The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court of Nigeria to upturn the judgment of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, which struck out the charges of unlawful enrichment filed against a justice of the Federal High Court, Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa.
In a notice of appeal to challenge the judgment, the EFCC through its counsel, Wahab Shittu, argued that the independence of certain bodies, including the National Judicial Council (NJC) as guaranteed under Section 158(1) of the 1999 Constitution does not preclude the institution of criminal proceedings by the state against judicial officers, neither does it confer immunity from criminal proceedings.
The Appeal Court, in a judgment delivered on December 11, 2017, by Justice Obaseki Adejumo, held that the NJC must first perform its constitutional role of disciplining the judge and recommending him for prosecution before the EFCC can file charges against him.
But the anti-graft agency argued in its appeal before the apex court that the Appeal Court erred in law when it held that the NJC was the sole body empowered by the Constitution to determine allegations of misconduct against judicial officers, even on criminal allegations of bribery and corruption made against its officers.
The commission also contended that no judicial officer is covered by immunity from prosecution as the Constitution only grants the powers to discipline judicial officers for official misconduct to the NJC.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the appeal.
On June 23, 2017, Justice Nganjiwa, a sitting judge of the Federal High Court, Bayelsa Division was arraigned before Justice Adedayo Akintoye of the Lagos High Court sitting in the Igbosere area of Lagos Island.
He was arraigned by the EFCC on 14 counts of collecting bribes to pervert the course of justice.
The commission claimed that the judge received the sums of $260,000 and N8,650,000 through his bank account between 2013 and 2015.
The EFCC also alleged that the sums did not correspond with the judge’s salary and that he could not explain the source of the funds.
Before his arraignment, his lawyer Robert Clarke had, however, filed a preliminary objection insisting that the court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case as it is only the NJC that is constitutionally empowered to discipline a serving judge.
But in her judgment, Justice Akintoye threw out the application, and held that “It is trite in law that the court can entertain and determine the right of any citizen no matter their status”.
Mr Clarke had, however, challenged the judgment at the Court of Appeal which resulted in the court striking out the charges against Justice Nganjiwa.