By DAYO BENSON AND ANAYO OKOLI
LAST week, Abia indigenes received with a wave of shock the news that the National Judicial Council [NJC] had ordered the immediate and compulsory retirement of the Acting Chief Judge of the state, Justice Shedrack Nwanosike, who according to the apex judicial disciplinary body falsified his age which Council said “invariably affected his retirement age”.
The Acting Chief Judge, according to sources from the state judiciary was to statutorily retire this week, precisely August, 6. But what NJC’s position implied was that if he had not falsified his age, as alleged, he would have retired much earlier.In a terse press statement dated July 29,and signed by Soji Oye Esq.Ag. Director, Information, which terminated the career of Justice Shadrack O.E. Nwanosike, from the state judiciary, the NJC said “The National Judicial Council under the Chairmanship of the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, GCON, at its 63rd Meeting which was held on 17th & 18th July, 2013 recommended the compulsory retirement from office of Hon. Justice Shadrack O.E. Nwanosike, the Acting Chief Judge of Abia State.
The decision is sequel to the findings of the Council that Hon. Justice Nwanosike falsified his date of birth which invariably affected his retirement age.”
It was further gathered from judicial circles in the state that the NJC must have acted on a petition written by Nwanosike’s adversaries.
Although the identity of the petitioners is still shrouded in secrecy in the state, Vanguard Law and Human Rights learnt that the petitioners were from the state judiciary.
According to the sources, they were said to have been unhappy that Nwanosike served in acting capacity for close to one year, instead of the mandatory three months as provided by the law. They were also said to have been aggrieved that his long stay prevented other judges from taking their turns to act.
For close to two years, the office of the Abia state Chief Judge has been operating in acting capacity. Three Judges, Justices Offonry, Oti and Uzokwe had had their turns in acting capacity before Nwanosike. Prior to his period of acting, NJC had recommended Justice Offonry to be confirmed as the substantive Chief Judge but she was rejected by the state House of Assembly, prompting Governor Theodore Orji, with the approval of NJC to continue running the CJ’s office in acting capacity, as the governor cannot swear-in a judge without the approval of the state House of Assembly.
According to sources, the petitioners were said to have gone as far as the Law School and Code of Conduct Bureau to get the records of the retired Judge to expose him to NJC. A leader of the judiciary workers’ union in the state said Nwanosike was set up, though he did not expatiate.
However, a few people who spoke to Vanguard Law and Human Rights gave varied opinion of the retired judge. A former chairman of Aba Branch of NBA said that before he was appointed the acting Chief Judge, they saw Nwanosike as a very courageous Judge bearing in mind that he was the Judge that set aside the impeachment of the then deputy governor of the state, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe. But he said that lawyers in the state were surprised the way, he allegedly looked the other way while things were going wrong in the judiciary.
But a senior lawyer who did not want his name in the print, described the retired Judge as “a very good man. That is all I can tell you for now”. He however expressed surprise at the ugly incident surrounding the judge.
“Until I get the details, I don’t have any more comment for now”, he said .
If the ex Abia CJ actually falsified his age,the larger implication is that he might have commited perjury which if proved beyond reasonable doubt before a court of competent jurisdiction is a criminal offence. According to section 117 of the Criminal Code chapter 42 The Laws Of The Federation Of Nigeria “Any person who, in any judicial proceeding, or for the purpose of instituting any judicial proceeding, knowingly gives false testimony touching any matter which is material to any question then depending in that proceeding,or intended to be raised in that proceeding, is guilty of an offence,which is called perjury.
It is immaterial whether the testimony is given on oath or under any other sanction authorised by law. The forms and ceremonies used in administering the oath or in otherwise binding the person giving the testimony to speak the truth are immaterial,if he assent to the forms and ceremonies actually used.It is immaterial whether the false testimony is giving orally or in writing.
It is immaterial whether the court or tribunal is properly constituted,or is held in the proper place, or not,if it actually acts as a court or tribunal in the proceeding in which the testimony is given.It is immaterial whether the person who gives the testimony is a competent witness or not, or whether the testimony is admissible in the proceeding or not.The offender cannot be arrested without warrant.”
Section 118 prescribes the punishment ‘’Any person who commits perjury is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.If the offender commits the offence in order to procure the conviction of another person for an offence punishable with death or with imprisonment for life, he is liable to imprisonment for life.” The question that begs an answer is did Honourable justice Shadrack O.E. Nwanosike commit perjury?