At every opportunity, Umaru Musa Yar’adua speaks at length about his determination to be an agent of electoral reform that would enthrone the culture of credible elections in Nigeria beginning in 2011.
However, an extensive investigation by Saharareporters has uncovered a plan by Yar’adua to ensure that he and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party hold on to power through illegitimate means.
Saharareporters has learned that Yar’adua as well as outgoing President of Court of Appeal, Umaru Abdullahi, have drawn up a list of the most notoriously corrupt and inept justices for appointment to the appellate branch of the judiciary. Our informants revealed that the list has been sent to the Nigerian Federal Judicial Commission. According to one source, “If the list of proposed new justices are approved, Yar’adua and the PDP will be positioned to rig the electoral process at two ends – by getting INEC to announce falsified results and then buying judicial affirmation of the fraudulent outcomes.”
The list of new judicial nominees, exclusively intercepted by Saharareporters from a source in the office of the President of Court of Appeal, shows that Ebiowei Tobi is one of the nominees. Ebiowei is the son of Supreme Court justice, Nikki Tobi, a man some lawyers described as belonging in the same league as Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu in the index of corruption.
Our source said that Justice (Mrs.) Roseline Bozimo, chief judge of Delta State, was prevailed upon to recommend Ebiowei Nikki-Tobi. The younger judge’s appointment was described as a grateful handshake from Yar’adua for Justice Nikki Tobi’s consent to validate the massively rigged 2007 presidential election that imposed Yar’adua on Nigeria. Justice Tobi’s daughter also serves as a magisterial judge in Lagos.
Last year, Justice Tobi gave the controversial ruling claiming that the non-serialization of ballot papers did not constitute a breach of electoral law in the April 2007 presidential election. Former Governor James Ibori, widely considered one of the most corrupt politicians in Nigeria, had nominated Nikki Tobi’s son to the Delta State judiciary. A source in Delta State told us that Ibori’s elevation of Ebiowei was part of a deal to compensate Justice Tobi who helped Ibori beat an ex-convict rap at the Supreme Court.
In one of “the weirdest cases of judicial inanity,” to quote an Abuja-based SAN, Nigeria’s apex court ruled that then Governor Ibori was not the “James Ibori” convicted by a Bwari Area Court in Abuja for stealing building materials, even though the judge who had presided over the case identified Ibori as the convicted felon. Saharareporters later revealed that Ibori was twice convicted in the UK for stealing and credit card years before the PDP foisted him to rule Delta State for eight years. He stole more than N100 billion naira during his eight-year stint.
Yar’adua’s list of appellate court nominees also includes Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court in Benin City, Edo State. It was in that court that Ibori once received a blanket reprieve from one Justice Gloria Okeke. Okeke had granted an elastic ex-parte order prohibiting anti-corruption investigators from arresting Ibori and any state officials involved in running Delta State between 1999 and 2007 when Ibori held sway in Government House, Asaba. Justice Okeke further ordered that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the office of Attorney General (AGF) must not probe the accounts of Delta State during the same period. The controversial ruling, which was later reviewed by the judge and discarded under public pressure, led to Ibori’s arrest and detention for 62 days in a Kaduna prison. Our sources indicated that Justice Okeke shares the same father as Ibori’s mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo (nee Onuigbo), currently standing trial in London on charges related to money laundering on behalf of Ibori.
In an interview with our correspondent, a source within the Federal High Court disclosed that Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia had a hand in brokering Justice Okeke’s bizarre ex-parte order. The source also reported that Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia acts as “go-between” to funnel bribes to Justice Amina Augie of the Court of Appeal in Kaduna. Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia is reportedly acting as a front for Justice Augie who has stalled a case brought by Peter Okocha of the Action Congress to challenge his unlawful exclusion from the 2007 gubernatorial election that “elected” Emmanuel Uduaghan, Ibori’s cousin, as governor.
On Yar’adua’s list of new appeal court nominees is a controversial Port Harcourt-based Federal High Court judge, Ibrahim Nyaure Buba. Buba was the judge who granted a perpetual injunction to stop the corruption trial of former Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State.
Another nominee is Justice Garuba Nabaruma, the judge whose ruling removed Olusegun Agagu of Ondo State and Chris Ngige of Anambra State. Nabaruma is known to give popular rulings on occasion, but he often leaves it up to members of his panel to write the judgments. One colleague who had worked with him categorized him as “intellectually puerile.” Justice Nabaruma has mostly done tribunal work during his career.
Justice Amina Wanbai, who is also on the Yar’adua list, presided over the gubernatorial tribunal in Cross River State that weighed the petitions against the announcement of Liyel Imoke as winner of the governorship election. Several lawyers told Saharareporters that Wanbai, an indigene of Niger State, reportedly accepted a N500 million gratification to discard the petitions against Imoke’s questionable mandate. A panel of the appellate that reviewed her rulings tossed aside Imoke’s election and ordered a re-run. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) rigged the re-run in favor of Imoke after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) failed to arrest and prosecute him for misusing billions of naira in power project funds.
Our analysis shows that the appointment of new justices to the Court of Appeal heavily favors Katsina, the home state of Mr. Yar’adua and Justice Abdullahi. A judicial source indicated that Katsina State was already over-represented at the appellate court. Even so, Yar’adua’s new list has two nominees from the state. One is Mrs. Binta Nyako (wife of the Adamawa State governor), the other Justice A.I Dodo. A senior lawyer said Justice Dodo “is a lazy judge popularly known for zero productivity at the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja.”
Another nominee, Justice Aisha Sani Dahiru, is the Chief Judge of Sokoto State. In 2008 the judge faced impeachment proceedings from the Sokoto State House of Assembly over allegations of abuse of office.
Numerous lawyers who spoke to us noted that the only reputable name on the nominee list is Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court. A Lagos-based lawyer said Justice Oyewole, who is the Osun State nominee, “is a man with a pedigree worthy of elevation to higher responsibilities on the bench.”
None of the nominated justices hails from the South Eastern part of Nigeria. Rita Ajumogobia is from the South-South. With the exception of Ebiowei Nikki-Tobi, most of the nominees were not recommended by their state Chief Judges, according to information from our sources.
A source within the National Judicial Commission (NJC) told our correspondent that several members of the body as well as the Federal Judicial Service Commission were not keen on approving the list. He noted that Justice Abdullahi, who is due to retire in October 2009, had a disastrous reign as President of the Court of Appeal. He also regretted that Justice Legbo Kutigi, who will depart his seat as Chief Justice of the Court in December, “started as a highly respectable jurist but ended up with a dubious legacy.”
He said members of the two commissions involved in vetting candidates for judicial appointments were quietly questioning why the duo of Abdullahi and Kutigi “want to fill up all the positions in a hurry.”
Our sources close to Yar’adua’s political plans provided an answer. They said the hasty promotion of intellectually weak and ethically puny judges was meant to prepare the ground for fraudulent 2011 general elections. One source said Yar'adua’s design is to run for office without any serious opposition since his health cannot face the test of any rigorous campaigning or credible general elections in 2011.
A senior lawyer, when shown the list of nominees by Saharareporters, said sharply: “With this caliber of justices in place, the PDP can easily realize its dream of ruling Nigeria for sixty years.” He said the ruling party relies on shameless judges and justices to help it keep the proceeds of fraudulent elections. “It’s scary because most of these justices will be there for the next 10 to 15 years,” he added.