The National Judicial Council, NJC, on Saturdaytackled the Presidency, stating that it was “constrained” to reveal that President Muhammadu Buhari is still retaining some judges it recommended for dismissal over their involvement in acts of corruption.
This was as the body rejected the accusation made against it by the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, Prof. Itse Sagay that the Judiciary was not in support of the current administration’s anti-corruption war. The NJC insisted that the recent decision to recall the six judges suspended over corruption allegation by the Department of State Services, DSS, was in order.
The Council, via a statement signed by its Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye, dismissed claim by the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Okoi Obono-Obla that the Federal Government has appealed the acquittal of Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court.
It said investigation by its officials revealed that there was no valid appeal filed yet against the April 5 ruling by Justice Jude Okeke of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, acquitting Justice Ademola, his wife and a lawyer, Joe Agi SAN.
Justice Okeke had, in the ruling, upheld the no-case submission by Justice Ademola and his co-defendants, charged with corruption related offences.
The NJC expressed disappointment that the Presidency turned around to accuse it of shielding corrupt judges, when those that were found culpable and recommended for dismissal since Buhari administration came on board, have not been removed till date.
It said: ‘’contrary to the allegations by Professor Itse Sagay, (SAN), Chairman, PACAC, 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 NJC in October and November, 2016, speaks for itself in that vein.
“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.’’
It claimed that some of the judicial officers it recommended for dismissal or compulsory retirement from office by the presidency or Governors, have not to date been removed from office.
The Council added, “But for suspension of the affected judicial officers from office by NJC, 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, NJC Judicial Discipline Regulations and Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The NJC will soon issue an advertorial on the foregoing and list out the number of judicial officers that have 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.
“When no progress was made, the NJC, which is 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 Obono-Obla’s claim that the Attorney-General of the Federation filed a notice of appeal against the ruling of Justice Jude Okeke discharging and acquitting Justice Ademola and 2 ORS on 7th April, 2017, the council said the registry of the High Court of the FCT, Abuja, informed the Department of Information of the NJC that the AGF office filed two Notices of Appeal in the Court; the first one on 7th April, 2017, against Justice Ademola, his wife, and Agi, while the second one was filed on 6th of June, 2017, two days after the press release was issued by the NJC, with additional grounds of appeal against only Ademola.
The body of judges regretted that the Executive was not cooperating with the Judiciary in cases of judges that have been recommended for either sack or compulsory retirement.
“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 statement added.