By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday in Abuja approved the compulsory retirement of Honourable Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court as well as the dismissal of Honourable Justice O.O. Tokode of the Benin Division of the Federal High Court.
The approval, according to a statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, was in line with the recommendations of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and pursuant to Section 292 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).Â
The statement which added that Tokode had consequently been ordered to refund all salaries and allowances he earned illegally from December 2, 2015 when he was sworn-in as a Judge of the Federal High Court till date, also stated that the president urged judicial officers to be alive to their responsibilities and eschew corruption in the discharge of their duties.
It also said Buhari had commenced the process of ensuring that individuals, judges and justices recommended by NJC for appointments into various courts of record in the instant are fit and proper, and are not under any disability to function as judicial officers.
“The Presidentâ€™s position is in furtherance oaf the executive powers vested in him under Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution, which allows him as the appointing authority to exercise same reasonably, taking all relevant factors into consideration. Nigerians are assured that President Buhari will issue his approval or otherwise as soon as the process of the background verification is completed,” the statement added.
What eventually culminated in Ademola’s compulsory retirement yesterday first became public knowledge on December 7, 2017, when NJC rejected his notice of retirement as contained in a letter addressed to the council.Â
The council, in rejecting Ademola’s retirement letter, stated that the embattled justice had initially sent his letter of resignation to NJC on October 10, 2017, pointing out that he was actually billed to retire onÂ April 9, 2018, when he will attain the mandatory retirement age of 65 years.
Ademola who was one of the justices whose homes were raided by the Department of State Services (DSS) in early 2016, over allegations of corruption and was consequently charged to court, stated that his decision to throw in the towel was dictated by the court judgment which discharged and acquitted him of corruption allegations.
But NJC in rejecting the notice, accused Ademola of pre-empting the council decision which it said had already recommended him for compulsory retirement following a petition written against him by a group of eight persons under the auspices of Committee of Anambra State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) House of Representatives Members-elect over the following allegations:
Â â€œThat His Lordship heard their Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/177/201 which was adjourned for judgment on March 25, 2015. That on the adjourned date, His Lordship did not deliver the judgment but adjourned the case indefinitely, to await the decision of the Supreme Court on another matter on the same issue on the list of PDP candidates for Anambra State for the general election of 2015.
â€œThat His Lordship speedily heard and delivered judgment in another case in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/254/2015 filed later on the same issue, with intent to confer undue advantage on the plaintiff who is from a family with which the respondent has a relationship.
â€œThat the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the judgment ultimately given to the petitioners contained a paragraph that was not read in open court by the Hon. Judge and that a phrase was altered, all to address an issue raised in the appeal that had already been filed by the petitioner before the issuance of the CTC. That some of the reasoning and conclusions of the Judge were somersaults.
â€œThat the respondent finally delivered judgment in the case on July 8, 2016, five months after the Supreme Court delivered the judgment he was awaiting, contrary to the constitutional provisions that judgments should be delivered within a period of 90 days.â€
However, NJC said even though the petitioners later withdrew their petitions in accordance with Regulation 16 of the NJC Judicial Discipline Regulations of March 9, 2017, it yet observed that Ademolaâ€™s failure to deliver judgment within the stipulated time smacked of misconduct, and a sheer violation of Section 292 (1)(b) of the Constitution and Rules 1.3 and 3.7 of the 2016 Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It therefore told the general public to disregard news circulating at the time that Ademola had voluntarily retired, saying the purported voluntary retirement was nothing but an afterthought, because the council had already sealed his fate.
On the other hand, Tokode’s recommendation for dismissal was predicated on the findings of NJC over an allegation contained in petitions sent to it by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and one Miss Abimbola Awogboro.
According to NJC, Tokode was accused of misleading both the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the council by submitting six cases he claimed to have personally conducted when he was practising as a lawyer.Â
The submission, which was a requirement for his application for appointment as a judicial officer, eventually got him the job, but NJC however, said its investigation revealed that the judge only personally conducted one of the entire six cases he claimed to have conducted.
The council therefore said besides the first recommendation showing him the way out of the job, it had equally recommended that he should refund all salaries and allowances that he earned since his appointment as a judge.
Hence, ahead of their retirement and dismissal yesterday, NJC said in exercise of its power under Paragraph 21 sub-paragraph (d) of the Third Schedule of the Constitution (as amended), it had suspended Ademola and Tokode from office with immediate effect.
It was the suspension which eventually culminated in their compulsory retirement and dismissal respectively yesterday by Buhari.