The decision of Abia State House of Assembly on Friday to suspend the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, for alleged acts of tyranny and gross misconduct is unconstitutional.
The suspension arose from a petition presented at the floor of the house as a matter of urgent public importance by the member representing Ukwa West Constituency, Mr Mezie Nwubani. The allegations contained in the petition is that the chief Judge has displayed unending acts of tyranny, infamy, gross misconduct and incompetence. The petitioners further accused the chief judge of acts of lawlessness and disrespect to state authorities, and denigration of the office of the chief judge. Some other allegations were financial recklessness and gross imprudence in the management of funds and “morbid hatred for Abia and her citizens”, among others.
The house member who moved the motion cited section 292 of the 1999 Constitution as amended where he wrongly misinterpreted the law adding that the said section empowers the house to investigate the allegations against the chief judge.
As a matter of fact and jurisprudentially speaking, it has become imperative by reasons of clarity and elucidation to state that section 292 other 1999 constitution did not give the State House of Assembly such powers as to suspend a chief Judge. I hereby reproduce section 292 of the 1999 constitution.
A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances –
(a) in the case of –
(i) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and President, Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.
(ii) Chief Judge of a State, Grand Kadi of a Sharia Court of Appeal or President of a Customary Court of Appeal of a State, by the Governor acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly of the State,
Praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct;
(b) in any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the President or, as the case may be, the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the judicial officer be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.
(2) Any person who has held office as a judicial officer shall not on ceasing to be a judicial officer for any reason whatsoever thereafter appear or act as a legal practitioner before any court of law or tribunal in Nigeria.
The law is rather quite clear but sometime except that the removal of judicial officers in Nigeria caused great controversy as to who has the power to remove judges and how this power may be exercised. Where a judicial officer has been found guilty of any misconduct in the discharge of his functions, some form of disciplinary action may be taken on him. He may be removed from office or suspended. The gravity of the judicial officer’s misconduct dictates the disciplinary action that will be taken against him. Although the general rule is that a judicial officer should not be removed from office before his date of retirement, there are exceptions to this general rule.
The appropriate way of removing the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief judges of the Federal High Court and Federal Capital Territory, the President of the National Industrial Court, the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, and the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital territory is by the President of Nigeria so removing that judge based on a two-thirds majority of the Senate.
For the states (Chief Judge of a State, the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of a state and the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of a state), they may be removed by the Governor of the state concerned based on a two-thirds majority of the members of the House of Assembly of the State. The recommendation of the National Judicial Council (which also recommended their appointment in the first place) is required for their removal. These are the three basic parts to the removal of a judicial officer in Nigeria. Anything short of these procedures is unconstitutional.