The Supreme Court has nullified a two-year imprisonment sentence and dismissal passed by a Court Martial which tried and convicted a Nigerian Army Officer, Captain Yau Zakari on January 10, 1997.
Zakari was the Chairman of a Military Task Force in Lagos deployed to the Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd., NITEL, Iponri Exchange, to investigate the alleged fraud by some NITEL customers who used their lines for illegal businesses.
He was tried, convicted and sentenced on a one-count charge of conduct prejudicial to service discipline by collecting an envelope containing the sum of N40,000 from the Managing Director of Chayoma Ventures, one of those being investigated.
Delivering judgment on the suit, a five-man panel of Justices of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Mary Peter-Odili, held that the Court Martial lacked jurisdiction to try Zakari, ab initio, and
set aside its concurrent findings and that of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division.
Although, Zakari had admitted at the trial to have taken an envelope containing the sum of N40,000 from the Managing Director of Chayoma Ventures, the apex court held that the Court Martial was not properly constituted.
The court concurred with Zakari’s counsel’s argument that the fact that a Junior Officer, Captain I.D. Bashir, with service number: N/9493 served as a member of the Court Martial that tried Zakari, whose service number is: N/9043, robbed the court of its Jurisdiction.
It said that the conveying officer failed to set up the Court Martial in line with the Provisions of Section 133 (1) of the Armed Forces Act, which stipulates that all members of the Court Marshal shall have seniority over the accused.
Although Zakari and Bashir were both Captains in the Nigerian Army, the court said by virtue of their respective service numbers, the former was senior to the latter.
Justice Peter-Odili also agreed with Chief Theo Nkire, the appellant’s counsel, that it was immaterial whether or not the issue of jurisdiction was raised at the trial court.
She said: “The issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any time, even if at the Supreme Court for the first time.”
The court discountenanced the argument of the respondent counsel, who had argued that the appellant had waived his right, having consented to the trial in the first place.
“This argument would not stand in the light of what is required for the jurisdiction of a court properly constituted as has become trite,” it said.
Zakari was said to have arrested the alleged culprit and handed him over to Odibo Issac, the Customer Engineering Manager, NITEl, Iponri, to investigate the file of the company and he left.
On his return, Isaac presented to Zakari an envelope containing the said sum of N40,000 from the Managing Director, Chayoma Ventures. Zakari took the money and gave N5,000 out of it to Isaac, in appreciation.
Upon their arrest, Zakari admitted to collecting the N40,000, but claimed that was given to him by the Chayoma Ventures Managing Director in appreciation of his efforts to rein in the culprits he arrested.
However, the Nigerian Army said he collected the money as a gratification for the release of the arrested staff of Chayoma Ventures.