The National Judicial Council on Saturday justified the recall of some judges, particularly Justice Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja.
They were among the eight judges suspended in October last year over corruption allegations.
The NJC had in a statement on June 3 lifted the suspension of six of the judges, including Justices Okoro and Ademola, leaving two others who were being prosecuted.
The rest remain suspended, pending the outcome of the cases against them.
The council had cited the failure of the Federal Government to charge five of the judges with any offence and failure to appeal against Justice Ademola as the reasons for the recall.
The NJC, in a statement by its Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye, on Saturday, said, contrary to claims by some Federal Government officials, there was no pending and valid suits against Justices Okoro and Ademola to justify their continued suspension.
The NJC also faulted the claim by the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), who had accused the council of being hasty in recalling the judges.
Sagay had reportedly said the recall of the judges was a sign that the judiciary was not on board with the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s fight against corruption.
But the NJC debunked the allegations and argued that its decision to recall the judges was based on principles of fairness and the rule of law.
The statement read in part, “It is to be stressed that our criminal justice is also predicated on accusatorial system and not inquisitorial.
“Thus, every accused person is presumed to be innocent until his guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution.
“On the foregoing, the council is compelled to inform the public that the decision it took to direct the affected justices/judges to recuse themselves from performing their judicial duties was born out of respect for the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
“It was done in order to maintain the integrity and sanctity of the judiciary and sustain public confidence.
“However, the recent decision of the council to recall the judicial officers was based on the principles of rule of law and fairness.
“The council reiterates that it shall continue to support the President Buhari administration in its fight against corruption in all its ramifications in the federation.
“We are committed to cleansing the judiciary of corrupt judicial officers, under the purview of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the principles of the rule of law enshrined therein.”
The statement said the case file of the charges filed before the CCT against Justices Okoro and Ademola had been withdrawn by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation with the hope of filing additional evidence.
It added that there was no other pending proper appeal filed by the Federal Government to challenge the acquittal of Justice Ademola by a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja.
It debunked Obono-Obla’s statement in which he claimed that the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation had filed an appeal against Justice Ademola’s acquittal.
The NJC said information at its disposal had proved otherwise.
NJC stated that the Federal Government only filed notices of appeal, which it said did not amount to a proper appeal.
It said the AGF office had on two occasions — April 18, 2017 and April 21, 2017 — shunned invitations by the FCT High Court for settlement of records of appeal, which if had been done, would have elevated the notices of appeal to proper appeals.
NJC said the AGF office only took a step of filing additional grounds of appeal against Justice Ademola’s acquittal two days after the council recalled the six judges.
It stated that in the absence of any valid appeal against Justice Ademola and the Federal Government, having withdrawn the case files against him (Ademola) and Justice Okoro from the CCT, it implied there was no pending suits against the two judges.
However, the Federal Government denied NJC’s allegations on Saturday, insisting that there were pending charges before the CCT against Justice Ademola and that a proper appeal had been filed against the judge’s acquittal.
Speaking on behalf of the government, Obono-Obla said NJC’s claim on Saturday further proved that the Council had turned itself to a “stumbling block” in the Buhari administration’s efforts to cleanse the judiciary.
He said the NJC had, by its claims, turned itself to the Court of Appeal and Justice Ademola’s lawyer.
He said, “It further reinforces the belief of Nigerians that the NJC has now constituted itself to a stumbling block to the efforts which the executive arm of government is making to clean up the judiciary.
“Is the NJC now the Court of Appeal or the body that is empowered by the Nigerian Constitution to discipline erring judges?
“We have notice from the Court of Appeal Registry dated June 5, 2017 inviting parties to come for reconciliation of records of appeal.
“Is NJC the counsel for Justice Ademola? They are descending into the arena and they cannot descend into the arena.”
“They are lying by the position they have taken.How can they say that there is no valid appeal. Has the appeal been heard?
“We filed our appeal on April 7, two days after the judgment was delivered. On June 6, we filed additional grounds of appeal.
“We have 90 days to file notice of appeal on April 7 and we can file additional grounds of appeal because the time allowed for us to file notice of appeal has not expired. So what are they talking about?”