By Yusuf AHURAKA
Those suspended were Justices Chika Okoli (Anambra), Ya’u Dakwang (Plateau), and both the Chief Judge of Ekiti state, Justice Kayode Bamisile and the former acting chief judge of the state, Justice Jide Aladejana”.
Chuka Okoli, former chief judge of Anambra State, will not forget in a hurry the powers of NJC. He was placed on suspension by the council for what is considered to be his inglorious act in the controversial impeachment of Peter Obi as governor of the state. Before Governor Virginia Etiaba effected the decision of the council to appoint an acting chief judge, Okoli even tried to give instructions to other judges as if NJC does not matter.
Justice Kayode Bamisile, his Ekiti State counterpart, was also sanctioned for similar misconduct. The former chief judge allegedly compromised himself by appointing on the investigation panel persons believed to be cronies of suspended Governor Ayodele Fayose, to probe the alleged misconduct of the governor. But Jide Aladejana, who stepped into Bamisile’s shoes without due process, goes with his boss in line with the council’s recommendation. Justice Ya’u Dakwang, the acting chief judge of Plateau State, also lost his job because of his reluctance to be guided by law in his participation in the processes leading to the removal of Governor Joshua Dariye. Before them were Okechukwu Opene and D. A. Adeniji, who were indicted for taking bribe on the matter of the senatorial election in Anambra State. While Opene allegedly took N12 million, Adeniji was said to have collected N15 million. Though Akin Olujimi, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN , and then federal attorney-general, advised President Olusegun Obasanjo a
gainst their dismissal, the President upheld the decision of the NJC. Olujimi based his advice on the procedure adopted by the council in determining the case.
They are not the only judicial officers who fell victims to the political crisis in Anambra State. Stanley Nnaji, then a judge of Enugu State High Court, was suspended in March 2004 for wrongly assuming jurisdiction on a matter outside his state. The judge had ordered Tafa Balogun, then inspector-general of police, to remove Chris Ngige, who was then the governor of Anambra State. Nnoruka Udechukwu, the state attorney-general and commissioner for justice, petitioned the NJC, complaining that the ruling was in bad faith and against the code of conduct of judicial officers. Nnaji was probably encouraged by the reluctance of the federal government to implement a similar decision of the council on Wilson Egbo-Egbo, another high court judge, for granting an injunction directing Ngige to stop parading himself as the governor. But shortly after Nnaji committed his own misconduct, Obasanjo approved Egbo-Egbo’s retirement. The latter is one of the nine judges so far retired for endorsing unnecessary ex-parte applications. They are not the only casualties of political cases. Five others were implicated in the 2003 Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State. They adjudicated on the petition against the re-election of Governor Victor Attah by Ime Umanah, candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, at the election. By the time the NJC concluded its job, Matilda Adamu, a judge of the High Court of Plateau State, Christopher P.N. Senlong of the Federal High Court, Lagos, and James Isede, a chief magistrate in the Edo State judiciary, had earned themselves dismissal from the judiciary. D. T. Ahura of the High Court of Plateau State and A. M. Elelegwu of the Customary Court of Appeal, Delta State, were recommended for suspension. The federal government, after approving the verdict of the council on the higher officers in February 2004, sent their case files to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, for trial.
It is on these grounds, judges and Chief Judges, who are involved in various political cases, especially as the 2015 general elections approach, are advised to learn from the eventualities which befell those of the past by doing justice in accordance with their oath of offices.
*Yusuf Ahuraka wrote in from Abuja.