Abacha wanted us to punish Abiola, deny him bail, says ex-Supreme Court Justice

A retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice James Ogebe, has revealed how late former Head of State, General Sani Abacha, attempted to force the judiciary to deny bail to the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola.

Justice Ogebe, said Abacha had after Abiola was arrested and detained for declaring himself President, asked the Court of Appeal to dismiss his application for bail.

He said after a panel of Justices of the appellate court that heard the bail application, including himself, decided that Abiola deserved bail, Abacha, in a bid to reverse the ruling, extended the compulsory retirement age of Justices of the Supreme Court from 65 to 70 years.

Justice Ogebe, who made the revelation in a book he wrote to mark his the 80th birthday last Saturday, said the action was to frustrate the hearing of an appeal against the continued detention of Abiola in custody.

The book which is an autobiography of the octogenarian, is entitled: “Justice Under the Shadow of the Almighty; My Life Sojourn to the Nigerian Supreme Court”.

Reputed for his various landmark Judgments, one of which is the reversal of the impeachment and sack of Oyo State Governor, Rashidi Ladoja in 2005, the retired jurist, in the 329-paged book that has 15 chapters, recalled how God and fate took him to the peak of his career in 2008.

Ogebe said he was twice denied the opportunity of becoming the Chief Judge of Benue State, saying the situation, which at the time seemed unfortunate, later turned to be a blessing in disguise for him and others that would have been disqualified from ascending to the apex court bench on account of their age.

According to him, “There is a very intriguing historical footnote to my ascension to the Supreme Court. When business mogul, turned politician, Moshood Abiola, was arrested after declaring himself President in the June 12, 1993 election, I was put on a panel of Appeal Court Justices who granted him bail.

“General Abacha’s regime did not take kindly to our decision and appealed against our decision to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court could not form a quorum because many of the Justices recused themselves since they had a libel lawsuit against Abiola’s Concord newspaper. There was accordingly, a stalemate because of shortages of Justices on the Supreme Court.

“Rather than appoint new Justices who would then form a quorum to hear Abiola’s bail case, General Abacha decided to extend the retirement age of Justices from 65 years to 70 years, to continue to keep Abiola in legal limbo. He, therefore, did not appoint more Justices before his sudden death.

“And, so, it was that a retirement age extension meant to frustrate a ruling I gave years before, ended up working for my benefit as I went to the Supreme Court at the age of 68”, he said.

The octogenarian also recalled the refusal of Justice Ayo Salami to ascend to the apex court to fill a vacancy for North Central as another factor that led to his elevation to the apex court.

In another part of the book, the renown jurist, who has over 4,000 Judgments and over 1,000 rulings to his credit, emphasized the need for the appointment of only the best and most qualified into the bench of the apex court.

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