TUNDE OYESINA writes on many travails of the embattled judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, before the National Judicial Council’s (NJC) big stick, a few hours after his voluntary retirement.
Months after he was discharged and acquitted by the court over his alleged involvement in bribery and corruption, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, a judge of the Federal High Court, is again back in the news.
This time, he was sacked at the weekend on allegation of Judicial misconduct by the highest judicial body, the National Judicial Council (NJC).
His sack which came some hours after he announced that he had voluntarily retired from the Bench with effect from April next year would no longer hold water going by the NJC’s recommendation.
It said: “The public is hereby informed to disregard news circulating on some news media that Hon. Mr. Justice Ademola has voluntarily retired. The purported voluntary retirement is clearly an afterthought as Council had taken action before his decision to forward any voluntary retirement letter.”
This has, however, drawn brickbats as controversy had begun to trail the NJC’s recommendation to President Muhammadu Buhari that Justice Ademola should go on compulsory retirement over acts of misconduct.
The NJC recommendation came barely after 24 hours when the judge sent in a letter through the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdu Kafarati to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the NJC, Justice Walter Onnoghen, intimating him of his voluntary retirement from the Federal High Court Bench.
Although the judge in the letter dated, December 6, did not indicate why he threw in the towel before his April 2018 retirement date when he would attain the statutory age of 65 years, Justice Ademola told New Telegraph Law through his lawyer, Dimeji Ekemgba that his retirement was based on a personal decision.
The bubble, however, finally burst when the NJC in a release issued by its Director of Information, Soji Oye, on December 7 said that it had recommended the judge to President Muhamadu Buhari for compulsory retirement.
Stakeholders in the judiciary had continued to ask whether going by turn of events, the recommendation of the NJC would still hold water, even after the judge had voluntarily retired before its recommendation came.
Until his sack by the NJC, Justice Ademola was a judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja. He is the grandson of first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria, Sir Adegboyega Ademola Adetokunbo, who the colonial masters appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria in 1958. He remained in that position till 1972, making him the longest serving Chief Justice in the Nigeria history.
His travail began on October 8 and 9, 2016 when the Department of State Service (DSS) raided homes of no fewer than seven judges in a sting operation over an alleged corrupt practice.
The raids were simultaneously carried out on the affected judges’ residences in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Gombe, Kano, Enugu and Sokoto.
An official said the operation was ordered after months of investigation during which the secret police established credibly that the affected judges were involved in questionable financial dealing.
At the residence of Justice Ademola, the DSS recovered at least $400, 000 and N39 million in cash, in addition to documents of landed property belonging to the federal judge. Also, a pump riffle action was recovered.
Two months after the raid, the embattled judge and his wife were arraigned on an 11-count corruption charge.
Justice Ademola and his wife, Olabowale were arraigned on December 13, 2016 by the Federal Government before an Abuja High Court.
The couple were arraigned on conspiracy to receive gratification and receiving gratification of N30m from Joe Agi and Associates, between March 11 and March 26, 2015.
Only the first four counts which bordered on the alleged N30m gratification involved the wife of the judge.
The remaining seven-count charge was specifically preferred against the judge.
In one of the counts, the judge was accused of attempting to receive gratification in N25million from one Sani Shaibu Teidi on February 21, 2014.
Justice Ademola was also said to have on January 5, 2015 in his capacity as a public servant “corruptly received from Joe Odey Agi a BMW Saloon 320i valued at N8,500,000 through your son, Ademide Ademola, as gratification in the exercise of your official functions as the judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria.”
The offences relating to gratification are said to be contrary to section 8(1)(a) of the Corrupt Practices and other related offences Act, 2000.
The prosecution also accused the judge of “dealing with property subject matter of an offence” by transferring N85m and N90m, totalling, N175m to Franco Dan Parker on February 24, 2014.
Both offences are said to be contrary to section 24 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under the same law
The judge was also said to have on October 7, 2016 had in his possession “one Pump Action Rifle with serial number AVAR MAGNUM 6084 without a valid licence, an offence contrary to section 3 of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act, 2004.”
He was again on January 11 re-arraigned with his wife by the Federal Government on amended charges bordering on gratification and illegal possession of arms.
Also arraigned alongside the two was a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Joe Odey Agi who was said to be their family lawyer.
Agi was accused of bribing Justice Ademola to the tune of N38million through Mrs Ademola and son, Ademide.
Prosecution counsel, Segun Jegede had told the court that the prosecution had amended the charge as the application for the amendment was brought under section 216 & 256 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
Without objection from the defence, the trial judge, Justice Jude Okeke, granted the application for the substitution of the earlier 11-count charge with the amended 16-count charge.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge when read to them.
On April 5, Justice Okeke dismissed all the 18 counts, including gratification charges preferred against Justice Ademola, his wife Olubowale and Joe Agi SAN.
Justice Okeke discharged the three defendants in a ruling upholding the respective no-case submissions filed by the defendants.
Justice Okeke held that the prosecution was unable to make out a prima facie case with respect to any of the 18 counts on concluding its case with 19 witnesses and exhibits A to Z to warrant calling on the defendants to enter their defence.
Justice Okeke in his final comments noted that the case of the prosecution was built on strong suspicion and speculation fueled by the feeling to fight corruption which no reasonable court could base any conviction on.
The court held that it would amount to asking the defendants to prove their innocence contrary to the provision of the Constitution which required the prosecution to prove their guilt.
Justice Okeke held that the prosecution was unable to make out a prima facie case showing that N30million paid by Agi into Olubowale’s bank account in three tranches of N10m each between March 11 and 26, 2015, was gratification meant to influence Justice Ademola in his official functions.
Justice Okeke further held that the prosecution was unable to show any contrary evidence to the claim by the defendants that the sum of N30million was not a gift passed from two mutual friends of Justice Ademola and Agi by the SAN to Olubowale in support of the Ademola’s for the wedding of their daughters held in April 2015.
The court ruled that the charges also failed to disclose which of the particular official functions of Justice Ademola – whether the judicial functions done in open court, administrative functions or prison – the N30million was meant to influence.
His acquittal, however, led to his recall by the NJC on June 3.
In a statement issued by its Director of Information, Soji Oye, NJC said it had at its meeting held on June 1 directed the judge to resume duties.
The statement said Justice Ademola, who was charged and prosecuted, had been discharged and acquitted by the court.
But four months after his recall, Justice Ademola on October 10 wired a letter to the NJC, notifying it of his retirement from the Bench come April 9, 2018 when he would attain the statutory age of 65.
He had then returned all the corruption and terrorism cases to the Acting Chief Judge for possible re-assignment. Justice Ademola on December 6 had tendered his letter of voluntary retirement from the Bench.
The judge was due for his statutory retirement in April 2018 but suddenly turned in his letter of retirement.
Although his one-paragraph letter was received at the Office of the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja on December 7, the letter stated that his retirement took effect from December 6.
The letter did not disclose the reason for the judge’s decision.
The letter entitled ‘Letter of voluntary retirement’ reads; “I hereby voluntarily retire from the bench of the Federal High Court with effect from December 6, 2017.”
The footnote of the letter added, “This letter supersedes my previous notice of retirement from the Federal High Court of Nigeria dated 25/09/2017”.
But in a twist, NJC sacked Justice Ademola 24 hours after his voluntary retirement commenced.
NJC in a release by Soji Oye, at the end of its 84th meeting in Abuja, recommended Justice Ademola to President Muhammadu Buhari for compulsory retirement.
The Council, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, said it found Justice Ademola and another judge, O.A. Tokode, guilty of engaging in acts of judicial misconduct.
The Council however maintained that Justice Ademola’s action was belated. The legal body said it had already written to President Muhammadu Buhari, recommending that the Judge must immediately proceed on compulsory retirement even though he would actually be officially due for retirement on April 8, 2018, when he would have clocked 65 years mandatory retirement age.
However, NJC acknowledged that Justice Ademola had previously on October 10, forwarded to it, his notice of retirement against next year. The Council said its decision to compulsorily remove Ademola from the Bench was pursuant to findings on allegation contained in a petition written against him by a group of eight persons under the name of Committee of Anambra State PDP House of Representatives Members-Elect.
According to the NJC, the petitioners alleged that Ademola heard their suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/177/2015 which was adjourned for judgement on 25th March, 2015;
“That on the adjourned date, His Lordship did not deliver the judgement but adjourned the case sine die, to await the decision of the Supreme Court on another matter on the same issue on the list of PDP candidates for Anambra State for the general election of 2015;
“That His Lordship speedily heard and delivered judgement in another case in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/254/2015 filed later on the same issues, with intent to confer undue advantage on the plaintiff who is from a family with which the respondent has relationship;
“That the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the judgement ultimately given to the petitioners contained a paragraph that was not read in open Court by the Hon. Judge and that a phrase was altered, all to address an issue raised in the appeal that had already been filed by the petitioner before the issuance of Certified True Copy (C T C);
“That some of the reasoning and conclusions of the Hon. Judge were summersaults; that the respondent finally delivered judgement in the case on 8th July, 2016, five (5) months after the Supreme Court delivered the judgement he was awaiting contrary to the constitutional provisions that judgements should be delivered within a period of 90 days.”
NJC stressed that the petitioners subsequently withdrew their petitions in accordance with Regulation 16 of the National Judicial Council Judicial Discipline Regulations of 9th March, 2017.
It said: “The Council viewed His Lordship’s action of non-delivery of judgement within the stipulated time as misconduct contrary to Section 292 (1) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended and Rules 1.3 and 3.7 of the 2016 Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The public is hereby informed to disregard news circulating on some news media that Hon. Mr. Justice Ademola has voluntarily retired. The purported voluntary retirement is clearly an afterthought as Council had taken action before his decision to forward any voluntary retirement letter.”
However, the embattled Justice Ademola insisted that his retirement superseded the NJC’s recommendation, dismissing insinuations that his decision to retire was predicated on any pending petition against him.
“There is no petition against him and NJC has no power over him again as ex-judicial officer. Also, they have no jurisdiction on withdrawn petitions. See Yerima V NJC (CA), Ademola V NJC. The PDP petition against him was withdrawn in October 2017,”his lawyer said.
But a few lawyers, who spoke to New Telegraph Law queried NJC’s recommendation on Justice Ademola who had already retired.
“Abeg, can you recommend for retirement, someone who has voluntarily retired”?, one of them asked.
Another Abuja based lawyer, stated that, “in trying to humiliate and discredit Ademola, the NJC once again proved its critics right that it does not possess the capacity to really clampdown on erring judicial officers.
“They should have made their decision known a day before the Ademola retired voluntarily. They were outsmarted by the ever witty Ademola. He beats them to the game”, he stated.
Another lawyer, noted that it was the same NJC that recalled the judge, after he was freed of corruption charge. In law, the NJC letter is empty and of no moment as far as Ademola is concerned. The NJC action to me is an after- thought.
“NJC should have kept their statement since Ademola decided to retire. The statement made them to lose credibility.Speaking from a different perspective, an Ilorin based SAN noted that the action of the NJC was in order and its recommendations were valid in law.
“To my mind, the council had carried out its constitutional role over judges. From the foregoing, the intention of the judge to retire voluntarily could be seen from the subsequent statement issued by the council.
“Backed by law, I think Ademola was not smart enough to outsmart the council,” he stated.