The National Judicial Council (NJC) on Friday rebuffed a recommendation by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) that judges recently accused of corruption by the Department of State Services (DSS) be suspended.

It said the NBA’s recommendation contradicted relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic on Nigeria, as amended, and 2014 Revised Judicial Discipline Regulations formulated by the NJC, under Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended

The NBA through its National President Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN, had on Thursday proposed that NJC suspend the accused judges, or they should voluntarily stand down from judicial duties until the cases against them are resolved. 

But the NJC on Friday deflected that proposal. A statement by the Council’s spokesman, Soji Oye, an Acting Director of Information, said the position of the NBA was unacceptable “as it breaches 2014 Revised Judicial Discipline Regulations formulated by NJC under Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.” 

He added: “It is to be also reiterated that by the provisions of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, NJC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person while exercising its disciplinary power of control over Judicial Officers in the Federation.”

The NJC statement reads: “The National Judicial Council (“NJC”) is not unaware of the judgment of the Court of public opinion on the recent events between the Department of State Services (“DSS”) and the Judiciary; and the various views expressed by legal practitioners, academics, politicians and the general public, particularly the current position of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association to wit:  ‘We therefore strongly recommend that, without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the Judges involved in the ongoing investigations, they should recuse themselves from further judicial functions or required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings.’

“NJC is constrained to inform the general public that its constitutional mandate is to process and recommend to the Executive at the federal and state levels the appointment and / or removal of Judicial Officers from office, including exercise of its disciplinary control of suspending and or warning Judicial Officers, after complying with due process and the Rule of Law.

“Since the creation of NJC vide the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, it has exercised its powers and performed its functions within its Constitutional limitations.

“Thus, the current position of the Nigerian Bar Association vis-à-vis its recommendation that the affected Judicial Officers involved in the on-going investigation of Judicial Officers by the DSS, ‘be requested to proceed on compulsory leave until the conclusion of all disciplinary proceedings against them’ is unacceptable to the NJC; as it breaches the 2014 Revised Judicial Discipline Regulations formulated by NJC pursuant to Section 160 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.

“It is to be reiterated also that by the provisions of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, NJC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person while exercising its disciplinary power of control over Judicial Officers in the Federation.

“Members of the public are hereby informed that the mechanism that will determine a Judicial Officer to be directed or requested to proceed on compulsory leave, or be suspended from office, is a disciplinary power that NJC can only exercise after initiating disciplinary proceeding on the complaint or petition forwarded against the judge, after he has been found culpable.  Therefore, to act on the recommendation of the NBA, it is not only contrary to the provisions of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, but it means NJC will direct any Judicial Officer that has been petitioned, even if the allegations contained therein are frivolous and baseless, to proceed on compulsory leave or be suspended from office without complying with the Rule of Law.  

“That is not the understanding of NJC of the intention of the framers of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, vis-à-vis its constitutional powers and functions on initiation of disciplinary proceedings culminating in suspension of Judicial Officers.  Thus, to act on the request of Departments of government and the recommendation of the NBA, the 808 Judicial Officers that had been petitioned and accused of professional misconduct and / or corrupt practices, without investigation by NJC, would have all been suspended or sent on compulsory leave and the Courts would have been deserted. 

“NJC is not unmindful of the concern of the public on a situation whereby a Judicial Officer is being investigated and / or prosecuted for commission of a criminal offense such as murder or robbery; and whether he is not supposed to be requested or directed to proceed on compulsory leave or be suspended from office.  In the circumstance, unless the Subject Judge accused of the commission of the offense of murder or robbery is petitioned to NJC, it shall not assume the disciplinary power of control over Judicial Officers to suspend or direct the Subject Judge to proceed on compulsory leave.  Thus, NJC can only direct any judge alleged of committing such criminal offenses to go on compulsory leave or be suspended from office if he has been investigated and found by NJC culpable of misconduct.

“The participation of NBA members in the Emergency Meeting of NJC was necessitated by the unfolding events between the DSS and the Judiciary, bordering on the administration of justice.

“Suffice it to say that the decision of NJC in respect of the recent events and the current state of the Judiciary, particularly in condemning the invasion and arrest of the judicial officers by the DSS, which was considered as a threat to independence of the Judiciary, portends great danger to our democracy; and a clear attempt by the DSS to humiliate, intimidate, denigrate and cow the Judiciary, was unanimously taken by the Members of the Council present, including the President and other members of the Nigerian Bar Association at its last Emergency Meeting which was held on  October11th 2016.”

The statement listed participants in the NJC Emergency Meeting as follows:

1. Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON   

Chief Justice of Nigeria   (North-East),  Chairman

2. Hon. Justice W.S.N. Onnoghen, CFR

Justice of Supreme Court (South-South), Deputy Chairman

3. Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, CFR   

President, Court of Appeal  (North-East ), Member

4. Hon. Justice E. O. Ayoola, CON

Retired Justice, Supreme Court  (South-West),  Member

5. Hon. Justice Umaru Abdullahi, CON

Former President, Court of Appeal  (North-West),   Member

6. Hon. Justice V.O.A. Omage, OFR

Retired Justice, Court of Appeal  (South-South),   Member

7. Hon. Justice I.N. Auta, OFR

Chief Judge, Federal High Court  (North-East),  Member

8. Hon. Justice B. A. Adejumo, OFR

President, National Industrial Court  (South West ), Member

9. Hon. Justice H.Y. Heman, CON

Chief Judge, Gombe State  (North-East),  Member

10. Hon. Justice A.N. Nwankwo, CON

Chief Judge, Ebonyi State  (South-East),  Member

11. Hon. Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam

Chief Judge, Cross River State  (South-South),  Member

12. Hon. Kadi Mukhtar Imam Jega

Grand Kadi, Sharia Court of Appeal, Kebbi State  (North-West), Member

13. Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN, OON 

President, Nigerian Bar Association  (North-West ), Member

14. Dr. Garba Tetengi, SAN, mni

Member, Nigerian Bar Association  (North-Central),  Member

15. Mrs. Debbi Obodoukwu

Member, Nigerian Bar Association  (South-East ), Member

16. Tijjani Inuwa-Dutse, Esq., mni

Member, Nigerian Bar Association  (North-West),  Member

17. Hajiya Rakiya Sarki Ibrahim, MON

Retired Public Servant  (North-West ), Member

18. Mr. R. I. Inga

Retired Permanent Secretary  (North-Central),  Member

Other Members of NJC (full complement), that were absent from the Meeting but sent their apologies, are as follows:-

19. Hon. Justice S. A. Akintan, CON

Retired Justice of Supreme Court (South West ), Member

20. Hon. Justice I. F. Ogbuagu, CON

Retired Justice of Supreme Court ( South East),  Member

21. Hon. Justice Nasir Ajanah, CON

Chief Judge, Kogi State (North Central ), Member

22. Hon. Justice M. L. Abimbola

Chief Judge, Oyo State (South West ), Member 

23. Hon. Justice D. A. Ayah

President, Customary Court of Appeal, Bayelsa State ( South-South), Member

24. Augustine Alegeh, SAN

Former President, NBA (South South),  Member.

  NBA President Abubakar Mahmoud

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