RECALL OF JUDGES: Lawyers back NJC as Sagay kicks
LAGOS — Senior lawyers have lent their support to the National Judicial Council, NJC, which weekend recalled some indicted judges, just as chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, Professor Itse Sagay frowned at the development, saying “it is absolutely wrong to recall a judge whose case is on-going.”
The National Judicial Council, NJC, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, recalled the judges at the end of its 82nd meeting on June 1, a development that has continued to elicit reactions.
According to the NJC, the recalled jurists include Justice John Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court, Justice Uwani Abba Aji of the Court of Appeal; Justice Hydiazira A. Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court; Justice A. F. A. Ademola of the Federal High Court who has been discharged and acquitted; Justice Musa H. Kurya of the Federal High Court; and Justice Agbadu James Fishim of National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
It will be recalled that the NJC had said its decision was predicated on the fact that of the eight judges asked to withdraw from their judicial duties on the request of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, pending the conclusion of investigations on corruption allegations against them, only three had been charged to court.
NJC, in a statement by its Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye, weekend, asked various Heads of Court to direct the six suspended Judges to resume their judicial duties with effect from June 7, “as there are already backlog of cases in their various court for the past eight months.”
Reacting yesterday, chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, Professor Itse, SAN, said: “It is absolutely wrong to recall a judge whose case is ongoing. ‘’It is wrong for the NJC to have recalled that judge. That is just my view. It is wrong because the case is ongoing. The matter has been filed and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be. If the outcome is negative for the judge, then he has to leave again, so it does not make sense.
“Second, with regards to the other judges who were not charged, that is charges were not brought against them and that is why they were recalled, on principle, there is nothing wrong with that. But I want to ask a question, before recalling them, did the NJC consult with the anti-corruption agencies and the DSS, that arrested them in the first place? If you didn’t consult the agencies (EFCC and DSS), it can result in an embarrassing situation.
“If you consult them and they say they are no longer interested in pursuing the cases, then you can recall them. But if you consult them and they say they are trying to dot on the charges they are going to file in a week or two, then you don’t recall them because after you recall them in such a circumstance and charges are filed against them, what you have is that a judge today becomes an accused in another court.
‘’The image of the judiciary is going to be severely damaged. So, I don’t think the NJC has used its discretion judiciously in this matter.’’
Meanwhile, two of the affected judges — Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court and Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court, are already standing trial before different courts.
Though Justice Ademola of a Federal High Court in Abuja was equally charged to court, he had been tried, discharged and acquitted of all 18-count criminal charges the Federal Government preferred against him.
SANs back NJC But most other lawyers Vanguard spoke with yesterday threw their weight behind the NJC. They maintained that the NJC acted within the law, adding it would amount to gross injustice to continue to keep the affected Judges in abeyance when no form of corruption charge had been entered against them in court.
In his reaction, Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN, said: “You can’t keep the Sword of Damocles on people’s head forever. The event leading to this problem happened more than six months back, and there is presumption under our law that you cannot bring allegation without proof. So, they are presumed innocent and they are public officials, if tomorrow, if they find proof, they can bring charges against them, then they can be summoned. But it’s not good to keep them in suspense. They were kept in suspense in their professional life, their family life etc. So, if there is nothing against them, they have to go back to their work. It is good the NJC took that decision now.”
Also reacting, Babatunde Fashanu, SAN, said: “The public may not be happy about it, they will feel that they were just being protected. However, they cannot be kept perpetually without trial, except that there is conviction that they have cases against them which is yet to be resolved. They can also be kept if there are other pending cases or petition before the NJC. However, in absence of such, they have to return to their work.
“As at now, the Judges are presumed innocent since there is no petition and no case against them before the NJC. For instance, one of them has been acquitted while no charges are preferred against others, there is no justification to keep them at bay.”