The decision to recall the six judges that were suspended following raids on their houses last year by personnel of the Department of Security Service (DSS) was hinged on the lack of a case against them, the National Judicial Council (NJC) said yesterday.
The council announced the reinstatement of the six and other judges after its 82nd meeting held on May 31 and June 1, 2017 in Abuja.
According to a statement signed by NJC’s Director of Information, Soji Oye, the meeting had considered the cases of eight judicial officers who were directed to recuse themselves from duties on the request of the Attorney-General of the Federation, pending the outcome of investigations against them.
The NJC noted that out of the six, only Justice N. S. Ngwuta of the Supreme Court, Justice A. F. A. Ademola of the Federal High Court and Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court had been charged to court.
“The trial of Hon. Justice A. F. A. 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 court should direct the following judicial officers to resume their judicial duties with effect from Wednesday June 7, 2017, as there are already a backlog of cases in their various courts for the past eight months: Hon. Justice John Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court, Hon. Justice Uwani Abba Aji of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Hydiazira A. Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court, Hon. Justice A. F. A. Ademola of the Federal High Court, who has been discharged and acquitted, Hon. Justice Musa H. Kurya of the Federal High Court, and Hon. Justice Agbadu James Fishim of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
The NJC said it asked the judges to recuse themselves with effect from November 2, 2016 on the request of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) pending the outcome of investigations in order “to maintain the integrity and sanctity of the judiciary and sustain public confidence.”
Also, the NJC issued a serious warning to Justice M. N. Esowe of the National Industrial Court, while Justice Adolphus Enebeli of the Rivers State High Court of Justice, Justice Bassey Frank Etuk of the Akwa-Ibom State High Court, were placed on NJC ‘watch list’ for different offences based on petitions against them.
The NJC however, discontinued the probe of Justice T. U. Uzokwe, Chief Judge, Abia State; Justice Okoroafor of the Abia State High Court and Justice Jude Okeke of the FCT High Court.
The homes of the suspended judges were in the midnight of October 8, 2017 raided by the DSS, where the sum of N271.7million in both local and foreign currencies were allegedly recovered.
The DSS said the raids were conducted after a series of “sting operations” targeting judges of Supreme, Appeal and High Courts who were being watched for “corruption and other acts professional misconduct.”
“We have been monitoring the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the judges, as well as complaints from the concerned public over judgements obtained fraudulently,” an official of the service, Garba Abdullahi, had said.
The development threw the country’s judiciary into chaos, with lawyers expressing divergent views.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), which mounted pressure on the NJC to suspend all judges indicted by the DSS last year during the Democracy Day celebration on May 29, called for the recall of the judges who were not facing trial.
“In the wake of the arrest and detention of certain judicial officers by the DSS, the NBA had taken the view that the judges affected should recuse themselves from judicial functions until investigations and outcome of those investigations were determined. We note that nearly eight months after those investigations were launched, there are some of the judges who have not been prosecuted or charged before any court of law,” said the president of the NBA, A.B. Mahmoud (SAN).
“This situation is completely unsatisfactory and unacceptable. The NBA calls on the government to terminate the investigations against those judges to enable them resume their work as judicial officers,” he added.
Constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), has described the recall of the judges as the right thing to do, maintaining that it was late in coming.
“The state should actually apologise to the judges for the public odium, embarrassment, obloquy, and shame their arrest, detention and media trial impacted on them,” he said.
Also speaking, a Evidence Law expert, Sabastine Hon (SAN), lauded the NJC for the recall of the judges.
“The decision of the NJC to lift the suspension of the justices and judges accused of corruption is a most welcome development,” he said.
“No country treats its citizens the way those judicial officers were treated; and the NJC just woke up to its constitutional and moral responsibility – by taking this bold step,” he added.