Why NJC Sacked top Judicial Officers

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National Judicial Council

The National Judicial Council (NJC), which is the nation’s highest judicial regulatory body, sacked two judges and indicted a lawyer for official misconduct.

The recommendation for the sack of Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court and Justice James Agbadu-Fishim of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria was made at the end of the 87th meeting of the NJC which was held on 3rd October 2018.

Both judges were suspended from the bench with immediate effect pending their removal from office by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

According to the NJC, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia was recommended to President Muhammadu Buhari for removal by dismissal from office pursuant to the findings on the allegations of misconduct contained in a petition to the council by the Acting Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu.

The NJC in the statement dated October 5, 2018 and signed by its Director of Information, Soji Oye, also stated that, contrary to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ajumogobia is a Director/Chief Executive Officer and sole signatory to Nigel and Colive Company.

It also claimed that “several personalities, individuals, government officials and business partners lodged funds into various accounts belonging to the Hon. judge.”

The judicial body also claimed there “was an ex-parte communication between the Hon. Judge and Mr. Godwin Obla (SAN) during the pendency of his matter before His Lordship.”

Similarly, the NJC stated that Justice Agbadu-Fishim was recommended for removal by dismissal from office sequel to the findings of the council on the allegations contained in another petition by the Acting Chairman of the EFCC alleging that the judge received various sums of money from litigants and lawyers that had cases before him, and some influential Nigerians, under the false pretence that he was bereaved or that there was delay in the payment of his salary. This, the NJC said, is contrary to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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The council rejected the resignation of Justice Joshua E. Ikede of the Delta State High Court following a petition by Zik Gbemre, National Coordinator of Niger Delta Peace Coalition that the judge backdated his actual retirement age by two years. The NJC recommended that the state government deduct two years salaries from his retirement benefits.

Several other petitions against judges were investigated and summarily dismissed while some judges were cautioned to be more careful in their future conduct.

In the case of Justice Ajumogobia, the NJC said it received petitions that several personalities, individuals, government officials and business partners lodged funds into various accounts belonging to her. The council however said it decided not to take further action as the matters are already before the court, adding that “Council left those matters for the trial to take its legal course.”

Justice Ajumogobia and Obla are facing charges of money laundering before a Lagos High Court in Ikeja.

The EFCC had in November 2016 filed 30-count charges against Ajumogobia and Obla on allegations of receiving the sum of €685928.14through the judge’s domiciliary accounts between 2012 and 2015. The judge allegedly used the money to buy a house in London.

The Senior Advocate in 2015 allegedly paid the judge N5m bribe through her account. In separate accounts, the judge claimed the money was a deposit for a N40m property she sold to Obla, while the lawyer said the money was for building materials, adding that he was unaware of the ownership of the account.

But the EFCC claimed the payment made by the lawyer was to the judge’s company account number 1015319084 domiciled in the United Bank for Africa Plc on May 21, 2015 to influence the judge’s exercise of her judicial duties.

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The judge was also alleged to have enriched herself with the sum of €685928.14 through different sums from 2013 to 2015, which she failed to explain the source to investigators.

Justice Agbadu-Fishim was also arraigned on 19-count charges before a Lagos High Court in Ikeja for allegedly receiving gifts from several individuals between 2013 and 2015. They include from current President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN), Chief Felix Fagbohunle, Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, Mr Uche Obi, Dr Muiz Banire and Dr Joseph Nwobike. Barr. Nwobike has since been convicted by a court.

Usoro however explained that the N700,000 he purportedly sent to the judge was not a bribe but was for personal reasons, which is covered by the provisions of Rule 3 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers, Paragraph F, adding that he had no pending matter before the judge which he sought to influence.

Reacting to the decision of the NJC, Barr. E.M.D. Umukoro said there are useful lessons to be drawn from the development, which includes that giving of gift to any judge under whatever form is prohibited as same can becloud the judge whenever the giver has a matter or case before that judge.

“It also sends a message that justice should be seen to be unfettered and uninfluenced in anyway. The third lesson is that the Bench must be seen to be above board in the dispensing of justice,” he said.

“Justice is rooted in confidence and where the people entertain the slightest doubt as to the impartiality of the judge, the confidence dwindles: this is not good for the administration of justice.

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“There is no doubt there should be some level of mutual respect but where instead of handling their matters professionally because of the fraternity and exchange of gifts, these judges give undue privilege to the senior thereby wasting precious judicial time.”

He also stated that the development showed clearly that the NJC can bark and bite, while charging the NBA to look inward to discipline their own members as well as discourage any form of influence on the Bench.

Also reacting, Barr. Hamdi Ajibola Jimoh said the NJC’s wielding of the big stick is a big lesson for judicial officers and those aspiring to join. He suggested that any undisciplined judge should be made to face criminal prosecution.

“Corruption has a unique characteristic of destroying a progressive system such as the judiciary,” Jimoh said.

“In my view further, without much more, there is the presumption that those judges already knew the restrictions on their office. So, it was right for them to have been made to bear the consequences of their actions.”

Source: Daily Trust

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