NJC Replies Presidency, Says it Recalled Judges Based on Rule of Law and Fairness

0
  • Insists judiciary is onboard with anti-graft war

Tobi Soniyi in Lagos and Alex Enumah in Abuja

The National Judicial Council (NJC) saturday defended its decision to recall six of the eight senior judges it suspended last year over allegations of corruption levelled against them by the Federal Government. It said its decision to recall the judges was based on the principles of rule of law and fairness.

The council had last week recalled six judicial officers it had suspended with effect from November 2 last year following corruption investigations on them. The recalled judges were Justice John Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court, Justice Uwani Abba Aji of the Court of Appeal, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Justice Hydiazira A. Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court, Justice Musa H. Kurya of the Federal High Court, and Justice Agbadu James Fishim of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. The council’s decision to recall the judges however drew criticisms from various quarters, including the presidency.

In its first reaction to the criticisms, particularly from the presidency, NJC insisted that its decision to recall the judges last week was in order and in line with the rule of law.

The council, in a statement issued by the Director of Information, Soji Oyetayo, in Abuja, frowned on the criticisms against its decision to recall the judges.

The statement reads, “The attention of the National Judicial Council has been drawn to reactions of some members of public, particularly legal practitioners, jurists, academics and public office holders on the recall of the judicial officers that had been earlier directed to recuse themselves from performing Judicial duties pending the conclusion of investigation or determination of the cases filed against them.

“Council is particularly concerned about the press statement issued by Okoi Obono-Obla, Esq, Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution on 8th June, 2017; that the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation filed a Notice of Appeal against the Ruling of Hon. Justice Jude Okeke of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, for discharging and acquitting Hon. Justice A. F. A. Ademola and 2 ORS on 7th April, 2017.

“Contrary to the above statement, the Registry of the High Court of the FCT, Abuja, informed the Department of Information of the National Judicial Council that the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation filed two Notices of Appeal in the Court; the first one on 7th April, 2017, against Hon Justice A. F. A. Ademola, his wife, Olabowale Ademola and Joe Agi, SAN. The second one was filed on 6th of June, 2017, two days after the Press Release was issued by the National Judicial Council, with additional grounds of appeal against only Hon. Justice A.F.A. Ademola.

“It is on record that when the Parties were invited by High Court of the FCT for settlement of records to be transmitted to the Court of Appeal on 18th April, 2017, the Appellant failed to turn up. The Registrar of the Court further adjourned the settlement of records to 21st April, 2017, and invited all the Parties, but the Appellant again did not come to Court.

“The total number of 45 days allowed for compilation of record in all circumstances expired on 7th May, 2017, for the Registrar of the Lower Court and 22nd May, 2017, for the Appellant”.

Without explicitly saying so, the council’s statement implied that ‎the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN was not diligent in the prosecution of the cases against the judges, stating that the AGF only filed additional grounds of appeal in the Court on Tuesday 6th June, 2017, three days after the press release by the Council that the Judicial Officers had been directed to resume their Judicial duties.

“It was on 6th June, 2017, that letters were again issued by the Registrar to the Parties for settlement of records against 14th June, 2017.

“For avoidance of doubt, by the Rules of the Court of Appeal, there cannot be a proper appeal before the Court until Parties have agreed and settled records before the Lower Court and transmit copies of such records to the Court of Appeal before an appeal number is given. It is only after an appeal number is given that an appeal is said to be entered in the Court of Appeal”, the statement read.

The council said it confirmed from the Registry of the Court of Appeal that there was no such Appeal till date.
It said: “The only matter that is pending is a Motion with Number CA/A/371M/CR/2019 filed by Joe Odey Agi, SAN, against the Federal Republic of Nigeria seeking the dismissal of Appellant/Respondent appeal between the Federal Government of Nigeria Vs Joe Odey Agi for failure to transmit the Records from the Lower Court within 45 days.
“Council is aware that at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Federal Government filed Suits against Hon. Justices N. S. Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court and A. F. A. Ademola of the Federal High Court on 8th February, 2017.
“However, the Federal Ministry of Justice later withdrew the files pertaining the Suits against Hon. Justices Inyang Okoro and A. F. A. Ademola, with the intention of filing additional evidence against them.

“In the case of Hon. Justice Ngwuta, he has since been arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for non-declaration of his assets.

“In effect, there is currently no Suit filed against Hon. Justices Inyang Okoro and A. F. A. Ademola J. at the Tribunal.”

“Contrary to the allegations by Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, that Judiciary took a hasty decision to recall the Judges, and that it is not on board with anti-graft war of the Federal Government, the number of Judicial Officers that have been removed from office for misconduct particularly for corrupt practices since President Buhari administration came on board, that has been made public by National Judicial Council in October and November, 2016, speaks for itself in that vein.”

The council said some of the Judicial Officers were removed from office by dismissal or compulsory retirement by the President or governors on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, while a number of the judicial officers were reprimanded by Council in the exercise of its Constitutional powers to exercise disciplinary control over Judges of Superior Courts of record in the Federation.

The NJC claimed it was constrained to say that some of the Judicial Officers that had been recommended for dismissal or compulsory retirement from Office by the presidency or governors, have not to date been removed from Office.

“But for suspension of the affected Judicial Officers from Office by National Judicial Council, they would have to date been still performing their Judicial duties. And these are officers that have been found culpable of gross misconduct by National Judicial Council after due process and diligent fact finding investigation by Council based on the Rule of Law enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, National Judicial Council Judicial Discipline Regulations and Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Council said it would soon issue an advertorial on the foregoing and list out the number of Judicial Officers that had, since April, 2000 when it held its inaugural meeting to date, been dismissed or compulsorily retired by the president or governors for gross misconduct or corrupt practices, on its recommendation; and also reprimanded by council by suspension or warning/caution.

“Council is not oblivious of the fact that some major stakeholders in the Judiciary and Justice Delivery Sector in conjunction with the Nigerian Bar Association, met with the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Anti-Graft and Security Agencies before the Judicial Officers were recalled, to discuss the subject matter and in particular the fate of the Judicial Officers that have not been charged and arraigned.

The NJC disclosed that when no progress was made, being the only Constitutional Institution empowered to exercise disciplinary control over Judicial Officers for misconduct, decided to recall the judicial officers.

“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, 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 borne out of respect for the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; and 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.

NJC reiterated its support for President Buhari administration’s fight against corruption in all its ramifications and in cleansing the Judiciary of corrupt judicial officers.

He further explained: “Obviously, there are some barrels that are coming back in, and we are certainly recovering gradually. Some other countries that were not in the mix are beginning to come in.

“Shale production is scaling up but we believe that the steps we’ve taken and the price environment that we’ve tried to create, which is in the mid $50 per barrel, is enough to encourage just enough shale but not to encourage excessive shale, and if you look at the draw down on shale over the last four months, cumulatively increases are very low.”

Asked if he was disturbed by the development, Kachikwu said: “Am I worried? Yes, I like to see those prices go up but they are a bit of fluctuations, not fluctuations within dangerous zones yet, so we continue to work.”
“We have conquered the first frontier, which is the relationship between the non-OPEC members led by the Russian Federation, but we need to then move from that to the non-OPEC members led by the US and Latin America in terms of what they can do to help the price.

“We need to begin to converse with them on how to stabilise the shale market because long term if we don’t do that everybody hurts. It is in the interest of everybody that somehow without creating monopoly or anti-trust issues, that shale will become a bit more matured and sensible about the long-term outlook for shale as opposed to short-term intervention, we are working on that in OPEC,” he added.

Kachikwu also noted that the frequent oil price fluctuations in the international market had made it necessary for Nigeria to concentrate less on export of crude and more on refining and processing.

According to him, “What that goes to show is the reason why you must refine your products. Every government is focusing on how to improve the yield and not just relying on selling crude. So the more of that they can process, the better for everybody which is why this refining scheme and investment in refining and processing are very important.