2023 Presidential Election Court Diary Part 19: Journey to the Supreme Court – Secrets of judicial corruption and anti-corruption over the years/Emmanuel Ogebe

2023 Presidential Election Court Diary Part 19: Journey to the Supreme Court – Secrets of judicial corruption and anti-corruption over the years


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While it is a given that there is corruption in the judiciary, as in any other sector of the country including religious institutions, it is equally true that not all unpopular judgments or all judicial officials are tainted with corruption. In this article, I will expose some of how judicial corruption works and how even uncorrupted judgments can be misconstrued in light of the ongoing 2023 presidential election appeal.

Firstly to be clear, courts are bound by the written law, history of past judicial interpretations, rules of court and due process and of course the evidence before them. While the general public might be aware of the evidence, they generally are unfamiliar with the other prisms and professional principles and parameters on which lawyers are trained and therefore assume there’s a miscarriage of Justice when technicalities rule the day.

As I watched the record-setting 12hour judgment of the presidential election petition court, I noticed something quite disconcerting.

Presiding Justice Haruna Tsamani finished reading his lead judgment on Labor Party’s petition but failed to make a consequential order dismissing or granting the petition. The way courts work, judges review the evidence and analyze arguments on the issues, reach a decision and make an order one way or another. Tsamani did not issue an order granting or dismissing LP’s petition after his review in the first instance.

Immediately, a SAN got up and asked him to give his order but Justice Tsamani shut him up and handed over to another judge to read his own judgment. This was highly unusual and disturbing. While I agree it was unusual for a lawyer to interrupt a judgment delivery, it was equally unusual for a court not to give a consequential order especially since they had just given a consequential order immediately preceding in the APM case just before LP’s. In other words, they followed the right format with APM but wrong format in LP at the same sitting!

Here’s why it was unsettling. Some years ago, two appeal court justices in a three-man election panel collected bribes from a party. The third judge refused the bribe and wrote a dissenting judgment.

However when they went to deliver the judgment, the corrupt justices insisted that the principled judge should read his minority judgment first contrary to established practice.
He read his judgment and there was joy in the court as people assumed that justice had been done. Then the two compromised justices read their own judgments which was now the majority decision afterwards. Immediately that happened, a commotion broke out in the courtroom as the spectators clearly knew that mischief was afoot.

To protect the life of the judge who refused the bribe, he was posted out of Nigeria for some time while the two judges were dismissed.

In addition, a new team of justices was sent to Enugu to review all the previous cases they had done and handle pending cases. My father was the head of this clean up crew.

You would think that given all the attendant publicity over what happened previously that no one would try it again but that was not to be.

As he recounts in his autobiography “Justice Under the Shadow of the almighty…I was enjoying my summer vacation in the United Kingdom in August 2004 when I was informed that I had been transferred to Enugu Division. This was a complete surprise to me as I had not stayed long in Lagos. When I returned to Nigeria, I went to see the President of the court to find out the reason for my transfer. He informed me that there was a crisis in Enugu which led to the dismissal of two Justices on an allegation of bribery. Consequently all the Justices in Enugu applied to be transferred from there. He said he was sending my team there on a rescue mission. I moved to Enugu in September 2004 with Justices Suleiman Galadima, Umoren, Adekeye and J. Mikailu. Later we were joined by Justice R. Rowland, Justice S. Denton–West and Justice J. O Bada.

One of the most interesting divisions I served in was Enugu division. There were so many election matters in Enugu division. Five of the justices stationed in Enugu pleaded with the President of the Court to transfer them from there as all of them were being tried by the National Judicial Council based on petitions written against them. Even the President of the Court of Appeal was not spared! The president of the court without seeking my advice, simply posted me with four others to Enugu.
There were 40 cases pending at that time-election matters-most of them from Anambra state.We cautioned ourselves that we were on a rescue mission and we isolated ourselves from people including our retired colleagues .We kept away from lawyers we had known before so that we would be free to do our best.
I remember in particular the case of a senator. One senator Emodi was removed as the senator by the tribunal and we looked at it and all sorts of interests were shown in that case. Even a traditional ruler flew into Enugu to try and influence a member of the panel. We stood our ground and eventually senator Joy Emodi regained her position as a senator representing Anambra state. There were many other cases but this was the highlight.
There were so many appeals from Anambra state and one in particular involving one senator Ubah was a real problem. A panel of three justices sat on it and had agreed on the direction in which the case should go but somehow two of them took bribes and were influenced, and decided to go the opposite way. Happily one of their colleagues Justice Akaahs insisted that the justice of the case was what they had agreed upon before and so he decided to write a dissenting judgement. Unfortunately for the two justices who decided to go that way, they made a mistake of asking the dissenter to read his own judgement first. .
As the majority judgement was being read, and the crowd saw the direction in which it was going, there was pandemonium in the court. The court quickly rose to forestall violence. A petition was written and it was reported to the National Judicial Council which tried eight justices of the court, who had gone to hear appeals in Enugu. All were cleared of any wrongdoing, except the two who were dismissed. The National Judicial Council decided to dismiss the two justices because there was clear evidence of the bribery. In one of the cases they brought a bag containing money that was not properly closed and a cook who was cooking for them inside the official house even saw it. He was the one who carried the bag inside. They just gave him 10,000N from it. So the evidence for corruption was so clear that both of them were dismissed from office. The sad thing was that one of them had just a year or two to retire and he lost everything. His attempt to go to court over it failed.” https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085KRP7KV

Thus, I was very alarmed by the unusual procedure adopted by Justice Tsamani in judgment delivery last month as it reminded me a bit of the shenanigans in the infamous Enugu court of appeal case. Fortunately there was no dueling dissension.

Interestingly, that honorable judge who was essentially on exile and a pariah for exposing his corrupt colleagues, eventually made it to the Supreme Court. Although he was very senior, Justice Tanko sidelined him from the presidential election appeal case against Buhari in 2019 in violation of established practice. His integrity appeared to be his undoing.

This brings me to the present day Supreme Court. Justice Inyang Okoro was among a couple of justices approached by a minister in Buhari’s government pressuring them to rule on behalf of APC in gubernatorial elections. They demurred and days later, their homes were raided by DSS in an unprecedented onslaught on the judiciary. He was suspended from sitting on cases for a while until the DSS failed to make any case against him.

Like Tanko did to the principled judge aforementioned, Justice Okoro though senior appears to have been omitted from the seven-judge 2023 appeal panel. His integrity possibly being again a liability…

I will give two more examples and rest my case on how judicial manipulation and corruption works.
Apart from the undue influence attempt on my dad’s colleague in Enugu by a traditional ruler with fetish powers, another attempt was made on him directly too.
In our home state he had a reputation as an unapproachable and strict judge. If you raised a case with him, he would jail you as a deterrent to others.
One day, he visited an elderly ailing female relative in the village and right there and then she told him of a gubernatorial case a friend of her son was interested in.
Unfortunately my dad could not jail this elderly mama because she didn’t understand the implications of her action.
Fortunately she was so unfamiliar with the matter that she didn’t even know which of the parties in the case her son had interest in.
Upon returning to Enugu, he sent an SOS to the President of the court of appeal that an influence attempt had been made and that he needed reinforcements in case others had been similarly approached.
With a fresh panel of justices unknown to the public, he recused himself from the case and incidentally that panel was the first to unseat a rigged governor in our contemporary history and replace him with the petitioner.
Incidentally one of the relief justices of appeal in that historic case retired from the Supreme Court last month. The governor who emerged from their epic judgment publicly testified of his faith in the judiciary because he won as a small opposition candidate against the ruling party without knowing any of the justices.

Also in Enugu, a judge who was on an election tribunal for a state in the southeast refused the offer of millions, a Jeep and a house to pervert justice in a gubernatorial case.

The next thing the scorned party did was to get the steward in the guesthouse where he was staying to poison him. By the grace of God, the steward didn’t follow through with it, exposed it and the judge recused himself from the matter and was evacuated.

Unfortunately the honest judge was blackballed by other justices for his integrity and denied elevation to the court of appeal for years while those who took over the case capitulated to the bidding of threatening party. He eventually rose to become a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Last year, I attended his valedictory session where in his retirement speech, he said that corruption in the Supreme court needs to be investigated. Because of that statement, it was found that the Chief Justice of Nigeria was not only mismanaging the court, but he was corrupt and looting resources and forced to resign.
Notably from the foregoing, Enugu is one of the most high-pressure influence-peddling judicial divisions in Nigeria. At the time it oversaw election petitions in Anambra which my research showed was the most litigious state in Nigeria in 2007.
How did this justice fare in the Tanko Supreme Court? He was suddenly added to the seven-judge panel at the last minute in 2019 and the case against Buhari was unceremoniously dismissed the same day on the spot without a considered ruling and prolonged deliberations with “reasons to be given later.” It was an unprecedented break in established tradition and practice in the Supreme Court in a presidential appeal perpetrated by Tanko – Buhari’s implant.

This brings us finally again to the current court. Despite rumors that Justice Inyang Okoro would preside over the 2023 election appeal due to the recusal and pending retirement of the three most senior justices, a new list floating on social media curiously does not include him.
If true, his omission would be worrisome as Justice Okoro is one of the justices who refused to be compromised in the infamous Imo state “Supreme Court governor case.” His last minute recusal and replacement by recently late Justice Sylvester Nweze paved the way for the epic dissent he rendered against the signally controversial majority decision.
As noted earlier in this court diary series, it is left to be seen whether the Ariwo-ola-led Supreme Court will continue in the erroneous path of Tanko’s deviance from the norm or will restore time-honored practice of following seniority in the empaneling of seven justices for the Supreme Court appeal and in taking time to give a considered judgment instead of dismissal on the spot. Time will soon tell.

  • Emmanuel Ogebe, Esq, is a prominent US-based international human rights lawyer and Nigerian pro-democracy advocate with the US NIGERIA LAW GROUP in Washington. Last month, he marked the 26th anniversary of his exile to America after abduction and torture by Gen. Abacha for demanding an investigation of the assassination of pro-democracy icon over an election annulment.

Over the summer, he traveled to Nigeria to monitor the presidential election trials.

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