Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar
By Tobi Soniyi
The National Judicial Council (NJC) Thursday suspended Justices Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court and T. D. Naron of High Court of Justice, Plateau State and recommended that they should be compulsorily retired.
The council has also set up a committee to probe Justice Abubakar Talba of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court who gave a light sentence to Mr. John Yusufu, the former director who was arraigned before him for fraud in the police pension scheme.
The council is, however, being asked by a former Osun State Governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, to reconsider his petition against the suspended President, Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, whom he had accused of impropriety while hearing an appeal against the judgment of the Election Petitions Tribunal that upheld his declaration as winner of the 2007 governorship election.
Justice Talba’s probe and the suspension of his colleagues were announced yesterday in a statement by the NJC Acting Director, Information, Mr Soji Oye.
Delivering judgment in January in the case brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against Yusufu and others involved in the N39 billion police pension scam, Justice Talba had sentenced Yusufu, who had earlier changed his plea from not guilty to guilty to two years in prison.
He, however, gave Yusufu, who had pleaded guilty to three out of the amended 20-count charge brought against him by the EFCC the option of a N250,000 fine.
Justice Talba’s judgment had generated a nationwide uproar with commentators describing it as a signal to corrupt public officials that it was profitable to indulge in graft.
The NJC statement said: “The National Judicial Council under the chairmanship of the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, at its emergency meeting which was held on 20th February, 2013 recommended the compulsory retirement of Hon. Justice C. E. Archibong of the Federal High Court Lagos and Hon. Justice T.D. Naron of High Court of Justice, Plateau State.”
The council said Justice Archibong was recommended for compulsory retirement to President Goodluck Jonathan following “findings by the council on the following complaints levelled against him: that the judge dismissed the grievous charges against an accused without taking his plea;
“That he refused to release the certified true copy of his ruling to the lawyers and that the judge issued a bench warrant on some officials of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for contempt even when the counsel who was directed by the court to serve them filed an affidavit that he had not been able to serve the contempt application.”
In addition, Justice Archibong was indicted for making unfounded and caustic remarks on the professional competence of some Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs).
The five senior advocates, including the then President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Joseph Daudu, were described by Justice Archibong as grossly incompetent.
Others were Dr. Koyinsola Ajayi, Emmanuel Ukala, A.B Mahmoud and Damien Dodo.
Justice Archibong, while dismissing a 26-count charge brought against the former chief executive officer of the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc, Mr. Erastus Akingbola, had described the team of lawyers instructed by the EFCC to prosecute the case as incompetent and directed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to disband and debrief them.
He also said he would be referring the case of the senior advocates that led the prosecuting team to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) for investigation of their conduct.
But the council noted that there were glaring procedural irregularities, which showed that Justice Archibong did not have a full grasp of the law and procedure of the court.
It also noted that the judge “granted the leave sought for in the originating summons that had no written address of the parties and without hearing both parties in the originating summons after he had earlier on overruled the preliminary objection.”
The NJC also recommended to Plateau State Governor, Chief Jonah Jang, the retirement of Justice Naron who had chaired the first Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.
The tribunal heard the petition filed by the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidate in the 2007 governorship election, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, against the declaration of Oyinlola of the PDP as winner of the election. It upheld Oyinlola’s election.
However, Aregbesola, through his counsel, Mr Ajibola Bashiru, had petitioned the NJC, alleging impropriety on the part of the tribunal.
One of the allegations was that some members of the tribunal exchanged calls with lawyers representing Oyinlola while the petition was pending before the tribunal.
Call logs allegedly exchanged between the lawyers and members of the tribunal were made public at the time.
The NJC, which in August 2011 began Naron’s probe and other members of the tribunal – Justices Sa'adu Mohammed, J.N. Akpughunum, A.T. Badamasi and J.E. Ekanem – indicted the chairman of the tribunal and recommended his compulsory retirement.
The NJC’s findings showed that there were constant and regular voice calls and exchange of mms (multi-media) and SMS (text) messages between Justice Naron and one of the lead counsel to the parties to the election petition in Osun State, contrary to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria vide Section 292(1((b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
The council said in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution, as amended, it had suspended Justices Archibong and Naron from office with immediate effect.
Also Thursday, Oyinlola asked the NJC to re-examine his petition to the council alleging that Justice Salami had communication with the ACN leadership while presiding on the election petition that removed him from office as governor.
Oyinlola based his call for the reconsideration of his petition on a police report that established that communication existed between the ACN leadership and Salami while the hearing in his petition lasted.
He attached a copy of the police report to the letter to the NJC, which was delivered to Justice Mukthar.
He referred the NJC to the conclusion of the police report, which recommended MTN Communications for prosecution for allegedly suppressing facts