*Retirement would have been not transfer
From Emmanuel Ado, Kaduna
Justice Okon Abang is controversial and definitely on a mission to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the judge with record insults, from the Superior Court, in this instance the Court of Appeal. Abang craved for recognition, but not the dubious one that the Court of Appeal, has inflicted on him. To have your judgements variously described as “highly misplaced and most fraudulent”, as having “violent attitudinal disposition to rule of law”, as “violating the principles of natural justice”, as a “charade and fraud,” is not a joke.
And to have your superiors, with a macabre sense of humour describe you as a Father Christmas handing out “orders like Christmas gifts,” you have literally walked into a hall of infamy. With such harsh words, as notorious, ill-famed, opprobrious, scandalous, etc that the Court of Appeal has variously dressed him with, Justice Abang ought to have sent in his letter of retirement.
He wouldn’t have lost anything, as his consolidated salary will continue to for life. Typical of him, he didn’t. And now in what appears like an insult, he has been transferred to Asaba, to that same court that was specifically created for James Ibori, to continue his good works.
The reason for the transfer according to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court is “the recent developments in the court”. What other development, than the tongue lashing of Justice Okon Abang? It is still a mystery how he escaped the “sting operation”.
Before the Abia governorship, Oliseh Metuah,Alex Badeh and the PDP cases,Justice Abang was virtually getting away with blue murder. His insistence that he must hear the case between Oliseh Metuh, the Peoples Democratic Party Publicity Secretary and the Federal Government in spite of the allegations of bias didn’t generate interest,because Oliseh Metuh like every member of the PDP was deemed corrupt and didn’t deserve any pity.Same with Badeh.
Lawyers believe Justice Abang was transferred to Abuja for two (2)cases – Metuh, and Alex Badeh the former Chief of Defence Staff. It was more than coincidence that he also occupied court two(2),at the Federal High Court Building. His “sudden” transfer from Lagos to Abuja was seen as the determination of the APC led government to nail ” corrupt PDP officials and fat “thieving generals” at all cost. Many Nigerians (except for lawyers and litigants before his court),never knew him and might never have known him,as none of his previous cases had generated as much interest as the present ones,but they were nevertheless controversial.But events seem to suggest that in addition to these cases,he had an additional mandate to liquidate the PDP.An exercise that he had almost clinically executed,but for the Court of Appeal.
Handling the cases of Olisa Metuh, the Publicity Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party and that of the former chief of defence staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh no doubt made Justice Abang a “star” and he got away with all manner of rulings. Abang reminds one of another “star” late Justice Benedict Okadigbo of the infamous Zangon Kataf judicial tribunal.
Justice Abang has always been controversial, as many of the controversial cases that he has handled. Olisa Metuh had first alleged bias. Olisa claims that they are both classmates (a fact going by the law school call to bar records) and that the last time they met Justice Abang said “things” that makes him feel that he won’t get justice – classmate rivalry?
The initial bail conditions – that the property owners must be in Maitama further confirmed the fears of bias. His lawyer Sylvanus Tahir described the bail conditions as “too stringent”. But typical of Abang he insisted on continuing with the case. Why he didn’t throw in the towel remains a conjecture. Olisa Metuh’s lawyers, were no doubt scared after his ruling in their no case submission, that Metuh should enter his defence, because a prima facie case had been established against him.
They had expected their client to be set free. The decision kind of confirmed to them, that with Justice Abang they won’t get justice. Metuh knew he was in deep trouble, hence, he fought tooth and nail to get Justice Abang to disqualify himself.
Trust Abang, he refused to disqualify himself. The bail condition for Badeh was something else. And the public clapped.
Justice Abang wants to be seen as a “tough” judge going by his judgements and tough words. In the case of the seven oil thieves that he sentenced to a total of 84 years for dealing in 1,459 metric ton of petroleum motor spirit (pms), he clearly showed he is not a judge to be toyed with.
He described them as enemies of the corporate existence of Nigeria. He wrote” the convicts are godless and lawless. Without any particle of sympathy for this country. They are part of the people that have contributed to the economic woes of this country. The convicts planted thorns, they cannot expect to gather flowers, they sowed the wind and they must gather whirlwind”. Being economic saboteurs, they got what they deserved.
But not so for Ladi Balogun, the Managing Director of First City Monument Bank (FCMB) as he almost got what he didn’t deserve. But for the Court of Appeal Lagos division, Ladi Balogun and two of his staff would have been committed to prison by Justice Abang.
Justice Abang had issued a garnishee order on NIMSA funds with the bank, following a judgement in favour of Hemsor against MIMSA to the tune of N6,841,108,152. NIMSA dissatisfied with the judgement filed an appeal asking for a stay of execution.
Cut between the two orders the bank stayed action, until Justice Abang issued form 48 – consequence of disobedience of court order on Balogun and his two staff. The bank rushed to court for a stay of further proceedings pending the hearing and determination of the appeal by the bank and NIMSA.
But for the timely intervention of the Court of Appeal, Justice Abang would have committed the bank officials to prison.
In 2010, he had nullified the Nigeria Football Federation ( NFF) elections. His anger was that he had earlier restrained them from going ahead with the elections pending the hearing and determination of a motion. He has no respect for almighty FIFA, that was made to look like she doesn’t brook interference from civil courts.
Justice Abang has no qualms engaging his brother judges in fights – Justice Ibrahim Buba over Senator Buruji Kashamu’ s case , with Justice Buba vowing “I won’t hands off”. Kashamu had filed an action restraining the Federal Government from seizing his properties over drug trafficking allegations. And Justice Abdullahi Liman of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt over the PDP convention case.
It would appear that Justice Abang is untouchable, because he is an ally of the government, but the reality is that Justice Abang is just a judge whose knowledge of law, that he is supposed to administer has been severally questioned.
For instance, Justice Saulawa in the Ondo PDP case, held that Justice Abang contravened judicial principles by granting an order not sought by the party. The five justices of the Court of Appeal in the governor Okezie Ikpeazu case held that the trial judge was not only perverse and biased in his judgment, but that he turned the law upside down.
The Appeal Court further held that Justice Abang erred in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice against the governor when he refused him fair hearing and that he pre-judged the matter at the preliminary stage without hearing the appellant.
Justice Ogunwumiju, who delivered the lead judgment said Justice Abang “committed grave violence against one of the pillars of justice” – right to fair hearing. She further held that Abang raped democracy by ordering INEC to issue a certificate of return to Ogah, when there was no evidence of forgery or criminality against the appellant.
Said Judge Ogunwumiju “courts are not allowed to speculate, as the trial judge did in the instant case. In one breath, the trial judge spoke from the two sides of his mouth when he claimed that he based his findings on supply of false information and in another breath, he came to the conclusion that the appellant committed perjury even when there was no allegation of forgery and no allegation that he did not pay tax.”
She rebuked Abang for turning the head of the law upside down.
Justice Abang is such a judge that even the Federal Directorate of Public Prosecution (FDPP), had also accused him of advancing the interest of the Managing Director of the defunct Integrated Microfinance Bank, Simon Ademola Akinteye and two directors of the bank Jerry Orimobuohoma and Gabriel Adepoju, who are being prosecuted by the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Commission (NDIC) for alleged N604 million fraud. They were charged before Abang by the NDIC for granting questionable loans to themselves and other companies without the necessary collateral, which led to the failure of the bank. Abang was accused of frustrating the case and of bias.
Despite the harsh words and the conclusions that he lacks the basic rudiments of law to dispense justice, Justice Abang will not throw in the towel, like the coach of a well panel-beaten boxer would, in order to save him from further punishment.
It is obvious the National Judicial Commission will never kick him out, even though he is not stranger to the NJC, as several petitions have been filed against him. They were thrown out, for lack of merit. With the latest decision by Justice Ibrahim Auta the options are for litigants before his court, to refuse to be tried by him, even though refusing is not his dictionary or for a people’s movement to force him out.