By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Umar, should not participate in the trial of a former Comptroller of the Nigerian Customs Services (NCS), Mr.
Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi, over false asset declaration charges.
The court ordered that the charge brought against the NCS boss by the federal government should be revived only when the tribunal has been re-constituted.
Owolabi had accused the tribunal boss of demanding N10million bribe to pervert the Court of Justice and asked him to disqualifies self from
In his ruling, Danladi Umar discountenance the application which prompted the appellant to approached the apex court challenging Umar’s ruling not to disqualify himself from the trial.
Delivering judgment, 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 judge 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.
The court further held 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.
“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.”