Apparently on a mission to sanitise the judiciary that has come under attack over increasing corrupt practices and compromised judgements, the National Judicial Council (NJC) yesterday recommended the removal of two judges - Justice Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court in Lagos and Justice Thomas Naron of High Court of Plateau State - for ethical misconduct.
The chairman of the NJC and chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukhtar, announced the decision at the end of an emergency meeting of the highest judicial body in the country in Abuja on Wednesday night.
By this recommendation, the two judges automatically cease to sit on the bench of their various jurisdictions in line with the NJC's exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
A statement signed by the NJC's acting director (information), Mr. Soji Oye, and made available to LEADERSHIP yesterday said the NJC recommended the compulsory retirement of the two jurists to President Goodluck Jonathan pursuant to the "findings" by the NJC on some complaints levelled against the duo.
According to the statement, Justice Archibong's sins include dismissal of grievous charges against an accused (former CEO of Intercontinental Bank Plc, now Access Bank Plc, Erastus Akingbola) without taking his plea. Archibong is also accused of refusal to release the certified true copy of his ruling on the matter to the prosecuting lawyers. The NJC further accused Archibong of "issuing a bench warrant on some officials of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for contempt even when the counsel who was directed by the court to serve them filed an affidavit that he had not been able to serve the contempt application".
Other offences against Archibong include making unfounded and caustic remarks on the professional competence of some Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs).
According to the NJC, "There were glaring procedural irregularities which showed that Archibong did not have a full grasp of the law and procedure of the court; and that he granted the leave sought in the originating summons that had no written address of the parties and without hearing both parties in the originating summons after he had earlier on overruled the preliminary objection".
On the misconduct against Justice Naron , NJC claimed that his conduct as the chairman of the First Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Osogbo, Osun State, was unethical and despicable .
The NJC stated: "Sequel to the 'findings' by the Council, there were constant and regular voice calls and exchange of mms and sms (text) messages between Naron and one of the lead counsel for one of the parties to the suit in the Osun State Gubernatorial Election Tribunal contrary to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria vide Section 292(1((b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended."
The NJC added that Naron was investigated by the Council for the scandalous ruling he led three other judges to give at the tribunal after the 2007 controversial governorship poll in Osun State.
Naron and the other judges were believed to have been compromised by the PDP government of the former governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola.
The NJC further stated that call records also showed that Justice Naron and Oyinlola's lawyer, Mr. Kunle Kaleijaye (SAN), were having secret discussions prior to the controversial ruling.
Oyinlola was later removed by the Court of Appeal in Ibadan and replaced with the authentic winner of the election, Governor Rauf Aregbesola.
NJC Extends Bulkachuwa's Tenure As Ag. PCA
The NJC has also renewed the appointment of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) for another three months. Under the law, the appointment of Bulkachuwa was to expire today.
The renewal of Bulkachuwa's appointment formed part of the major decisions taken by the NJC at its meeting presided over by the CJN.
NJC begins probe of Justice Talba over verdict on pension thief
The NJC also disclosed that it had constituted a "fact-finding" committee to investigate the allegations levelled against Justice Abubakar Talba of the FCT High Court over the controversial judgment he gave in the police pension scam filed by the EFCC against the convicted pension thief, John Yusuf.
Talba had sentenced the self-confessed pension thief, Yusufu, to two years' imprisonment on each of a three-count charge and curiously gave the convict the option of paying N750, 000 which Yusufu promptly paid and walked away.
The judgment was greeted with public condemnation as the majority of Nigerians viewed the verdict as ridiculous on the grounds that Yusufu, who pleaded guilty to stealing billions of naira, would walk away after paying N750,000 only.
But the EFCC later arrested Yusufu and arraigned him on another charge, while Justice Talba was said to have reneged on a verbal agreement it had with the accused and the EFCC that the convict would be jailed without an option of fine.
The NJC also recommended that Chief Kunle Kalejaiye (SAN) should be sanctioned by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for his role in the scandal involving Justice Naron.
Falana , others laud NJC's sacking of 2 judges
Meanwhile, prominent lawyers including Mr Femi Falana (SAN), Yemi Candide-Johnson (SAN), Bamidele Aturu and Ebun Olu-Adegborumwa have commended the NJC for its recommendations asking Jonathan to sack Naron and Archibong for alleged unethical practices. The lawyers spoke in separate interviews with LEADERSHIP yesterday.
Falana said: "Having regard to the fact that the petition against Justice Naron was lodged with the NJC in 2007, the leadership of Justice Mukhtar deserves commendation for plucking up the courage to determine the matter in spite of the desperate moves of certain powerful forces to cover up the judicial scandal. No doubt, these actions are in line with the undertaking made to Nigerians during the screening of the Honourable Justice Muktar before the Senate.
The NJC has sent a clear message that the days of judicial impunity are over. We therefore call on President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Jonah Jang to approve the retirement of Justice Archbong and Justice Naaron respectively as recommended by the NJC.
"It is hoped that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) would collaborate and team up with the NJC to purge the Bar and the Bench of corrupt lawyers and judges so as reposition the judiciary to discharge its constitutional duties to the Nigerian people."
Candide -Johnson (SAN) said: "That two of these judges have been flushed out by the NJC is not sufficient, but it is timely and long overdue for a proper scrutiny of affairs of judicial officers. Justice has become so debased by this sort of activity that not just credibility and dignity but also the very utility of the judiciary has become in doubt. If the NJC does not clean up the Aegean stable, then, there will be a complete erosion of judicial integrity in Nigeria."
Aturu said: "I have no problem with the decision of the NJC. If these judges have been found guilty of unethical practices, I believe they were given fair hearing before the decision was reached and so their sack will only send warning signals to other corrupt judges."
Olu-Adegboruwa said that the sack of the two judicial officers would no doubt send warning signals to others who are treading the same path, adding that it was particularly important to restore public confidence in the judiciary.
But the Chairman of the Ikeja branch of the NBA Adegbamigbe Omole, however, said if the sack of the two judges is based on petition bordering on corruption, then, it is not enough to ask them to retire but try them in a law court.