Vanguard (Lagos)

25 February 2013

Nigeria: Hurricane Mukthar - Three Judges to Go

Abuja — There were indications, yesterday, that the National Judicial Council, NJC, was not yet done with the cleansing of the judiciary of bad eggs that have significantly tarnished the image of that tier of government.

In what has now been termed "Hurricane Mukthar," three more judges, alleged to have been implicated in corruption-tainted matters are said to be on the firing line. Out of the three judges is a female federal high court judge, a senior high court judge and another male judge.

Three others, whose cases have reached advanced level of investigation by the relevant judiciary and security agencies, might soon be fired because of what competent sources described as unprofessional conduct inimical to the judicial system.

Only last week, the supervising body of judges, NJC, recommended immediate retirement of two judges, C. E. Archibong of the Federal High Court Lagos and T. D. Naron of High Court of Justice, Plateau State, having being found guilty by separate committees that were set up by the judicial body to probe allegations of judicial misconduct that were levelled against them by different petitioners.

Vanguard learnt from sources that NJC was being propelled by the zero tolerance disposition of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloma Mukthar, to rid the judiciary of corrupt judges and officials to restore it to its prime position as the bastion of hope for the common man.

Riot act

Mukthar, renowned as one of Nigeria's incorruptible judges, had on assumption in July 2012, vowed to sanitise the judicial system and speed up the justice delivery process in the country.

The source hinted that Muhktar, who presides over NJC, had warned judges and judicial officers to steer clear of corruption and anything capable of dragging the image of the judiciary in the mud as she would not hesitate to wield the big stick against anyone caught in the act.

She is said to have directed NJC to expedite action in the investigations into grave allegations of graft and serious misconduct levelled against five judges in Nigeria.

Vanguard learnt that in a bid to deal a deadly blow on corrupt workers, the CJN has caused the judiciary to develop an in-built mechanism to monitor, detect and deal with erring officers within the system to serve as a deterrent to pecuniary-conscious officials.

Offence

The offending judges were said to have been under close watch for some time without their knowledge. Top judiciary heads were said to have decided to investigate and punish the affected judges following incontrovertible evidence by security agents that they had been compromised in several cases decided by them in various parts of the country.

The only woman among them was said to have issued two contradictory injunctions in a money laundering case involving a former governor, who is being tried for a massive rip-off while in office.

The female judge is reported to have issued the offending restraining order despite the fact that the case was already being heard by another judge with corresponding jurisdiction.

CJN's spokesman

Contacted for comments, the spokesman for CJN, Ahuraka Isah, said he was not aware of those being investigated by NJC, but admitted that the CJN was committed to ensuring that the judiciary was free of corruption.

The aim of the CJN, Isah said, was to make Nigerians to have faith and confidence in the justice system.

A panel was set up probe Justice Abubakar Thalba, who gave light sentence to a self-confessed pension thief, Mr. John Yakubu Yusufu, on January 28.

Shortly after Yusufu, who stole N23 billion from the police pension fund, pleaded guilty to a three-count criminal charge that was preferred against him by Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, trial Justice Thalba, while relying on the provision of Section 309 of the Penal Code Act, sentenced him to two years imprisonment with an option of N750,000 fine, a sum the convict quickly paid and drove home.

A statement issued by the council said: "The Council has set up a Fact-Finding Committee to investigate the allegations levelled against Hon. Justice Abubakar Thalba of FCT High Court in the Police Pension case of EFCC vs Mr. John Yusuf & Ors."

NJC, after an emergency meeting in Abuja, Wednesday, also said it was satisfied that Justice Archibong violated his oath of office when he "dismissed grievous charges against an accused without taking his plea."

The beginning

It should be recalled that Justice Archibong swam into controversy in that case involving the discharged former Managing Director of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Mr. Erastus Akingbola.

The indicted judge not only dismissed the charges against Akingbola, but further barred the prosecuting team of EFCC, comprising five Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, from appearing before the court or another judge of the Federal High Court on the same matter following what he termed "serious and professional incompetence."

He also questioned the competence of the senior advocates.

Likewise, NJC, asked Governor David Jonah Jang of Plateau State to forthwith retire Justice Naron "sequel to the 'Findings' by the Council that there were constant and regular voice calls and exchange of MMS and SMS messages between Hon. Justice Naron and one of the Lead Counsel for one of the parties to the suit in the Osun State Gubernatorial Election Tribunal."

His action was said to have contravened the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria vide Section 292(1((b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

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