Presidency, CCT Chair, Saraki in Mexican Stand off – N10 million bribery scandal: Presidency in dilemma over CCT Chair?

A Mexican standoff is a confrontation among two or more parties in which no participant can proceed or retreat without being exposed to danger. As a result, all participants need to maintain the strategic tension, which remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it.

The Mexican standoff is a recurring trope in cinema, where several armed characters hold each other at gunpoint.

The Presidency is in dilemma over what to do with the embattled Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal,  Justice Danladi Umar, who has been embroiled in a N10 million bribery scandal, forcing the two other members of the tribunal to refuse sitting with him.

The two other judges of the CCT, Robert Odu rtd and Agwaza Atedze had in a joint letter to former President Goodluck Jonathan and copied to the EFCC, drew the attention of the government to the N10 million bribery allegation made against Umar, saying that the issue had brought serious embarrassment to them and the tribunal.

“May we with respect, draw His Excellency’s attention to the allegation of N10 million bribe made against Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar, current chairman of Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja, which is being investigated by the EFCC”, they reportedly said.

“We, the two members of the CCT and the entire staff are embarrassed and saddened by this allegation because a tribunal set up to check corruption should not be accused of being corrupt. This would not be in keeping with the transformation agenda of the administration.

“It is our prayer therefore that this allegation will be looked into so that the tribunal can start sitting in the interest of litigants and their counsel,” the two members said in the letter dated April 4, 2014.

Sunday Vanguard investigations spanning weeks indicate that although the Presidency has been embarrassed by the gamut of evidence adduced by key government officials against Umar, it was however handicapped by the fact that the said man is handling the trial of persons suspected to be corrupt.

It was learnt that the Presidency was however carefully studying the bribery case against Umar so as to take a definite and prompt action that would not tarnish the image of the CCT and the administration.

Confusion is said to have become the lot of the Presidency as to whether to move against Umar based on the advice of the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, to former President Jonathan, that Umar should be removed from office based on the scandal or to initiate a new probe of the bribery scandal.

Adoke was also said to have authorized the EFCC on June 25, 2014, to prosecute Umar and his PA based on the findings by the commission.

In the investigation carried out by the EFCC under its recently removed Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, Umar was alleged to have demanded and collected the sum of N1.8 million from one Rasheed Taiwo, a former Deputy Comptroller General of Customs, who was arraigned at the CCT over false declaration of assets.

To pave the way for the prosecution, EFCC crack investigators swopped on Zenith Bank, through which Taiwo allegedly paid the first tranche of N1.8 out of the N10 million to Umar through his PA, Gambo Abdullahi, and retrieved the cheque number and details of the transactions.

The Zenith Bank cheque for the amount of N1.8 million was issued by Taiwo Rasheed Owolabi on December 12, 2012, and received the same day by Gambo Abdullahi in his Usuma Branch, Maitama Abuja.

Sunday Vanguard did a little digging into this and reported that with the payment of the N1.8 million into Abdullahi’s account, his balance in that account rose to N1, 900, 448, 41. The money was promptly withdrawn the same day by the Abdullahi, who told EFCC investigators that he handed over the cash to Umar by hand.

EFCC’s findings showed that Umar used his telephone number, 08033367814 to communicate with Taiwo whose phone number with which he established constant communication with the CCT chairman was given as 08074455022.

Based on the findings, the former EFCC chairman, in a memo dated June 24, 2014, and addressed to the Attorney General of the Federation, Adoke, said that it was obvious from their findings that the CCT chairman might have collected the said amount of money from Taiwo.

The agency said however that it was unable to carry out forensic analysis of the telephone number of Umar, since he insisted that he had since lost that phone.

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Lamorde said, at the time, “Available circumstantial evidence suggests that the Tribunal Chairman might have indeed demanded and collected money from the complainant through his PA

Justice Umar also admitted that he met privately with the complainant in his chamber of the CCT. This has since been considered most unethical and highly suspicious conduct on his part.

“There is a preponderance of overwhelming evidence to however prosecute Gambo Abdullahi, who could offer no coherent excuse for receiving N1.8 million into his salary account from Taiwo, who is an accused person standing trial at the CCT.

“The full money has been recovered from him in May 2014 and aptly registered as exhibit. The fact that he made two contradictory statements on the reason he was paid the money, is clearly an attempt to cover the reason the money was paid to him,” Lamorde concluded.

EFCC did not stop there.

Although the case file for the two accused persons was prepared since June 2014, it was not clear why the EFCC later dropped Umar’s name from the charge sheet and took only his PA to court, where the matter is still pending.

The EFCC has remained silent on Umar till date.

An EFCC source said last night that the commission would not comment on a matter that was before a court so as not to commit contempt.

CAN UMAR BE REMOVED? HOW WILL THIS AFFECT THE SARAKI SITUATION?

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It was however learnt that the lacuna that has kept Umar in office till date might not be unconnected with the provisions of the law, which make it impossible for the President to remove him from office without getting two thirds majority support from the National Assembly.

It was also leant that the National Judicial Council, NJC, whose opinion on the matter, was sought by the immediate past government, had said that they had no hand in removing him from office but that the EFCC should thoroughly investigate the bribery allegation against him and bring him to book.

In a four-page memorandum written by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria to the Presidency on the issue of Umar, Justice Aloma Marian Mukhtar, made it clear that since it is the President who has the power to appoint the CCT chairman, it is also the President who has the power to remove him from office with the approval of the NASS.

Former Attorney General Adoke had written to the then President and said “I am of the humble opinion that the current state of affairs in which the CCT is unable to sit while the institution is increasingly diminished by a pall of suspicion, should not be allowed to fester as it will expose the institution to public ridicule and undermine this administration’s effort to combat corruption.

“IN the light of the foregoing therefore, Your Excellency may wish to initiate the necessary steps for the removal of the CCT chairman from office,” the former Attorney General wrote.

It was learnt that the Presidency might soon take action and reconstitute the CCT to be able to assist the government in its anti-graft war.

A source said the continued stay in office of Umar with the corruption scandal hanging in the air was giving the Buhari administration a serious cause for concern.

How soon action is taken to save the face of the new administration remains to be seen.

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