By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
YEAR 2019 was no doubt an eventful year for the judiciary. As customary in every election year, various election petition tribunals were constituted to settle disputes that arose from the last general elections.
President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, disclosed that the appellate court delivered a total of 4, 007 judgements, even as it settled 805 election related disputes in the year under review.
Remarkable among the election disputes that were disposed of were four separate petitions that sought to nullify the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Though most of the cases failed at the level of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, two of them found their way to the Supreme Court.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, had in a 66-ground of appeal they filed before the apex court, tried to set-aside the September 11 judgement of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal that gave victory to President Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Likewise, the Hope Democratic Party, PDP, and its own candidate, Chief Ambrose Owuru, also sought to void the outcome of the February 23 presidential poll that was declared in Buhari’s favour.
However, in separate verdicts on October 28 and 30, 2019, a seven-man panel of Justices headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, dismissed both appeals as lacking in merit, stressing that the litigants failed to establish why results of the presidential election should be nullified.
The apex court equally validated judgements of various governorship election petition tribunals across the federation.
It upheld election victories of most governors, including those of Kaduna, Akwa Ibom, Oyo, Ebonyi, Kastina, Nasarawa, Lagos and Ogun States.
Aside political matters, 2019 also saw the conclusion of hearing on some criminal cases that have dragged for years, as well as initiation of fresh ones.
Among the prolonged trials that were concluded in the year under review, with judgements being awaited in the new year, include the money laundering charge involving the erstwhile National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh.
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had on November 26, fixed February 25, 2020, to deliver judgement on the case the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against Metuh.
Metuh is facing trial alongside his firm, Destra Investment Ltd, for allegedly receiving N400million from the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, prior to the 2015 presidential election, without contract approval or execution.
Trial Justice Okon Abang adjourned the matter for judgement after all the parties adopted their final briefs of argument.
Whereas Metuh called 15 witnesses to establish his innocence to the charge, his firm called a lone witness to testify on its behalf.
EFCC had in April 2016, closed its case after it produced a total of eight witnesses that testified against the defendants.
Some of the old criminal cases that will shape the 2019 legal year, are still pending before different courts in the country.
Prominent among such cases are the trial of former National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, retd, and that of leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu.
While Dasuki is answering to three separate money laundering and illegal possession of firearm charges before both the Federal High Court and the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the IPOB leader, Kanu, who is currently at large, is answering to treasonable felony charge the Federal Government preferred against him and other pro-Biafra agitators.
Another major trial that will shape the legal space in the new year is the trial of pro-democracy activist and convener of the #RevolutionNow Protest, Omoyele Sowore.
Sowore, who was the presidential candidate of African Action Congress, AAC, in the last general election and publisher of an online news outlet, Sahara Reporters, and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare (aka Mandate), are currently answering to a seven-count treasonable felony charge FG entered against them.
They were in the charge marked FHC/ ABJ/CR/235/2019, accused of conspiracy, money laundering, cyber-stalking and insulting President Buhari.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge, even as trial Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu ordered their release on bail, a judicial directive the DSS temporarily obeyed for about 12 hours after they had spent over 124 days in detention.
The agency re-arrested Sowore at the premises of the Federal High Court in Abuja, in a manner that drew flaks to it from both within and outside the country.
In the wake of public outcry that trailed the action of the DSS, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, directed the security agency to hands-off the case and transfer the case-file to his office for review.
Subsequently, Malami, on December 24, ordered the release of both Sowore and Dasuki from detention pending the hearing and determination of charges against them.
While Dasuki spent over four years in detention from 2015 when he was arrested, Sowore spent about five months in custody of the DSS.
Meantime, as 2020 legal circle kicks off, another criminal case that will surely dominate public space will be the trial of former Chairman of Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina who is facing money laundering charge.
Trial Justice Okon Abang had fixed January 13 for continuation of hearing on the money laundering charge the EFCC preferred against him.
Other cases that will dominate the new year will include the trial of alleged culprits in controversial Process and Industrial Developments Limited (P&ID) gas supply and processing contract agreement that led to a $9.6billion liability judgement against Nigeria.
Among those in the EFCC net are the former Director, Legal Services of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Grace Taiga, who is already facing trial before an Abuja High Court sitting at Apo, as well as the former AGF, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, who is still in custody of the anti-graft agency.
Justice Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja had on December 18, issued a bench warrant for the arrest of a British national, Adam Quinn, over his alleged involvement in the gas supply scam that is currently a subject of litigation between Nigeria and P&ID in the United Kingdom.
EFCC alleged that the wanted Briton was one of the brains behind Process and Industrial Development Limited of British Virgin Island, which the court earlier convicted in charge No. FHC/ABJ/CR/230/20I9, after its Directors pleaded guilty to fraud allegations the Federal Government of Nigeria levelled against them.
Quinn’s compatriot, James Nolan, who is answering to a 32-count amended criminal charge before the court, was earlier remanded in the Kuje custodial center.
Justice Abang had fixed January 20 for continuation of his trial.
From all indications, there is no doubt that 2020 will be a busy year for the Nigerian judiciary.