NJC gives reasons for probing 15 High Court judges

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The National Judicial Council (NJC) has set up a committee to look into alleged involvement of 15 judicial officers, including two chief judges, in corruption

NJC’s director of information, Mr. Soji Oye said in a press statement that the council, which is headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, took the decision at its 83rd meeting in Abuja after considering the reports of the two Preliminary Complaints Assessment Committees, on 46 petitions written against judicial officers in the federal and state judiciaries.

Though the council did not name the judges under probe, Oye said the Council had dismissed 31 petitions, 29 of which it found unmeritorious, while the remaining two written against Justice James T. Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and the acting Chief Judge of Ondo State, Justice O. O. Akeredolu, were withdrawn at the instance of the petitioners.

“Al-Sagir of National Insurance Company who wrote against Justice Tsoho withdrew his petition since the judge had delivered the ruling in his case.

“Chief A. Badmus who wrote against Justice Akeredolu also voluntarily withdrew his petition for personal reasons,” he said.

“Council treated the two petitions as withdrawn, since it did not find anything in them sufficiently serious for further consideration as stipulated in Regulation 9 (1) of the Judicial Discipline Regulations,” said Oye.

Nevertheless, NJC said it considered and found worthy of further investigation of the petition written by one Azi A. Phillip on behalf of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Plateau State chapter, accusing the immediate past Chief Judge of Plateau State, Justice P. D. Damulak, of bias for failure to make his judgment in suit No. PLD/J/236/16 delivered on November 4, 2016, available to him till the time he wrote the petition.

“Council, however, decided not to constitute an investigative committee to look into the matter, because the Hon. Chief Judge had already retired from service and, therefore, no longer in the employment of National Judicial Council.

“It also considered and dismissed petitions written against two other Judicial Officers for lack of merit. The Judges are: Hon. Justice Mr. L. T. C. Eruba, High Court of Justice, Abia State; and Hon. Grand Kadi Abdullahi Waiya, Sharia’h Court of Appeal, Kano State.

“It also decided to issue two letters of advice to Hon. Justice M. A. Dada of Lagos State High Court of Justice and Hon. Justice Chukwudi Charles Okaa of Anambra State High Court for violation of extant laws in the course of their judicial duties based on petition written against their Lordships by Dayo Adamolekun, Esq. & Ridwanulah Olanite, Esq. and Reverend F. U. Ekavhiare & Associates, respectively.

“Council agreed to report Adesina Ogunlana, Esq. to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, LPDC, for misconduct, for the use of uncouth language in a petition written to National Judicial Council against Hon. Justice O. O. Atilade, the immediate past Chief Judge of Lagos State,” said Oye.

Meanwhile, the council applauded the Zamfara State government for approving its (the NJC’s) recommendation for the compulsory removal of Justice Musa Ibrahim Anka from office.

Justice Anka was accused of receiving a bribe of N200, 000 from one Zubairu Abdumalik to deliver judgement in his favour.

The recommendation, according to Oye, was made to the Zamfara State government by NJC in 2011.

He said Zamfara State government’s acceptance of the recommendation was conveyed to the judicial body in a letter.

Meanwhile, some legal practitioners have commended the NJC’s action.

Constitutional lawyer, Mr. Mike Ozekhome who spoke to a national daily in Lagos described the Council’s action “self-deodorising” and “self-winnowing”.

“It is the job of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to conduct the investigation into any allegation of misconduct lodged against any judicial officer. It has been happening. It is not new.

“Point is, it is the constitutional duty of the NJC to appoint, promote and discipline judges; to retire them if they have transgressed. So, it is not something of a big piece of news that NJC is investigating some judges.

“In the past, the NJC had investigated some judges; and absolved them of any wrongdoing after due process. Conversely, they have dismissed some; some have been recommended for retirement; and some have been suspended in the past.

“This is in concert with the judiciary’s self-deodorising and self-winnowing mechanism, which makes the judiciary quite distinguished, because no other arm of government, including the legislature, has that self-deodorising mechanism.

“That is what the CJN has said. He has not said anything that is out of the ordinary.

“We also expect that the executive arm should borrow a leaf from what is happening in the judiciary. Let them for once put one of the ministers on trial.

“There are people in the current government who have been serially accused of corruption. If the executive is really fighting corruption, let them start with cleansing their own Augean stable. Let them bring corruption charges against such corrupt members of the executive like the judiciary does periodically.”

For another legal practitioner, Chief Emeka Ngige, the move is “salutary”.

“There is corruption in the judiciary quite alright; just as there is corruption in every segment of the Nigerian society. There is corruption even among journalists. So my take about the investigation is that it is a good development.

“The high number of persons being investigated does not mean that all of them are guilty. There is still a presumption of innocence in their favour.

“But it is good as NJC has publicly made it known that they are doing some work. We hope that the investigation will be thorough and action taken to avoid putting those accused in a state of anxiety, particularly those who would eventually be innocent.

“So I commend the leadership of the NJC for doing that investigation. We hope that Nigeria will quickly know the outcome,” said Ngige.

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