The trial of Federal High Court judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola took an interesting turn yesterday when a prosecution witness said that a former lawyer of President Muhammadu Buhari, Kola Awodein had given the judge N500,000 while the president’s certificate case was pending before Justice Ademola.
Although the witness, an official of the Department of State Security (DSS) said that he did not consider the money to be a bribe and the lawyer admitted giving Justice Ademola the money but as contribution towards his daughter’s wedding, it does not stop speculations on if the President was attempting to bribe the judge in his case.
Expectedly, the Presidency has also issued a denial that the money was not given on behalf of the president.
It should be recalled that in the run-up to the 2015 general elections, there was a controversy over whether the President as candidate of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) possessed the West African School Certificate (WASC), the minimum educational qualification required to run for the office of the president.
President Buhari had submitted an affidavit to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) explaining that all his academic credentials were with the Military Board. However, the Nigerian Army denied that, stating that they only kept copies of credentials of officers and soldiers in their personal files in the military secretary’s office. In a funny twist, the Nigerian Army then announced that they found the original certificate a few days after the election results were announced.
However, this did not convince a lawyer, Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe who filed a suit at the Federal High Court stating that the academic qualifications documents submitted by President Buhari in his Presidential Nomination Form to INEC were false, and asked the court to declare that he was eligible to stand for election and also issue a certificate of return to former President Goodluck Jonathan who came second in the election.
The case was finally decided on June 30, 2016 when the applicant withdrew his suit by issuing a notice of discontinuance.
The N500,000 given to Justice Ademola was given on 9th May, 2015, almost a full year before the case was decided by Mr. Awodein who was on the team of 13 lawyers that represented President Buhari, all of them Senior Advocates.
Indeed, it is very likely that the money given was really just a gift as Awodein claims, given that the case was decided more by the decision to withdraw the suit by the plaintiff rather than by a judgment given by the judge.
However, it raises ethical questions about such gifts especially when the giver has a case pending before the receiver. Interestingly, this was the same defence that was given by Rickey Tarfa, SAN who was accused of giving Justice Mohammed Yunusa of the Federal High Court N225,000 to influence his court case. Tarfa, however, claimed that the money was contributions made by he and other friends for Justice Yunusa to assist him with the funeral rites of his father-in-law. The case is still pending before the High Court of Lagos State.
In President Buhari’s case, he will have to do as much explaining as possible to clarify the facts on this matter.
It is bad enough that a President is accused of bribing a judge in his case. It is worse when that President is one that was elected on an anti-corruption agenda.