Friday, 4 November 2016

NJC finally suspends 7 judges

The National Judicial Council (NJC) bowed to public pressure on Thursday and suspended seven senior Judges who were arrested across Nigeria on October 7. The move was long overdue.

The implication of the suspension is that the tainted Judges will not be found anywhere near the courtrooms until they’ve been cleared of allegations of receiving bribes from politicians.

The Judges were accused of selling court judgements to the highest bidders.

Mr. Soji Oye who is the Director of Information at the NJC said the decision was arrived at in order to avoid a scenario where Judges under investigation are seen adjudicating matters in court.

“Council also decided that Judicial Officers shall not be standing trial for alleged corruption related offences and be performing judicial functions at the same time,” read a Communique issued by the NJC.

“Council however decided that it will ensure that Judicial Officers who are being investigated for alleged high profile criminal offences do not perform judicial functions until their cases are concluded”.

It’s that simple, really; and it's commonsense as well.

Two of the Justices--Ngwuta and Okoro of the Supreme Court--had vacated their seats last week. The rest should have taken a cue.

Instead, they remained glued to the bench, daring anyone to yank them off.

What took the NJC so long?

In pre-dawn raids across the country, the Department of State Services (DSS) had picked up Supreme Court Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro, Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya; Justice Adeniyi Ademola( Federal High Court); the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike; Justice Kabiru Auta of Kano State High Court; and Justice Muazu Pindiga ( Gombe State High Court).

Wads of foreign and local currency notes were also found in the homes of the Judges.

Summary of money recovered from 3 judges

The NJC is constitutionally empowered to discipline erring Judges and Lawyers. The jury is still out on whether it has lived up to its responsibility in the course of time.

But there’s ample evidence to suggest that as Judges and Lawyers were busy having nocturnal and dubious meetings with the political class at midnight, NJC conveniently looked the other way.

The DSS has alleged that it had reported some of the Judges it arrested to the NJC, but nothing was done.

Instead, some of the Judges accused of corrupt practices in the past, were asked to resign from the bench without losing their benefits and retirement packages.

Others were simply cautioned.

It was a slap on the wrist.

In a decent society, the Judges who were arrested last month should have been suspended as soon as their values were questioned.

But instead, the NJC and its surrogates engaged in a war of words with everyone about why the DSS action was ‘Gestapo’ and flooded the public space with needless legal-speak.

It was always going to be a travesty if these Judges were allowed to continue with their jobs while their cases were being heard in court--as though nothing had happened.

No Judge would have loved to preside over a case in which  a colleague or a superior in the profession is the accused.

There would also have been conflict of interest concerns to deal with as well if the case files turned up in the courtrooms of the arrested Judges.   

But now, these Judges will be arraigned as ordinary citizens--stripped of all regalia of the bench--at least for the moment.

The NJC may have been four weeks late in growing some balls, but it's heartening to know it finally grew a pair.

We'll take it.

This is hoping that the body charged with whipping erring members of the bar into line, gets down to really doing its job.

Judges who come to equity have to do so with clean hands.

We can't have it any other way.

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