SERAP Seeks Probe of Unfair Treatment of Former Kebbi Chief Judge

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has condemned what it described as the harassment, intimidation and unfair treatment of the former acting Chief Judge of Kebbi State, Justice Elizabeth Karatu, who was barred from gaining access to her courtroom to deliver certain judgment by an official of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).

The NSCDC personnel had claimed that he acted based on the directive given to him by the management

The organisation urged the Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, to publicly condemn the unfair treatment of Justice Karatu and urgently refer the matter to the appropriate authorities for a prompt, thorough and effective investigation in order to ensure that those responsible for this unlawful act are named and shamed and brought to justice.

In a video clip, Justice Karatu is heard saying: “I am the most senior judge in this court and I am here to deliver my judgment. Can you imagine? Which management gave you the order? Today is my last day to be here and it is my right to be here. I have come to deliver my judgment. As far as I am concerned, everybody in this court is my junior and I need a courtroom to deliver my judgment.”

Reacting, SERAP in a statement issued yesterday by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said barring Justice Karatu from delivering judgment was an intolerable act of intimidation against the highest judicial authority in Kebbi State.

It added that regardless of any allegations that might have been levelled against her, it was clear that Justice Karatu was unfairly treated by the actions of the Kebbi State Governor, Mr. Atiku Bagudu and the NSCDC barring her from gaining access to her courtroom to rule on cases.

According to the group, “Barring Justice Karatu from gaining access to her courtroom is entirely incompatible with the sacred principle of judicial independence, and the failure by the authorities to observe important procedural guarantees here is a textbook case of executive rascality”. “SERAP will vigorously pursue justice in this case, to ensure that this shameful act does not affect the work of other judges or undermine their ability to freely and effectively perform their judicial duties.”

The statement read in part: “The NJC should immediately set up a panel to thoroughly and effectively investigate the alleged role played by the new acting Chief Judge of Kebbi State, Justice Suleiman Mohammed Ambursa in the unfair treatment, harassment and intimidation of Justice Karatu, and if there is sufficient and relevant admissible evidence, to ensure appropriate disciplinary measures and sanctions against him.”

“The ultimate responsibility for the crisis in Kebbi State’s judiciary lies with governor Bagudu. To prevent further erosion of the constitutional principles of judicial independence and separation of powers, the governor must publicly apologise for the blatant infraction of Justice Kataru’s human rights, and ensure her access to justice and effective remedies, including reparation.”

“It is clear that the rule of law in Kebbi State is under siege. SERAP urges the government of governor Bagudu to refrain from any threats or interference that may further hamper the court’s independence and authority as the supreme guardian of the Nigerian constitution and legislation.”

“By putting the court entrance under lock, the government of governor Bagudu and the NSCDC have obstructed justice, a form of corruption under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, as they have apparently unlawfully stopped Justice Karatu from performing her judicial duties and delivering certain judgment on the eve of her retirement.”

“The apparently arbitrary actions by governor Bagudu and the NSCDC also amount to an unlawful interference with Justice Karatu’s private and professional life, contrary to the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.”

“The Nigerian constitution and these human rights treaties afford legal protection against arbitrary interference by the authorities, including in Kebbi State. The unfair treatment and intimidation of Justice Karatu, apart from being incompatible with the rule of law, has had tangible consequences for her material well-being and her family.

“Such arbitrary and illegal actions expose judges at both the federal and state levels to political and executive pressure, endangering their independence and impartiality.”

Justice Karatu, a Christian, was appointed the acting chief judge of Kebbi State in October 2018, following the retirement of the former chief judge, Bala Mairiga, who left the bench the same month. The Kebbi State House of Assembly refused to confirm Justice Karatu as the substantive CJ after the state governor, Atiku Bagudu, sent her name to the House, for confirmation.