STORY OF HOW NIGERIAN JUDICIARY CORRUPTION SCANDAL IN FCT SPIRALLED OVER AKWA IBOM GOVERNOR-ELECT UMO ENO’s CONVICTION
By Uduak Aniekeme
More desperate efforts have been reported to stave off the evil day for Pastor Umo Eno, as Governor Udom Emmanuel is said to have increased the bribe stakes for the Judges of the FCT Appeal Panel sitting as Appellate Court reviewing the earlier reversal of Umo Eno’s conviction order, without following due process. One does not know whether or not the Judges have compromised, but the outcome of last Wednesday’s proceedings will reveal the position.
Recall that on December 20, 2022 Umo Eno was convicted by an FCT Magistrate Court on charges of “cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property” in the suit marked CR/94/2022, involving one Edet Godwin Etim.
In the language of the arrest warrant issued against him “You are hereby directed to arrest the said Pastor Umo Bassey Eno and produce him before me,” ordered Chief Magistrate Emmanuel Iyanna on December 23, 2022.
A source had told The Cable newspaper that: “The warrant of arrest is based on criminal proceedings conviction conducted by the Chief Magistrate Court, Wuse, Abuja, and directed that the defendant be arrested and brought to court for sentencing having continuously refused to surrender himself to court.”
In order to stop the arrest, on the 9th day of January 2023 Umo Eno through his lawyers, Uwemedimo Nwoko, SAN and Barr. Samuel Ikpo filed a motion to set aside “Issuance of Warrant of Arrest”. There was no motion filed to set aside the judgment and conviction of the court delivered against Umo Eno in December 2022.
According to the Bailiff of the Court, they served the Complainant lawyers Umo Eno’s motion to set aside Issuance of Warrant of Arrest via an Order of Substituted service granted on the 10th day of January 2023 and the matter was slated for hearing of the motion on the 13th January 2023.
The complainant lawyers, the law firm of Law Icons (Solicitors and Notaries) handling the matter pro-bono, filed their counter to the motion and also filed a notice of preliminary objection on the ground that Umo Eno motion to set aside Issuance of Warrant of Arrest was incompetent.
Curiously, and in a manner of terrible fraud, when the complainant lawyers appeared in court the 13th day of January 2023, the matter was called from the Cause List, only for the same Magistrate to inform them that he had already set aside the warrant of arrest and the entire judgment on the 11th day of January, 2023 without hearing the complainant. Before this day, Umo Eno on the same Tuesday had boasted on television that the case was dead but he was not being believed since hearing date of January 13th was yet to come.
The Complainant lawyers insisted that their staffers were in the Court premises on the 11th January to apply for certified true copies of process and the court did not sit for the day. They have also obtained the cause list which shows that the court did not sit on the 11th of January a day after the order of substituted service was issued for hearing slated for 13th January 2023, the same court claimed the conviction and arrest orders were vacated.
The complainant lawyers played mature by leaving the court premises without rancour or insult to the obviously bribe taking Magistrate. Everyone was shocked about the secret proceedings of January 11th which obviously shown that the Magistrate and his accomplices sat elsewhere not the court to draw up the order. They advised the complainant to file appeal.
On the 17th January 2023, a notice of appeal was filed and served and record was moved. The Appellant and the Respondent had respectively filed their briefs of appeal and the matter was fixed for hearing on the 4th day of May 2023.
A source claimed that the Magistrate was not alone in sharing the hush cash which he is now using to enjoy vacation abroad. The FCT High Court Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Husseini Yusuf was fingered also in the early January with aides of Akwa Ibom Governor who leaked to the media that he was met in Lagos around January 8th 2023.
Upon receipt of hearing notice for the appeal that was earlier fixed to be held in May 4, 2023, another desperate move was made by Akwa Ibom Governor , Mr. Udom Emmanuel to compromise the FCT Judiciary particularly office of the Chief Judge Husseini and the head of Appeal unit, Kechere Ifeyinwa Stella.
On the 3rd day of May 2023, the Chief Judge of FCT High Court suddenly issued a directive suspending the appeal, that till further notice. The complainant lawyers angered by the slap on judicial function through administrative power, wrote a letter dated May 7, 2023 and urged the Chief Judge to set up a panel for the appeal within 7 days. The letter was also copied to the National Judiciary Council (NJC). The complainant lawyers also filed a motion for accelerated hearing citing that the appeal will become an academic exercise after May 29 swearing-in by virtue of section 308 of the Constitution therefore the matter should be decided before then, having regards to the fact the convict is now a Governor-elect.
An FCT High court sitting as Appellate Court having been approached to review the order that purportedly and unlawfully set aside Umo Eno’s conviction has been drawn into corruption scandal.
When the matter came up for review on May 17, 2023, Counsel to Umo Eno, Paul Usoro SAN, had filed a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the panel to entertain the suit, apparently in a last-minute effort to frustrate the hearing. They had previously filed similar motion and the complainant lawyers filed a counter to it to the effect that their motion is incompetent. Instead of moving the previous motion, they filed same or similar one a day to hearing being one tactics to delay the matter until May 29, to ensure the Court is fait accompli should the Judges refuse to play by their terms of cash offer.
The suit was later adjourned to May 24, 2023 for both parties to adopt their respective briefs and thereafter judgement.
However, after an extensive all-night meeting in Government House on May 17, 2023, Paul Usoro, SAN, was directed by Governor Udom Emmanuel to do everything humanly possible to compromise the Appeal panel headed by His Lordship, Justice Belgore, even if it means doubling the bribe so as to enable him send in a letter next week Wednesday, to excuse his appearance in court thereby frustrating its sitting on that day and paving the way for Umo Eno’s swearing-in on May 29th. That is the current strategy. All effort is to delay the hearing and judgment until May 29 so that the case die a natural death. They have also considered bribing the Judges to use preliminary objection and grant them favour but legal analysts who have followed the suit say that will be impossible as the appeal is tight made in law and the issue is a narrow one. One of the issues discussed at the night meeting of May 17 was that what was given the Bailiff of Magistrate Court N30Million naira to put in affidavit of service indicating that there was service of hearing notice for hearing on January 11, 2023 so as to be made into appeal record as supplementary record. But that will be another fraud blunder afterthought and will further expose Umo Eno’s team of judicial fraud.
A team from Akwa Ibom State Government, led by Engr Uwem Okoko, the Managing Director of Hensek, is said to have already mobilised to Abuja, with a directive to double or triple the bribe stakes to Hon. Justice M. B. Idris and Hon. Justice Belgore, to ensure that the eventual judgement is skewed in favour of Umo Eno. What Governor Udom Emmanuel does not know is that some of his inner caucus aides do not like Umo Eno and they giving out details of the bribery in this particular case.
However, while reacting to the development, some legal analysts opined that Umo Eno’s fate appears sealed, blaming his legal team for doing a shoddy job from the beginning.
“Even if Governor Udom Emmanuel uses all the Akwa Ibom State money to engage in bribery, there is nothing any Judicial Officer will be able to do in the circumstance due to how Samuel Ikpo and Uwemedimo Nwoko, SAN jumped due process to further complicate the case for Umo Eno. The fraudulent Order that purportedly set aside warrant of arrest and conviction was signed the day the court was not sitting as complainant’s lawyers had already obtained the day’s case list,” said Barr. Joseph Ibibom.
The expert explained that by operation of law and the Rules of Court, the Appellate Court has been asked to quash the fraudulent order and pronounce sentence outrightly. “Appellate Court is not where Umo Eno can even make any defense as it is not a trial court. Meanwhile what was remaining after conviction was sentencing which the arrest warrant was issued for,” he submitted.