Kano election petition tribunal bribery saga and integrity of senior advocates
By Ibrahim Umar
The unsettling allegation of bribery at the Kano State Election Petition Tribunal has cast a dark cloud over the integrity of the judiciary and its practitioners in the state and the nation generally.
This was made more pointedly worrisome as the allegation emanated from the bench, which is considered the moderating authority in the judicial system.
On the 15th of August 2023, the chairman of one of the four panels conducting the National Assembly & States Houses of Assembly Elections Petition in Kano, Justice Flora Ngozi Azinge of Panel 1, said in open court that money has been flying within the Tribunal, insinuating that litigants have been inducing the judges with money to subvert justice.
Her allegation became more biting when she said the inducements were perpetrated through lawyers, as she claimed that a senior lawyer had attempted to tempt her with a bribe.
Expectedly, this weighty allegation caused uproar within the judicial system across the country and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) rose to the occasion by demanding a clear and more definite exposition of the alleged crime and its perpetrators.
Lawyers in the state became subjects of ridicule and, expectedly some senior lawyers became very jittery. Their integrity was at stake. What they had worked tirelessly to achieve over the years was about to be eroded by one sweeping accusation coming from the mouth of a judge in her moment of unguided and careless pontification.
Underlying envy and jealousy came to the fore as lawyers whispered the names of their colleagues as culprits in the bribery saga. It was unpleasant.
Politicians also saw a gaping gap through which they would cast aspersion on the judicial system and win some sympathy against whatever unfavorable judgment they may eventually get at the end of the election petition.
Suddenly, a hitherto peaceful Kano became abruptly politically heated. Political parties lapped on Justice Azinge’s allegation and pointed baseless accusing fingers at one another. Justice Azinge has left a lacuna that must either be filled with evidence by her or be left to be filled with speculative accusations. “It was a dangerous gap that the system must not allow to remain unfilled”, Nathaniel Salifu, a Lagos-based lawyer said.
Of course, when confronted in court by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), she later clarified that the SAN involved in the alleged bribery attempt was not Kano-based. But already, her statement had mounted a mud on the silky robes of all SANs in Kano, and they, justifiably, felt this was unfair to their honor and dignity.
Investigations have however revealed that the alleged payment to a police orderly of one of the Tribunal panels was not true. It was an experience-sharing session by a fellow judge with the Chairman of Panel 1.
So far, there has not been any proven incident of bribery in any other Panel and the Chairman of Panel 1 appeared to be unduly emotional, with no idea of what truly happened.
It was gathered that the wife of a Police Orderly to one of the judges gave birth and the Orderly was given a N50,000 gift by a person who is not even a Lawyer.
As a result of her unfortunate outburst, the innocent man who made a gift of payment of N50,000 had gone to report himself to a security agency and the Tribunal. No lawyer was linked to it.
A senior lawyer who was passionate about the incident said “It is very unfortunate that names of respected Kano lawyers are being freely traded in the wrong information.”
Justice Azinge had earlier, also in open court, said a SAN who is not Kano-based offered her Sallah meat but she also failed to mention his name to clear eminent Kano lawyers. Even senior advocates who had no trial before her Panel 1 have become suspects, as she could not substantiate the claims.
Another senior lawyer said, “A name is hard-earned and Kano that has enjoyed palpable peace has now been thrown into a frenzy of confusion and likely political turmoil or controversy.”
The NBA letter to the Tribunal was clear in its demand that the Tribunal chairman should mention the name of the SAN outside Kano to clear the airs and the internal rivalry, envy, and usual professional differences among lawyers.
Credible sources have revealed that the Court of Appeal Headquarters had queried the judge for the confusion thrown into the political scene without any evidence to back up the claim and NBA had written the Chairman to compel her to mention the name of the lawyer outside Kano jurisdiction to clear the air.
A SAN outside Kano who said he was prosecuting an election matter before the Tribunal commended the Court of Appeal President and demanded that the matter “should be seen to its logical conclusion. Nothing should be swept under the carpet. Names should be mentioned and measures must be taken according to the law.”