By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has stopped the National Judicial Council, NJC, from summoning Justice Adeniyi Ademola to answer to corruption allegations that were raised against him in a petition that was filed by one Hon. Jenkins Duvie Giane Gwede but subsequently withdrawn.
The court, in a judgment that was delivered by Justice John Tsoho, held that the NJC could no longer open investigation into the matter or invite Ademola to prove his innocence to a petition that was voluntarily withdrawn by the petitioner since 2016.
The verdict followed a suit Justice Ademola filed against the NJC which had already constituted a three-man panel to commence investigation into the said petition.
Aside the judicial body, members of the probe panel- Justice Umar Abdullahi, Justice Babatunde Adejumo and Mrs. Rakiya Ibrahim, were also cited as respondents in the suit the plaintiff filed through his lawyer, Mr. Oladimeji Ekengba.
It was learnt that the NJC panel had earlier scheduled Justice Ademola to appear before it on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in his application for judicial review in the form of orders for declarations, prohibitions and injunctions, Ademola, maintained that allowing the NJC to further proceed with the investigation when the petition had been withdrawn, would amount to gross abuse of his rights.
He told the high court that the NJC earlier invited him through a letter dated July 25, 2016, to appear before the three-man investigative panel on August 8 and 9, 2016.
However, he claimed that the petitioner on his volition withdrew the petition on July 27, 2016, on the ground that it was written in error and based on misinformation.
According to him, withdrawal of the petition was backed with affidavit evidence that was deposed to by the petitioner himself, in which he clearly stated reasons he decided to abandon the matter.
Nevertheless, Ademola who was among seven superior court judges that were arrested after a “sting operation” the Department of State Service, DSS, conducted in October last year, told the court that on September 26, 2016, when he appeared before the NJC panel, he was asked to still prove innocence to allegations that have been withdrawn by the petitioner.
Justice Ademola told the court that all entreaties to the NJC panel that there was no petition against him any longer proved abortive as the panel insisted that he must go ahead to establish his innocence.
Consequently, he urged the court to prohibit the NJC from inviting him for investigation in a petition that had been withdrawn, on the ground that his right to fair hearing would be violated in view of the fact that the respondents cannot be the accuser, prosecutor and judge in the matter.
Specifically, the petitioner alleged that the embattled Judge collected $200, 000 to discharge a garnishee order that was granted in his favour.
In his judgment, Justice Tsoho agreed that the right of the plaintiff would be violated by the respondents on the strength of the withdrawal of the petition and the filing of affidavit in support of the withdrawal by the petitioner.
Justice Tsoho therefore stopped the NJC and its three-man panel from taking any further action in respect of the withdrawn petition so as not to violate the right of the plaintiff to fair hearing as enshrined in Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The court held that insistence of the NJC that Justice Ademola must appear before the panel was contrary to the provisions of Section 36 (5 and 6) of the 1999 Constitution and therefore unconstitutional, illegal and unlawful.
It will be recalled that Justice Ademola who was hitherto suspended from the bench by the NJC.
He was later prosecuted by the Federal Government on an 18-count corruption charge alongside his wife, Olabowale and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Joe Agi.
FG alleged that Ademola who is a grandson to a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, had in the discharge of his official duties, received bribe from Agi to the tune of N38.5million and perverted the course of Justice.
However, the trial court, in a judgement that was delivered by Justice Jude Okeke on February 5, discharged the defendants on the premise that FG failed to prove its allegations against them.
Having been cleared by the trial court, the NJC which is headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the end of its meeting on June 1, directed Justice Ademola and five other Judges to resume sitting on June 7.