Needless Delay

THE judiciary still remains the last hope of the common man in a democracy.

Whether the Action Congress, AC, would agree with this popularly held notion, however, is a different ball game altogether. Six weeks after submitting a petition to the National Judicial Council, NJC, and the Economic and financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, alleging corrupt practices against the first Osun State Election Petitions Tribunal members, not much has been heard about the matter.

Worse still, this magazine reliably gathered that the EFCC that rose up to the challenge of looking into the petition is being urged to hands off the matter, as it is not within its jurisdiction. Information available to this magazine shows that the anti-corruption agency, penultimate week, invited the MTN directors to avail the agency of the official call logs, record of voice calls as well as text or SMS messages of Chief Kunle Kalejaiye, SAN, counsel to the Osun State Governor, and the Osun State Election Tribunal members headed by Justice Thomas Naron.

Rather than respond accordingly, this magazine reliably gathered that the communication network last week sent its lawers without the EFCC requirements, to have a ‘talk’ with the commission’s Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri. “But the infuriated Chairman chose not to have anything to do with the lawyers, more so that they did not come with the call list and SMS messages of the accused as requested,” a source offered.

“Our letter was definite,” Mrs. Farida was said to have told the lawyers. “It (the letter) stated unambiguously that we want to see the directors with the call logs and SMS messages of the accused. Tell them that they are not the target, we just want to establish the truth, to know if indeed the allegation of corruption as contained in a petition sent to us has any merit,” the Chairman was said to have admonished the lawyers who visited her last week. But as at the time this magazine was going to press last week, the directors had still not complied with the EFCC di­rective.

Mrs. Waziri, we further gathered, swore to get to the root of the matter. “She reiterated her resolve to step on toes, no matter whose ox is gored. To this end, the directors may be compelled to release the documents which will aid the investigation of the allegations contained in the petition,” the source said last week.

A twist was, however, introduced into this corruption saga when the NJC was alleged to have directed the EFCC to hands off the investigation. A source at the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi, who is the Chairman of the council, told TheNEWS that the NJC, and not the EFCC, is constitutionally empowered to investigate such allegation. The source said EFCC was overstepping its bounds when it indicated interest in investigating the petition.

But an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Max Ogar, speaking on the controversy, told TheNEWS that, in­asmuch as the NJC is the constitutionally empowered body to look into allegations against judicial officers, “there is nothing wrong if the EFCC is also investigating the corruption allegation as contained in a petition sent to them. To us lawyers, we want to see how this case will be resolved, and soon too. Corruption is corruption. Was the fraud in the National Judicial Institute, NJI, not investigated by EFCC? I pray that politics should not be introduced into this case because it means so much to the Nigerian judiciary, as the allegation is so weighty. It is also in the interest of the accused to help in the investigation so that they can clear their names which has been tar-brushed going by the allegations contained in that publication by TheNEWS”.

Mr. Femi Babafemi, EFCC’s spokesman, was not available when this magazine called at his office last week. He was said to have traveled to Osun State to attend a retreat organised by the Police Service Commission, PSC. It would be recalled that the AC, in a petition dated 7 July 2008, signed by Prince Gboyega Famodun, alleged that Chief Kalejaiye had many telephone conversations with the Tribunal members, especially the chairman, during hearing in the petition filed by the AC Governorship candidate, Engr. Rauf Aregbesola, challenging Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola’s victory at the April 2007 polls lasted.

Part of the petition reads: “We believe that it is unusual for a lawyer and a judge to be in constant and regular telephone conversation with each other when the lawyer has pending matters before the said judge.” Attempts by the petitioner to halt the judgment of the Tribunal pending the determination of the petition of corruption against the election Tribunal Justices failed, as the Tribunal went ahead to deliver judgment.

Interestingly, despite his grandstanding and threats of court action days after TheNEWS hit town with the story, Otunba Kunle Kalejaiye (SAN), Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola’s lawyer, perhaps unwilling to face an embarrassment in court over a story that in his heart of hearts he know is true, has refused to live up to his threat to drag TheNEWS to court for libel over the story.

When the petition was filed before the NJC, the chairman was said to have traveled out of the country. TheNEWS findings however showed that the chairman has since returned to the country. Yet, six weeks after, not much is seen to have been achieved Nigerians are watching.

•Culled from TheNEWS Magazine