Mr Yunusa, was recommended for compulsory retirement by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for different allegation of arbitrary issuance of restraining orders against law enforcement agencies in 2016.
Prosecuting lawyer, Wahab Shittu, said on Tuesday that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will appeal against Monday’s judgment of the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja which discharged a judge, Mohammed Yunusa, of bribery charges instituted against him in 2016.
Mr Yunusa was a serving judge at the Enugu Division of the Federal High Court when he was, in July 2016, suspended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) pending President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of the council’s recommendation for his compulsory retirement.
In January 2018, EFCC arraigned him on three counts of taking bribe from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Rickey Tarfa, who is also being separately prosecuted by the commission on similar charges.
The anti-graft agency, in February 2020, scaled the charges up to nine counts and re-arraigned Mr Yunusa alongside Esther Agbor, a worker at Mr Tarfa’s law firm, who was accused of paying N1.5million to the judge’s bank account.
The commission, in the amended charges, accused the two defendants of attempted perversion of the course of justice, corruption by a public official, use of office or position for gratification to the tune of N2,250,000.
But the Special Offences Division of the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja, on Monday, discharged the judge of the charges on the grounds that the NJC had reinstated the judge.
The trial judge, Serifat Solebo, gave the discharge order in a ruling following an application by the counsel for the second defendant in the case, John Odubela, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Mr Odubela had informed the court that the NJC had issued Mr Yinusa a December 29, 2020 letter signed by the Deputy Chairman, Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, who is also a Justice of the Supreme Court, lifting the suspension slammed on the sanctioned judge over four years ago.
Overruling EFCC’s objection, Ms Solebo discharged Mr Yunusa on Monday.
This was despite the allegation, which formed the basis for Mr Yunusa’s sanction by the NJC in July 2016 was unrelated to the bribery charges on which he was being prosecuted by the EFCC.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday, EFCC’s prosecuting counsel, Mr Shittu, expressed shock about the court’s ruling and vowed to appeal against it.
“The ruling handed down yesterday (Monday) by the court is very shocking with far-reaching implication.
“We intend to appeal against the ruling. This is because we have tendered exhibits and called a number of witnesses before the development yesterday.
“We were just about calling one or two other witnesses to close our case. I had called about eight or nine witnesses and we were to call just one or two more to close the case, when the development came.”
Asked if NJC gave any reason for its decision to reverse Mr Yunusa’s suspension or compulsory retirement, Mr Shittu said, “No,” adding, “What was stated in the letter was that NJC review committee sat to look at the case and the NJC recommended that the suspension be lifted, and that they were awaiting the confirmation of that recommendation by the President.”
EFCC to file amended charges
He also said the prosecution will immediately file amend the charges to four counts solely against the remaining defendant.
“The court struck out the name of the judge, so we will file an amendment to proceed with the second defendant.
“We will file amended four counts against the second defendant.”
The NJC had, in a March 16, 2016 letter, issued a query to Mr Yunusa, demanding his response to a petition written against him by a civil society group, Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), within 14 days.
The NJC’s query with reference number NJC/F.3/FHC.49/1/421, was signed by then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the NJC, Mahmud Mohammed.
CSNAC, in its petition dated December 21, 2015, accused the judge of arbitrarily granting injunctions restraining law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies from investigating and prosecuting suspects in violation of precedents laid down by appellate courts.
The group listed some of those cases in which the judge had issued such injunctions to include, FHC/L/CS/1471/2015 Mr. Simon John Adonmene & 3ors v Economic and Financial Crimes Commission filed on September 21, 2015; FHC/L/CS/487/14 – FRN v. Michael Adenuga; FHC/L/CS/1342/15 – Senator Stella Odua v. AG Federation, EFCC, ICPC and IGP.
Others according to the petitioner were, FHC/L/CS/1285/15 – Jyde Adelakun & Anor v. Chairman EFCC & Anor; FHC/L/CS/1445/15 – Dr. Martins Oluwafemi Thomas v. EFCC; FHC/L/CS/1269/15 – Honourable Shamsudeen Abogu v. EFCC & Ors; and FHC/L/CS/1012/15 – Hon. Teeth Dauzia Loya v. EFCC.
Mr Suraju stated in the petition that the restraining orders issued by Mr Yunusa in the cases, “will undoubtedly serve as a leeway for unscrupulous and corrupt individuals, who will stop at nothing to truncate their arrest, investigation and prosecution by the appropriate law enforcement agencies, to render our criminal law ineffective, as well as allowing corruption fester in the society.”
He added that Mr Yunusa’s granting of the orders was “a gross abuse of his powers as a judicial officer”.
The NJC, after investigating CSNAC’s petition, recommended Mr Yunusa’s compulsory retirement at its meeting held on July 15, 2016.
A statement by its Director, Information, Soji Oye, on July 17, 2016, stated that the NJC, at its meeting headed by then CJN, Mr Mohammed, noted that Mr Yunusa’s decisions restraining the law enforcement agencies from carrying out their constitutional duties contravened the judgment of the Court of Appeal in A.G Anambra State Vs. UBA which he quoted but did not apply in his rulings.
The NJC also noted that the decisions violated Section 46 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) by assuming jurisdiction on a former Minister of Aviation, Stella Odua’s case in Lagos, when the applicant’s complaint of infringement of her right occurred in Abuja.
It added, “Hon. Justice Mohammed Nasiru Yunusa was recommended for compulsory retirement pursuant to the ‘Findings’ by the Council following the allegations contained in the petitions written against him by the Civil Society Network Against Corruption that His Lordship granted interim orders and perpetual Injunctions, restraining the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Inspector General of Police, Independent Corruption practices and Related Offence Commission and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from arresting, investigating and prosecuting some persons accused of corruption in the following seven cases.”
The cases were those listed in CSNAC’s petition.
The NJC added that “in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended”, it immediately placed Mr Yinusa on “suspension from office pending the approval of the recommendation of the Council for their compulsory retirement by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR.”
But findings by PREMIUM TIMES showed that Mr Buhari never approved NJC’s recommendation, even though, many other similar recommendations by the council were approved by the President afterwards.
It will be a record-breaking move if Mr Yunusa is reinstated to office after NJC’s recommendation of his compulsory retirement.
‘Judge must have been misled’
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday, Mr Suraju, said the President and the leadership of the judiciary had “unfortunately” given credence to “a measure of the suspicion, the allegation, that the President and the judiciary has failed to actually act on the indictments associated with people from the North.
“This is rather unfortunate,” he added.
The activist described Tuesday’s ruling as an embarrassment to the nation, and “a major indictment that it is too hard for anti-corruption activist to swallow”.
Mr Suraju, who suspected that the trial judge must have been misled to give the ruling, urged the EFCC to appeal against it.
He also maintained that his petition, which led to NJC’s recommendation of Mr Yunusa for compulsory retirement, was different from the bribery charges on which the EFCC was prosecuting him.
He said, “EFCC will have no other option but to appeal the decision of that court. It is my assumption that the judge must have been informed, by the defence lawyer, Mr Odubela.
“Mind you, the chambers of Mr Rickey Tarfa that was also at the centre of the inducement of the judge (Mr Yunusa) was where Mr Odubela operated and practised his profession as a lawyer.
“With this that has just taken place, the President, the NJC and the judiciary have been totally embarrassed before the country and the international community.
“Unfortunately, the NJC’s recommendation for compulsory retirement of Justice Yunusa, was not about bribery and inducement involving the chambers of Mr Rickey Tarfa.
“The basis for the recommendation of compulsory retirement of Mr Yunusa which was informed by the petition by the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) was the arbitrary granting of perpetual injunction to suspects of corruption and corrupt practices outside the power and jurisdiction of his court, even against the position and decision of appellate courts in similar cases.”