justice Umar from trying Saraki, leaving the latter the only chance of saving his reputation by proving his innocence of all the charges.
However, how does EFCC’s clearance of all the corruption charges against Justice Umar affect Senator Saraki’s right to face his false declaration trial without necessarily stepping down, as Senate President? If anything, Danladi Umar’s example is the very reason and fairness that Saraki too, like Justice Umar, must face his without resigning. Suppose Justice Umar all along, had resigned, would he have been able to resume duties as the judge of Code of Conduct Tribunal after he was cleared by the EFCC of all the allegations of corruption?
Moral standard for public office holders all over the world varies from one country to another. As if a personal disaster for him, on the very day his trial commenced at the Code of Conduct Tribuanl, Saraki was also mentioned in the so-called Panama Papers controversy, and that proved another weapon against the man (Saraki) to match the moral standards in other parts of the world on the same issue.
Which other part of the world? In Iceland, following public protests over the Panama Papers, the Prime Minister quit. A few days later, the Spanish Foreign Minister also resigned over his involvement. In between, surprisingly in Britain of all places, Prime Minister David Cameron, Somersaulted five times and eventually refused to resign and he still keeps his job despite criticisms by fellow politicians.
Senate President Saraki would be risking self-indulgence if he believed all is over for him on the Panama Papers. Fortunately, EFCC is probing and it is only to await the findings. Mere investment in a place like Panama may not necessary be a crime. But eyebrows will be raised if such investment is sourced to stolen public funds. The fate of all the listed Nigerian investors, including Theo Danjuma and David Mark, will be determined by the EFCC report. Until then.
As if to solidify the case against the resignation of a public office holder being tried or investigated, the National Judicial Council (NJC) announced disciplinary measures the council took against some serving judges, following allegations of misconduct. First, hardly were Nigerians aware that the judges were being investigated, which was even immaterial. The major point of interest was that throughout the period the judges were being probed, none of them was forced to resign from the bench. Instead, the National Judicial Council took its time and presumed the judges (to be) innocent until allegations against majority of the judges probed were proved beyond all doubt and duly disciplined except that such was not more than a slap on the wrist.
The case of Justice Salihu Seidu of the Federal High Court, Lagos, was particularly pitiable. According to the National Judicial Council, a petition against the judge by the Securities and Exchange Commission was unsubstantiated. While the poor innocent Justice Salihu Seidu was being investigated, was he ever under pressure to step down from the bench? The probe was in a way, a trial by the NJC and is in line with every form of justice. A man is not punished on mere allegation until he is found guilty.
However, all these cases came only weeks after a female Federal High Court Judge in Lagos was completely condemned and discredited by the same National Judicial Council. The latest decisions of NJC open the question if judges (for no other reason than their status) should be treated lightly when they commit patently criminal offences. For example, one of the judges was found to have, during his service, recorded three different daties of birth, and for such criminal offence, the punishment he suffered was mere retirement presumably with full benefits.
Recording of three different dates of birth by a serving judge was done with intent to defraud the government of undeserved salaries for the period(s) of extension of date of birth. Worse still, if the judge extended dates of birth by declaration of age on oath, and was so faulted, that is perjury, for which the man should have been prosecuted. It is false declaration of age(s). If politicians could be tried for false declaration (of assets), judges should equally be criminally liable for false declaration of age. After all, if a non-judge, non-public office holder Nigerian, committed the act, he would be prosecuted.
Therefore, on which ground was this offending judge not prosecuted and would, ironically, be collecting retirement benefits? That was why the National Judicial Council did not dismiss the judges. Hence, the slap on their wrists. Another judge is to refund the salaries he earned from June 2015 to March 2016 when he retired.
He was found, according to NJC, to have altered his age to enable him remain in service from June to March 2016. Another case of criminal false declaration of age. Or how did he alter the age on his personal record? And he was ordinarily ordered to refund nine months’ salaries. Are there not pending criminal cases of stealing state funds under false pretences, involving unknown Nigerians in various courts? What is the difference in the offences except some of the culprits are disgraced ex-judges while the others (co-accused) are poor Nigerians?
The same National Judicial Council was quite amusing when it announced what it considered disciplinary action against Lagos-based female judge. From the serious allegations and the disciplinary measures taken against the female judge by the National Judicial Council, the question arises on why other judges were retired while the female judge is still kept on the bench by the same NJC.
The main calling of a judge is to be fair in her conduct to all manner of men and women, who may appear before him/her (the judge). Where, therefore, the judge blatantly falls below that standard, the continued stay of such a judge on the bench cannot be justified even by the National Judicial Council. Again, while the NJC was probing the allegations against the female judge concerned, she was not demanded to step down from the bench but the probe report pronounced her guilty of misconduct, the fine language, which subdues the gravity of her misconduct.
According to the NJC, the judge concerned indefensibly miscarried justice. An election petition from Ogun State was assigned to the judge since 2011 and instead of delivering judgement as and when due, the judge kept on adjourning the matter until the termination of the life-span of Ogun State House of Assembly, thereby frustrating the petitioner.
Obviously owing to the details of the serious findings against the Judge (a female for that matter) the National Judicial Council imposed series of unprecedented sanctions on the Judge, such that would reduce her productivity either now or in the future to virtually nothing. According to the NJC, the female judge is barred from being promoted throughout her career on the bench. The NJC also warned the Judge against any further act of misconduct (that is miscarriage of justice) and place her under watch for the next four years.
The National Judicial Council also decided that henceforth, the Judge would not be considered worthy of appointment to any adhoc judicial panel. In plain language, the judge will never serve on election petition panel. What must have been the details of the serious findings of her misconduct? Could that have been as a result of a single petition against her misconduct? How long more does the Judge need to serve without promotion and without full utilisation of her services as a Judge since she is barred from serving on election panels for life?
If a Judge is barred from promotion for the rest of her career on the bench, it is a question of time for junior colleagues to supersede her on seniority basis. What type of Judge is that? And the NJC presumes to have imposed adequate disciplinary action?
Obviously concluding that the Judge is no longer suitable to serve in Lagos State, the National Judicial Council transferred her to Kwara State. The only reason for that transfer should be to keep her in service. But the implication is obvious. A Judge whose misconduct warranted immediate transfer out of Lagos State cannot be suitable for another state. Better still, the NJC should disclose full details of the misconduct so that Nigerians can judge. Also, could the judge have run in to problems on account of a single petition or series of petitions?
Character defect is incorrigible. The judges recently retired must consider themselves unlucky. Otherwise, they too should have been transferred from their locations to retain them in service despite the allegations again them.
Last line: The decision of Eko Electricity Company to ration power supply to Ikoyi, Lekki and Victoria Island areas of Lagos State could not have come at a worse time for the Buhari administration. The eve of first year in office is a public relations disaster gift for critics to list poor power supply as one of the noticeable changes.