Danladi Umar: The Trial Of God’s Viceroy

When a judge presides over a case, he too, is wittingly or unwittingly, under probe,  KUNLE SOMORIN writes.

It may not be the first case he is presiding over, but it is unarguably the most controversial yet. Justice Danladi Umar, the Chairman of Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), who is saddled with the responsibility of handling the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki, was at his wit’s end on Wednesday when he had to declare himself a viceroy of God Almighty.

A man of history and controversies, Umar holds the record of being the first judge in the country to issue an arrest warrant against a sitting Senate  president  in Nigeria.

His ruling on September 18 last year for Saraki’s arrest remains unprecedented and has caused a legal earthquake on the Nigerian political landscape. It weighs heavier than his November 16, 2015 warrants for the arraignment of six state former governors across all the country’s geo-political zones for allegedly falsifying their properties and personal wealth in their assets declaration forms.

“I hold this position as a viceroy of God and if I didn’t do it the way He wants me to do it, I will be removed,” Umar blurted as he ruled against the quest to disqualify himself on Saraki abuse of office and corruption matter which has become deafening.

Senator Bukola Saraki holds Umar to be unsuitable to preside over a corruption case because he (Umar) also has pending corruption issues against him.

To date, Umar has appeared three times before a committee set up by the National Assembly to investigate the bribery allegation while his accusers did not honour the invitation.

The judge has ruled Saraki out of order. He would not disqualify himself from Saraki’s trial. A displeased Saraki team has been trading in blackmail over principles of fair hearing and the fact that he who comes to equity must do so with clean hands.

Production of a clean bill on corruption by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, who by law could prosecute Umar, if a prima facie case is established, would not assuage the suspicions of Saraki’s defence lawyer, Raphael Oluyede who further alleged that the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs is taking over proceedings in the court.

Finding the altercation rather unbecoming, Justice Umar threatened to send Oluyede to prison for contempt for the umpteenth time.

What are the facts of these allegations against Umar? What’s the pedigree of the man reputed to be the youngest chairman of the CCT?

Appointed to the seat on July 11, 2011, at age 40, on the recommendations and nomination of National Judicial Council as well as Federal Judicial Service Commission before the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan, Umar had at age 36 acted as chairman of CCT, the adjudication unit of the Code of Conduct Bureau.

Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar vowed when he was appointed that the tribunal would be speedy in the dispensation of justice and resist any attempt to filibuster cases on grounds of technicalities. Such unnecessary delays, he said, would not hold water in matters brought before him. Such was the vigour, dynamism and activism that is now being put to test.

However, crises of confidence was stirred when he allegedly solicited for and received N10 million from a suspect standing trial before him. Saraki’s lawyer (Oluyede) had said since there is an ongoing investigation of Umar by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and since the anti-graft agency is also prosecuting the defendant, he (Saraki) may not get justice.

Although it sounds like mixing apples with oranges, prosecution of this case has been stalled. Also based on a letter dated 5 March, 2015 by the EFCC to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, investigations so far could not provide sufficient facts to prosecute Umar.

The suspect who made the allegation has refused to back up his claims against Umar when invited. He could neither substantiate his claims nor provide evidences of the telephones, the medium through which he received calls and text messages through which the CCT Chairman demanded for the bribe. He claimed they were lost, hence the call logs could not be retrieved.

Born on August 19, 1971 in Toro local government area of Bauchi State, Justice Danladi Umar, studied Law at the University of Maiduguri. Calledto the Nigeria Bar some 23 years ago, Umar was in private practice with the chambers of  Ayinde Sani and Co, Ibrahim Umar and Co and later Kanu Agabi, who interestingly is leading the defence team for the Saraki trial.

Umar joined the Federal Civil Service as Senior Legal Officer Federal Ministry of Justice and later Assistant Legal Adviser in some ministries including the Federal Capital Territory and Culture and Tourism respectively. He was also a Chief Magistrate in his native Bauchi State. With this background, he could be fairly described as someone prepared for the arduous task of unravelling matters of law and order relating to corrupt enrichment by public officers.

Attacked on June 28, 2013 by armed bandits on the Keffi-Gitata Road in Nasarawa State on his way to his home state, Umar escaped unscathed. Ibraheem Al-Hassan, the Head of Press and Public Relations of the tribunal attributed the attack then to politicians “whose cases are pending before the judges”