JUSTICE UMARU ERI, JUDGE WHO CONVICTED FELLOW JUDGE

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By AkindeleOrimolade

Justice UmaruEri, the first Judge in the country to sentence a fellow Judge to three months imprisonment without option of fine has said that Judges must not live by precepts but by example.

The Judge who was later described by Justice Alfa Belgore, retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, as “a perfect gentleman, a learned brother, a Justice of truth and a very dependable person, always”, was the Judge who belled the cat in the celebrated case of the State versus Hon. Justice Paulo A. Anyebe.

Sunday Mirror investigations revealed that nobody in the Ministry of Justice, Benue State, was keen in persecuting this case thus prompting the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice to  contract it out to one Barrister Paul Belabo.

In addition, there was also the question of “who will judge the judge?” as all the Judges in the High Court refused to hear the case giving the reason that Anyebe had discussed the details of the case with them and that it would not be Justice to sit in judgment over it.

Justice Eri, according to the Authorized Biography of Justice UmaruEri, titled “In the Eye of the Law”, was the only Judge the case was not discussed with.

“Anyebe had, in fact, visited him in Adikpo with a girl but did not discuss the incident with him. Eri had heard about the incident in the dailies and radio just like anybody else, but that was all. The Chief Judge therefore assigned the case to him”.

Justice Anyebe, National Mirror learnt, had an argument with his son and he allegedly corked his gun, fired and injured him.

The son who was rushed to the hospital survived but the Police will not leave the Judicial Officer alone. According to the book, the Police took up the matter and charged Anyebe for two criminal offences-attempted culpable homicide which was (and still is) serious offence that carried a sentence of at least 14 years in Prison.

Justice Anyebe was also charged with a lesser offence of illegal possession of fire arms which carried the punishment of a fire and/or a couple of months term imprisonment

Writing further on the celebrated case, Gideon S. Tseja, the author of the book said; “Before long, this case caught the imagination and the interest of the public. It became a big case. Here was a High Court Judge who had sentenced people to the gallows for shooting people to death, and here was the same Judge almost killing somebody by shooting. It was unthinkable”.

According to Tseja, the trial took its course and at the end, Justice Eri, the trial Judge, was not fully convinced about the charge of attempt to commit murder.

“A doubt had been successfully raised in his mind by the defence, so he resolved the doubt in Anyebe’sfavour and acquitted him on that doubt. On the second minor charge of illegal possession of firearms, he was found guilty and convicted.

In sentencing Justice Anyebe to three months imprisonment without an option of fine, Justice Eri said judges must not live by precepts but by example. Quoting an Igala Conundrum, Eri said “that when a thief steals my property, I invoke the Power of a Detector Oracle to expose the thief. But if the Detector Oracle (himself) steals my property, whose power do I now invoke?”.

After nearly completing his term in jail, the case finally got to the Court of Appeal. The Court had little sympathy for the embattled Judge as they thought that letting him off the hook on the first charge of attempted murder was too lenient. The justice of the Court of Appeal upheld Justice Eri’sjudgement but was now given an option of fine.

Even at that, Justice Anyebe remained a convict and he wanted that quashed. He appealed to the Supreme Court where Justice Ayo Irekefe quashed Anyebe’s conviction.

Irefeke said the issue of firearms was a Federal offence, and ought to have been prosecuted by the Federal Attorney General, but that there was no evidence that the Attorney General of Benue State got the fiat of the Federal Attorney General.

The Federal Government reacted swiftly and said;” In view of the decision of the Supreme Court in A.P. Anyebe’s case, all cases can be prosecuted by any of the Attroney Generals.”

Justice Eri who later retired as the Chief Judge of Kogi State and Administrator, National Judicial Institute, Abuja was said to be out of Abuja last week when our correspondent visited his Abuja home for comments on the case and the impending arraignment of Justices by the Department of State Service, DSS.

Also in 1985, Justice Donald Ikomi of Bendel State who was Chairman of the State’s Robbery and Firearms Tribunal was charged before Justice A.N. Maidoh of Benin High Court for murder.

Suspected robbers had invaded his official residence and murdered his 27 year old Police guard named ConstableUanleAgbede. Justice Ikomi was subsequently arrested and charged to Court for murder.

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