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Nigerian Bar Association To Look Into Alleged Assault By Tribunal Chairperson

Premium Times, Nigeria: Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has demanded that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) take an action on the assault allegation levelled against the Chairperson of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar.

Asked by PREMIUM TIMES to respond to Mr Falana’s demand on Wednesday, the Publicity Secretary of the body of Nigerian lawyers, Rapuluchukwu Nduka, vowed that the association would take steps on the matter.

This newspaper reported on Tuesday that Mr Umar was caught in a viral video clip kicking and slapping a security guard at Banex Plaza in Wuse, Abuja, on Monday.

The CCT chair’s conduct, which followed an altercation between him and the security guard over a parking space on the premises of the plaza, has been widely condemned with some calling for his prosecution.

In its bid to downplay the incident, the CCT’s Press and Publicity unit on Tuesday issued an error-ridden statement denying the assault allegation.

The statement said it was Mr Umar that was assaulted by “some miscreants” who gathered at the scene of the incident.

Demand for action

Speaking at a webinar orgainsed by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Mr Falana charged the NBA to take the matter seriously.

The NBA President, Olumide Akpata, was represented by Max Ikongbeh, who spoke before Mr Falana made his contribution during the event which also had the chair of PACAC, Itse Sagay, and the President of the Court of Appeal, Monica Dongban-Mensem, in attendance on Tuesday.

“Just last night, and this is in the social media now, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal was fighting in the market,” Mr Falana said while advocating the need for the NBA to be more concerned about disciplinary matters involving judges and lawyers.

He added, “He (Mr Umar) slapped the security man in the market, and this has been shown to the whole world. The NBA must take this matter very seriously.”

NBA’s reaction

When contacted by our correspondent on Wednesday, NBA Publicity Secretary, Mr Nduka, who promised that the association would take an action on the matter, said there was the need to find out what transpired first in view of Monday’s rebuttal by the CCT.

“The truth of the matter is that, at this stage, there is an allegation and the CCT chairman saying that he was actually the one that was assaulted,” Mr Nduka told PREMIUM TIMES.

He added, “At this stage, I think what we will get ourselves involved in is to find out what actually transpired.

“As an individual, I know that somebody of that calibre should conduct himself with utmost dignity and decorum, knowing the office that he carries.”

He said “it is terrible and it is something that must be condemned” if truly, the CCT chairman was the one who assaulted the security guard.

“There should be consequences by his appointors, those who appointed to that seat,” Mr Nduka said.

What will NBA do?

Asked which format NBA’s intervention would be, Mr Nduka said he had no immediate answer.

He said, “Our beat, as an association, at the moment, is to know what actually transpired.

“At this stage now, I can’t really say the procedure that we will take. But the bottom line is that it will be looked into. The procedure is what I cannot say at this moment.”

Mr Umar’s controversies
Mr Umar is not new to both criminal, corruption and ethical allegations.

In November 2016, while the then Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was undergoing trial at the CCT, a civil society group, Anti Corruption Network, filed a petition at the House of Representatives levelling various corruption allegations against Mr Umar.

A member of the House, Riwa Shawalum, on November 12, 2016, laid the petition signed by the group’s Executive Secretary, Ajulo Ajulo, before the House.

The group, headed by Dino Melaye, who was then a senator and ally of Mr Saraki, had, in the petition, accused Mr Umar of among others, withdrawal of N1 million in July 2011 from the coffers of the CCT to sponsor his own wedding.

The CCT chair was also accused of spending N15.2 million to purchase a Toyota Prado sport utility vehicle “without following due process.”

He was further accused of awarding contracts for the supply of office furniture and fittings at N11.3 million in March 2011.

Appearing at a legislative hearing over the matter in December 2016, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, said there was no sufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Umar over the allegations.

Also in February 2018, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed charges of demanding N10million bribe from Owolabi Taiwo, a defendant standing trial for assets declaration breaches before him at the CCT, in 2012.

The anti-corruption agency also accused Mr Umar of receiving, through his then personal assistant, Gambo Abdullahi, N1.8m from Mr Taiwo, a retired Comptroller of Customs, in the same year.

Earlier in January 2016, the EFCC arraigned the CCT chair’s personal assistant, Mr Abdullahi, on charges bordering on the bribery allegation.

In 2018, when the fresh charges were filed against him by the EFCC, Mr Umar, who was previously cleared of the charges through a letter issued to him by the same anti-corruption agency while he was presiding over Mr Saraki’s trial, had denied complicity in the bribery allegation.

He escribed the fresh charges as trumped-up.

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, later intervened by issuing a query to then private prosecutor engaged by the EFCC to file the charges, Festus Keyamo, now Minister of State for Labour and Productivity.

Although a date was fixed for Mr Umar’s arraignment, he was never taken to court.

In February 2019, a civil society group, the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, petitioned the Federal Judicial Council (FJSC) accusing Mr Umar of committing an act of misconduct by issuing a controversial ex parte order for the suspension of then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen.

The FJSC issued a query to Mr Umar over the petition.

In his response, Mr Umar said he was not answerable to the FJSC or any judicial body, but only the presidency.

Who has disciplinary control over CCT chair, members?

The CCT has a conflicting nature of being an executive with power to exercise some judicial powers.

Thus, for judges of regular courts, all allegations of acts of misconduct can be reported to the National Judicial Council (NJC), but it is not the same for CCT chair and the two other members.

While the Constitution confers on the NJC the role of recommending a member of the CCT for appointment, it gives the body no disciplinary power over the tribunal members and the chair.

To corroborate this, the then CJN, Mahmud Mohammed, in a letter dated May 18, 2015, and marked NJC/CIR/HOC/1/74, asked the CCT chairman and members to stop pre-fixing their names with the title, “Justice”, on the grounds that they were not judges.

According to then CJN, neither the tribunal chair nor any of its two other members is a judicial officer as defined in Section 318 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.

Mr Umar canvassed this argument in his reply to the query issued him by the FJSC over the Onnoghen matter. He also attached then CJN’s letter to his reply to the query.

But when not under scrutiny by any judicial body, Mr Umar refers to himself as a ‘Justice’ and relishes being addressed so.

The Constitution places the CCT and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) under the control of the Presidency, through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

But it prescribes that the President can only remove the chairperson or a member of the tribunal upon an address supported by “two‐thirds majority of each House of the National Assembly praying that he or she be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office in question (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body) or for misconduct.”

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