Like any other segment of society, the justice sector faced an unprecedented challenge in 2020 with the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In this issue of Law and Human Rights, we examine some events and cases that formed talking points for the judiciary in 2020.
By Henry Ojelu and Onozure Dania
Sacks of the Ihedioha court, Lyon
The year 2020 began in the justice sector with the shocking dismissal of former Imo State Governor Emeka Ihedioha and Bayelsa State Governor-elect David Lyon by the Supreme Court. The supreme court declared Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the state gubernatorial election on March 9, 2019. In the seven-member panel’s unanimous ruling, read by Judge Kudirat Kekere- Ekun, the high court agreed that the results in 388 voting units were illegally excluded during the compilation of the final result of the governor’s election in Imo State.
Judge Kekere-Ekun said that with the results of the 388 voting units added, Uzodinma obtained the majority of the legal votes and should have been declared the winner of the elections by INEC.
In the Lyon case, a five-member panel of the high court headed by Judge Mary Odili annulled her election on the grounds that her deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, submitted false information to INEC in support of her qualification for the governorship of the Nov. 16. election in the state. Consequently, the Supreme Court ordered INEC to withdraw the return certificate issued to Messrs. Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo.
CJN suspends court session
In the wake of the movement restriction imposed by the federal government to address the spread of Covid-19, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Judge Tanko Muhammad, for the first time in the history of the judiciary, issued a directive suspending all court sessions throughout the country. country. However, matters that are urgent, essential, or subject to deadlines in accordance with current laws are exempt. The initial two-week directive was later renewed with instructions to all courts to comply with Covid-19 prevention measures.
Virtual court proceedings
In accordance with the CJN’s COVID-19 social distancing directive, the Lagos State Judiciary led the first virtual judicial process in the country.
Led by the Chief Judge, Judge Kazeem Alogba, the state judiciary held its first virtual hearing on May 4, 2020. Judge Mojisola Dada, a judge from Lagos State, handed down a sentence in the state’s criminal trial against Olalekan Hammed.
The process began at 11 am and had many judges and lawyers observing in different places. Some judges who participated in the proceedings include Judge Oluwatoyin Ipaye, Judge Josephine Oyefeso, Judge Sherifat Solebo, and Judge Afeez Dabiri.
Other participants in the bar include the State Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), the prosecutor, Ms. Titilayo Shitta-Bey, and some high-level advocates such as Funke Adekoya, Tayo Oyetibo, Olukayode Enitan, among others.
Supreme Court overturns Uzor Kalu’s conviction
Nigerians who had presumed that the war on corruption was gaining ground with the conviction of former Abia state governor and ruling party member Orji Uzor Kalu were shocked in May when the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that convicted and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
The high court, in a unanimous decision by a seven-judge panel headed by Judge Amina Augie, held that the Lagos Federal High Court acted without jurisdiction when it convicted Kalu, his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and former chief financial officer in the State of Abia, Jones Udeogu.
It held that the trial judge, Judge Mohammed Idris, was no longer a Federal Superior Court judge when he sat down and rendered the ruling that convicted the defendants for allegedly stealing about $ 7.1 billion from the state treasury. of Abia. The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has set February 15, 2021 for the start of the new trial.
Metuh conviction, revocation
After four years of blackouts in court, the former secretary of National Advertising of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, was sentenced on February 25, 2020 to seven years in prison on the accusation of receiving N400 million from the Office of the National Security Advisor. (NSA) in 2014.
On February 5, 2018, Metuh appeared in court on a stretcher after Judge Abang ruled that his bond would be revoked if he did not appear for the continuation of his trial. Again, on March 14, 2018, Metuh appeared in court in a wheelchair. On May 21, 2018, he collapsed while on his way to the pier for questioning.
However, his conviction was overturned this month by the Court of Appeal. A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, in a unanimous judgment, held that the trial of Metuh and Destra before Judge Okon Abang of the Federal High Court was tinged with elements of bias and prejudice against the defendants.
Judge Stephen Adah, who read the main rulings in both appeals, said that from the record of the proceedings, it was apparent that the judge presented himself as someone who had a keen interest in dealing with the defendants and their team of lawyers. No new date has been set for the retrial.
General of the Army convicted of robbery
On June 16, 2020, a Special Army Court-Martial, headed by Army Policy and Plans Chief Lamidi Adeosun, found former Sokoto Division 8th General Commanding Officer (GOC) Major General Hakeem Otiki guilty of stealing public property, diverting money operations, engaging in private business and disobedience to service orders. The court ordered that he be demoted from major general to brigadier general and dismissed, he also came in a wheelchair, for the army court martial hearing.
Akpata emerges as NBA president
On July 30, Olumide Akpata was the winner of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) national elections, after defeating two other contestants who are Nigeria’s leading defenders (SAN). The victory made him the NBA’s first non-SAN president in years. But it was not without crisis, on the part of some leading Nigerian defenders and the SAN body, who felt that the NBA president should only stay with the SAN.
Akpata won the elections with a total of 9,891 votes out of the total 18,256 votes cast, while his closest rival, Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) obtained 4,328 votes and Dele Adesina (SAN) obtained 3,982 votes.
Akpata’s decision to compete for the position was initially met with mixed reactions. However, the tweets and other posts seen on various social media platforms suggest that it has managed to significantly captivate / appeal to the conscience of the young lawyers who, interestingly, make up the majority of NBA members.
Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s uninvitation by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as a speaker at its August annual general conference began in disarray when a splinter group, the New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA), emerged. .
Shortly after the controversial election of the new NBA leadership, El-Rufai’s uninvitation to the NBA conference as a guest speaker sparked further crisis in the association.
In less than a week after the announcement of its creation, one of the convenors of the New Nigeria Bar Association (NNBA), Abdulbasit Suleiman, claimed that 5,000 lawyers had already signed up for the NNBA membership.
However, the matter was resolved with the intervention of stakeholders from the bar and the bank.
On August 7, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari passed into law, the Business and Allied Affairs Bill (CAMA). The new law introduced new provisions to reflect modern business realities and reduce compliance costs and regulatory hurdles for businesses in Nigeria.
However, many controversies followed the approval of the bill. While some saw it as a welcome idea, others saw it as a government move to muzzle the church.
The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN and other religious bodies that have traditionally promoted the principle of “separation of Church and State” believe that it gives the government the power to manipulate the law against your core interests and values.
In addition, a prominent advocacy group, the Social and Economic Rights and Responsibility Project, SERAP, called on the government to repeal the assent to the law and send it back to the National Assembly to remove its “repressive” provisions. He threatened to sue if his requests are ignored.
The Supreme Court gets 8 new judges
After years of clamoring for the appointment of more justices to the Supreme Court to help expedite the dispensation of cases, President Muhammadu Buhari in November approved the recommendation of the National Judicial Council for the appointment of eight justices.
The judges who took office were Lawal Garba, (Northwest), Helen Ogunwumiju (Southwest), Abdu Aboki (Northwest) and M M Saulawa (Northwest). Others are Adamu Jauro (northeast), Samuel Oseji (south-south), Tijani Abubakar (northeast), and Emmanuel Agim (south-south). His elevation has increased the number of justices on the supreme court bench from 12 to 20.
Maina collapses in court
There was mild drama on December 10, 2020, when the former chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Force, Abulrasheed Maina, collapsed before the Federal High Court in Abuja, during the resumption of the hearing on the money laundering charge. of 12 charges, filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Maina, who is facing trial along with her firm, Common Input Property and Investment Limited, collapsed by the dock where the trial judge, Judge Okon Abang, allowed her to sit. The court had initially issued an arrest warrant after he escaped to Ghana.