By Akinloye Oyeniyi.
The opening of the 1999 Constitution with its supremacy as set out in the entire Section 1 is not only to set initial template for the control of the Republic but also to set it straight that anything in contravention of it is not only illegal but null and void.
When the former governor of Abia State and Senator representing Abia North, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, his firm, Slok and his former Commissioner were wrongly convicted, some of us faulted the process that led to that and called for reversal of the ruling at the appellate levels.
A Federal High Court in Lagos had on Thursday December 5, 2019 convicted Orji Kalu alongside his former Finance Commissioner, Jones Udeogo, and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited.
While Kalu and his firm were found guilty and sentenced to 12 years term and seizure on all the 39 count charges, Udeogo was convicted on 34 count charges and sentenced to 10 years, all for N7.2 billion fraud and money laundering preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Though concerns were raised then, but since court rulings are fully to be obeyed whether right or wrong until their overturn by higher and appellate courts, we could only wait for remedy at the appellate levels to right the wrongly entered judgement and I commend the Supreme Court for doing justice to that today thereby saving the Constitution and our judiciary.
Facts are that the case was before a Federal High Court and Justice Liman, a Justice of the Court of Appeal should not have been the one to sit as a judge of Federal High Court (which he is not) on it.
Though the then President of the Court of Appeal for reasons best known to her, gave a fiat citing Section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the same section of ACJA we have raised serious concerns about to be repealed for contravening the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The outcome of the fiat was the miscarriage of justice and unconstitutionality that happened that Thursday.
Justice Liman of the Appeal Court sitting and entering the judgement as judge of that Federal High Court showed that the court was not properly constituted to sit and rule according to Section 249 subsection 2 (b) which mandated that a Federal High Court must consist of numbers of judges as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly and Section 253 which strictly mandated that a Federal High Court shall only be duly constituted if it consists of at least one judge of that Court.
So, Federal High Court not being an Appeal Court and Justice Liman, a Justice of the Appeal Court without the constitutional powers to sit and rule as a judge of a Federal High Court ruling on that case constitutionally rendered the ruling a nullity.
I commend the Supreme Court for this laudable ruling, strict adherence to the Constitution and its ordering of fresh trial so that justice can be diapensed accordingly.
Akinloye Oyeniyi is a Legislative Expert and Public Affairs Analyst.