A trending video clip has shown a personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps barring the former acting Chief Judge of Kebbi State, Elizabeth Karatu, from gaining access to a courtroom.
The judge, who was billed to retire on July 5, was supposed to rule on cases on July 4, her last day in office.
Mrs Karatu, until her retirement, was the most senior judge in Kebbi State judiciary but was controversially denied confirmation as the susbtantive chief judge
For reasons not made clear in the video, the civil defence personnel, who was not fully kitted, as he had no beret on his head, barricaded the road as he prevented the senior judge and her police orderly from gaining access to the court premises.
Justice Karatu, a Christian, was appointed acting chief judge of Kebbi State in October 2018, following the retirement of the former chief judge, Bala Mairiga, who left the bench the same month.
The Kebbi State House of Assembly refused to confirm Mrs Karatu as the substantive CJ after the state governor, Atiku Bagudu, sent her name to the House, for confirmation.
The situation in the Kebbi State judiciary degenerated and the judge petitioned the National Judicial Council, allegedly accusing the government of Kebbi State of denying her the position of the chief judge on the basis of her religious belief.
Despite the intervention of the NJC, her appointment was not confirmed.
Mrs Karatu was supposed to retire last weekend. And before she finally leaves the Kebbi State Judiciary, Mrs Karatu had to clear her table once and for all by delivering certain judgment on the eve of her retirement.
That was what she set out to do on the day the video was taken, when the personnel of the NSCDC waylaid her and barricaded her from accessing the courtroom.
In the three minutes 34 seconds video, which was shot from a mobile phone, the judge is heard saying, “I am the most senior judge in this court and I am here deliver my judgement.”
Earlier in the video, her police orderly was heard exchanging words with the Civil Defence personnel, saying, “Listen to me, you don’t have the right to talk to her…you can only talk to her through me. For now, she has not left this job. Today is the last day for her, and based on ethics, today is the last day that she is going to serve. From tomorrow or next you can…”
The NSCDC personnel who was speaking in a low tone said he was acting based on the directive given to him by the management.
And the police orderly was heard saying, “You said it was the management that gave you the order, I understand what you are telling me that she should go. So you think she doesn’t have the right to come here or what?”
The police officer later asked, ‘Are you saying that she does not have the right to go in and deliver her judgment or what?”
Justice Karatu later interjected, saying, “Can you imagine? Which management gave you the order? Go and tell the management that gave you the order that I am here. Today is my last day to be here and it is my right to be here. I have come to deliver my judgement.”
When the NSCDC suggested the judge meets some persons to seek ways of resolving the matter, the judge said “I don’t know what you are saying. As far as I am concerned, everybody in this court is my junior and I need a courtroom to deliver my judgment.”
The judge was later heard saying in Hausa “it is today that I am ending my job in the Judiciary and I am here to deliver a judgement. I have left the other court for them, this is a junior court and I am here to deliver the judgement after which I will leave.”
Reacting on the video, Mr Ogebe of the Nigeria Law Group, said the action brought against Justice Karatu was worrisome especially as it was coming “a day after the Supreme Court, in an ignominious decision, invalidated an election tribunal’s verdict, in effect, nullifying the entire democratic votes of Osun State gubernatorial elections, on the dubious argument that one judge was absent from the trial.”
Mr Ogebe said further that, “It is believed that possibly to avert such a travesty and miscarriage of justice, Justice Elizabeth Karatu, who was recently denied confirmation as Chief Judge of Kebbi State, came to deliver all her remaining judgments before her retirement.
“Sources we spoke to indicate that in addition to discrimination on the basis of religion, there were efforts by powerful political forces to force her to pervert justice in cases.
“From the video, you can see Justice Elizabeth Karatu being prevented by a Civil Defense staff from entering the court. Her police orderly can be seen trying to reason with the civil defence agent who stuck to his guns.
“This latest development is the continuation of the rape and destruction of the judiciary under the Buhari administration. If the terrible precedent created by the Supreme Court yesterday in the Osun case is followed, poor litigants, whose cases have dragged on for years will lose their rights simply because the judge was denied the opportunity to read her judgment before her retirement.”
The Nigeria Bar Association in Kebbi State told PREMIUM TIMES that it was not aware of the incident until Sunday morning when the state chairman, Husseini Zakariya, said he saw the video.
“I was not aware of the issue until this morning when I woke up and saw a video trending,” he said.
“I’ve been in the courts throughout this week and yesterday, Saturday. All the same, we will constitute a committee by tomorrow to investigate the issue to ascertain what actually happened.
“Please you can contact me by tomorrow evening. I think we should be able to speak on the matter. Thank you.”
Although the Kebbi State government has not reacted to the trending video, it has since generated a lot of debate especially on social media handles around the state.
NSCDC Explains Personnel’s Action
PREMIUM TIMES contacted the NSCDC headquarters to comment on the video.
The Civil Defence Public Relations Officer, Emmanuel Okeh, told our reporter on phone on Sunday that he was not aware of the video.
He requested the reporter forwarded the video to him before he would make any meaningful comment on the matter.
After studying the video, the NSCDC on Monday, issued a statement in which the Commandant General of the Corps, Abdullahi Gana Muhammadu, defended the action of the personnel, which he said was not meant to deny the judge access.
The Commandant General, in the statement signed by the NSCDC spokesperson, insisted that the court was under lock and key and was not in use at the time the embattled judge arrived the premises.
“Worried by the video in circulation on social media alleging that the Corps personnel stopped a sitting judge from entering the court, the Commandant General of the Corps, Abdullahi Gana Muhammadu has called for calmness and sued for peace in the state,” the statement highlighted.
It said the Corps is a law-abiding agency of government meant to protect everyone and their property and could not do otherwise by infringing of the fundamental right of the people.
The statement said that Mr Muhammadu had immediately called on the state command and also constituted a committee to look into the matter, for appropriate action.
It however, said the Court was under lock and key by the government and the personnel was assigned to protect the environment for being vandalised.
It said when the judge came to the court premise, the personnel approached her to inform her of the development, but, unfortunately, he was not given a listening ear.
Mr Muhammadu said that the Corps, under his watch, will never take sides.
The statement said the “Corps does not have any ulterior motives.”
He called on the executive, legislative and judiciary as well as the Nigerian Bar Association for peaceful resolutions and urged them to be calm, as the Corps respects the sanctity of every office.
“The CG has summoned the State Commandant immediately with relevant evidence,” said Mr Okeh, a Deputy Commandant of Corp.
Efforts to get the government of Kebbi to speak on the matter, failed as Mr Bagudu’s Press Secretary, Abubakar Dakingari, could not be reached on his two phone lines.