The National Judicial Council on Friday moved against Justice Abubakar Talba of an Abuja High Court whom the council found guilty of giving a controversial sentence which was described as unreasonable to John Yusuf Yakubu who admitted that he embezzled pension funds totaling N 23 billion with six others . Justice Talba has been suspended for a year, during which he would not be entitled to any form of remuneration.
Justice Talba found himself in the news for the wrong reasons after his January 28 judgment in which he fined Yusuf who had pleaded guilty the sum of N 750,000. The fine was an option which the accused person quickly embraced and paid before leaving the court premises. Incidentally, the Criminal Procedure Act allows for a sentence of a maximum of two years imprisonment and an imposition of fine in its Section 309. The judge in his wisdom however chose to make the fine an option.
A statement from the NJC blamed Mr Justice Talba for judicial recklessness and inability to exercise his discretion judiciously. The statement signed by Soji Oye, the council’s Deputy Director of Information reads inter alia:
“The National Judicial Council under the Chairmanship of the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, GCON, at its Meeting which was held on 24th and 25thApril, 2013 suspended Hon. Justice Abubakar Mahmud Talba of the FCT High Court from office for a period of twelve months without pay.
Hon. Justice Talba was suspended from office sequel to the Findings by Council that he did not exercise his discretion judicially and judiciously with regard to the sentences he passed on one of the accused persons, Mr. John Yakubu Yusuf in the Police Pension case of FRN Vs Esai Dangabar and 5 Ors.
It will be recalled that the National Judicial Council at its Emergency Meeting which was held on 20thFebruary, 2013 set up a Fact Finding Committee to investigate the allegations levelled against Hon. Justice Talba in the Police Pension case of FRN Vs Esai Dangabar and 5 Ors.
The Council however, observed that the Charges that had been brought by EFCC against Mr. John Y. Yusuf in the First Charge Sheet containing Counts 1 to 10 under Section 315 of the Penal Code that provides a maximum jail term of 14 years and fine, were dropped by the EFCC Counsel and substituted with another Charge Sheet with only three Counts under Section 309 of the Penal Code that moulds a lesser punishment of two years imprisonment with or without option of fine.
The National Judicial Council, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, also issued serious warning to Hon. Justice Talba to desist from unreasonable exercise of judicial discretion in all matters brought before him”.
Justice Okechukwu Okeke of the Federal High Court too had his matter considered by the council as he too had many petitions against him. Unlike Justice Talba, Justice Okeke was “seriously warned”. He is due for retirement on May 18, 2013.