Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
A senior lawyer, Chief Sebastine Hon (SAN) has said it is unfair not to allow Justice Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court to resume sitting six months after he was arrested and released by the Department of State Services (DSS).
In a statement he issued yesterday, Hon said it was counter-productive to the fight against corruption when judges were barred from sitting and no charge was pending against them.
While calling on the authorities to either charge them or to let them resume sitting, he said that litigants had been made to suffer because affected judges could not perform judicial functions.
He said: “It is most harrowing and punitive to continue to keep some justices and judges in suspense concerning their civil rights and obligations – all in the name of fighting corruption. That is not the way to go.”
According to him, since October, 2016, an inquisitorial action was taken by the DSS and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against some justices and judges.
He said: “While some of the Justices (like Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, Justice Ajumogobia and others) are being prosecuted, others (like Justice Ademola) have had criminal trials terminated in their favour.
Yet, others (like Justice Inyang Okoro, Justice Agbadu Fishim and others) have not been so lucky. This third category of justices and judges, ‘unlucky’ as they are, are not arraigned before any court of competent jurisdiction, in order for their culpability to be determined judicially. Yet, they have, since last year, been placed under suspension! This is most dehumanising and degrading, to say the least.”
He argued that keeping Justice Okoro muted silence over his rights and suspending him from work for over six months amounted to a breach of his fundamental right to dignity of human person.
He cited Section 34(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution which he said had secured the fundamental right of “every individual” to “respect for dignity of his person;” and accordingly provided further that “no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.”
“In at least two decisions -Uzuokwu vs. Ezeonu II (1991) 6 NWLR (Pt. 200) 708 at 778 and Ahuruonye vs. Ikonne (2015) All FWLR (Pt. 811) 1233 – the Court of Appeal has described ‘inhuman treatment’ inter alia as meaning ‘acting without the feeling for the suffering of the other.’ Clearly, the State-infused quagmire foisted on the affected judges fits into this definition,” he added.
Hon said that refusing to allow the judges to do their work when no charge had been filed against them also amounted to an infringement on section 36(1) of the1999 Constitution, which requires that the “determination” of a person’s civil rights and obligation, “including any question or determination by or against any government or authority” be done by giving the person a fair hearing “within a reasonable time.”
He said: “Without formally arraigning the affected judicial officers before courts of competent jurisdiction; without also discharging them administratively of the offences alleged against them; and under this extra-judicially punitive stand of the state, depriving them of the right to exercise their judicial functions is a clear violation of this all-important section of the constitution.
“Again, I boldly say this is squarely antithetical to our valued democratic ethos. Western countries and indeed the international community might be goading us on; but pray, can they treat their citizens this way too?
“What of the litigants whose cases are suffering because of the restraining orders on these judges who have not been found guilty of the allegations levelled against them but who are restrained from discharging their judicial funcations?”