Last week the Federal High Court, Abuja, per Justice Inyang Ekwo, ordered the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) Danladi Umar to appear before the Senate in a probe on the petition that he was caught fighting in public. Justice Ekwo issued the aforesaid order while delivering judgment in a suit filed by Umar challenging the powers of the Senate to investigate him for fighting a security guard in public.
In his suit against the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions and the Attorney-General of the Federation, the CCT chair had prayed the court that pursuant to sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria lacks the jurisdiction to investigate him. But while delivering his judgment last week, Justice Ekwo stated that Umar had no cogent reason to stop the Senate from carrying out its constitutional functions. The judge further said that Section 2 of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act exposed Umar to an investigation by the National Assembly. The judge held that as a public officer administering a law relating to the conduct of public officers, Umar’s disgraceful conduct should be investigated by the Senate. The Judge also said that Umar had no reason to institute the suit to stop the Senate from probing a public petition seeking justice. Holding that Umar is not above the law of the land, the Judge further stated: “As such, it will be illogical for him (Umar) to seek to stop the Senate probe as doing so will give an impression that he is above the law”.
It is surprising that Umar was shamelessly praying to the court to stop the Senate from investigating him. You will recall that on 29 March 2021, the CCT Chair Umar threw decency, dignity and decorum overboard and engaged a security guard in an open street brawl in broad daylight at the Banex Plaza, Wuse II, Abuja, to the astonishment of the bemused onlookers who could be heard admonishing Umar, “Go away, go away, Oga go inside your car, respect yourself. You are not the most powerful person here, they will beat you here”. The video which captured the fight made the rounds at that time. During the affray, Umar gave the security guard an upper cut which landed in his face and consequently sending the poor man landing and sprawling on the ground. Seeing the man sprawling on the ground, a visibly-angry Umar was not done with him yet. Just as the man was regaining his composure and was about getting up from the ground, Umar, the street fighter, further sprang to his feet in the fashion of a native wrestler, swiftly ran to his car, brought out a lethal weapon and stretched his hand to use it to smash the head of the security guard but thanks to Umar’s two police escorts, driver and some good Samaritans who swiftly used their hands to block Umar from committing what would have been a murder or a homicide. At the end of the fight the security guard was rushed to the hospital for treatment. I don’t know whether Umar was also rushed to the hospital for treatment.
Following the unequivocal condemnation of Umar’s disgraceful conduct at that time by the general public, all have been expecting the National Judicial Council (NJC) to wield the big stick and fire Umar or at least suspend him from office pending the conclusion of investigation of the allegation against him. But unfortunately that hasn’t happened. Meanwhile Umar, in his arrogance, has not deemed it fit to apologise for his scandalous conduct. Instead of apologising to the Bar, the Bench and the public for his disgraceful behaviour, Umar proceeded to institute a suit at the Federal High Court to pervert the course of justice.
It is obvious that Umar believes that he is above the law of the land. He sees himself as an untouchable lawless leviathan. He is a god. He is superior to everybody. He can do whatever he likes. For example, during the trial of former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen, Umar announced in open court that he would not grant an ex-parte order. Strangely enough, the same Umar secretly went behind Onnoghen’s lawyers and concocted a black-market ex-parte order which President Buhari relied on in illegally removing Onnoghen as the CJN. Umar actually threatened journalists covering judicial proceedings in his court at that time that he would imprison them and they would remain in incarceration until he (Umar) retires from service after about 28 years.
An ethnic profiler, Umar threatened to deal with those whom he contemptuously labels “Biafran boys”. Shocked by the ethnic profiling, a visibly-angry co-convener of Bring Back Our Girls movement Aisha Yesufu released a video in April 2021 demanding for the immediate dismissal of Umar as CCT Chair.
By fighting in public, Umar has brought the Bar and Bench into public ridicule, public odium and opprobrium. Consequently Umar should have been removed as Chair of the CCT. It is characters such as Danladi Umar that gives the judiciary a bad name. There have been insinuations on social media to the effect that Umar must have been provoked by the security guard or that the security guard was the first aggressor and assaulter of Umar. No matter the high level provocation or aggression, a Chairman of the CCT cannot descend to the low level of fighting in public contrary to the Code of Conduct of Judicial officers and the Judicial Oath which he swore to uphold and in fact made other judges to uphold as well. As a lawyer, Umar should have known that aggrieved persons are enjoined by the Constitution to seek remedy in a law court. Therefore if Umar had felt that the security man had wronged him he could have set the law in motion against him instead of resorting to violence. Resort to violence is a recipe for anarchy. The rule of law in contrast to the rule of force ought to reign always.
The legal profession is a conservative profession that extols decency, public decorum, social comportment as the hallmark of excellence and success in the profession. By their special vocation as unbiased umpire in the dispensation of justice, judges ought to be the most disciplined officers in the temple of justice. Like Caesar’s wife, judges should not only live and behave above board but manifestly be seen to live and behave above board. Judges are honoured and revered because of their impeccable character. This is why judges could refrain from joining issues with their critics in the media and public space. This is why judges religiously season their public utterances in public places with the ingredient of mortification. For example, Master of Rolls, Rt. Hon. A. T Denning was distinguished by both his exceptional lucidity of thought and his character. If Umar can fight in the street, what is the difference between him and the motor park touts and political thugs who are always fighting in public?. If Umar can descend from his Olympian height to the low level of fighting in public, what advice will he be giving to his children and probably grandchildren? Or, what impressions will Umar’s children or grand-children have watching their father or grandfather fighting in public?
The late eminent Justice Akinola Aguda tirelessly advocated that only worthy persons should be appointed to the Bench. Aguda believed that a single error in appointing unworthy persons to the Bench could ruin the whole administration of justice. Justice Aguda was right. In most countries, only the best and the brightest are appointed judges. Not so in Nigeria. In Nigeria the most important factor that plays out in the appointment of judges is Prof. Richard Joseph’s prebendalism. This was why a Supreme Court nominee was nevertheless appointed as a Supreme Court justice despite the fact that the man did not know the meaning of the notion “technicality in law” during the Senate screening/clearing exercise.
I agree with Aguda that only men of character should be appointed to the Bench. For descending to the low level of fighting in the street, Danladi Umar is unworthy to be the Chairman of the CCT. If Umar is the Chairman of the CCT investigating the conduct of public officers it stands to reason that he should be fired when his conduct gives us reason to believe that he is unworthy to be the Chair of the CCT. On 15 March 2010 Hon. Justice Idris Habib Shall of the Bauchi State High Court was suspended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for fighting in public. So, why hasn’t the NJC fired Umar or at least suspended him pending the investigation of the serious allegation against him? The function of the judiciary as a dispenser of justice or as sustainer of good governance is endangered when a Chair of the CCT who ought to conduct himself responsibly in public throws decency overboard to engage in an open street brawl.