Matters Arising From The Decision Of The Supreme Court In Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) V. Emmanuel Bassey Obot (2022) 5NWLR (PT. 1824) PG. 523 -By Rotimi Jacobs SAN.
The Appellant, Michael Aondoakaa, SAN was the Attorney General of the Federation and in his capacity as the HAGF, he wrote a letter (Exh A) to the president of Court of Appeal urging his lordship not to comply with the judgment ordering the constitution of a new panel in view of a petition he received from one Bassey Etim, the person who had been substituted for the 1stRespondent for the Uyo Federal Constituency of Akwa Ibom State.
The President of Court of Appeal however went ahead and complied with the Order of the Court and set up the new Panel. The new panel delivered its judgment on 18th April, 2008 in favour of the 1stRespondent and ordered that the 1st Respondent be sworn into the House of Representatives as a member, representing Uyo Federal Constituency.
An Appeal to the Court of Appeal by the 1stRespondent’s opponent was dismissed on 12th February 2009 and the Court of Appeal ordered INEC to issue certificate of return to the 1stRespondent. By another letter dated 16th February 2009 (Exh. C), Aondoakaa, SAN wrote to the Chairman of INEC urging him not to obey the judgment of the Court of Appeal. He equally wrote to the Speaker of House of Representatives(Exh. D) urging him not to obey the judgment and maintain status quo until the last and final word is heard from the Supreme Court on the issue notwithstanding the fact that by section 246(2) of the 1999 CFRN as amended, the decision of the Court of Appeal in respect of appeals arising from the National and State Houses of Assembly elections are final.
As a result of (Exh C&D), the 1stRespondent was not issued a certificate of return by INEC and was not sworn in as a member of House of Representatives and the 1stRespondent instituted an action against the HAGF, both in his private and official capacity. Judgment was entered in favour of the 1stRespondent from High Court to the Supreme Court and the following orders were made and affirmed by the three layers of court:
1. That Michael Aondoakaa SAN, undermined and subverted the rule of law, the due administration of justice and the independence, authorities and the integrity of the judiciary in the letters of 8th January, 2008 and 16th February 2009 written by him in his capacity as the HAGF.
2. That Michael Aondoaka is not a competent, fit and proper person to hold or continue to hold any public office in Nigeria, having regards to the oath of allegiance and office he took to uphold the provisions of the Constitution.
3. Damages of One Hundred Million against the defendants jointly and severally.
4. Perpetual injunction retraining Michael Aondoakaa, SAN from further or continued occupation of the office of HAGF or any other public office in Nigeria.
5. That Michael Aondoakaa be referred to the Nigerian Bar Association for appropriate disciplinary action.
The Supreme Court in upholding the above order came strongly against the former HAGF when the following pronouncements were made
Kekere Ekun (JSC) at pgs. 586 to 587 of the report held
“His Lordship, Oyewole JCA, captured the mood of the learned trial Judge when he observed at pages 299-300 of the record, the facts leading to this appeal captured a most sordid low in the administration of justice in this country. It is unthinkable that the occupier of the exalted office of Attorney General would subvert the ends of justice, as was crudely done in this case by the Appellant. When an Attorney General acts imperiously, placing himself above the laws of the land, impunity and anarchy are enthroned. Public office is a sacred trust and an Attorney General should epitomize all that is good and noble in the legal profession. That office should never again be occupied by individual of such poor quality as the Appellant. It is ironic that the appellant should approach the same temple he so brazenly desecrated for succor against the consequences appalling conduct.
To restore the dignity of the legal profession and reinforce the confidence of the administration of justice, the Nigerian Bar Association is invited to the facts of this case and the judicial reactions thereto and subject the Appellant to its appropriate disciplinary processes.”
Kekere Ekun JSC also quoted with approval the opinion of the trial judge at pg. 583 thus:
“The hallowed office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice in Nigeria has been gradually desecrated and put into disrepute over the years with the likes of the 2nd Defendant being appointed and occupying it… it is meant for learned eminent members of the Bar and not for political charlatans, jobbers or later day praise singers/ converts, which this country has been experiencing.
Gone are the days when this exalted office was occupied by distinguished and reputable gentlemen of the Bar with pedigree like Dr. T.O Elias Q.C., who later became the second Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) after the right Honorable Chief GCM, Onyiuke, SAN Mr Kehinde Sofola, SAN Chief Bola Ige, to mention a few”
Agim JSC in his own contribution at pages 605-606 of the report held that:
“In his desperation to frustrate the enforcement of the orders of the Court of Appeal, the Appellant turned his office into a court to review the decision of the Court of Appeal and determined that the judgment was “a desecration of the institution of the judiciary”. The office of the Attorney-General is not a Court and has no power to assume that role. By virtue of section 246(2) and (3) of 1999 CFRN, the Court of Appeal is the final Court of Appeal on post-election litigations concerning National and House of Assembly elections. No Authority or person, not even the Supreme Court of Nigeria can review the decision of the Court of Appeal on such post-election matters concerning National and House of Assembly election. It is clear from the foregoing that the Appellant committed unlawful acts in his official capacity as Attorney-General of the Federation for the purpose of giving an illegal advantage or benefit to one Elder Bassey Etim. This is a clear case of criminal abuse of office to the detriment of the 1stRespondent, the adjudged winner of the election.
The detriment is that he is prevented from enjoying the fruits of his electoral victory as he has not been allowed to occupy the seat he won in the election, this is a personal injury inflicted on him by the Appellant.”
The decision of the Supreme Court is highly commendable, however, the Nigerian Bar Association and its members should not allow the epochal judgment of the apex Court to be swept under the carpet. In view of the pronouncement of the apex Court against Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, SAN,the following germane issues may arise:
1. Can he continue to wear the rank of aSenior Advocate of Nigeria having regards to the finding of facts made by three tiers of our Court and in view of the decision of our apex Court that he is not a fit and proper person to holda public office?
2. Is Nigerian Bar Association taking any legal step (s) on the directive of the apex Court that Mr. Michael Aondoakaa be subjected to the appropriate disciplinary processes?
3. Can Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, SAN be restrained from holding any public office, particularly that of the President, Governor, Membership of Senate or House of Representatives in view of the constitutional requirements or qualifications to those offices?
4. By sections 137 and 182 of CFRN, he is not disqualified from holding the office of the President or the Governor of a State. Mere indictment by an administrative tribunal or even a court cannot disqualify him from contesting and holding such public offices.
5. By section 66, he is not disqualified from being a member of Senate or House of Representatives. Mere indictment by an administrative tribunal or even a court cannot disqualify him from contesting and holding such public offices.
6. It is only a person who is charged with a criminal offence and convicted for relevant offences or a person that is adjudged to be a lunatic or person of unsound mind that can be so disqualified. As the Constitution stands today, Michael Aondoakaa SAN, notwithstanding the indictment by the apex Court in this case, can still aspire to hold public offices. I think this is a mis-normal and which should call for constitutional amendments.
7. An indictment by an administrative body such as the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee for any gross misconduct should be sufficient to disqualify a person from holding public offices such as the office of the president and the office of the Governor of a state.
8. The Constitution seems to be less concerned about the integrity, character, ethics and private life of a person who is aspiring to hold public office provided he has not been convicted for fraud or dishonesty by a court of law. This lacuna permits persons with questionable character to assume exalted public offices in our country.
9. Gentlemen what do you think?