Will The Withdrawal Of Two Judges From A Case Of Treasonable Felony Initiated Against The Detained Leader Of The Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu Terminate His Trial? Asks TUNDE OYESINA
For the umpteenth time, the trial of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu has suffered setbacks. Reason: Two judges in ten months had washed of their hands from his trial. Kanu is standing trial before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja over an alleged treason.
The IPOB detained leader, alongside Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi are facing a six-count charge of treasonable felony, brought against them by the Federal Government. He was arrested by the Department of the State Services in October last year and was arraigned barely one month after at a Magistrate’s Court in Abuja.
However, his trial had remained at a snail speed barely one year after his arrest and arraignment just as the withdrawal of judges handling the matter within a spate of 10 months had no doubt dealt a debilitating blow to the justice of the matter.
First to hands of the matter is Justice Ahmed Mohammed following Kanu’s alleged refusal to take his plea on a six-count charge of treason, importation of illegal good and possession of fire arms filed against him by the Department of State Services (DSS).
Nine months after, another judge, Justice John Tsoho of the Abuja Federal High Court last week stepped down from the case following a petition by Kanu to the National Judicial Council, demanding a probe of the judge. In the petition through his lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, the IPOB leader said the judge gave parallel judgements on the same request, describing it as “judicial rascality”.
At the resumed trial last Monday, Kanu’s lead counsel, Chuks Muoma (SAN) shocked the court as he brought an application where he claimed that the court was biased in the manner it had so far handled. He told the court that his client had written a petition to the National Judicial Council (NJC), saying it will only be proper for the court to suspend hearing of the case pending the outcome of NJC’s investigation. He also informed the court that the NJC had responded to the petition filed by Kanu against the judge, saying it had begun investigation on the matter.
Muoma said: “We are only asking the court to hands off the case; my client has lost confidence in this court. Following the development, all we are asking this court to do is to hands off the case pending the outcome of the NJC investigation.
It would not be proper for the court to continue with this matter when investigation is ongoing. So, in the interest of justice, we are asking the court to hands off the case. I would urge the court to transfer the matter. I would suggest that it should be sent back to the CJ.”
He further said that the court was acting in line with the suggestion of President Muhammadu Buhari that Kanu was not going to be released under any circumstance. He said logically the procedure would have been for the court to wait for the response of the NJC so as not to preempt NJC’s decision. But Justice Tsoho who apparently convinced Kanu and his lawyers that he had no personal interest other than justice in the matter, endorsed their request.
Justice Tsoho in a brief ruling held that he had no personal interest in the trial of Kanu, hence, he returned the case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta. Besides, the judge condemned the attitude of the defence counsel in the matter, saying they were acting unprofessionally by their utterances, insisting that he was unruffled if the case was handled by another judge as his interest was solely on justice. Justice Tsoho held that since the defence counsel lacked confidence in the way the court had handled the case, “it is only reasonable for the court to disqualify itself from further hearing the matter.
“Accordingly, this case is hereby forwarded to the Chief Judge for further re-assignment”, the judge ruled. He however stated logically that the procedure would have been for the court to wait for the response of the NJC so as not to pre-empt NJC’s decision. The judge, after stepping aside, vowed not to preside over the case even if it was returned to him.
“Even if I am cleared of any bias by the NJC, I will not continue with this case,” he said. Kanu had petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) against Justice Tsoho of “committing judicial rascality” over two rulings given against him.
In his petition to the council, the IPOB leader called for an investigation into the rulings of the court over permission granted the Department of State Services (DSS) to protect its witness in his trial. He described Justice Tsoho’s conduct as a fundamental breach of his judicial oath.
The petition reads in part: “That on the 9th day of February, 2016, the defence was ambushed with an application filed on that day by the prosecution, seeking the court’s endorsement for secret trial of the defendants. “The defence led by Chief Chuks Muoma (SAN) promptly notified the court of our intention to oppose the application, pursuant to which it was thereafter adjourned to the 19th day of February, 2016, for the hearing of the application.”
Kanu had in various past interviews maintained that such action by the judge can only be referred to as “judicial rascality” which he noted demonstrated that the judge was undoubtedly acting a script or was being influenced by powers higher than himself, stressing that a court cannot alter its own judgement without the benefit of an appeal to a superior court under the Nigerian Judicial system.
“The judge’s action as evidenced by documents and the court’s contradictory rulings in our disposal go contrary to every code of judicial conduct and ethics known to law”, he stated. In the petition, Kanu also called for a correction of the “rascality” made by the judge in accordance with the Oath Act noting that several attempts by the defence team to obtain court’s rulings and proceedings remained unsuccessful until an intervention by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court in the matter.
“The rulings of the court were eventually given to us on Monday, the 25th day of April, 2016, barely two months and 15 days after the ruling of 9th February, 2016, was delivered, two months and six days after the ruling of 19th day of February, 2016 was delivered and one month and 18 days after the ruling of 7th March, 2016 was delivered”, he stated.
He also said in the petition that Section 36(7) of the 1999 Constitution as amended allows a court or tribunal only seven days to keep its record in a criminal trial. “That on the face of the application to stay further proceedings in the matter, pending the outcome of the appeal challenging the court’s variation of its order, the court would have ordinarily been spurred to be expeditious in its attention to our request. Rather, his lordship remained firm in his resolve to frustrate the defence,” the petition further reads.
The petition noted that even the lead counsel in the matter, Chuks Muoma, was shut out in an open court by Justice Tsoho from adumbrating his written brief in support of its application for stay of proceedings even when court rules allows for 20 minutes of oral argument.
The petition also highlighted a series of events that occurred during the trial of Kanu stating that the judge who had earlier denied an application made by DSS counsel in what appeared to be a breach of judicial oath, sat and heard an appeal against it and reversed its orders against Kanu.
However, Justice Tsoho was the second judge to hands off the case. Justice Ahmed .R Mohammed, also of the Federal High Court, withdrew in December 2015 after Kanu said he had no confidence in him. The IPOB leader, who has been in detention since October, is facing treason charges preferred against him by the Federal Government. In December 2015, Kanu passed a vote of no confidence on Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the same court, prompting the judge’s withdrawal from the matter.
Kanu had raised this objection before the court presided over by Justice Mohammed commenced proceedings. However, the judge granted his plea by saying that it will be good to appreciate and take into consideration the objection raised by the defendant. According to Kanu, thank you very much my lordship, but my objection is that I will not receive a fair trial before this court.
The information I got is that I will not receive a fair trial before this court. “I will not sacrifice the due process of law because of speedy court process over the principle of natural process on the altar of speedy release. In other words, I would rather remain in detention than subject myself to a trial that I know amounts to perversion of justice.
“Your lordship, previous court rulings have been given by courts of competent jurisdiction in this country, Nigeria, which were not carried out by the DSS.” Delivering ruling in the application, Justice Mohammed held that Kanu has the right to reject the trial, “after all justice is rooted on confidence.
If any of the parties has no confidence in the court, he has the right to say so. Assuming it was the prosecution, if they had no confidence in the court of jurisdiction; would they not have done so?
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