Nigerian Judiciary on a Self-Cleansing Mission?

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Justice Walter Onnoghen, chief justice of Nigeria
Justice Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigeria

 

The Nigerian judiciary is on a mission to redeem its image going by the recent move by the Nigerian Judicial Council to purge the system of corrupt judges and allow states create special courts to try corruption cases. But will that  restore confidence in the judiciary?

 

  • By Olu Ojewale

 

SINCE he assumed office in May 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has not minced his words that the Nigerian judiciary is a major obstacle in his fight against corruption in the country.

Indeed, two years down the line, the Nigerian courts appear to be bulging with hundreds of corruption cases, but without high profile convictions to show that the judiciary is helping to fight corruption. This seems to have lent credence to the perception that the judiciary is not working in tandem with the Buhari administration to fight corruption.

Perhaps, to erase the perception, the National Judicial Council, NJC, chaired by Justice Walter Onnoghen, chief justice of Nigeria, appears to up in arms to rid the Bench of corrupt elements in the system and clean the Aegean staples.

In the past few days the NJC has taken three fundamental steps in that direction. First, it directed that at least one special court should be established in each state of the federation to try corrupt cases. Second, the council established Financial Cases Trial Monitoring Committee; and third, it set up committees to investigate some alleged erring judges.

According to a statement issued on Tuesday, October 2, the NJC at its 83rd meeting set up 15 panels to probe two state chief justices and 13 other judges accused of misconduct. The panels would investigate various allegations in the petitions written against 15 judicial officers, including two chief judges.

The NJC said in a statement signed by Soji Oye, director of information of the council, that it took the decision after considering the reports of the two preliminary complaints assessment committees, on 46 petitions written against judicial officers in the federal and state judiciaries.

The statement, however, did not give the names of those being investigated.

In any case, the NJC said it dismissed 31 petitions, 29 of which it found to be without merit. The remaining two written against Justice J. T. Tsoho of the federal high court and Justice Olanrewaju Akeredolu, acting chief judge of Ondo State, were withdrawn at the instance of the petitioners.

According to the council, Al-Sagr National Insurance Company which wrote against Tsoho withdrew the petition since the judge had delivered the ruling in his case.

One Raheem Badmus, who wrote against Akeredolu, also voluntarily withdrew his petition for personal reasons, the statement said.

Nevertheless, the statement said the council considered and found worthy of further investigation, the petition written by Azi A. Phillip on behalf of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Plateau State Chapter, accusing Justice P. D. Damulak, the immediate past chief judge of Plateau State of bias, for failure to make his judgment in Suit No. PLD/J/236/16 delivered on November 4, 2016, available to him until the time he wrote the petition.

The council said it, however, decided not to constitute an Investigative Committee to look into the matter, because the accused judge had already retired from service and was,  therefore, no longer in the employment of the National Judicial Council.

In other cases, the NJC considered and dismissed petitions written against two other judicial officers for lack of merit. The judges are L. T. C. Eruba – high court of justice, Abia State; and Grand Kadi Abdullahi Waiya – Sharia’h court of Appeal, Kano State.

It also decided to issue two letters of advice to Justice M. A. Dada of the Lagos State High Court of Justice and Justice Chukwudi Charles Okaa of the Anambra State High Court for violation of extant laws in the course of their judicial duties based on petition written against them by Dayo Adamolekun, Esq. & Ridwanulah Olanite, Esq. and Reverend F. U. Ekavhiare & Associates, respectively.

Agbakoba

The council agreed to report Adesina Ogunlana to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, LPDC, for misconduct, for the use of uncouth language in a petition written to the NJC against Justice O. O. Atilade, the immediate past chief judge of Lagos State.

The council used the occasion acknowledge and welcomed as good development, a letter from Zamfara State Government approving the recommendation of the NJC for the compulsory removal of Justice Musa Anka from office for receiving a bribe of N200, 000 from Zubairu Abdumalik in order to deliver judgement in his favour.

The recommendation was made to the Zamfara State Government by council in 2011. No reason was given why it took the state government such a long time to act on the NJC recommendation.

Nevertheless, earlier on Wednesday, September 27, the NJC appointed Ayo Salami, a former president of the Court of Appeal, who was controversially removed from office six years ago, as head of the council’s newly established Financial Cases Trial Monitoring Committee.

Oye said the decision of the NJC was taken at the 82nd meeting of the NJC, on Wednesday, September 27. He disclosed that the committee comprises 15 members, including Kashim Zannah,  chief judge of Bornu State; P. O Nnadi,  chief judge of Imo State; and Marshal Umukoro, his counterpart from Delta State.

Others are M. L. Abimbola, the chief judge of Oyo State; Abubakar Mahmood, president of the Nigeria Bar Association; Wole Olanikpekun, Olisa Agbakoba, Joseph Daudu, and Augustine Alegeh, all former NBA presidents. Others are Garba Tetengi, and R.I Inga, members of the NJC.

The rest includes Gambo Saleh, the NJC’s secretary and representatives of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ministry of justice and non-governmental organisations, respectively.

“The Committee’s primary functions include: regular monitoring and evaluation of proceedings at designated courts for financial and economic crimes nationwide; advising the chief justice of Nigeria on how to eliminate delay in the trial of alleged corruption cases; giving feedback to the council on progress of cases in the designated courts, conducting background checks on judges selected for the designated courts; and evaluating the performance of the designated courts,” Oye said.

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