THE AGUNLOYE TRIAL: Still on the Mambilla, Melodrama, and Manoeuvres – the bias of the judge



THE AGUNLOYE TRIAL: Still on the Mambilla, Melodrama, and Manoeuvres – the bias of the judge

On 12 May 2024, the Chairman of the Alpha Justice and Advocacy Group, Retired Diplomat Fisan Bankale delivered what has now been variously described as a masterpiece titled “Mambilla, Melodrama and Manoeuvres” to illuminate and lay bare the various melodramatic manoeuvres in the entangled Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Project.

In this widely acclaimed article, Bankale showed that in spite of the efforts of the administrations of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, Buhari and Tinubu, the fate of the project has been hanging in limbo at the International Arbitration in France and with court cases in Nigeria pushing to criminalise actions of former ministers and other government officials in a bid to free Nigeria from legal encumbrances and damages at the Arbitration in France.

In what appears as a takeoff from where Bankale stopped, Mr Nasir Mohammed wrote, on 15 May 2024, an article titled “Mambilla Melodrama Continues – as Agunloye heads to Appeal Court” in which he describes the manoeuvres of the court itself during the proceedings of 15 May 2024, which exposed the conduct of Hon Justice Jude Onwuegbuzie.

It was reported that the court ruled that EFCC is competent to try Agunloye for awarding a BOT of zero cost to FGN and that Agunloye had vowed to appeal the court judgment.

It was also reported that even though Agunloye’s lawyers said the EFCC had backed down on the harassment of Agunloye’s sureties and would want the Motion to be kept in abeyance, the judge insisted on hearing the motion so that he could also rule on it. In particular, it was observed that all through the sitting of the court, the judge appeared easily irritable and impatient. He scolded the lawyers for wasting his time with the motion on Amicus Curiae “to invite members of the public to my court” and then again on “the preliminary objection thing” and now “they are asking for time to enable the defendant to attend UCH (University College Hospital, Ibadan) for medical attention.” The judge added rather coldly: “He can attend UCH today and the court tomorrow.”

In his ruling of 15 May 2024 against the preliminary objection raised by Agunloye, the Judge, Hon. Justice Jude Onwuegbuzie revealed an uncanny bias by literally declaring Agunloye guilty of the allegations charged even before the commencement of the trial.

Glanville Williams, Queens Cousel was a Welsh legal scholar who was the Rouse Ball Professor of English Law at the University of Cambridge from 1968 to 1978 and the Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at University College, London, from 1945 to 1955. He has been described as Britain’s foremost scholar of criminal law. He once used the saying “Let’s give him a fair hearing so that we may hang him” to describe the extreme bias of a judge that has already made up his mind to convict an accused person. This scenario appears to be reenacted by the Abuja FCT during his ruling on the Preliminary Objection raised by Agunloye against the competence of EFCC. The judge, in his “court’s analysis” in his ruling, virtually pronounced Agunloye guilty as charged even before the commencement of the trial and without any evidence being led before him.

The pre-trial ruling, of 15 May 2024 on the Defendant’s motion, of Justice Jude Onwuegbuzie gave him out when he held thus:

“… a close scrutiny of these counts and the details of the financial transactions disclosed in Counts 5, 6 and 7 would reveal the financial motive of the conduct of the Defendant in Counts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the charge which reveals the causal link to Counts 5, 6, and 7 of the Charge. This connection confirms the motive of the Defendant in Counts 1 – 4 as undoubtedly “financial” as revealed by Counts 5 – 7.

Justice Onwuegbuzie proceded to add:
“… the time gap between the allegations in Counts 1 – 4 and Counts 6 – 7 is immaterial because this is a criminal trial and financial motive which underpins Counts 1 – 4 manifested itself in Counts 5 – 7 thereby establishing all the offences as economic and financial crime.”

The picture painted by renowned Glanville Williams of a biased judge contracted and convinced to convict perfectly fits Justice Jude Onwuegbuzie based on what he wrote, signed, and distributed to the public as his ruling against the preliminary objection raised by Agunloye against the competence EFCC to investigate and prosecute him. The former Minister, Dr Olu Agunloye, was quoted to have said: _”Nigeria needs to ensure justice for all and eradicate unwarranted bias in dispensation of law.”

Sadly, the Mambilla Melodrama continues as the country gropes in darkness with inadequate electricity power, which grounds the economy and the suffering of the people increases.

This prejudicial and pre-judgmental finding of guilt against Dr. Agunloye, even when trial has not begun or any evidence led, pointedly shows the unlikelihood of fair trial and manifest bias by Justice Onwuegbuzie.

Mr. Lanre Ogundipe,
Alhpa Justice and Advocacy Group
Former President, Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ

18 May 2024

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