By Shuaib Sadiq
Kaduna – The Court of Appeal sitting in Kaduna on Friday has removed the chairman of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by Katsina State Government to investigate the alleged loss of government funds and properties.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Justice Muhammad Suraj from Plateau State was appointed by Gov. Aminu Bello Masari to head the 11-man Panel to investigate former Gov. Ibrahim Shema for alleged financial irregularities.
The court said that the circumstance of his appointment to head the panel would not give an average person the satisfaction that he would be fair to Shema over the alleged mismanagement of N70 billion government funds.
In a lead judgment read by Justice Adefope Okojie, the appellate court held that given that Gov. Aminu Masari of Katsina state had specifically requested for Justice Muhammad Suraj to chair the panel suggested likelihood of bias.
Her lead judgment, which concurred with the other two justices in the Appeal Court panel, Justices Ibrahim Shatta and Amina Augie, ruled that the chairman of the panel be replaced.
However, the court upheld the lower court ruling that the panel be allowed to continue with its investigation.
The judge also upheld the judgment of the lower court which held that the state government has the powers to set up a judicial commission to investigate activities of past officials.
Okojie said that the appellant had failed to prove that the state government is the accuser and the judge as alleged.
NAN recalls that following the constitution of an 11-man Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the alleged missing N70 billion during Shema’s administration, the former governor approached a court to stop the panel from sitting, alleging that he would not get fair hearing.
Shema, who lost the first bid to stop the investigation in the case at the lower court, proceeded to the court of Appeal in Kaduna which delivered judgment on his four grounds of appeal.
The grounds of appeal were: “That the Katsina State Government is a judge of its own cases in setting up a judicial commission of inquiry and making criminal allegations;
“The judicial commission of inquiry does not have the rights under the constitution to inquire into criminal matters;
“The judicial commission of inquiry is likely to breach the applicant’s right to fair hearing, all said and done and that the judicial commission of inquiry is simply a vehicle of oppression and violation of the applicant’s right.’’