By Abdulwahab Abdulah & BARTHOLOMEW MADUKWE
National Judicial Council, NJC, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloma Mukhtar, last week after its emergency meeting in Abuja, recommended the retirement of two judges of the high court. The council accused Justices Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court and Thomas Naron of the Plateau State High Court for gross misconducts, contrary to their oaths of office. Specifically, they accused Justice Archibong of lacking “full grasp of the law and procedure of the court.”
They also accused Justice Naron of making “constant and regular voice calls and exchange of mms and sms (text) messages” with one of the lead counsel to one of the parties to the suit in the 2007 Osun State gubernatorial Election petitionTribunal contrary to the Code of Conduct for judicial officers vide section 292(1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
In what appears to be wielding of the big stick against corrupt judges, the NJC also warned that it will not hesitate to do away with other bad eggs in the system. Several lawyers, including senior members of the bar have reacted to the decision of the council. Majority of those who spoke with Vanguard Law & Human Rights hailed the decision taken by NJC.
Prof Itse Sagay, SAN
NJC’s decision on the compulsory retirement of Justice Thomos Naron of Plateau State High Court, who chaired the first Osun State Election, was a good one, since found guilty by separate committees that were set up by the judicial body to probe allegations of judicial misconduct. It is a good one for NJC and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Muktar. On Justice C. Archibong’s case, the facts were not stated, so I cannot comment on that.
But it is very logical that Mr Kunle Kalejaye, SAN, should be brought under the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA Disciplinary Committee, if found guilty of corrupting a judge by those illegal contacts that were made. That raises reasonable question whether Kalejaiye is fit to practice in the legal profession because that is a very serious situation of the ethics of the legal profession. There is no question about that. Infact, it is a frontal attack on the whole basis of justice and the rule of law. Obviously something has to be done about him.
Mr Tani Molajo, SAN
Viewed from its widest perspective, the supervisory function of the NJC is our most effective assurance that the constitutional guarantee of our fundamental freedoms will not become a dead letter; a sterile assertion signifying nothing. Of particular relevance is the promise of fair hearing before a court constituted in such a way as to guarantee its independence and impartiality. There is just no room for corrupt judges.
Indeed, the maintenance of the highest standard of judicial integrity is the surest safeguard against the disintegration of the fabric of society. When the citizenry loses confidence in the capacity of our judges to do justice without fear of favour, the temptation of self help becomes irresistible.
Besides, the corruption within the judiciary strengthens corruption outside the judiciary and if left unaddressed breeds corruption in both places. Having said all this, I must sound a respectful note of caution. I am of the firm view that a judicial error of law or even a misapprehension of facts, in the absence of evidence of corruption, is a ground of appeal not a ground for removal of a judge. In summary, making due allowance for my last comment, I commend the NJC for its good work on this occasion.
Mr Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN
I just want to say that the recommendation of NJC, ordinarily, it is almost like a directive. But until the process is completed, the President gives final approval. It may be a bit premature to comment on the affected personalities.
But on the procedure, I have every reason that all the requirement of fair hearing have been employed. And if anything is left to be done, I am not aware of that. Just that the confirmation of our process of keeping the judicial officers is still working. Whoever have grudges with the justice system should follow the due process of those who probably kick off the complaints against the affected judicial officers in this case.
Chief Morah Ekwunoh
The NJC, by its salutary actions, appears to appreciate that except and until corruption, which is the cancerous sore thumb of our justice system, is removed through the most urgent surgery, it will, in geometrical progression, destroy the system.
It is hoped that the President, to whom the NBC’s recommendations for the judges’ retirement were forwarded, will act fast on same, in order to send strong message to others of their ilk that days of brazen corruption and perversion of justice are over, for ever.
The actions of NJC, in taking the bull by the horns, will ,certainly, improve the image of the justice system in the eyes of the public, which image has been battered by such ridiculous judgments and rulings as witnessed in long and unbroken chain of cases, as those involving Mr Tafa Balogun, Mrs Cecilia Ibru, Mr Lucky Igbinedion, Chief Diepreye Alamieseigha and, of late, “celebrated” Mr John Haruna.
In the case of Justice Achibong, I saw this scenario coming in 2007, when l appeared before His Lordship against the Federal Government in a human trafficking case (FHC/330c/2007:FGN Vs Blessing Peter & Anor).
Notwithstanding the erroneous pleas of “Guilty” and” Not Guilty” respectively by the two accused persons, before my arrival in court, and before I could conclude application for change of “Guilty” plea to “Not Guilty,” His Lordship not only, suo muto, discharged and acquitted the duo, but passed serious restriction on the prosecuting Federal Government Agency, National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters, in the following terms: “I will advise NAPTIP to focus on the older persons. There is no need for an agency of the Federal Government compound the misfortune of young persons with the tragedy of criminal prosecution.”
Though the order of discharge and acquittal was in my clients’ favour, I was astounded.
NJC should keep down its feet on the disciplinary accelerator, as there are still other bad eggs within the justice system that urgently need similar treatment.
Mr Monday Ubani- Chairman, NBA Ikeja branch
This is a healthy development for the judiciary. It is thumbs up for the NJC and the new CJN. Nigerians will be happy to know that NJC as a regulatory body over the judiciary is still alive and ready to wield its hammer over erring justices of various courts in Nigeria. They are advised to beef up their searchlight as more bad eggs in the judiciary need to be shown the way out of the institution.
Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN
It is a right signal to Nigerians, that it cannot be a business as usual. The signal must be sent that judiciary cannot afford to habour men and women of questionable moral or character and we must also make the point clearly that that is one arm of government we cannot afford to toil with. This especially in the midst of madness going on in this country the judiciary must be supported to rid the system of corruption.
Also, the other two arms of government must take a cue from this buy wielding the system of corrupt officials to show the world that the country is ready to uphold justice and equity.
Femi Falana, SAN
Justice Muktar deserves commendation for plucking up the courage to determine the matter in spite of the desperate moves of certain powerful forces to cover up the judicial scandal.
No doubt, these actions are in line with the with the undertaking made to Nigerians during the screening of Justice Muktar before the Senate. The NJC has sent a clear message that the days of judicial impunity are over.
We call on President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Jonah Jang to approve the retirement of Justice Archbong and Justice Naaron respectively as recommended by the NJC.
We also called on NBA to collaborate with the NJC to purge the Bar and the Bench of corrupt lawyers and judges to reposition the Judiciary to discharge its constitutional duties to Nigerians.