Justice Ademola: Triumph of an orphan
Last week, a Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Jude Okeke, cast spanner into the anti-corruption war plan. The learned judge discharged Justice Adeniyi Ademola, who is standing trial for corruption. Justice Ademola, the grandson of Justice Adetokubo Ademola, the first Nigerian to be Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) was among the seven justices arrested by the Department of State Security (DSS) in a series of sting operations in October last year. Others were Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court; Justice Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division; Justice Kabiru Auta of the State High Court of Kano State; Justice I.A. Umezuike, former Chief Judge of Enugu State and Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe.
But Ademola’s was a shade more serious in the sense that his wife, Tolulope, who was Head of Service in Lagos State and has nothing to do with the administration of law and justice in Nigeria, was also taken along and put on trial with him. Mr. Joe Agi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria completed the third leg of the tripod of defendants in the Justice Ademola’s case. The case is attracting more than a passing interest because after the DSS had finished their operations last year, the affected judges ever before they were charged in the conventional courts, were tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.
The media was agog with salacious details of slush funds recovered from the houses of the judges. It was such that the judges, themselves masters of logic could not say anything logical to refract the narrative. The story simply went in one direction – the judges were corrupt and stand condemned without trial. Even if they had wanted to kick like a captured cricket, they were physically, morally and ethically constrained in the circumstance. They just bore the shame with stoic equanimity and waited timidly for a chance in court. Every piece of past judicial act or pronouncement that didn’t sit well with certain quarters was appropriated as strong evidence to build a case against the judges and put them in jail. Poets even wrote poems to support the intervention of the secret police and depict the entire judicial system in Nigeria as corrupt.
This was the background. And so, for Justice Okeke, who had been a witness to what many Nigerians, including Prof. Itse Sagay had said concerning the wonderful job the DSS did and the manner they wanted the case to be prosecuted; which should start from the answer to the question, to swing 180 degrees to the opposite extreme and discharge the defendants just like that, is something of a surprise. But that is the way of pure justice, which moves on its own course irrespective of the surrounding impurities.
I am not a lawyer but the Ademola’s case sounds somehow sweet. Justice Okeke said the prosecution failed in all ramifications to establish a prima facie case. Permit me to assume some liberties and explain this to learned SANs and professors of law. It means all the initial gra gra and loud noise of the DSS about having caught a big thieve did not add to any substance to connect Justice Ademola, his wife and Joe Agi (SAN) with the 18-count charge of corruption. Put differently, just on the face of the submission by the prosecution alone, there was no matter to adjudicate and to continue would amount to exercise in futility and waste of precious time.
The defence counsels were even saved all the hassles; they never opened their case. Justice Okeke simply said there was no proof that the alleged donation of N30 million towards the wedding of the daughter of Justice Ademola affected the way he (Ademola) performed his duties as a Judge of the Federal High Court Abuja. There was also no proof that payment of an iconic BMW car allegedly procured through Ademola’s son was made from illegal money. And finally, Justice Okeke held that the prosecution failed to prove that Justice Ademola illegally obtained monies in different currencies reportedly recovered during the DSS sting operation. The 18 counts were woven around these three principal allegations.
Outside other considerations and from a purely legal point of view, the outcome showed the prosecution and by extension the state was not diligent. The Attorney General went to court without facts and expected to secure conviction based on street gist. But much deeper is the fact that the Ademola saga is speaking differently to the way the Buhari government is going about prosecuting the war against corruption.
Nigerians want corruption killed. The problem has been the strategy of delivering the death sentence on corruption. The strategy runs on instincts without institutional valves. Overall, there is this thing in President Muhammadu Buhari, which makes him to equate poverty with virtue and wealth with vice. He just thinks nobody can be rich in Nigeria without being corrupt. And so in his court, the rich man remains corrupt until proven otherwise.
And because the national mood in the matter of corruption agrees largely with his instinct, the support for his anti-corruption war plan has been massive. It is a support that does not flow from the clarity or sincerity of the Buhari vision, but more from the desire of the ordinary people to extract their pound of flesh from an elite class that has refused to show direction in spite of the huge trust invested in it. In the arising public anger, everybody is bunched up for mass liquidation irrespective of the specific circumstances that created each of the victims of the Buhari anti-corruption war.
There is something else about the Buhari strategy. It is difficult to understand when he is fighting for public good and when he is on a personal vendetta. Before becoming President on the fourth attempt, Buhari had tried thrice and thrice he was rejected at the polls. The courts, up to the Supreme Court, reaffirmed his rejection. Each time, judging from his post verdict comments, he never believed he lost the election but robbed by the corrupt political establishment that was ably aided by an even more corrupt judiciary.
May 29, 2015. President Buhari might have reassumed the Presidency with a mindset that the judiciary could not be trusted as partner in any serious effort to rid society of evil and something had to be done to put it on the right side. People have also argued that he re-entered in 2015 with grudges of 1984, which they say may have occasioned his serial disrespect of court rulings regarding incarcerated former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. It was the mournful privilege of Col. Dasuki to arrest General Buhari after the August 27, 1985 coup led by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida that toppled him.
What has glaringly manifested in all of this is the aversion of Buhari to any form of democratic engagement and consensus building. He believes he alone is working towards the answers of Nigeria’s problem while others are working away from the answers. At 74, there is little that can be done to change him; he can only be managed.
The problem, though, is that these notional fixations have left Buhari dangerously exposed as a pretender. So far, his appointments into public offices have exposed him as an ethno-religious champion and not a nationalist. His scope of the anti-corruption war has exposed him as an avenger and not a patriot. And most of that austere and bohemian outlook is dissolving as Buhari spends more time in the temperate regions than he spends in the tropics. He doesn’t seem the same fellow that obtained a bank loan to procure the APC presidential nomination form in 2014.
For now, whether the Federal Government likes it or not, Justice Ademola is free. It may not have been the best decision, but let a higher court say so, not the Presidency or Buhari. The mob, which says the war on corruption will succeed without the judiciary should also state the material difference between Nigeria without a judiciary and the Amazon jungles or the Savannah grassland in East Africa.