Wednesday, February 21

2021: The legal battles that defined the year

No doubt, 2021 has been an eventful year in the Nigerian Judicial space. Some major events got the internet buzzing. Here are some of the highlights of events in 2021 that shaped national discourse.

JUSUN strike

The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria embarked on a nationwide strike on 6th April, 2021. The strike, which lasted for two months, protested the denial of financial autonomy to the judiciary in the 36 states. It is commonly said that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. This was the reality of the JUSUN strike as it crippled all court-related activities across the country.

The effect of the strike was evident in the overcrowding of Police facilities and suspects could not be arraigned in court owing to the strike. It was a terrible time for these suspects who were kept in police custody indefinitely. However, they were not the only oxen being gored in the face of the strike.

Lawyers and other users of the court had their fair share of the frustration.. Most lawyers lost revenue as the courts, where they ply their trade, were under lock and key.

The series of negotiations between JUSUN, the Minister of Labour and Employment and the Nigeria Governors Forum led to the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement for the implementation of financial autonomy. However, it took the intervention of interest groups like the National Judicial Council and Nigerian Bar Association before the National Executive Council of JUSUN suspended its strike on Wednesday, 9th June, 2021.

Months after the signing of the Agreement that led to the suspension of the strike, the state governors are yet to launch full implementation of financial autonomy of the judiciary in their respective states.

With the issues still lingering, there are indications that JUSUN will revisit its decisions next year. But until then, the courts are open and financial autonomy of the judiciary is yet to be achieved.

Nnamdi Kanu’s trial

The arrest, detention, and ongoing trial of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, is one of the biggest court cases of 2021. It all started when the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami called a press conference on 29th June, 2021 announcing Kanu’s arrest.

The IPOB Leader was taken before Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Maitama, Abuja where the court ordered that he should be remanded in the custody of the Department of State Security Service. The judge also ordered that Kanu’s trial be given an accelerated hearing.

The subsequent court appearances of Kanu have been trailed with heavy security fortification amidst IPOB supporters thronging the court premises to show solidarity with their leader. Nairametrics had reported how his trial affected businesses around the federal high court Abuja.

There have been calls from different quarters demanding the release of the IPOB leader, which the President, Muhammadu Buhari, had said he will consider. With Kanu’s trial adjourned to January 18, 2022, the new year will come bearing a lot of developments in the trial of the IPOB Leader.

Sunday Igboho and aides

The nation’s judicial space did not only go agog with Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest and trial, but it did so almost simultaneously with the arrest and trial of the Yoruba nation activist, Sunday Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho, in Benin Republic.

Following the attack on Igboho’s residence in Ibadan, Oyo State, by the operatives of DSS on 1st July 2021, some of his aides were also arrested and detained. After a protracted legal tussle, the DSS released the detained aides of Sunday Igboho.

Eventually, the DSS filed charges against two of Igboho’s aides and arraigned them before the court. The charge which borders on alleged possession of firearm and terrorism was marked as FHC//ABJ/CR/305/2021.

VAT crisis

The controversies surrounding the payment of Value Added Tax arose when the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Judicial Division declared that it is illegal for the Federal Inland Revenue Service to collect VAT in the state. Justice Stephen Pam had stated that it is the Rivers State Government that had such powers.

Flowing from its position, the court issued a restraining order against FIRS from collecting tax from VAT and personal income tax from the residents of Rivers State. In the controversies that followed, the FIRS approached the Court of Appeal, Abuja challenging the decision of the trial court.

In the ongoing brouhaha, Lagos had sought to be joined as a party in the suit and the appellate court granted its application. However, the Court of Appeal, Abuja ordered that the appeal be transferred to its Port Harcourt Judicial Division for further hearing of the substantive appeal.

In the midst of these controversies, Rivers and Lagos States went ahead to enact their respective VAT laws. Some other states are considering doing the same.

There have been hints about a call for an out-of-court settlement by the Federal Government. However, not much is yet to come of it. Let’s keep our fingers crossed on that.

Legal battle Between FG Vs NARD

The strike action embarked on by Resident Doctors under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors was a rude shock to many Nigerians. The country was in the middle of a pandemic while over 40% of its medical workforce was dealing with unpaid salaries and poor working conditions.

NARD accused the government of failing to deliver on its promises. Thus, it started its indefinite strike on August 2, 2021, demanding the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding entered with the Government.

The twist came when the Federal Government dragged NARD before the National Industrial Court and the legal fireworks began.

Farouk Lawan & Abdulrasheed Maina’s conviction

2021 will also go down in history as the year two public officials were convicted and sentenced in two separate charges brought against them.

Farouk Lawan, a former member of the House of Representatives was convicted and sentenced by Justice Angela Ataluka of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory over his involvement in a bribery scandal to the tune of $3 million. His jail term is to run concurrently for seven years.

The former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reforms Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, was convicted on a charge bordering on money laundering by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja. Accordingly, he was sentenced to several years of imprisonment on each of the various counts, which is to run concurrently for eight years.