A Look At Justice Abang Through The Public Eye | Independent Newspapers Limited
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A Look At Justice Abang Through The Public Eye

Posted: Aug 28, 2016 at 3:20 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The controversy over his handling of the case became messy and Justice Okoro-Idogu was brought down leading to his premature retirement from the bench.

Justice Okoro-Idogu had sat as chairman of a military tribunal that jailed the revolutionary singer of money-laundering charges in 1985, when President Muhammadu Buhari ruled the country as head of state.

Fela was leaving on a playing tour of the United States September 4, 1984, when he was arrested at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos for failure to declare the sum of £1,600 found in his possession. Airport immigration officials claimed he was attempting to ‘unlawfully export’ the cash. The Government’s maximum allowance per person at the time was £50.

Fela was travelling with 45 members of his band and curiously, his defence that the £1,600 was for all of them could not save him.

Fela was found guilty of currency trafficking and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

However, the most dramatic breakthrough in Fela’s case occurred late 1985, when it was leaked to the press that Justice Okoro-Idogu had secretly visited the musician and apologised for the conviction, leading to the famous “E don beg me” saga. The judge was alleged to have confessed to Fela that although there were no sufficient evidence to warrant him being convicted, he had been pressured from the highest level of the Buhari government to hand down a harsh prison sentence.

The Buhari government had at the time been sacked with Ibrahim Babangida, also an Army General, now in the saddle. The Babangida government found Okoro-Idogu’s visit to the hospital where Fela was receiving treatment as being too close for comfort. Fela was set free and the judge got sacked from the bench.

The late Justice Bassey Ikpeme has since 1993 become the reference point in cases of political-legal tango as well as curious judicial pronouncements.

Justice Ikpeme got entangled in the political machinations of the era of the ill-fated Ibrahim Babangida transition programme. She gave the controversial injunction for the suspension of the June 12, 1993 election. The injunction was later to be the precursor to a web of legal tango after the election was conducted, release of result stopped in yet another curious ruling by Justice Dahiru Saleh, the chief judge of Abuja, and the eventual annulment of the poll by the military government. Ikpeme, who was later to be known in the Nigerian media as the “midnight judge” left the bench ingloriously.

There was Justice Samuel Wison Egbo-Egbo of the Federal High Court, Abuja during the Obasanjo era. Egbo-Egbo’s trip into prominence began when, on March 12, 2003, he issued an order restraining the National Assembly from amending the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 until the determination of the substantive suit. It was the contention of the Assembly then that the court and indeed no court of law had any right to interfere with its workings. The then senate president, Anyim Pius Anyim, said as much. Ignoring the orders of court not to tamper with the law until the suit was determined, the National Assembly on May 7 and 8, 2003 respectively passed the new Anti-corruption Act after overriding the president’s veto. A displeased Egbo-Egbo threatened to book Anyim and then speaker, House of Representatives, Umar Ghali Na’aba for contempt.

The judge was later to be linked with other controversial political cases like the disputed election of former Senate President Adolphus Wabara. But Egbo-Egbo shot the wooden arrow on Tuesday 22 July 2003, when he gave an ex-parte order restraining former Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Nibe, from acting or carrying out his job as the Governor, and ordered that his embattled deputy should take over as Governor. Mr. Chris Uba, Okey Ude, the Deputy Governor of the state, and Mrs. Eucharia Azodo, the former Speaker of the state House of Assembly, who were central figures in a failed abduction bid of the Governor earlier in the month, had brought an ex parte application seeking those orders. Egbo-Egbo granted all the orders sought in the application.

His order created outrage across from the worried public who were shocked by the pronouncement. Several lawyers opined that the judge was patently wrong for so many legal reasons in his decision.

Egbo-Egbo also ended his career on the bench ingloriously as he was sacked by NJC.

There have been several other judges brought down by less than honourable professional practices. Some of the judges who got their career truncated after such controversial professional infractions include Stanley Nnaji of Enugu High Court; Chudi Nwokorie, Kalu Amah of Abia High Court, Justice Thomas D Naron and Justice Charles Archibong, Justice Chuka Jideofor Okoli of Anambra State, Justices Kayode Bamisile and Jide Aladejana, both of Ekiti High Court and Justice Ya’u Dakwang of Plateau. Interestingly, most of the judges got into trouble handling meddlesome political cases either on election disputes or struggle for control of structures of their party.

Now there is the case of Abuja Federal High Court judge, Okon Abang, whose various pronouncements on his handling of the cases of the dispute among leaders of opposition PDP have been generating controversy. Indeed, there is loud call to the NJC to take a cursory look at the cases in the light of his controversial decisions. Even without having been probed and found culpable, there are people who feel so pained that they have called for him to be sanctioned.

But then, what has Justice Abang done wrong? What has he done right?