Tinubu considers 71-year-old retiree as ICPC chair

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President Bola Tinubu is considering recalling a 71-year-old former Justice of the Supreme Court from retirement to serve as the chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Bellnews has reliably gathered.

Abdu Aboki, who hails from Kano State, North-west Nigeria, exited the Supreme Court bench after clocking the mandatory retirement age of 70 on 5 August 2022.

Presidency sources, who asked not to be named to discuss a yet-to-be-public state matter with bellnews, said Mr Tinubu has penned down Mr Aboki’s name to replace the incumbent ICPC chair, Bolaji Owasanoye, whose five-year tenure remains about six months.

If Mr Aboki is eventually named as the next ICPC chair, his appointment will be a return to the tradition of picking the head of the commission from among relatively aged, retired jurists of the appellate courts.

A former President of the Court of Appeal, Mustapha Akanbi. [Photo credit: National Pilot Newspaper]
Mustapha Akanbi, who voluntarily retired as the President of the Court of Appeal in 1999, was 68 when he was appointed the pioneer chairperson of the commission in 2000. He served out his five-year tenure in 2005.

He was succeeded by Emmanuel Ayoola, who retired as a Justice of the Supreme Court when he clocked 70 in October 2003. Mr Ayoola was appointed the chair of the commission in September 2005, about a month before his 72nd birthday.

A break with the convention of appointing aged, retired jurists, and turning to a relatively younger generation to pick the head of the commission, Ekpo Nta, a lawyer who had held various political appointments, succeeded Mr Ayoola on 17 October 2012 at age 60.

The incumbent chair, Mr Owasanoye, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was 55 years old when he was appointed as the chair of ICPC on 4 February 2019. Born on 15 May 1963, the professor of Law will still be under 60 by the time his tenure as ICPC chair ought to end on 4 February 2024.

Mr Aboki’s appointment will deviate from the new trend of showing a preference for the younger generation to head the anti-corruption agency.

Is Aboki qualified to be ICPC chair?
Founded in 2000 by President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration to tackle official corruption that had blighted the image of Nigeria which was just out of military rule, the ICPC has had four substantive chairpersons.

To be qualified to be an ICPC chairperson, the candidate must be qualified to be a judge of Nigeria’s superior courts of record.

Section 4 of the law establishing the anti-graft agency, the ICPC Act 2000 says, “The (ICPC) chairman shall be a person who has held or is qualified to hold office as a judge of a superior court of record in Nigeria.”

ICPC chair, Bolaji Owasanoye
The law in section 6 further says, “the chairman shall and other members of the commission shall be persons of proven integrity,” and shall be appointed by the president subject to Senate confirmation.

This means that any person with “proven integrity” and who has been called to the Nigerian Bar for at least 10 years, the minimum qualification to be appointed a judge of a superior court of record in Nigeria, is qualified to be the ICPC chairperson.

Mr Aboki is, no doubt, qualified for the position, unlike Mr Tinubu’s proposed pick for the sister anti-corruption agency, the EFCC, Olanipekun Olukoyede, who does not have the number of years of cognate experience required by the EFCC Act to chair the agency.

But many have shared their concerns with bellnews about Mr Aboki’s age.

Many say appointing a relatively older person from retirement to head a key anti-corruption agency like the ICPC is out of sync in an era of fast-changing dynamics of corruption trends that require innovative strategies to tackle.

The tenure of Mr Owasanoye, the youngest to have ever led ICPC, offers the difference a relatively younger and tech-savvy person with a deep understanding of modern corruption trends in the global space can make as the head of an anti-corruption institution.

Mr Owasanoye, since becoming the ICPC chair, has introduced innovative accountability measures such as the tracking of constituency projects nominated by federal lawmakers, as a veritable anti-corruption tool. The project has been successful considering the quantum of fraud it has exposed and the recoveries it has recorded.

Some also argue that Mr Aboki’s age and experience across the hierarchy of the Nigerian judiciary would be a rare asset for an ICPC chairperson, who has to contend with legal issues and difficulties of prosecution of corruption suspects, especially the high-profile ones, in court.

But whatever the case, Mr Aboki’s appointment as ICPC chair or that of Mr Olukoyede as EFCC chair, will not likely add any value to Mr Tinubu’s already poor reputation of lack of interest in fighting corruption, or improve public perception about his unimpressive anti-corruption profile.

Mr Aboki, whose wife, Dije, is the Chief Judge of Kano State, began his journey on the bench 38 years ago when he was appointed a High Court judge in the state judiciary in 1987.

Before his judicial roles, Mr Aboki, a graduate of Law from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, partook in the compulsory NYSC programme in old Gongola State between 1977 and 1978.

He attended the Nigerian Law School in Victoria Island, Lagos, and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1977.

He was appointed a state counsel, Ministry of Justice, Kano State, in 1978.

To hone his legislative drafting skills, the jurist enrolled at the University of Washington Law School, Seattle USA, where he obtained a certificate in 1982.

He rose through the ranks at the Ministry of Justice, Kano State, to become Solicitor General/Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, from 1983 to 1984.

Mr Aboki, who had a stint as the Director of Public Prosecution in the ministry, later served as the Chief Registrar, of the High Court of Justice, Kano State, from 1985 to 1987.

He began his journey on the bench when he was appointed as a judge of the same court in 1987.

He served on some election petition tribunals across Nigeria during his time as a High Court judge, but one stands out, which was when he was the chairman of the legislative and governorship election petition tribunal in Lagos State in 2003 when Mr Tinubu was governor of the state.

He was elevated to the Court of Appeal bench in 2006.

In November 2020, Mr Aboki, after serving on the Court of Appeal bench for 14 years, was appointed to the Supreme Court bench alongside five others.

At the valedictory ceremony to mark his retirement from the Supreme Court in September 2022, Mr Aboki touched a raw nerve when he called for transparency in the expenditure of funds belonging to the judiciary.

In his speech titled, ‘My valedictory messages to the nation and judiciary in particular,’ the jurist admonished “those in charge of administering the funds allocated to the judiciary” in Nigeria “to be prudent, transparent and accountable.”

There have been futile calls for the judiciary to disclose details of its budgetary allocations and expenditures.

On the judges’ appointment, he advised the National Judicial Council (NJC) to “place a greater premium on merit than national character and other primordial considerations.”

In his parting shot, Mr Aboki advocated for a constitutional amendment to reduce the number of appeals that go to the Supreme Court. This, he said, would lessen the workload of the apex court.

Lauding him for his accomplishments, the current Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, once described Mr Aboki as a “man of dignity and distinction” whose “mastery of the law stands him out.”

Mr Aboki became a Fellow of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute, from the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in 2006.

He served on several boards and judicial panels including presiding judge, ‘Bribery, Corruption, Fraud and other related offences Court for Kano State 2001.
After he retired from the Supreme Court, Mr Aboki was appointed to chair an investigative panel of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), probing an allegation of an elaborate secret abortion programme operated by the Nigerian military in the North-east.

If appointed to lead the ICPC, Mr Aboki will be the third justice of Nigeria’s appellate courts to become the chairman of the commission.

The pioneer chair of the commission, Mustapha Akanbi, who died in 2018, was a retired President of the Court of Appeal, and his successor, Emmanuel Ayoola, is a retired Justice of the Supreme Court.

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