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ANALYSIS… Ex-CJN, TANKO: Forced resignation or an escape ploy?

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You must act within the law during operations, Acting CJN tells Nigerian military

As the country kept grappling with the several political intrigues and challenge, the polity was jolted by the news of the resignation of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad on Monday, June 27. The shock resignation came in the wake of corruption allegations which was what induced skepticism over the claims of Ill-health as the reason for his resignation.

However, a precursor to his action was the allegations of corruption levelled against the former CJN on June 21 by the 14 Justices of the Supreme Court.

In a letter signed by the Justices of the apex court, the judges questioned the commitment and loyalty of the Chief Justice to the entire judicial system.

They expressed concerns over a number of issues ranging from budgetary allocations that had not been increased in the last four years, the failure to replace dilapidated vehicles, and accommodation problems; to poor healthcare services at the Supreme Court clinic and poor electricity supply to the Supreme Court.

Other issues were the non-signing of amended Court Rules, an abrupt stoppage of foreign workshops and training per annum for justices; and no provision for qualified legal assistants.

“Your Lordship totally ignored this demand and yet travelled with your spouse, children, and personal staff. We demand to know what has become of our training funds, have they been diverted, or it’s a plain denial.

“Your lordship may also remember that the national assembly has increased the budgetary allocation of the Judiciary. We find it strange that in spite of the upward review of our budgetary allocation, the Court cannot cater for our legitimate entitlements. This is unacceptable!” the letter reads in part.

A Deathblow To Judiciary’s Integrity

In retrospect, Tanko’s tenure was never going to herald a significant revamp of the judiciary due to his manner of appointment after the ouster of his predecessor, Walter Onnoghen.

Onnoghen was suspended in January 2019 after a civil rights group filed a petition against him at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

Among the allegations levelled against him was owning some secret foreign accounts, which were run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.

Although he denied the allegations, Onnoghen was convicted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on April 18, 2019, for false assets declaration, and banned from holding public office for 10 years.

Tanko’s Controversies

Sani Dauda, the owner of ASD Motors, was accused of engaging in bribery in a case involving the CJN in 2019.

Shehu Sani, a former senator, had been charged by the EFCC for allegedly accepting money from Dauda and pledging to provide it to Ibrahim Magu while also using his connections to the former CJN Tanko and other judges to influence the outcome of some cases.

The ex-CJN, however, asserted that he had never met Sani and denied engaging in such unethical behaviour.

Imo Election

The former CJN also presided over a seven-person judicial panel that heard the appeal over the Imo State election.

Hope Uzodimma, the now governor of Imo, claimed via his attorney that the tribunal and the court of appeal made mistakes by dismissing his petition against Emeka Ihedioha, the state’s previous governor.

He contended that Ihedioha did not receive the most votes in the governorship race because INEC did not count the results from 388 polling places.

The panel, which was presided over by Tanko, accepted the appellant’s position and recognised Uzodimma as the legitimate winner of the Imo governorship election.

However, Chima Nweze, one of the judges, disagreed with the ruling.

Read also:ANALYSIS: Dissecting Buhari’s 2022 Democracy Day speech

In his dissenting judgment, Nweze asked the court to set aside the January 14 judgment that removed Ihedioha from office, describing it as a nullity and in bad faith.

“This decision of the supreme court will continue to haunt our electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come,” Nweze lamented.

NBA, HURIWA want ex-CJN probed

It looks like the allegations against the ex-CJN may have been laid to rest following his resignation, and the subsequent swearing in of Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the next most senior Justice, as the Acting CJN by President Muhammadu Buhari. However, stakeholders in the legal profession as well as civil society organisations are calling for a probe.

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) called for the arrest and prosecution of the outgone CJN by the Economic Financial Crimes Commission or the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission.

In a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, the group argued that Justice Muhammed be prosecuted just as his predecessor, Onnoghen was made to face the music, adding, that “The resignation of Justice Tanko Muhammad as the Chief Justice of Nigeria is not enough”.

According to the group, “The investigation and probable prosecution of Tanko, if indicted, will set a precedent that Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade is not a joke unless it is a joke. Tanko’s prosecution if found culpable of those sets of allegations will also serve as deterrent for any proven corrupt justices that the judiciary won’t be a haven for scoundrels.”

Also, the Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, Makurdi branch, Maimuna Ikwulono, argued that the allegations against Muhammed should not be swept under the carpet.

She said, “Nobody can say that those issues raised be swept under the carpet because we are looking for a solution. Certain things are being done that are hampering the justice administration process, that is affecting judicial responsibilities.

“It is incumbent on the relevant authorities to look into it to stop the wrong to have smoother administration of justice. It is not out of place to look into it.”.

Senate orders probe of ex-CJN over corruption allegations

Meanwhile the Senate, on Tuesday ordered the Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, to begin a probe on the allegations against the ex-CJN, and on the complaints by the Supreme Court justices.

The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan said, “The chamber mandates the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to go ahead with its assignment in the quest to find a lasting solution to the matter by interacting with relevant stakeholders to address the complaints raised in the petition by the Justices of the Supreme Court”.

Muhammad’s departure, which is being framed as an action taken on medical advice, and the subsequent reactions is not what he had hoped for, especially in light of the accusations made against him by the justices and its wider ramifications on the polity. Nigerians wait to see if the scenario would be taken to its logical conclusion; a probe that would determine if he’s guilty or innocent of the accusations. Or would it be another unsolved mystery swept under the carpet in the many drama that has become characteristic of the Nigerian state.

By Oluwatobi Odeyinka and Mayowa Oladeji

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