A three-member panel of the National Judicial Council, NJC, yesterday sat to grill a Federal High Court judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, over his purported controversial handling of a bail granted to a former Director of Pension Accounts in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, OHCSF, Dr. Sani Teidi Shaibu.
National Mirror however learnt that the judge refused to show up under the guise that he had an appointment with his optician.
The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, and the wife of the ex-director of pension had dragged the trial judge before the council over alleged professional misconduct.
He was accused of serially demanding for bribe by proxy from the Shaibu before he would admit him to bail; granting of bail to the accused on stringent conditions following his refusal to offer him bribe and failure to sign the bail papers of the accused even after meeting the stringent bail conditions.
He was also accused of refusing to hands off the case in spite petitions and applications to the effect.
Ademola was also accused of eventually handing off the case after much pressure only to adjourn sine die and ordered the ex-director to remain in prison indefinitely.
National Mirror reliably gathered yesterday that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mariam Muhktar, ordered the probe after a prima facie case was established against the judge.
It was also reliably gathered yesterday that there were about six other petitions hanging on the judge’s neck.
The probe, which started yesterday, is to establish whether the trial judge has not violated certain provisions of the code of conduct for judicial officers in Nigeria by his handling of the case and whether he is still a fit and proper person to occupy his exalted seat in the event a case of judicial misconduct is established against him.
But National Mirror reliably gathered yesterday that the trial judge welcomed the probe and denied any wrongdoing.
The judge had earlier told National Mirror that indeed, there were petitions written against him by Shaibu, over his purported refusal to sign his bail papers and other ancillary matters, but that he had answered the query issued him over the petitions.
The accused was kept in detention on the order of the court for about one year before the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja released him on bail about two weeks ago.
Shaibu is facing a criminal trial before Justice Ademola along with a former member of staff of the defunct Oceanic Bank, Mr. Udusegbe Omoefe Eric, and a few others.
In the 22-count charge slammed on them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, they were accused of obtaining money by false pretence, conspiracy to commit fraud and concealing the illicit origin of stolen pension funds.
After arraignment, the judge did not deny them bail when they formally applied for it.
The background of the case is that following strange discoveries of syndicated and institutionalised corruption, fraud and embezzlement in the administration of the payment of pensioners and administration of pension funds in Nigeria, the EFCC moved in and picked up some top officials handling pensions accounts for interrogation and charged those who had a case to answer before different courts in 2011.
Shaibu, who was one of those suspects was arraigned before Justice Adamu Bello (rtd) of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja and admitted in the sum of N10m with one surety in like sum.
But sometimes in May 2013, the case was relisted by EFCC and re-assigned to Justice Adeniyi Ademola by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
In the fresh charge, the EFCC had slammed Shaibu and Eric, with a 22-count fraud charge.
But as soon as the EFCC brought an application to get the court’s permission to prosecute Shaibu and his accomplice, Justice Ademola gave his nod and issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the former pension director for him to appear in court for arraignment.
The issuance of the bench warrant angered Shaibu, who protested to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court that Justice Ademola was not fair to him since the record before him did not indicate that he had, at anytime, made himself unavailable for trial and that the bench warrant was issued to embarrass him.
Shaibu said he was eventually arraigned by EFCC in May 2013 and was ordered to be remanded in Kuje Prisons by the trial judge while further proceedings in the case was adjourned sine die (indefinitely), purportedly to punish him for daring to protest to the chief judge over issuance of bench warrant in the matter.
He claimed that the matter was not fixed for hearing until his counsel personally intervened.
The accused also said that even after his formal bail application was eventually heard, the trial judge granted it but imposed a purported onerous condition of which a former CJN, Justice Idris Kutigi, had warned To establish his claim, Shaibu said that in what appeared a clear departure from the N10m bail with one a surety in like sum, totalling N20m granted him by Justice Bello over the same offence, he said Justice Ademola admitted him to bail in the sum of N500m with two sureties in like sum, totalling N1.5bn.
He said the other accused person in the case was also granted bail in the same sum with similar conditions attached.
Shaibu added that over six months after the bail was granted, both of them remained in prison, stressing that it was evident that they could not meet the bail conditions, he said they informed the judge who encouraged them to bring an application for variation, which they did but was turned down.
Shaibu, through his wife, Hajia Fatima, narrated his story in a petition addressed to the CJN and acknowledged on January 10, 2014.
He said that after the application for variation of the bail conditions was refused, his wife did the copious petition to expose purported reasons why his application did not find favour with the judge.
The wife, who told the CJN that the trial judge gave the most onerous bail condition of N1.5bn, allegedly the highest so far in the history of justice administration system in Nigeria, added that notwithstanding the outlandish bail conditions, “the learned trial judge kept frustrating every effort to meet this onerous condition of bail.
“We discovered, for instance, that the learned trial judge will interfere with the duties of the registry staff as they tried to process suitable sureties,” she claimed.
Fatima also claimed that after the bail variation application was refused on the account that enough materials were not placed before him, “my husband’s counsel filed an appeal and requested for certified true copies of the ruling as well as the proceedings of the court to enable them to promptly compile the record of appeal, (but) they were told that Justice Ademola personally kept the case file with himself and took it home with him, frustrating all efforts to quickly appeal against the dismissal of the application for variation of my husband’s conditions of bail,” she said.
She added that as at December last year, her husband had spent seven months in prison.
She also alleged: “I have reasons to believe that the trial judge is abusing his powers by keeping him detained in order to extort money from him, my family or our friends. The basis of my belief is that I have been receiving anonymous phone calls and text messages from people purporting to act on behalf of Justice Ademola asking me to deposit certain large sums of money into a particular UBA account No 2023439971 in the name of one Kingsley O.“
At other times, the callers will demand that I should arrange the sum of N25m in cash and await further instructions on where to drop it off in order to get the judge to approve my sureties or vary the onerous conditions of bail.
“What I find curious but alarming is that the persons making the demand for N25m from me always have prescient foreknowledge of every move that the Hon Justice Ademola will make at adjourned dates of the matter.
“For instance, they will inform me weeks in advance whether the judge will sit on a particular day or not, whether he will deliver a ruling or not and indeed, I was informed that unless I make the payment of N25m, ready by the day the ruling was fixed for delivery, the court will not find favour in our application for variation of the bail and this came to be true.
“In every case, I staunchly refused to cooperate. As predicted, on the 28th of November, 2013, the day fixed for delivery of ruling on our application for variation of the conditions of bail, the Honourable Justice Ademola failed to deliver the ruling. The next day, the judge gave his ruling and dismissed the application.
“I am therefore writing this complaint to invite the NJC to look into the entire circumstances of this case and determine whether the conduct of the judicial officer in questions does not amount to an abuse of power and an attempt to extort money from us in exchange for my husband’s freedom on bail.
“I am also requesting that you investigate and determine whether it is not unethical and a breach of the judicial oath for Hon Justice Ademola to continue to preside over my trial even after I had written a complaint against him to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and to investigate and determine whether the flagrantly onerous conditions of bail imposed on my husband by Honourable Justice Ademola were not imposed as an act of vindictiveness or revenge contrary to the oath of office for judicial officers,” she said.
Besides, she also said that she wanted the NJC to “investigate and determine whether on the peculiar facts and circumstances of this matter, whether the difficult and onerous bail conditions imposed by Honourable Justice Ademola was not designed to facilitate corrupt demand for gratification and to investigate and determine whether a judicial officer can hold on personally to a case file at all times so that he can monitor every administrative act carried out by court officers and in particular to prevent my counsel from obtaining copies of rulings and proceedings to assist in the process of applying for review to the Court of Appeal,” the petition added.
Although by the principle of self-imposed dumbness, a trial judge, most times, would not publicly join issues with his accusers, particularly parties appearing before him, even when his image is being battered, Justice Ademola however departed from this principle to make certain clarifications during proceedings in the case.
He said the clarification was necessary to clear his name on the issue of his alleged reluctance to sign Dr Teidi’s bail paper. That was late last year.
A bailiff of this court, one Alhaji, and another are involved and are now facing trial before a Magistrate’s Court for forgery.
Although Teidi insisted that the documents presented by his sureties were genuine, he said he was not ready to join issues but would use another set of sureties to get his bail so that he could take adequate medical attention from his personal doctor and prepare for his trial from home.
He claimed that he had presented fresh sureties whose title documents had been vetted and verified at AGIS but that the judge had refused to sign his bail papers