NJC Sacks Appellate Court Judge, Two Others for Corruption

  • Directs police to arrest dismissed Kano Judge

By Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

The National Judicial Council, (NJC) has fired the Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike and a judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru M. Auta for breaching the Codes of Conduct for Judicial Officers. A statement issued yesterday in Abuja by NJC’s Acting Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye said the decision to sanction the justices was taken yesterday at the council 78th meeting presided over by the council chairman and Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed. NJC said that the three judicial officers carried out acts that constituted misconduct contrary to Section 292 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended and Rules 1.2 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 3.2, 3.7, 4.1, 4.2, 8.4a, 13.1, 15.2 of the 2016 Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. While Justices Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Umezulike were recommended for compulsory retirement from office, Justice Auta of Kano State High Court was dismissed from service. The council said Justice Auta be handed over to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 1, Kano, for prosecution.

“The council, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution as amended, has suspended Justices Tsamiya, Umezulike and Auta from office with immediate effect, pending the approval of the recom- mendations of the council for their compulsory retirement and dismissal respectively, from office by the President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State and Governor Abdul- lahi Umar Ganduje, of Kano State, respectively,” said the statement. The council said Justice Tsamiya of the Court of Ap- peal was recommended for compulsory retirement pursuant to the findings by the council in the petition written by Nnamdi Iro Oji against him and Hon. Justices Husseini Muktar, F. O. Akinbami and J. Y. Tukur, all Justices of Court of Appeal who sat on Election Appeal Panel in the Owerri Division of the Court during the 2015 General Elections.

The petitioner had accused the justice of corruption, malice and vindictiveness; and giv- ing perverse and conflicting decisions on the same issue in similar matters in Appeal CA/OW/EPT/SN/50/2015: Chief Dr. David Ogba Onu- oha Bourdex Vs Hon. Mao Onuabunwa & Anor; CA/OW/EPT/SN/47/2015: Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu & Anor Vs Hon. Mao Ohuabunwa & Ors; and CA/OW/EPT/ HR/61/2015: Nnamdi Iro Oji Vs Nkole Uko Ndukwe & 16 Ors. After investigating the peti- tion, NJC cleared the two of the justices but found Justice Tsamiya culpable. The council found that there was evidence that the petitioner met with Justice Tsamiya thrice, in his residence in Sokoto, Abuja and Owerri where on each occasion, he demanded from him the sum of N200,000,000 (Two Hundred Million Naira) to influence the Court of Appeal Panel in Owerri or risk losing the case. The council cleared the other justices of the Court of Appeal because the allegations were not proved against them. The council said: “That there was no allegation and no evidence that the Petitioner ever met or discussed with Hon. Justices Husseini Mukhtar (JCA), F. O. Akinbami(JCA) and J. Y. Tukur(JCA) in respect of the appeal before them. “In the light of the fore- going that Hon. Justices Husseini Mukhtar (JCA), F. O. Akinbami(JCA) and J. Y. Tukur(JCA), were exonerated.”

The council recommended Justice Umezulike, the Chief Judge, Enugu to the Governor of Enugu State for compul- sory retirement sequel to the findings by the council on the following allegations levelled against him by Barrister Peter Eze. The Chief Judge was said to have failed to deliver judge- ment in Suit No E/13/2008: Ajogwu V Nigerian Bottling Company Limited in which final addresses were adopted on 23rd October, 2014. The council found that the judgement was however delivered on 9th March, 2015, about 126 days after addresses were adopted, contrary to constitutional provisions that judgement should be delivered within a period of 90 days. The council also found that Justice Umezulike in Suit No E/159M/2014, Ezeuko Vs Probate Registrar, High Court of Enugu State and 3 Others ordered the arrest of Mr. Peter Eze by police and be brought before his court after the matter was amicably resolved and judgement entered on terms of settlement. That the Hon. Chief Judge in a speech delivered by him to the Eastern Bar Forum on Friday 4th March, 2016, openly made un-complimentary remarks containing vulgar language against the petitioner, contrary to Rule 1.3 of the National Judicial Council Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers. Also, the council stated that at the time of the book launch of the Hon. Chief Judge, dona- tion of N10 million was made by Prince Arthur Eze while two cases in which Arthur Eze had interest were pending before his lordship.

The council also said that there had been many instances of abuse of judicial powers, by the Chief Judge, particularly against the two defendants in Suits Nos. E/6/2013 and E/88/2016 and that he clung to these two suits to remain in his court despite all genuine efforts made by the defendants to get the suits transferred to another court. The council also found “that the Chief Judge sitting at a vantage position of Senior Judicial Officer and Head of Court for that matter, should not have allowed his emotions to dictate his judicial functions to the detriment of the defendants in both suits.” The council dismissed Justice Auta of Kano High Court and recommended him for prosecu- tion based on a petition against him by Alhaji Kabiru Yakassai. The council found “that the petitioner paid the sum of N125,000,000 (One Hundred and Twenty-five Million Naira) into an account approved by the Judge. “The petitioner also made cash payment of N75,000,000 (Seventy-five Million Naira) to Justice Auta in several install- ments through his Personal Assistant, Abdullahi Bello, ostensibly for the purpose of assisting a former Chief Justice of Nigeria who had just been appointed to secure accommo- dation and for the petitioner to be in turn rewarded by the award of some contracts by the said Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria. “That Justice Auta facilitated telephone communications in his house between the petitioner and purportedly the former Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria on the other end.

“That Justice Auta facilitated meetings between the petitioner and a lady who introduced herself as the purported Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria in a Prado Jeep, escorted by armed Police Officer in a hotel in Kaduna. “That after the petitioner suspected foul play and reported the matter to the police, Justice Auta agreed to pay the petitioner the sum of N95,000,000 (Ninety-five Mil- lion Naira) as part of his claim while Abubakar Mahdi was to pay the sum of N125,000,000 (One Hundred and Twenty-five Million Naira) to the petitioner. “That pursuant to the agree- ment, Justice Auta made a part payment of $11,000.00 (Eleven Thousand U.S. Dollars) and N16,000.000 (Sixteen Million Naira) cash to the petitioner and undertook to pay the bal- ance before the commencement of the Fact Finding Committee set up by the National Judicial Council to investigate the allegations. “That Justice Auta admitted accepting to pay the money as agreed in AIG’s Office in Kano according to him ‘hav- ing suffered humiliation, and incarceration and had nowhere to go for help and in order to protect my image and the image of the judiciary’. ” The council said that Justice Auta however, said that the settlement was for him to pay N35 million and not N95 million and that to that effect, he paid N20 million so far including the $11,000; and that Justice Kabiru stated in his evidence, that the purpose of the petitioner visiting his house at times was that as a friend, he used to seek favours for his people who had matters before him, a conduct that was in itself self-indicting and a serious abuse of judicial oath.