NJC recalls justices Inyang, Ademola, four others
• Lawyers Hail Decision
The National Judicial Council (NJC), yesterday lifted the suspension placed on some judicial officers, who were previously directed to step aside on the advise of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, pending the determination of allegations of corruption and professional misconduct brought against them.
The decision to recall them to their duties was reached at the 82nd meeting of the body held on May 31 and June 1. In a statement by its Director of Information, Soji Oye, NJC said the affected judges and justices of the Supreme Court are expected to resume on Wednesday June 7, explaining that the meeting, which was chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, considered cases involving eight judicial officers.
The statement recalled that the affected judicial officers were directed to excuse themselves from office with effect from November 2, 2016 “to maintain the integrity and sanctity of the judiciary and sustain public confidence.”
“After deliberations,” the statement read, “Council noted that out of the judicial officers directed to excuse themselves from performing their official duties, only three have been charged to court. The trial of Justice Ademola has been concluded and he has been discharged and acquitted of the charges filed against him.
“In view of the foregoing, council decided that the various heads of courts should direct the following judicial officers to resume their judicial duties with effect from Wednesday June 7, as there are already backlog of cases in their various courts for the past eight months.
“They include Justice John Inyang Okoro, of the Supreme Court; Justice Uwani Abba Aji of the Court of Appeal; Justice Hydiazira A. Nganjiwa, of the Federal High Court; Justice A. Ademola of the Federal High Court, who has been discharged and acquitted; Justice Musa H. Kurya, of the Federal High Court, and Justice Agbadu James Fishim, of National Industrial Court of Nigeria.”
The council further decided to warn Justice M. N. Esowe, of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Justice Adolphus Enebeli, of the High Court of Justice, Rivers State and Justice Bassey Frank Etuk, of the Akwa Ibom State High Court for different offences.
Council said it considered and dismissed petitions written against 12 other judicial officers as three of the petitioners withdrew their petitions against the Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice T. U. Uzokwe, Justice Okoroafor of the Abia State High Court, and Justice Judge Okeke of the FCT High Court of Justice.
“One petition written against Justice H. A. Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court was also dismissed for subjudice. Other petitions written against Justices Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, and Okon Abang, both of the Federal High Court, Justices Mobolaji Ojo and E. O. Osinuga, both of the Ogun State High Court, Justice B. A. Oke-Lawal, of Lagos State High Court, Justice A. A. Aderemi of Oyo State, Ntong F. Ntong of Akwa Ibom State High Court and the second petition against Justice Bassey Frank Etuk of Akwa Ibom State High Court of Justice were found unmeritorious,” the statement read.
Commenting on the recall, Emeka Ngige, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) said: “The restored judges have be categorised. For Okoro and others like him, the decision is unimpeachable. Most of them, their courts are suffering. So, nobody can fault the decision of the NJC. If government is unable to file any charge against them, it is an indication that they don’t have cases to answer; that the charges against them were based on mere suspicion. For Justice Ademola, if there is no appeal, the decision is equally okay. But if there is an appeal, I would have suggested that the appeal be determined once and for all before he goes back, because if tomorrow the matter is appealed and the Appeal Court reverses the decision of the High Court, it means that he may have to be suspended again, pending the determination of the case. But if there is no appeal, I don’t think anybody can fault the decision of the NJC.”
For Osaro Eghobamien, another SAN: “If they have not been charged to court, it is not good to just leave them like that. Let them be discharged. Nobody can quarrel with that. The truth of the matter is that one may suspect that they are being shielded, but if they are not charged, it would be a breach of their fundamental rights to simply suspend them and leave them hanging. I think in the circumstance, there really was no choice than to return them to duties.
Albert Akpomudje, SAN, on his part maintains that, “We were the people who really made a strong case when they were being investigated that they should go on suspension. But now, for many months, they have not been able to prefer charges against them. So, it’s fair to return them to work. We only did that because of the sensitive position they occupy, otherwise, they would have continued in office. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had similar allegations and he is still conducting affairs of the senate, while even being tried by a court. At our last NEC meeting in Lokoja, we agreed that they should be allowed to go back to their work since they are not being tried. So, I am in total support. For justice Ngwuta, he is facing trial, it’s understandable. But for the other ones, I see no reason no charges have been preferred against them and it is unfair to keep them out of work,” he concluded.
“The decision of the NJC to lift the suspension of the justices and judges accused of corruption is a most welcome development. The NJC, even though under the constitution, is not subject to any body’s direction or control, decided to tacitly support the anti-corruption drive of the government, by in the first place suspending those judicial officers – even when they were not arraigned and convicted. Since the Executive could not arraign them or secure conviction, the NJC just did the needful, as some of us urged them to do so,” said Sebastine Hon, a SAN.
“No country treats its citizens the way those judicial officers were treated; and the NJC just woke up to its constitutional and moral responsibility. I will also conclude by urging security agencies not to see this as an attempt by the judiciary to splash odious mud on their faces, but as the discharge of a constitutional and moral obligation by the NJC.”
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