WHY WE CANNOT SUSPEND ARRESTED JUDGES, NJC EXPLAINS TO NBA

The National Judicial Council on Friday rejected the suggestion by the Nigerian Bar Association to suspend serving judges who were among the seven arrested by the Department of State Services between October 8 and 9.

The NJC, in a statement by its Acting Director, Information, Mr. Soji Oye, said it had no powers to suspend serving judges without investigating a petition accusing the affected judges of certain acts of misconduct.

It said lawyers who were members of the NJC participated in the emergency meeting of the NJC where the raid on the houses and the arrest of judges were condemned.The NBA President, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), made the call on Thursday in Abuja at the valedictory court session held in honour of a retiring Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Sotonye Denton-West.

Mahmoud said at the event, “We therefore strongly recommend that, without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the Judges involved in the ongoing investigations, they should recuse themselves from further judicial functions or required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings”.

But reacting to NBA’s stance on Friday, the NJC said acting in line with NBA’s suggestion would amount to violation of section 158 of the Constitution.

The statement read in part, “Thus, the current position of the Nigerian Bar Association vis-à-vis its recommendation that the affected judicial officers involved in the ongoing investigation of Judicial Officers by the DSS, be requested to proceed on compulsory leave until the conclusion of all disciplinary proceedings against them, is unacceptable to the NJC; as it breaches the 2014 Revised Judicial Discipline Regulations formulated by NJC pursuant to Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.”

“It is to be reiterated also that by the provisions of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, NJC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person while exercising its disciplinary power of control over Judicial Officers in the Federation.

“The members of the public are hereby informed that the mechanism that will determine a judicial officer to be directed or requested to proceed on compulsory leave or be suspended from office, is a disciplinary power that NJC can only exercise after initiating disciplinary proceeding on the complaint or petition forwarded against the Judge, after he has been found culpable.

“Therefore, to act on the recommendation of the NBA, it is not only contrary to the provisions of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, but it means NJC will direct any judicial officer that has been petitioned even if the allegations contained therein are frivolous and baseless, to proceed on compulsory leave or be suspended from office without complying with the rule of law.”

“That is not the understanding of NJC of the intention of the framers of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended vis-à-vis its constitutional powers and functions on initiation of disciplinary proceedings culminating in suspension of Judicial Officers.

“Thus, to act on the request of the departments of government and the recommendation of the NBA, the 808 judicial officers that had been petitioned and accused of professional misconduct and corrupt practices, without investigation by NJC, would have all been suspended or sent on compulsory leave and the courts would have been deserted.

The NJC reiterated that without receiving a petition against a judge even when the judge was accused of robbery or murder, it didn’t have the power to suspend such a judge.

The statement said, “NJC is not unmindful of the concern of the public on a situation whereby a judicial officer is being investigated and or prosecuted for commission of a criminal offence such as murder or robbery; and whether he is not supposed to be requested or directed to proceed on compulsory leave or be suspended from office.

“In the circumstance, unless the subject judge accused of commission of the offence of murder or robbery is petitioned to NJC, it shall not assume the disciplinary power of control over judicial officers to suspend or direct the Subject Judge to proceed on compulsory leave.

“Thus, NJC can only direct any judge alleged of committing such criminal offences, to go on compulsory leave or be suspended from office if he has been investigated and found by NJC culpable of misconduct.”

The NJC said NBA members were part of the emergency meeting of council condemning the act of the DSS.

The statement added, “The participation of NBA Members in the Emergency Meeting of NJC was necessitated by the unfolding events between the DSS and the Judiciary, bordering on administration of justice.

“Suffice it to say that the decision of NJC in respect of the recent events and the current state of the Judiciary, particularly in condemning the invasion and arrest of the judicial officers by the DSS and considers it as a threat to Independence of the judiciary, which portends great danger to our democracy; and a clear attempt by the DSS to humiliate, intimidate, denigrate and cow the Judiciary, was unanimously taken by the members of the council present, including the President and other members of the Nigerian Bar Association at its last Emergency Meeting which was held on 11th October, 2016.

“The list of NJC members present at the meeting is as follows:

“Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed ( North-East); Hon. Justice W.S.N. Onnoghen, Justice of Supreme Court (Deputy Chairman), South South; Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, President, Court of Appeal (North-East); Justice E. O. Ayoola, retired Justice, Supreme Court (South-West); Justice Umaru Abdullahi, Former President, Court of Appeal (North-West); Justice V.O.A. Omage, Retired Justice, Court of Appeal (South-South) and Justice I.N. Auta, Chief Judge, Federal High Court (North-East).

“Justice B. A. Adejumo, President, National Industrial Court   (South West); Justice H.Y. Heman, Chief Judge, Gombe State                         (North-East); Justice A.N. Nwankwo, Chief Judge, Ebonyi State (South-East); Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam, Chief Judge, Cross River State (South-South); Kadi Mukhtar Imam Jega, Grand Kadi, Sharia Court of Appeal, Kebbi State (North-West); Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, President, Nigerian Bar Association (North-West); Dr. Garba Tetengi, Nigerian Bar Association (North-Central); Mrs. Debbi Obodoukwu, Nigerian Bar Association (South-East); Tijjani Inuwa-Dutse, Esq., Nigerian Bar Association (North-West); Hajiya Rakiya Sarki Ibrahim, Retired Public Servant (North-Wes); and Mr. R. I. Inga, retired Permanent Secretary (North-Central).”

The statement added, “Other members of NJC (full complement), that were absent from the meeting but sent their apologies, are as follows:

“Justice S. A. Akintan, retired Justice of Supreme Court (South West); Justice I. F. Ogbuagu, retired Justice of Supreme Court      (South East); Justice Nasir Ajanah, (North Central); Chief Judge, Kogi State; Justice M. L. Abimbola (South West); Chief Judge, Oyo State; Justice D. A. Ayah (South South), President, Customary Court of Appeal, Bayelsa State; and Augustine Alegeh, (South South), former President, NBA.

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