NJC And The Tainted Judges

NJC And The Tainted Judges

The council’s verdict holds lessons for judicial officers

The decision of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to sanction three judges who issued conflicting orders regarding cases involving the former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus is commendable. However, given the rot in the judiciary, many are of the view that this sanction did not go far enough to serve as deterrent to other judicial officers. We also share that position.

To the extent that the judiciary remains a critical arm of government that knits human society together, Judges must not only be above board, but they should also be seen to be so. Therefore, a Judge whose integrity has already been called to question cannot dispense justice that would be deemed to be fair to all concerned parties in any dispute before them. There can be no greater indictment for a judicial officer than what the NJC has done to thee three errant Judges.

Rising from its two-day meeting last week, the NJC resolved to punish the three Judges of courts of concurrent jurisdiction who granted conflicting ex parte orders in matters with same parties and subject matter. They will not be promoted to higher bench for a period ranging from two to five years whenever they are due. The three judges were found to have failed to exercise due diligence in granting ex parte order. Among the affected judges is Okogbule Gbasam of the High Court of Rivers State. He was barred from elevation to higher bench for two years whenever he is due. The council found that there was really no urgency to warrant the grant of an ex parte order in the way he did.

Justice Nusirat I. Umar of the High Court of Kebbi State was also barred from elevation to higher bench for two years whenever due. The council said it found fundamental defects and non-compliance with the law in her decision. Justice Edem Ita Kooffreh of the High Court of Cross River State received the harshest sanction among the three judges. He will not be promoted to higher bench for five years for allowing himself to be used as a tool for “forum shopping” and abuse of court process. All the three judges were also issued with warning letters to be circumspect in granting such orders in future.

While we welcome the decision of the NJC to deny these judges promotion for some years, outright dismissal would have sent a clearer signal to other judges that it will no longer be business as usual. However, the council still deserves commendation for its intervention. In the past, the NJC would wait for a petition before taking a decision even when a judge had done something that brought the judiciary into disrepute. Taking advantage of this flaw in the NJC’s rules, some judges who were petitioned in the past usually put the petitioners under pressure to withdraw them. So, it is remarkable that in sanctioning these three judges, the NJC did not wait for any petition against them before investigating the embarrassing cases.

In a statement announcing the sanctions, the NJC had said: “Even though there was no written petition, allegations of corruption or impropriety against the subject Judges, Council nevertheless, initiated investigation pursuant to its inherent disciplinary powers under the Constitution to unravel the circumstances that led to the spate of Ex parte Orders granted by these Courts of coordinate jurisdiction over matters bearing same parties and subject matter.”
The council is encouraged to continue to use its inherent powers to rid the bench of judicial officers who abuse their powers. Now that judges know that the NJC can initiate disciplinary measures against them without waiting for a petition, many will begin to do the right thing. It is left for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to set in motion the instrumentality of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. It is obvious that it takes two to tango. We cannot cleanse the judiciary without disciplining erring legal practitioners.

 

Culled From Thisday

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