*2 others on watch-list
*Don’t succumb to undue
influence, corruption; CJN warns judges
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The National Judicial Council, NJC, has sacked Justices Ugbo Ononogbo of Abia State and Nasir Gunmi of Zamfara State High Court over their alleged complicity in judicial malpractice. It ordered the two Judges to vacate their offices with immediate effect. The council under the Chairmanship of the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, said it took the decision at the end of its 80th meeting which held between December 14 and 15, 2016.
It said the two judges remained suspended pending approval of recommendations for their dismissal and compulsory retirement from office, by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Governor Abdul Aziz Yari Abubakar, of Abia and Zamfara States, respectively.
Specifically, NJC said it dismissed Justice Ononogbo pursuant to its findings on allegations contained in a petition written against him by Mr. Urum Udensi Ifegwu.
The petition stated: “That the Hon. Judge in Suit No: HOH/25/2013; Mrs Nnenna Enweliku and 4 Ors Vs Udensi Dike Udensi and 2 Ors made a blanket Order for the payment of unascertained amount as Estate fee from the Access Bank Account of late Lord Chief Dike Udensi Ifegwu to the Probate Registrar of the High Court.
“The Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division of the Court, Mr. Udeka U. C. was said to have altered the Order of the Hon. Judge in a letter to Access Bank requesting the bank to release the sum of N200, 000,000.00 (Two Hundred Million Naira) only into the personal account of E. M. Ojiako, Esq, Counsel to the Applicant in the Suit. A request which the bank refused to honour.
“The Hon. Judge also granted a second Order to vacate the first Order directing the bank to pay any money assessed by the Probate Registrar for the Estate fee of late Lord Chief Dike Udensi Ifegwu into the personal account of E. M. Ojiako, Esq, without ascertaining the Assessment made by the Probate Registrar.
“Out of the N200, 000,000.00 (Two Hundred Million Naira) withdrawn as a result of the second Order, E. M. Ojiako, Esq, only paid the sum of N83, 000,000.00 (Eighty-three Million Naira) to the Probate Registry.
“That there were discrepancies between the representations of parties in the Order made by the Respondent and the representation of parties in the Record Book of the Court to which Hon. Justice Ugbo Ononogbo admitted that he did not vet the Order before signing same and that it was an oversight.
“Apart from recommending the dismissal of Hon. Justice Ugbo Ononogbo to the Governor of Abia State, Council also recommended that the Hon. Judge, the Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division of Abia State High Court, Udeka N. C., and E. M. Ojiako, Esq., be handed over to the police for investigation.
“Council also decided to report E. M. Ojiako, Esq, to the Nigeria Bar Association Disciplinary Committee for investigation and that Abia State Judicial Service Commission should take appropriate action against Udeka N. C., the Assistant Chief Registrar Probate Division after investigation of the allegations”.
Likewise, the NJC, sacked Justice Gunmi sequel to findings on allegations that he failed to deliver judgement in Suit No: ZMS/GS/13/2013; Chiroma Vs Forte Oil Plc, almost twenty-three months after the final address by all Counsel in the Suit. His action was said to be contrary to the Constitutional Provisions that Judgements should be delivered within a period of 90 days.
“That the Judgement in the Suit was altered by changing the word “dismissal” to “struck out” to which his Court Registrar, Hayatu Wadata Bungudu admitted was done by him, after which he informed the Hon. Judge on phone, as he was out of the State at the time.
“That the Hon. Judge assumed jurisdiction in the matter by a ruling, only to dismiss the same action 22 months after, for lack of jurisdiction, after the cause of action had lapsed.
“Council will write to the Zamfara State Judicial Service Commission to take appropriate action against Hayatu Wadata Bungudu, Registrar of Hon. Justice Gunmi’s court for altering his judgement”.
It said allegations against the two Judges constituted misconduct contrary to Sections 294 (1) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended and Rules 3 (i), 11(ii) and 2 of the National Judicial Council Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Besides, NJC at the meeting also resolved to issue a letter of strong warning to Hon. Justice D. O. Oluwayemi of Lagos State Judiciary for granting an Ex-parte Order in Suit No: LD/2393LMW/16, relying on an Affidavit of urgency which disclosed no threat of destruction of rights, or interest, in the subject matter of the dispute without putting the other party on Notice.
“Another letter of warning will be issued by the Council to Hon. Justice M. A. Savage of High Court of Lagos State, for holding discussion with Complainant’s Counsel in Suit No: LD/179/2000 which he had judicially acted upon, and for serving as a bridge between him and the other party’s Counsel”, added a statement signed by Acting Director of Information at the NJC, Mr. Soji Oye.
Already, three superior court Judges, including a Justice of the Supreme Court, Sylvester Ngwuta, are answering to various criminal charges entered against them by the Federal Government.
Justice Ngwuta was docked before the Federal High Court in Abuja on a 16-count charge bordering on money laundering, age falsification and his alleged illegal possession of multiple international passports.
Trial Justice John Tsoho slated January 18, 2017, to commence full-blown hearing on the matter, even as the Federal Government has lined-up five witnesses who will testify against the embattled jurist who was said to have hidden N27million in his bathroom.
Ngwuta was docked before the high court on November 21 and subsequently granted bail to the tune of N100million.
Similarly, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja was docked on December 13 alongside his wife, Olabowale, before an Abuja High Court at Maitama on an 11-count criminal charge.
Justice Ademola was alleged to have on various dates between 2014 and 2015, received huge sums of money as gratifications. Trial Justice Jude Okeke granted the defendants bail on self-recognition to the tune of N50million each, shortly after they took turns and pleaded not guilty to charges levelled against them.
Among those also on the trial-radar are Justices Muazu Pindiga of the Gombe Division of the Federal High Court, the former Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya; and Judge of the Kano State High Court, Justice Kabiru Auta.
Don’t succumb to undue influence, corruption; CJN warns judges
Meanwhile, the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has enjoined Appeal Court Justices to shun corruption and resist all forms of undue influence in the discharge of their duties.
Justice Onnoghen who gave them the admonition while flagging-off the 2016 Court of Appeal Justices Conference in Abuja on Friday, stressed that such “undue influences” could be come from both within and outside the judiciary.
He said it was imperative for appellate court Justices to be above board in the discharge of their judicial functions, saying blackmail in any form must not be entertained. Onnoghen further asked the appellate court justices to uphold the tenets of independence of the judiciary with integrity and fairness.
According to him, the recent unprecedented assault on the judiciary should not intimidate judges into taking wrong decisions or steps.
He maintained that the battle for the soul of the judiciary could only be fought and won from a position of integrity, judicial independence and fairness in the dispensation of justice to all.
“The annual conference of the Court of Appeal is not just a yearly court ritual, but a significant time when an important group of judicial officers come together to review performance, have frank exchange of ideas and engaging in interactions to map out strategies for more effective work.
“I therefore urge you to remain focused at all times. Be bold and try to resist all forms of undue influence, both external and within. Blackmail in any form must not be entertained. Shun all forms of corruption.
“The current fight against corruption by the present administration is real and commendable. We must all join hands to fight this monster, lest it consumes us. This is the only country we have, and we owe it to posterity to bequeath a safe and decent nation to future generations. I must remind you that the judiciary is the only organ of government that can guarantee its independence by the conduct and utterances of judicial officers. If you adhere to these guidelines, you are assured of protection.
“Always rely on precedent set by the Supreme Court. If you do, I promise you, you won’t go wrong in your judgments.
Another concept I want to encourage you to embrace is information technology.
“We live in times of ever-changing cutting edge technology that can make our lives a lot easier if properly utilized. I suspect that a day will come when you will cease to function if you are not technology compliant or savvy. I have joined that technology to train myself, and I can testify that it is good. We must also cautiously move away from shielding the courts from the public.
“Times have changed and the time has come to open up a window of communication to the public. You have to engage the media to showcase the activities of your courts, especially your efforts at better justice delivery to litigants.
“This will encourage public enlightenment and boost confidence in the judiciary, as well as remove the public perception of the judiciary as a closed society.
“This undoubtedly has its own risk. Today, we are witnesses of the horrific trend of some unscrupulous lawyers discussing matters that are before courts in the media, in brazen attempts to influence judgments of courts. To stem this ugly tide, I urge you to consider invoking your inherent power of contempt where there are such violations or infractions in respect of matters that are sub-judice.
“We must work together to put an end to this trend. We must at all times remain proud and guard jealously our heritage of dispensing justice to all without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”, he added.