BY TONY ICHEKU, Abuja
Fresh facts, some of them obtained through Freedom of Information (FoI), reveal as untrue earth-shaking allegations levelled against former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Kasse Aondoakaa, SAN. Particularly, Michael Aondoakaa is not barred from holding public office.
The former AGF has been the subject of political potshots ever since the termination of Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration under which he served.
Aondoakaa, a frontline gubernatorial aspirant for Benue State under the platform of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) is facing an avalanche of attacks and accusations from a factional cleavage within the APC in the build up to 2023 general elections.
Weeks back a political group in Benue State by name “APC Frontier Group” had caused to be published in some social media posts and online platforms that a certain Barrister Pius Ukeyima Akutah Gbongbon, and Honourable Nick Wende were to replace Chief Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, SAN in pressing home the governorship demand of the Kwande bloc, come 2023.
The Group added that the Supreme Court of Nigeria, “in a matter titled SC939/2015”, had ruled that “Aondoakaa should not hold public office for life,” in view of an alleged official misconduct when he served as AGF in the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua.
Michael Aondoakaa, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was appointed the Attorney General of the Federation in July 2007 and served till 10th February 2010, three months before the death of President Yar’Adua in May 2010. The pertinent question is; “Can the Supreme Court bar Aondoakaa for life or for any period of time for that matter from holding public office as a result of official misconduct without a conviction and outside the provisions of the 1999 Constitution ( as amended) and the Code of Conduct Act?” We set out to investigate.
Justice Mary Odili in Suit SC939/2015
Factcheck revealed that the Supreme Court ruling referred to is APPEAL NO. SC.939/2015: MICHAEL K. AONDOAKAA, SAN vs. HON. EMMANUEL B. OBOT & 1 OR delivered on the 10th day of December, 2021. At Pages 21-23 of the ruling, Justice of the Supreme Court (JSC) Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili presided over the Panel where the Supreme Court held as follows:
“These allegations, bordering also on criminality, are allegations of breach of paragraph 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
“By paragraph 12 of part 1 of the said 5th Schedule to the Constitution: Any allegation that a public officer has committed a breach of or has not complied with the provisions of this code shall be made to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“In paragraph 15(1) of part 1 of the said Schedule, the Code of Conduct Tribunal is established. Paragraph 18 of the said Schedule further provides:
1. Where the Code of Conduct Tribunal finds a public officer guilty of a contravention of any of the provisions of this code, it shall impose upon that officer any of the punishment specified under sub paragraph (2) of this paragraph and such other punishment as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
2. The punishment, which the Code of Conduct Tribunal may impose, shall include any of the following:
(a) Vacation of Office or seat in any legislative house, as the case may be;
(b) Disqualification from membership of a legislative house and from the holding of any public office for a period not exceeding ten years.”
From the holding of her Lordship, the Supreme Court took note of the fact that a person who is convicted of contravention of Code of conduct or convicted for an offence involving dishonesty is disqualified from holding public office for a period not exceeding ten years. Even if the judgment delivered against Aondoakaa on the 1st June 2010 was by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, it is definitely a period that is more 10years now. Meanwhile, the matter in reference was a civil case that did fall under the classes of disputes requiring adjudication by the Code of Conduct Tribunal; as such, the Tribunal was not approached and such conviction occurred.
In delivering her concuring judgment, His lordship, Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, JSC noted the above fact and held further in the aforementioned judgment recorded on page 23 thereof, “that the issue of qualification for holding the office of the 2nd Respondent or any other public office does not arise.” (see scanned copy of page 23).
The second respondent in this case is the office of the Attorney General of the Federation which Michael Aondoakaa held earlier.
By the ruling of the Supreme Court and the express provisions of the Constitution therefore, Michael Kaase Aondoakaa,SAN was never barred from holding public office.
Background to the case taken to the Supreme Court
Factcheck further revealed that the original suit that gave rise to APPEAL NO. SC.939/2015: MICHAEL K. AONDOAKAA, SAN vs. HON. EMMANUEL B. OBOT & 1 OR emanated from allegations that Michael Kaase Aondoakaa SAN used his public office as AGF to commit an unlawful act in pursuit of private and personal interest.
In September 2009, when President Yar’adua was on medical vacation to Saudi Arabia, an action was filed against Michael Aondoakaa SAN at the Federal High Court, Calabar by Hon.Emmanuel B. Obot claiming that Aondoakaa had a law firm called MK Aondoakaa and Co, which in 1996 to the time he was Attorney General of the Federation represented Utan Brama Fire Disaster Community in Akwa Ibom in a case. However, a few months after the case was filed, Aondoakaa and most cabinet Ministers who were alleged to be the late President Yar’Adua loyalists were removed from office by the then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan. Aondoakaa was first to be removed as Attorney General of the Federation on the 10th February 2010 and reassigned as Minister of Special Duties. He was subsequently dropped in March 2010 when the then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan dissolved the entire President Yar’Adua cabinet.
Aondoakaa has said severally that he was unaware of the case throughout the trial because he was not personally served (court records attest to this fact). That service was made on the Federal Ministry of Justice when he (Aondoakaa) was no longer there; more so he was in Rome on official United Nations assignment at the time. The ministry of justice filed a defence only for the office of Attorney General, but no defence was filed on behalf of Aondoakaa; and for whatever reason(s) that we could not decipher, the Ministry’s lawyers soon stopped going to court on the matter. That was how judgment was entered against Aondoakaa.
The allegation against Aondoakaa was that when he became Minister, he paid the sum of N450 million as judgement debt to Utan Brama Fire Disaster Victims and shared the money with them. Aondoakaa had said that in 1996 he was a young lawyer in Gboko, a town in Benue State, and wondered how he could have represented Utan Brama, a community in Akwa Ibom, in a complex and sophisticated case that surely would require the services of a more experienced lawyer, possibly a SAN.
Documents obtained through Freedom of Information (FoI) Act from the Federal Ministry of Justice show that the said payment to Utan Brama Fire Disaster Victims was made in 2006, a year before Aondoakaa was appointed Minister. The payment was made during the tenure of then AGF, Chief Bayo Ojo in the sum of N350 million by consent of the parties as full and final payment; not N450 million naira as alleged. Furthermore 700million naira alleged pending interest in judgment debt which the plaintiff claimed Aondoakaa was pursuing to share with utam Brama Fire Disaster Community did not exist.That the law firm of MK Aondoakaa & Co. never acted as counsel to Utan Brama Fire Disaster Victims as alleged by the plaintiff. Court documents explicitly show that the lawyers that handled the case on behalf of the Utan Brama Fire Victims included Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), Joe Agi, Esq (now a SAN), G.A. Udousoro & Co. and Barrister Akwaagwu (copy of the letter shown )
With the discovery as contained in the FoI document that the plaintiff may have obtained judgment against Aondoakaa by fraudulent misrepresentation, and relying on the Supreme Court precedent that any judgment obtained by fraud can be set aside, the former Minister is back in court. When contacted, Dam Obed, Aondoakaa’s media aide withheld his comments on the matter because it is subjudice.
Our curiosity to investigate this Supreme Court judgment was borne out of the fact that since Aondoakaa entered public office in 2007, he had severally, in the past, faced a retinue of accusations bordering on complex and dirty deals that turned out to be complete hoax or blatant falsehood. He Aondoakaa must be a superman to survive such allegations that involve both local and international investigative agencies. His political opponents may not to be done yet; the Supreme Court judgment seemed to have presented them a platform for further attacks against the man. It seems they did not put their act together before peddling this one that also falls flat as it touches on documents that are available in the public space.
Apart from the Utan Brama case, a chronicle of some of wild allegations that fell flat includes:
That Aondoakaa and a former state governor in 2010 held a joint bank account in South African into which £40 million pounds was deposited as well as owned choice properties in the same country. The former minister said he has never in his life visited South Africa, let alone own assets in there; investigations here exonerated him.
Halliburton and P & ID saga
Another allegation against Aondoakaa was that, as Attorney General, he was involved in the famous Halliburton’s case, approving huge payments to solicitors involved in the matter. The former Minister was invited by the EFCC in 2016; and upon investigation, the anti-graft agency discovered that the Halliburton payments were made in 2012; about two years after Aondoakaa had left office.
Just before the dust raised by the Halliburton case could settle, Aondoakaa’s assailants brought up new tricks and attempted to link him to the $9.6 Billion P & ID contract scam. That he was the one who entered into agreement with P & ID and compromised the interest of the country. Nigerian security agents that investigated the case gave him a clean bill of health but also found out that the matter did not come to the AGF’s office nor had he any personal knowledge of the company called P & ID. Those involved are now being investigated and prosecuted, respectively.
So, what do these Aondoakaa’s opponents have off their sleeves against him; or what are they coming up with next? We are here to fact-check and report our findings not just on Aondoakaa but all political actors as the political turf heats up and its waters becoming murkier and dirtier in the run up to the magical year 2023.
To balance this reportage, we contacted Aondoakaa, SAN for his comments. He said that as Minister and Attorney General of the Federation, he served Nigeria and President Yar’Adua meritoriously. He said that political opponents had searched him everywhere both home and abroad to see if he had looted money while in office. And when they could not find any looting, they desperately concocted falsehood in an effort to splash mud on him. Aondoakaa said that while his detractors are wasting resources fighting him, he remains focused and adhering to his well-known antecedents of loyalty and servant-leadership, pro-democracy philosophy, a culture of not betraying his leader, and never compromising the interests of Benue State and Nigeria in whatever circumstance.
•Icheku is a freelance reporter