By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Basically, “Lex non deficere potest in justitia exhibenda”, is Latin legal maxim which implies that the law cannot fail in dispensing justice.
It is expected that the primary aim of any adjudicating process ought to be geared towards occasioning a harmonious marriage between judgment and justice, an expectation that has gained general acceptability in the principle of “Nemo Judex in causa sua” indicating that no one should judge his own case.
Consequently to achieve the end of justice, the law not only requires that all parties to any given dispute be heard (audi alteram partem), but insists on strict adherence to the principle of “Fiat justitia ruat caelum”, another Latin maxim that means “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”
Nevertheless, the recent tango between the National Judicial Council, NJC, and the erstwhile Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Justice Hassan Lawal Gunmi, who retired from office to become an Emir in Zamfara State amid allegations of judicial impropriety, has queried the age long relationship between judicial verdict and justice.
Though by law, the NJC lacks the adjudicatory powers inherent in the regular courts, however, it is statutorily empowered to sanction erring judicial officers found to have compromised standard in the discharge of their official duty.
How far it went towards exercising such powers in the case of Justice Gunmi who it accordingly found guilty of judicial infraction, is yet to be seen.
Specifically, the council had at the end of a two days crucial meeting it held in Abuja on July 18, found the ex-CJ guilty of judicial corruption.
The NJC, in a statement it issued at the end of its probe, said it was satisfied that the ex-CJ, perverted the course of justice in a case involving a company, Nestello Gateway Group, and the Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari.
While describing the conduct of Justice Gunmi pertaining to the case as most unethical and highly reprehensible”, the NJC, said it decided not to take punitive measures against him considering that he had voluntarily bowed out of office.
The council however warned that henceforth, any similar misconduct by any Judicial Officer in the Federation will be visited with severe sanctions.”
The said statement which was signed by the Acting Director of Information at the NJC, Mr Soji Oye, read: “The National Judicial Council at its 63rd Meeting which was held on July 17 and 18, 2013, deliberated on the Report and recommendation of its Committee that investigated the petition forwarded to it by Nestello Gateway Group in Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/486/10 against Hon. Justice Lawal Hassan Gummi, OFR, the former Hon. Chief Judge of High Court of FCT, Abuja.
“At the end of deliberation, Council accepted the findings of its Committee that Hon. Justice Gummi, OFR, interfered with execution of the judgment delivered by Hon. Justice Jude Okeke of the FCT High Court, Abuja in the Suit between Nestello Gateway Group and Alhaji Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari, a former National Assembly Member and the current Governor of Zamfara State in which execution had already been levied in favour of the petitioner. Council found the interference by Hon. Justice Gummi in the execution of the Judgment as most unethical and highly reprehensible.
“Council also accepted the recommendation of its Investigation Committee that Hon. Justice Gummi was guilty of gross misconduct contrary to Rule 1(i) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which would have led to his removal from office. “Council, however, took cognizance of the fact that Hon. Justice Gummi has already voluntarily retired from service and consequently decided not to recommend his removal from office.
“Council decided that henceforth, any similar misconduct by any Judicial Officer in the Federation will be visited with severe sanctions.”
That decision had since elicited varied reactions from legal pundits, with some waving off the action of the NJC as mere face saving tactics to shield one of their own, at the expense of the legal doctrine of “Impunitas semper ad deteriora invitat”, implying that impunity when not severely punished always leads to greater crimes. Gunmi who was appointed a CJ in 2004, had barely two years to retire from office before he decided to take a French leave, about three weeks after the NJC concluded plans to visit allegation against him.
He left his exalted judicial position on May 13 to replace the former Emir of Gunmi town, Alhaji Aliyu Abara who died on May 7.
Shortly after the Council which is headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mariam Aloma Muhktar, on May 22, declined to bury investigations into the petition against him (a decision sources said could have been championed by the CJN who they said had a personal ace to grind with the ex-CJ).In order to save his name, Gunmi, went before a Federal High Court in Abuja, where he is currently seeking to quash the decision NJC took against him.
It was his contention that having retired voluntarily and no longer a judicial officer, and having paid three months salary into the Federal Treasury in lieu of notice, he could no longer appear before the NJC as the panel lack the jurisdiction to hear any petition against a retired judicial officer.