One of the financiers of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ogun State, Buruji Kashamu, is known to have fought and is still fighting many controversial battles on the political front in the state. Now, he is struggling to survive a personal battle over allegations of a tainted past that could diminish his political influence, writes Sheriff Balogun
The name, Buruji Kashamu, can cause a stir on the political turf of Ogun State. It became prominent midway into the administration of a former governor of Ogun State, Chief Gbenga Daniel, who was said to have recruited him to do the cleaning of some political dirt. From there, the man, Kashamu, rose to such stardom that he is both a political liability and an asset to the ruling party in the state. As it is in most terrain where there are identifiable shot callers, the name- Kashamu- featured in virtually all dealings in the state and gradually, became an idol in the state’s body polity.
Whilst he weathered the undulating path to political consolidation, there is an alleged filthy past that won’t just go away. Kashamu was alleged to have had some criminal records in the United States of America to the extent that the government of the country was said to have declared him wanted. Of course, both home and away, this had involved endless legal battles, some of which were in the positive sense for the man, while the rest were not. But just as many thought the matter had subsided completely, came another development.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos had dismissed an application filed by Kashamu, challenging a court judgment on the purported attempt to extradite him to the United States by the federal government. He appealed to the court to set aside its judgment that was delivered on July 2, with regards to the attempt to extradite him to the United States and contended that while the appeal was pending; a petition was caused to be written, accusing the panel of justices of alleged compromise in another appeal.
Thus, a fresh panel constituted by the President of the Court of Appeal, unanimously held that the appeal lacked merit and consequently awarded N50,000 cost in favour of the Federal Government. Justice Abdu Aboki, who presided in the judgment, held that there was no complaint relating to the composition of the panel that heard the appeal as to the qualification of its members except the vague and unfounded insinuation against the presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, Justice Amina Augie.
The Judge said at the time of the assignment of the appeal, the Presiding Justice was not incapacitated from doing so and that the appeal came before the panel by due process. He also held that a court is competent when it is properly constituted as regards the number and qualification of members of the Bench.
“The subject matter is within its jurisdiction, no feature in the case prevents the court from exercising its jurisdiction and the case has been initiated by due process and in fulfillment of conditions precedent,” he said.
The court, however, adopted the argument of the counsel to the federal government, Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), that the panel was validly constituted and that the judgment delivered on July 2, 2013 was valid and legitimate. Aboki further held that since the applicant (Buruji Kashamu) has appealed to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction to entertain any application seeking reliefs on a suit pending before the apex court.
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Muhammed Adoke, had appealed a judgment delivered by a former judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos, Justice Okechukwu Okeke, who had restrained the government from entertaining or making any order whatsoever in respect of any request by the United States Government for the surrender of the applicant (Kashamu) in respect of alleged importation of prohibited narcotic into the USA between 1993 and 1995.
But Kashamu has refuted the reports of the Court of Appeal judgment which ordered his extradition to the United States. He described as misleading, the reports that the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal or any court for that matter gave a judgment ordering his extradition to the United States over alleged narcotic charges, adding that nothing of such existed.
Kashamu's Media Adviser, Mr. Austin Oniyokor, in a statement released to journalists in Abeokuta,the Ogun State capital, said whereas it is true that the court had in an earlier ruling of July 7, 2013, allowed the appeal by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) against the judgment of the Federal High Court, restraining it from exercising its powers against him under Section 6 (2) of the Extradition Act.
“It did not order the AGF or any institution of the Federal Government of Nigeria to arrest or surrender him to the government of the United States for any offence whatsoever because no such request exists in the first place. As a matter of fact, that ruling has already been appealed to the Supreme Court.
“It should be noted that the one point that has consistently been made by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) all through the hearing at the lower and appellate courts is that it has not done or contemplated doing anything to warrant the restraining orders made against it by the lower court because no such request exists.
“In fact, the office of the AGF swore to an affidavit to this effect. It was on the basis of this that the appellate court held that the action was premature,” he said.
Conversely, he noted that the latest court proceedings which Kashamu’s political opponents now seek to extract capital gain from has to do with the refusal of the Court of Appeal to uphold his application, that it set aside its earlier ruling on the grounds of the likelihood of bias given other events that played out while the suit was still pending before the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal.
He noted that having been defeated on the political front his opponents have resorted to mudslinging and twisting of obvious facts, goaded on by an obviously interested and biased judge.
“The case has its roots in a case of mistaken identity in a drug-related offence which happened over 19 years ago and for which Kashamu had been discharged and acquitted by the British courts. Ordinarily, examples of relations who share striking resemblance abound everywhere, and this should not be an exception.
“However, following his activities on the political terrain, he got information that his opponents were pressuring the AGF to re-open the case and use his office to cause his extradition. He then went to the Federal High Court where he filed a suit to challenge such a move in view of the fact that the British courts had exonerated him.
“Based on the infallible evidence before it, the Federal High Court held that the AGF could not exercise his powers under the Extradition Act to activate extradition proceedings against Kashamu in circumstances where an English High Court and a District Judge had found that the US authorities had suppressed evidence that exculpated Kashamu from commission of any offence and that Kashamu was not the person involved in the alleged offense.
The Federal High Court's intervention, he contended, was also based on the findings of the US Circuit Judge that Kashamu was not a fugitive and held in its judgment that the decision makes it wrong for the US authorities to bring any extradition proceedings against him in Nigeria.
“The appeal of the Attorney General to Court of Appeal and the judgment of the Court as reported in the media did not derogate from these findings as the only issue it appears they were concerned with was how Kashamu knew that the Attorney General was being pressurised to commence extradition proceedings against him.”
According to him, his principal had got information from someone within the security apparatus that the Court of Appeal was of the view that it was hearsay as the person should have been brought for cross-examination and on that basis held that Kashamu's suit in the Federal High Court was premature.
Oniyokor also said it was laughable that anyone could hurriedly conclude from the decision of the appellate court, which was still subject to appeal, noting that the court has ordered Kashamu’s extradition for the same allegations that the British courts had exonerated him.
“The British court, as per Lord Justice Pill and Mr. Justice Bell of the High Court of Justice, Queen Bench Division, had said the US authorities suppressed exculpatory evidence in their desperation to indict Kashamu and discharged him in accordance with Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Human Rights Act, 1998.”
While referring to the District Judge Tim Workman in his final discharge of Kashamu in 2003, he said Workman had found from the evidence adduced during the three-year trial that Kashamu was not the person sought by the U.S. authorities and that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Workman in his judgment had said: “As a result of the evidence that the Defence has placed before me and the evidence which the government has tendered in rebuttal, I find the following facts: that the defendant has a brother who bears a striking resemblance. I am satisfied that the defendant's brother was one of the co-conspirators.
"I am however satisfied that the overwhelming evidence here is such that the identification evidence, already tenuous, has now been so undermined as to make it incredible and valueless. In those circumstances, there is then no prima facie case against the defendant and I propose to discharge him."
He added that another US Judge, Norgle, in whose court the indictment was filed, held that Kashamu was not a fugitive from Justice, saying "on what basis will the US authorities justifiably request for the extradition of such a person?"
Oniyokor said the fact that the latest ruling is being celebrated more than the earlier judgment (without recourse to the facts), which was still the subject of an appeal at the Supreme Court, exposes the political gimmickry behind the whole case itself.
Kashamu, according to him, had earlier written a petition to the President of the Court of Appeal before the judgment, referring to the threats of the Presiding Justice, Adamu Augie, to punish those behind a petition alleging influence by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo over her in respect of an Ogun State political case and the press statement by Chief Obasanjo thereafter alleging that Kashamu was the one behind the petition.
He said they believed that the judgment was influenced by the events and that Kashamu has instructed his lawyers to appeal the latest ruling rejecting his application to set aside the earlier judgment of the Court of Appeal which paved the way for the latest appeal.
With the case now at the apex court and the final lap of the legal onslaught, the political future of this juggernaut is obviously hanging in the balance. And of course, whatever the final ruling in the case will determine to a greater extent, the turn of events within the PDP in Ogun State as Kashamu is one political colossus on whose shoulders many things now rest.