The Court of Appeal has barred the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar from participating in the trial of a former Comptroller of the Nigerian Customs Services (NCS), Mr. Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi who accused him of demanding N10m bribe to pervert the Court of Justice.
The court, last Friday, struck out the false assets declaration charges brought against the ex-Customs Chief by the Federal Government and ordered that the charge be revived only when the tribunal has been re-constituted.
Delivering judgment in an appeal filed by Owolabi against the ruling of Umar not to disqualify himself from his trial, Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson held that there was no way the ex-customs chief can get fair hearing from CCT under Umar having written a petition against him to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on demand for bribe.
The Appeal Court held that Umar having been thoroughly investigated by EFCC and partly indicted in the finding will naturally create a real likelihood of bias against his accuser in the minds of right thinking people.
Justice Akomolafe-Wilson held that the fear of denial of fair hearing raised by Owolabi was justifiable while the issue of fair treatment was fundamental that it cannot be waived aside.
She stated that although the EFCC did not arraign Umar on the strength of Owolabi’s petition, it cannot be doubted that the petition has caused some humiliation against the CCT chairman, hence the likelihood of bias against the defendant.
“The fact that the chairman was absolved from prosecution over the allegation of bribery made against him by appellant does not justify the refusal of the tribunal to recuse Umar from the trial of the appellant.
“No matter how strong the character of Judex might be, he should not sit as a judge over the case of an accuser.
“It is even noteworthy that the chairman was not completely absolved of blame in the petition filed against him to the EFCC. Though, the EFCC after investigation could not get sufficient fact to prosecute the chairman, yet he was vilified for a most unethical and highly suspicious conduct on his part.
“Let me state here that having regards to the investigating report of EFCC, the bias cannot by any stretch of imagination said to have been intestinally instigated by the appellant as a play to escape prosecution as being contested by counsel to the respondent.
“It is settled that justice must not only be done, it must manifest and be seen to have been done. A court must never place itself in a situation where the confidence reposed in it by the public to do justice to all parties before it in all circumstances in eroded.
“The stream of justice must be kept clean and clear without any suspicion of pollution.
“Justice cannot be said to be carried out in a case where the chairman of a tribunal who has been accused of graft from the appellant over a charge in which the chairman is presiding, still goes ahead to adjudicate over the case involving his accuser.
“I agreed as contended by the appellant that in the circumstances of this case, any reasonable mind seized with facts and circumstances of this case will not hesitate to hold the view that it is impracticable for the appellant to get a fair trial in the tribunal having chairman adjudicating over this case in which the appellant is the defender.
“The right to fair hearing is fundamental in our adjudicatory system or administration of justice so much so that the same has been entrenched in our constitution.
“It is a binding duty of the court to create an atmosphere or environment for fair hearing of cases in all situations.
“As the situation is, the appellant cannot be tried by this tribunal until the term of the chairman expires or in effect, when he is no more Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
“On the whole, having regard to the circumstances of this case, I am of the fervent view that the chairman excuses himself from heap of the charge against the appellant. In the meantime, the charge should be struck out pending when the tribunal is reconstituted with another chairman.
“I hereby set aside the decision of the Code of Conduct Tribunal delivered on 20th October, 2016 and strike out the charge against the appellant pending when the tribunal is reconstituted with another chairman.