Umar, CCT chairman in eye of the storm
Justice Umar was caught on camera physically assaulting a security guard, Clement Sargwak, at Banex Plaza, Wuse 2, Abuja on March 29, 2021.
In a video posted on social media, a visibly angry Umar was seen slapping the security guard who had told him that his vehicle was parked in the wrong space.
Judges occupy a position of great value in the society to protect the sanctity of the institution they represent by also obeying the laws of the land.
This is not the first time the embattled CCT chairman would be in the news for the wrong reason.
Since his appointment to the exalted office by former president Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, Umar’s tenure has been mired in controversies. His recent assault on a security guard resonated the roles he played in the trial and removal of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, who was accused for falsely declaring his assets.
During the trial, Onnoghen had asked Umar to recuse himself from the case, describing the CCT chairman as a “tainted arbiter” who was being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged bribery.
He was also said to be the first CCT chairman in the country to issue an arrest warrant against a sitting senate president. He had ordered the arrest of former Senate President, Bukola Saraki who failed to appear before the tribunal over alleged false declaration of assets.
In an attempt to justify his recent action, Umar through the CCT spokesperson, Mr. Ibraheem Alhassan, said that the security guard was rude and could not provide a reasonable reason why the Tribunal Chairman, should not park in the said space, alleging that the guard threatened his boss.
The spokesman, in an error-laden statement, further alleged that after the assault by Umar, a mob of “Biafran Boys” came to the guard’s rescue and attacked the Tribunal chairman.
Justice Umar’s explanation and the subsequent use of ‘Biafran boys’ in his statement infuriated Nigerians who accused him of targeting an ethnic group. It was described as an attempt to stir division in the country so that he would escape public scrutiny and the consequences of his action.
Following public outburst, The CCT spokesperson, who has been redeployed by the Ministry of Information and culture, later said it was Umar, who asked him to use “Biafran boys” in the statement.
Alhassan also issued a public apology for his poorly written statement, which he described as an unedited draft that caused him embarrassment.
His words; “The incident of March 29, 2021, which became public via a viral video clip caused very strong emotional sensations, pressure and worries that also got to us and impaired our response to it.
“The disturbance led to the release of the draft and unedited script to three professional colleagues of mine. Unfortunately, the statement found its way to the public space through one of them, in its raw form. The colleague in question has since apologised to me and I have accepted the apology in good fate.
“I feel embarrassed and disappointed with criticisms trailing the leaked draft statement, which have been described as riddled with grammatical blunders and ethnic slur due to the poor presentation. As a civil servant, I relate with Nigerians with respect and dignity, not minding their religious or ethnic backgrounds.
“I wish to therefore tender my unreserved apology to Nigerians and especially the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), the Nigerian Institution of Public Relations (NIPR), and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) among others over the unsavoury development,” he concluded.
Interestingly, even with the public outrage that trailed the statement, the Tribunal Chairman, when he commented directly on the matter did not deny asking the CCT spokesperson to issue a statement blaming the mob attack on him on ‘Biafran boys’. He, however, insisted that contrary to the content of the widely circulated video, he was a victim of an assault by people who chanted “secessionist and sectional slogans.
“Therefore, when I was accosted by the Plaza guard in a very rude manner on arriving there, I had maintained my accustomed decorum before I was drawn into an unnecessary altercation and subsequently assaulted, with this degenerating into an attack and injury by a mob that was chanting secessionist and sectional slogans,” he said.
Perhaps, if the CCT chairman had not attempted to gain sympathy by using the expression “Biafran boys”, he might not have suffered additional wrath from the public. Apparently, the tactics backfired and even elicited more reactions from lawyers, Interest groups, Civil Society and Social-cultural Organisations, who demanded his removal from office and prosecution.
Reacting to the issue, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said it has launched an investigation into the matter. The body in a statement through its Publicity Secretary, Dr. Rapulu Nduka explained that its relevant committee would probe the circumstances leading to the altercation, and, depending on its findings, “ensure that appropriate action is taken to address this occurrence.”
Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, in his legal interpretation, noted that Umar risked a five-year jail term for using “Biafran boys” to describe persons he had an altercation with.
According to Falana, the use of the phrase constitutes xenophobia, which contravenes the cybercrime law.
“The use of the words “BIAFRA boys” in the statement (produced through a computer system or network) on the instructions of the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal and distributed to the media (last week) constitutes a contravention of section 26 of the Cybercrimes Act 2015, which prohibits the use of “racist or xenophobic material” in any written or printed material, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as a pretext for any of these factors,” Falana said.
Also, a human right group, Access to Justice led by Mr. Joseph Otteh, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to remove the CCT chairman from office, explaining that his conduct has considerably ridiculed and diminished both himself and the Judiciary in Nigeria.
The group said Justice Umar had owned up to the allegation since he has not denied that the incident took place.
“The NBA should take disciplinary actions against him by imposing appropriate professional sanctions on him.
“The assault on Sargwak is indefensible and callous, and is a naked and unbridled abuse of power; it is a breach of Mr. Sargwak’s fundamental rights to dignity and the security of his person. Unfortunately, the police have failed to arrest and charge Mr. Umar for assault, which signaled once again, the deep flaws and dysfunctionalities of Nigeria’s law enforcement institutions.
“But this is not the first time he has exhibited rash, pugnacious character. His behaviour is indecorous, unfitting for a judicial officer, an affront to norms of civil behaviour, more so, that expected of a public officer and hugely incompatible with the professional standards of a judicial officer. He further brings the fragile image of Nigeria’s judiciary to more disrepute,” Otteh added.
The Northern Youths Council of Nigeria, NYCN, has also expressed dismay at the CCT Chairman’s usage of “Biafran Boys” to describe Nigerians who are going about their lawful businesses.
The youths noted that it’s an attempt to stir division in the country so that he would escape public scrutiny and the consequences of his action.
According to them, the Tribunal chairman shouldn’t have taken the law into his hands, assuming he was indeed threatened by the guard, noting that the conduct of the Judicial Officer has succeeded in inspiring millions of Nigerians to start taking laws into their hands anytime they feel slighted.
The youths asked Umar to resign from his position as the CCT Chairman, stressing, “We have every reason to believe that anybody from Eastern Nigeria that appears before CCT can’t get justice, following the “Biafran” mindset, he holds against him or her.”
While calling on the National Assembly to stop appropriating money to the Tribunal if Umar fails to resign and the Presidency decides to retain him, they said the CCT chairman should apologise to South Easterners who believe in the unity of Nigeria and are working hard to guarantee same.
“The members of Northern Youths Council of Nigeria will prepare for a grand protest if the above demands are not met,” they said.
Apparently not satisfied with the position of the NBA and the fact that the presidency is yet to act on the matter, Mr. Sargwak petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), asking for a probe into the March 29 incident.
In the petition dated April 9, and signed by his lawyer, Samuel Ihensekhien, he accused the CCT chairman of abuse of power, assault, torture, and ‘xenophobia’.
Sargwark noted that the slur in the statement after the CCT chairman attacked him violated section 26 of the Cybercrime Probation and other Offences Act, 2015.
He also accused both Mr. Umar and officers of the FCT police command of “intimidating and threatening tenants and all eyewitnesses in an attempt to cover up Mr. Umar’s tracks.
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