By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA —The Judiciary moved, yesterday, to rid itself of corruption allegations when it descended heavily on three judges.
The supervising body of judges, the National Judicial Council, NJC, ruled yesterday, that the judge that handed light sentence to police pension fund thief, Justice Abubakar Thalba should be probed, while justices C.E. Archibong of the Federal High Court Lagos and T.D. Naron of High Court, Plateau, be retired.
Justice Abubakar Thalba gave a 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 the EFCC, trial Justice Abubakar 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.
Though the anti-graft agency subsequently re-arrested and arraigned him on another criminal charge involving N300m, civil society organizations mounted pressure on both the NJC and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar to probe the trial judge over his possible involvement in acts of corruption.
A statement issued, yesterday, 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 recommends retirement of two judges
Meanwhile, in its renewed bid to weed out corrupt judges from the Bench, the Council, also yesterday, recommended the immediate retirement of two Justices over their alleged complicity in corruption.
The two judges- C. E. Archibong of the Federal High Court Lagos and T.D. Naron of High Court of Justice, Plateau State, were 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.
Specifically, the NJC which is headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, after an emergency meeting held in Abuja on Wednesday, said it was satisfied that Justice Archibong violated his oath of office when he “dismissed grievous charges against an accused without taking his plea.”
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 the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, comprising of 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.
Besides, Justice Archibong ordered the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Mohamed Adoke, SAN, to disband the team of the five SANs that prosecuted the case, among whom included the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Joseph B. Daudu, SAN.
However, upon close perusal of the circumstances that surrounded the case, the NJC, yesterday, urged President Goodluck Jonathan to direct the trial judge to proceed on a compulsory retirement, noting that not only was he found culpable of corruption, but had “refused to release the Certified True Copy of his Ruling to the Lawyers.”
More so, it noted that “the Judge issued a bench warrant on some officials of Peoples Democratic Party 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.
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.
The NJC statement
A statement signed by the Acting Director of Information at the NJC, Mr Soji Oye said:
“The National Judicial Council under the Chairmanship of the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, GCON, at its Emergency Meeting which was held on February 20, 2013 recommended the compulsory retirement of Hon. Justice C. E. Archibong of the Federal High Court Lagos and Hon. Justice T.D. Naron of High Court of Justice, Plateau State.
“Hon. Justice Archibong was recommended for compulsory retirement to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, pursuant to the ‘Findings” by the Council on the following Complaints levelled against him:-
“That the Judge dismissed the grievous charges against an accused without taking his plea; that he refused to release the Certified True Copy of his Ruling to the Lawyers;
“That the Judge issued a bench warrant on some officials of Peoples Democratic Party 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;
“That he made unfounded and caustic remarks on professional competence of some Senior Advocates of Nigeria;
“That there were glaring procedural irregularities which showed that Hon. Justice Archibong did not have a full grasp of the Law and procedure of the Court; and that he granted the leave sought for 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.
“Hon. Justice T. D. Naron of High Court of Justice, Plateau State was recommended for compulsory retirement to Governor David Jonah Jang 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 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.
“Meanwhile, the National Judicial Council has in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, suspended the two Judges from office with immediate effect”.
Vanguard also gathered that the council had equally extended the tenure of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal for another three months.
The Council had on November 22, 2012, appointed Justice Bulkachuwa to take over from Justice Dalhatu Adamu who assumed control at the appellate court shortly after the embattled President of the Appeal Court; Justice Isa Ayo Salami was suspended from office on August 18, 2011.
Under section 238 (5) of the 1999 constitution, “Except on the recommendation of the NJC, an appointment pursuant to the provisions of sub-section 4 of this section shall cease to have effects after the expiration of three months from the date of such appointment, and the President shall not reappoint a person whose appointment has lapsed.”