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Bribery accusation, counter-accusation heat up Kano Election Petitions Tribunal

The recent allegations coming from the Kano National and State House of Assembly Elections Tribunal that some lawyers are trying to influence the judges with money in the several cases currently before them has birthed divergent views as well as counter allegations among parties and stakeholders in the justice sector, Daily Trust reports.

 

While the umbrella body for lawyers, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has written to the tribunal to demand for the identity of its members involved in the bribery allegations, the two major parties in the state have continued to trade words with each directly or indirectly accusing the other of being behind the bribery scandal.

 

Justice Flora Ngozi Azinge, the Chairperson of Panel 1 of the tribunal had during the sitting on Tuesday raised an alarm about what she described as a disturbing development wherein lawyers with cases before the panel were reaching out to her and members of her panel in order to influence their decisions.

 

While the tribunal secretariat refused to give details on what transpired on Tuesday when Daily Trust reached out on Thursday, several lawyers, who were present during the proceedings, confirmed that Justice Azinge made the allegation in the open court.

 

Efforts to speak to the tribunal chair were not successful as her phone number was not known and staff of the secretariat said they would not divulge it for security reasons.

 

Officials at the secretariat also said that by protocol, it was wrong to call any of the judges for clarification via the telephone as they could only talk on the record in the courtroom.

 

Our correspondent was also denied access to the learned judge at the secretariat.

 

But one of the lawyers handling cases at the tribunal, who asked not to be named, said the judge made the comment after the panel sat before the first case on the cause list was called.

 

It was gathered that Justice Azinge said a lawyer, who she did not identify, contacted her with the aim of influencing her and that she also said she had been hearing that other judges have also had similar experiences.

 

The judge was said to have disclosed that it had come to the knowledge of the panel that a staff of the tribunal collected N10million.

 

However, she did not indicate whether the said N10million was meant to be used to bribe judge(s) or whether the money was meant as a kickback for the undisclosed staff.

 

She was said to have quickly warned that all those making this illegal and immoral gestures or those that have the intention of doing it should stop forthwith, stressing that she would not tolerate any attempt to undermine the sanctity of the justice process.

 

 

One of the senior lawyers that was appearing before the tribunal on that Tuesday was said to have commended Justice Azinge and appealed to her to take up the matter at the appropriate quarters to ensure that those involved are properly identified, investigated and dealt with accordingly.

 

This, he said, would help to sanitise the system and serve as a deterrent.

 

It was further gathered that the Tuesday occasion was not the first time Justice Azinge was raising this alarm.

 

A lawyer, who constantly appears before the panel but asked not to be named, said Justice Azinge also gave the warning immediately after the Sallah break.

 

The judge was said to have revealed that a lawyer appearing before the panel had called her during the Sallah break to request for her details “to send Sallah gift”, to which she rebuffed and thereby warning all those appearing before her not to entertain such an idea.

 

Daily Trust reports that allegations of corruption in the justice sector had continued to dominate the news in the more recent time, especially after a 2020 report by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) placed the judiciary at top of its corruption index with N9.4bn bribes in two years.

 

The report entitled, ‘Nigeria Corruption Index: Report of a pilot survey’, which was carried out by the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, the research and training arm of the ICPC, had revealed that lawyers were most responsible for offering bribes for favourable judgment with 27.17 per cent while litigants and courts staff followed with 21.96 percent and 21.54 per cent.

 

NBA demands identity of indicted lawyers

 

Worried by the latest allegation and the aspersions it has cast on the legal profession, the Chairman of the NBA in Kano, Sagir Gezawa told Daily Trust that the association had written a letter to the secretariat of the tribunal to request for a meeting with Justice Azinge.

 

“Regarding the allegation that lawyers in Kano are making efforts or attempts to bribe Panel 1 of the election petitions tribunal sitting in Kano, we have written a letter to the secretary of the tribunal because you know you cannot write a letter to my Lord, the judge but you can write it to the secretary who will bring it to the attention of my Lord.

 

“So, we have done that and requested for an audience and at that meeting, we want my Lord to disclose all the details and particulars of that lawyer or those lawyers attempting to bribe my Lord,” he said.

 

Gezawa said copies of the letter were forwarded to the National Judicial Council, the President of the Court of Appeal and the President of the NBA “So that they will know what is happening in Kano”.

 

He said the letter was dispatched on Wednesday and the Bar was still awaiting the response from the tribunal.

 

He reiterated that the association is committed to the fight against corruption, adding that the fight is collaborative that needs a collective effort and “We are willing to do our own part and we await my Lord’s response”.

 

Kano govt, APC trade words

 

Meanwhile, the New Nigeria People’s Party-led (NNPP) Kano State government and the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) have continued to trade words over the allegation.

 

In a statement by Baba Halilu Dantiye, the state’s Commissioner for Information, the government said it “Views the incidence with a great concern as there is a strong rumour going round that some strong forces within the APC whose eyes are on Kano Election Petition Tribunals are bent on repeating what they did in 2019. They are all out to use whatever means to sway justice as was done previously.”

 

“It is an open secret that these strong forces who are well-known for their corrupt attitude are working tirelessly to scuttle the hard earned mandate of the people of Kano State.

 

“No doubt, all eyes are looking in the direction of the former Kano State governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje whose ascension to the APC national chairmanship was opposed by senior and founding members of the party and indeed majority of Nigerians because of various allegations of corruption. He certainly feels emboldened by what is generally perceived as his unfortunate and undemocratic selection as APC chairman who is rumoured to be all out to influence the outcome of various Election Petition Tribunals in Kano in particular and other states in general,” the statement read in part.

 

The statement added that the development is “a litmus test” for the APC-led federal government to show Nigerians its commitment to fighting corruption and defending democratic principles by ensuring that this case is thoroughly investigated and the culprits prosecuted.

 

“The anti-corruption agencies are equally expected to swing into action, especially when this type of allegation was made in open court by a respected Judge,” it added.

 

But in a swift reaction, the APC has warned the NNPP-led Kano government “Against dragging the name of the chairman of the National and State Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, Hon. Justice Flora Ngozi Azinge to disrepute because of its apparent dismal defence performance at the tribunal” and to “Vilify the tribunal before the judgement so that it draws sympathy from unsuspecting public in the event it is defeated.”

 

The Immediate past Commissioner for Information and Internal Affairs and spokesperson for Gawuna/Garo Campaign Council of the APC, Muhammad Garba in a statement said while Justice Azinge did not disclose the identity of the lawyer that allegedly offered the bribe, the Kano State government decided to denigrate the APC government by bringing it into the matter and indirectly referring to it as the bribe giver.

 

Garba said the state government was by that statement issued by his successor “Pre-empting the possible unravelling of the actual bribe giver by the tribunal and therefore wanted to malign the judge.”

 

He said the statement “Further confirm how perplexed they (NNPP) are, they filed an appeal while the tribunal is still holding its proceedings”, adding “Their action will not stop the election petition tribunal from going on with its sittings until it delivers final judgement.”

 

Garba, who is currently the Chief of Staff to the APC National Chairman, insisted that “Even with an apparent sign of victory on its side, the APC has not and will never offer any bribe to anyone involved in the case considering that it has presented facts and figures to prosecute the matter before the tribunal.”

 

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