The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) has called on the National Judicial Council, (NJC), through the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Idris Kutigi, to kick Justice Marcel Awokulehin off the James Ibori kangaroo trial in Asaba.
In a follow-up petition dated 11 December, CACOL drew the attention of the NJC to the abominable misconduct of Justice Abdullahi Mustapha, the former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, and Awokulehin.
It said that removing Awokulehin from the case is the right thing to do as whatever decision the judge takes would be wanting in credibility and embarrass the judiciary.
Recalling the embarrassing history of the Ibori trial, the Coalition called upon Justice Kutigi, “in the name of all that is good, not to allow Mr. Justice Awokulehin deliver a ruling that would cast aspersions on the neutrality of the bench in this case, and thereby erode people’s confidence in the judiciary as an arm of government that is expected to be the last sanctuary of hope for the oppressed.
In the petition, which was copied to The President; the President of the Senate; the Honourable Speaker, House of Representatives; the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation; and the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, CACOL called on the NJC to intervene before the matter becomes a national embarrassment. Justice Awokulehin is scheduled to deliver a judgement quashing Ibori's money laundering charges on December 16 2009. Ibori paid the judge $5 million for the "ruling" seeking to quash 170-count charges filed against him by the EFCC.
See petition below:
11 December, 2009
National Judicial Commission,
Supreme Court Complex,
Attention: Justice Idris Kutigi
Your Lordship Mr Chairman,
PETITION TO THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE FEDERATION GROSS MISCONDUCT ON THE PART OF THE FORMER CHIEF JUDGE OF THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT AND THE TRIAL JUDGE JUDGE IN THE CASE OF FRN VS JAMES IBORI & ANOR.
The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) is compelled once again to petition the National Judicial Council through Your Lordship concerning the gross misconduct of the Honourable Justice Abdullahi Mustapha the former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and Honourable Justice Marcel Awokulehin, the trial Judge in the case of FRN vs James Ibori & Anor. The grounds of the Petition are as follows :
1. Contrary to the order of the Court of Appeal that Mr James Ibori be arraigned at the Judicial Division covering Delta State where the alleged offences of money laundering were committed by him, the accused person entered into an illegal deal with the Honourable Justice Abdullahi Mustapha, former Chief Judge of the Federal High court and Governor Uduaghan of Delta State to create the Asaba Judicial Division of the Federal High Court;
2. In order to achieve the said illegal objective the Delta state Government illegally purchased a building from one of the Delta State Commissioners and ‘donated’ it to the Chief Judge of the Federal high court to serve as the Asaba Division of the Fedral High Court;
3. Consequently, Mr James Ibori was charged in the court purchased by the Delta State Government at the instance of the accused, solely for his trial;
4. The current Governor of Delta State who was the Secretary to the Government headed by Mr James Ibori was deeply involved in the allegations of money laundering for which he was interrogated by the EFCC;
5. Equally, the current Deputy Governor of Delta State, Professor A. A. Utuama was also interrogated by the EFCC due to his involvement in the allegations of money laundering;
6. The National Judicial Council will agree with us that the gift of the building from the criminal suspects and its acceptance by the former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court constitute gross misconduct on the part of all the public officers involved in the corrupt act;
7. In spite of our earlier Petition to the National Judicial Council regarding the gross misconduct of the Honourable Justice Awokulehin, some supporters and servants of Mr James Ibori, the chief beneficiary of the anomalies we raised in our petition to your Lordship, are already boasting that His Lordship Awokulehin would deliver the ruling in favour of Mr James Ibori anytime the ruling would be delivered whether anyone likes it or not;
8. Not withstanding that the case is pending in the court, Mr James Ibori and his paid agents have been addressing the press insisting on his innocence. In particular Mr James Ibori has stated that he did not bribe the former Chairman of EFCC with $15million and the present EFCC has confirmed that the alleged bribe money is still at the Central Bank. The trial judge has never called him to order despite his contemptuous behaviour. Since the $15million bribe form part of the charge, should the accused not be put on trial?
9. Equally, the money laundering charges are based on the money disbursed by the then Delta state government but finds its way into some private accounts, including that of Prime Chambers owned by Prof. A. A. Utuama, the former Attorney-General of Delta state during the reign of the accused person as governor of the state who is also the current Deputy Governor of the state (See enclosed Statement of Bank account).
10. We gathered form the analysis of the Statement of Account that various sums of money were disbursed to all manners of people through this account. It is evidenced that a number of lawyers and judges also took various sums of money from the account contrary to the provisions of the Money Laundering Act;
Nigerians are still asking questions on whether your Lordship has truly consigned the issue into the waste bin or swept it under the carpet, the way most Nigerian authorities are wont do. The case has up till date been adjourned three times for similar reasons since the petition was referred to the trial judge for his comments. Could Mr Ibori’s agents have been assured of this fact in advance? If His Lordship Awokulehin has however responded to the petition as you asked him, we hereby request for a copy of such response to assuage our apprehension.
Your Lordship, we would not have been against His Lordship Justice Awokulehin delivering the ruling on the set day and in whichever way, but for all the moral issues raised against His Lordship as trial judge in this case, especially the letter he caused or approved to be written to the Southwark Crown Court in London that is trying associates of the accused person for money laundering. The London case has also not been able to proceed owing to the situation of the Asaba case. Nigerians, and indeed the whole world would not take our fight against corruption serious unless every allegation leveled against the accused person and the trial judge in this case is satisfactorily and transparently cleared.
The Nigerian populace would also want to be adequately informed upon which grounds the accused and the trial judge have been cleared of the allegations leveled against them. Otherwise, such ruling would be lacking in legitimacy, credibility, integrity and acceptability. It may also cast a pall on the glowing record of excellent performance you have maintained till these periods when you are about to retire from active public service. Your Lordship, we would prefer you retire in dignity with untainted records than to allow some questionable characters run your Lordship into a moral mud that will add a ‘but’ in the enviable unblemished records, free of sleaze that you have managed to maintain throughout your earlier days in public service, as a judge in a corruption-ridden society like Nigeria.
It is also for this reason that we ask your Lordship to ensure that the present trial judge is not allowed to continue with the case as whatever decision he takes on it may be lacking in credibility and constitute an embarrassment to the judiciary as an intercessor arm of government. We therefore hereby request to be obliged with your Lordship’s findings and other actions taken or intend to be taken on the matter.
We again urge your Lordship, in the name of all that is good, not to allow Mr Justice Awokulehin deliver a ruling that would cast aspersions on the neutrality of the bench in this case, and thereby erode people’s confidence in the judiciary as an arm of government that is expected to be the last sanctuary of hope for the oppressed.
We also call on the National Judicial Council to direct the current Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to stop the further use of tainted building as a Division of the Federal High Court. The buildings for the court should be constructed from the budget of the Federal High Court.
We are earnestly expectant of your decisive intervention in this matter before it becomes a national embarrassment.
Thanking you in anticipation
Executive Chairman, CACOL
* The President and Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces
* The President of the Senate
* The Honourable Speaker, House of Representatives
* The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation
* The Chairman, National Judicial Commission
* The President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)