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LongRead…Danladi Umar: Infamous judge turned street fighter. What you may not know

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LongRead...Danladi Umar: Infamous judge turned street fighter. What you may not know

Danladi Umar, Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), was caught on video March 29, as he displayed some boxing skills while engaging a security guard, Clement Sargwak, at the Banex Plaza in Wuse 2, Abuja.

Umar inflicted some pains on the 22-year-old Sargwak for daring to tell him (Umar) that he had parked his car in a wrong space.

Visibly irked, his face contorted in murderous rage, Umar, who had no access to his gavel at that moment, resorted to his bare hands and descended on the whimpering guard for allegedly being rude to him.

Umar, one of the most controversial judicial officers Nigeria has even known in the past few years, must have thought of the mantra that justice delayed was justice denied, and, therefore, decided to deliver the ruling on Sargwak right there at the parking lot of the plaza.

His security details, not wanting to be shut out of the fun, joined in the fray and gave Sargwak the beating of his life, kicking, slapping and giving him something to chew about and how not to confront a distinguished justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Umar, unmindful of the extent his unwarranted assault on the security guard would generate, and typical of a high ranking political appointee in Nigeria, tried to divert the attention he had generated by claiming he was the one that was assaulted and not Sargwak.

In a shameless attempt at saving his face, Umar, through the spokesperson of the CCT, Ibraheem Al-Hassan, sent out a not-too- intelligent press release, full of school boy errors, to try and justify his despicable actions.

Condoning bigotry

In the press statement, Al-Hassan pushed the blame on the security guard, saying he was rude to Umar and could not provide a reasonable explanation why the justice should not park his car in the space. Al-Hassan added that Sargwak had threatened to beat up Umar because he did not know he was dealing with such a big man.

Al-Hassan’s attempt at making his boss the victim was further accentuated when he said that his principal was also assaulted by some miscreants and ‘BIAFRAN BOYS’ and should also be pitied like the guard, who in his words, is a ‘low personality’ as compared to his high ranking boss.

The ‘official statement’ issued by Al-Hassan to exonerate his principal was not only littered with grammatical blunders and ethnic slurs, but the poor image laundering effort led to questions being asked by Nigerians on how he recognized the ‘miscreants’ as Biafran Boys.

Part of the press statement read:

“Our attention was drawn on a report from some online publication with a ‘video cliff’ suggesting Hon Chairman, Justice Danladi Y. Umar assaulted a security guard at Banex Plaza.

“To start with, the said plaza has been his usual place of visits for the past 18 years for shopping and repairs of his phones, and in all these periods there have never been any time he had any turmoil with anybody.

“Unfortunately, yesterday’s altercations started over a ‘packing lot’, which Chairman met vacant and it was directly opposite a shop he ‘want’ to make a purchase and to ‘fixe’ his phone, when the young security guard sighted him.

“He ordered that Chairman should not pack his car in that particular empty space, but Chairman asked why, the security guard couldn’t ‘convinced’ Chairman, though Chairman didn’t identify himself, because to him, ‘is needless and is a place he visited often’ but the boy was ‘rode’ in his approached and threaten to deal with Chairman if he refuse to leave the scene.

“As the few policemen in the complex were apparently overwhelmed by the mobs, consisting of BIAFRAN BOYS throwing ‘matches and shape object to his car’, which led to deep cut and dislocation in one of his finger, causing damage to his car, smashing his windscreen.

“At a point, he attempted to leave the scene, these same miscreants, BIAFRAN BOYS, ordered for the closure of the gate thereby assaulting him before the arrival of police team from Maitama police station.

“In an incident like this when it happened, sympathy usually goes to the low personalities. Though is unfortunate as I said, it ought not to have happened.”

A pertinent question Nigerians have been asking since the incident has been why an official of the government should refer to some Nigerian citizens as ‘Biafran Boys’ and how he could so easily recognize them.

For most critics, that attempt at ethnic profiling was just a way of diverting attention and stoking the fire of disunity in the country and further exacerbating the fissures in the country’s fault-lines with such thoughtless, careless and provocative pronouncements.

The usage of the words ‘Biafran Boys’ which is a euphemism for young men of Igbo extraction, was apparently deployed to stoke ethnic passions and tensions between the Hausas and the Igbos, as if the ignoble and morally reprehensible conduct of a senior government official was all about dissension between two ethnic groups.

The recourse to whipping up ethnic sentiments was to obfuscate the real issue which bordered on character flaw on the part of the CCT Chairman which led him to engage in physical combat in public.

Ironically, the victim, Sargwak, is not an Igbo; he is from Plateau State which is nestled in the Middle Belt and has no links whatsoever with the Igbos.

How ‘oga’ assaulted me

Sargwak, while narrating his ordeal in the hands of the CCT Chairman, said trouble started after he informed Umar that his vehicle was not well parked, as it would obstruct other visitors coming into the plaza.

“After I informed him about his wrong parking, he came out and asked me whether I knew who he was, but before I could say a word, he slapped me three times.

“He then went to his car to pick up an iron rod in an attempt to hit me on the head. A tenant at the plaza quickly held his hand and pleaded with him not to hit me with the metal.

“His driver also came down and slapped me several times, tearing my uniform and stepped over me severally.

“He later called the policemen and State Security Service (SSS) operatives attached to him as security details from his home and waited for them to arrive.

“When the security details arrived, a policeman among them also slapped him several times on the orders of the Oga while I was begging him to forgive me.

“The Oga continued to slap me again in front of the policemen and ordered a police officer to also slap me which he did and thereafter, ordered me to kneel down and I obeyed. As I went on my knees, the Oga also kicked me in my face and hit my mouth.

“I fell and my head guard then took me to my M.D’s office. That was when the Maitama Police Division came and took us to their station.”

Privileged beginnings

Born on August 19, 1971, in the rustic town of Toro in Bauchi State, Umar was one of the most fortunate lads in his community to get a formal Western education, graduating from the University of Maiduguri with a degree in law and was called to the bar in 1992.

After his law school, Umar joined private practice in the chambers of Ayinde Sani and Co, Ibrahim Umar and Co and Kanu Agabi and Associates. He later joined the Federal Civil Service as Senior Legal Officer in the Federal Ministry of Justice. He was also the Assistant Legal Adviser in the Federal Capital Territory and Culture and Tourism.

Prior to being appointed as the Chairman of the CCT at the age of 36 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, Umar was the Chief Magistrate in Bauchi, making him the youngest Chairman of the CCT.

A Judge and his controversies

Umar is not new to controversies as his tenure at the CCT has been riddled with several storms including his famous fallout with top politicians including former Senate President, Bukola Saraki and sacked Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

On September 18, 2015, Umar made legal history in Nigeria by becoming the first judge in the country to issue an arrest warrant against a sitting Senate president of Nigeria, Bukola Saraki.

He had ordered the arrest of Saraki who failed to appear before the tribunal over alleged false declaration of assets.

His action against the third most powerful politician in the country was unprecedented and caused a legal earthquake on the Nigerian political landscape, instigating a lot of uproar with many believing he was actually playing the hand of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government which seemed bent on dealing with recalcitrant opposition politicians.

Arraignment of six ex-governors

Apart from Saraki, Umar also had a run in with about six former governors in the country where he vowed to jail them all for not declaring their assets.

On November 16, 2015, Umar had issued warrants for the arraignment of the six former governors for falsifying their properties and personal wealth in their assets declaration forms, an offence under Nigerian laws. The implicated governors were from the North-Central, North-West, South-South and North-East zones of Nigeria.

The move turned out a mere threat and an exercise in futility.

The Walter Onnoghen saga

NJC recommends immediate compulsory retirement of Onnoghen

In 2019, Umar, as the sitting CCT Chairman, caused another stir when he embarked on the prosecution of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, at the CCT on a six-count charge bordering on false asset declaration.

Before the commencement of the trial, a civil society group, the Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI), had launched a legal move to remove the former CJN and less than 24 hours after the report, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) announced that it had received a petition written against the then CJN, and Umar swung into action.

Read also: LongRead…Gov Yahaya Bello: Outlaw, brat or confused patriot? Here’s what we found

Subsequently, charges were filed against Onnoghen at the CCT and he was promptly suspended by President Buhari based on a controversial order issued by the tribunal led by Umar.

During the trial, Onnoghen had asked Umar to recuse himself from the case, describing the CCT Chairman as a “tainted arbiter” who was also being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged bribery, but Umar refused to recuse himself from the case.

The National Judicial Council (NJC) eventually recommended Onnoghen for compulsory retirement after deliberating on a petition by the EFCC which alleged “financial impropriety, infidelity to the constitution and other economic and financial crimes related laws” against the judge.

Though Onnoghen denied all allegations and later resigned, he also had to contend with rumours that he met with Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in the build-up to the 2019 general election.

The NJC also barred Onnoghen from holding public office for 10 years for contravening the CCB laws in his Assets Declaration Form and, in addition, was made to forfeit various sums of money found in his five bank accounts with Standard Chartered Bank to the Federal Government for failed to declare them.

A Judge and his corruption cases

Umar has not been without blemish as he too has had his own fair share of corruption cases.

In 2018, he was indicted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which dragged him before Justice Ishaq Bello of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja, for allegedly demanding and collecting a N10 million bribe from a litigant in a case filed in his tribunal in 2012.

The charge which was handled by Festus Keyamo (now Minister of State for Labour) and Offem Uket, on behalf of the EFCC, claimed that Umar had demanded and collected the bribe from one Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo, a retired Customs officer, through his personal assistant, Gambo Abdullahi, in order to favour him in a case pending in his tribunal.

But the decision to charge Umar to court, while still handling the prolonged Senate President’s asset declaration case, led to serious bad blood between the National Assembly and the EFCC, with the NASS passing a resolution to confront the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the EFCC for allegedly trying to stampede the CCT in the trial of Saraki.

During the trial, Umar was also indicted in the case of erroneously delivering its 2011 verdict that discharged former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was standing trial for embezzlement and corrupt enrichment.

Umar, presidency stooge?

Perhaps, to show that he is well connected, Umar once boasted that he does not answer to anyone or institution but to the Presidency, and by his own conviction, to President Buhari.

On February 6, 2019, in response to a petition filed by a group, the Incorporated Trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, accusing him of abusing court process and urging the National Judicial Council to impose sanctions on him, Umar said himself and other members of the CCT were “not judicial officers” in the real sense of the word, and as such, were not subject to judicial institutions such as the FSJC and the NJC.

“With regard to the prayer of the petitioner for an appropriate sanction against the Chairman, it is important to note that the Chairman and members of the tribunal, not being judicial officers, are not constitutionally subject to any disciplinary proceedings by either the National Judicial Council or the Federal Judicial Service Commission, but the Presidency.

“The petitioner alleged that judicial oaths were breached and that the National Judicial Council should consider appropriate sanctions. It is to be noted that the Chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal are not judicial officers.

“This is predicated on the fact that the Chairman and members of the tribunal, during swearing-in, only subscribe to official oaths and not judicial oaths. Therefore, not being a judicial officer, I did not subscribe to judicial oaths as alleged,” Umar had written in an answer to the petition.

Above the law?

While the CCT Chairman has received the knocks, with many calling for his prosecution, Umar is walking free and everything seems to have been swept under the carpet in the matter of his brutalization of citizen Sargwak.

As a senior government official, a lawyer, and someone who, by his calling, superintends over the settlement of disputes, Umar was expected to have imbibed the culture of keeping his cool even under provocative circumstances.

But that was not the case as he gave vent to his inner struggles and, once again, showed the hidden weakness of not being able to control his temper when provoked, if he was actually triggered by Sargwak.

With critics calling for the NJC to deal decisively with Umar over his unruly behaviour, it is left to be seen if anything would be done to bring him to book.

The thought that Umar may yet go free is predicated on the fact that the CCT Chairman, by his own admission, is not a judicial officer or a judge in the strict sense as captured by Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and as such, cannot be disciplined by the NJC.

As the head of the CCT, Umar is a member of the executive arm of government and the NJC does not have jurisdiction over him.

But judging by recent precedents, the executive arm of government to which Umar belongs, is most unlikely to investigate, let alone punish him for his misconducts. Thus, if there is any hope that the CCT Chairman will be held to account for his behaviour in public, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), is perhaps, the surest avenue through which that can be achieved.

What manner of justice?

It is heartening that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has vowed to wade into the assault case and make sure Umar is prosecuted.

The NBA, in a press statement, condemned what it described as a “display of naked power by a public officer, especially one who, by virtue of his high office, is expected to exhibit a high standard of conduct.

“The situation is all the more critical when it involves the head of an agency of government set up to ensure compliance, by public officers, with the code of conduct,” the NBA said.

Since video evidence has effectively rubbished the claim of being the victim, as posited by Umar through his spokesman, there is no known justification in the Nigerian law that such acts of despicable and shameful brigandage displayed by Umar should be swept under the carpet.

In the words of the Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Dr. Nduka Rapulu, “as a member of the legal profession, Danladi Yakubu Umar (Esq.) is expected by the extant rules that regulate the conduct of legal practitioners in Nigeria, to maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and not to engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of the legal profession.

“Prima facie evidence at the moment raises questions regarding whether such standards have been met.”

By Isaac Dachen…

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