Nigeria’s regulatory body for the judiciary, the National Judicial Council, has recommended the compulsory retirement of three judges following allegations of fraud and other judicial misconduct.
The judges include the Chief Judge of Enugu State, A. I. umezulike; a presiding justice at the Court of Appeal in Kwara State, Mohammed Tsamiya; and Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court. They were sacked by the NJC during the council’s 78th meeting held on September 29.
In a statement made available to journalists on Friday, the Council’s Director of Information; Soji Oye, said Justice Umezulike was accused of abusing his office and mistreating defendants. The council made its findings against Mr. Umezulike following a petition by a lawyer, Peter Eze.
The findings include the following:
“That the Hon. Chief Judge failed to deliver Judgement in Suit in which final addresses were adopted on 23rd October, 2014, until the 9th day of March, 2015, about 126 days after addresses were adopted.” The act goes contrary to constitutional provisions that judgement should be delivered within a period of 90 days after adoption of addresses. The council also said Mr. Umezulike abused his privileges when he ordered the petitioner, Mr. Eze, to be arrested by police officers and brought to court, after an agreement had been reached on a matter before him and judgement entered on terms of settlement.
Mr. Umezulike was also accused of making defamatory statements in public against the petitioner, contrary to Rule 1.3 of the National Judicial Council Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers.
“That there have been many instances of abuse of Judicial powers, by the Chief Judge, particularly against the two defendants in Suits Nos. E/6/2013 and E/88/2016. The Chief Judge clung to these two suits to remain in his Court, despite all genuine efforts made by the defendants to get the suits transferred to another Court.
“That the Chief Judge sitting at a vantage position of Senior Judicial Officer and Head of Court for that matter, should not have allowed his emotions to dictate his judicial functions to the detriment of the defendants in both suits,” the statement said.
THE APPEAL COURT JUDGE
On his part, Mr. Tsamiya was recommended for retirement for collecting a bribe of N200 million from an applicant to facilitate the processes for his case. The findings were made following investigations into a petition by a certain Nnamdi Orji against Mr. Tsamiya and three other judges: Husseini Muktar, F. O. Akinbami and J. Y. Tukur.
The petitioner had alleged that the judges made contrasting decisions, in similar cases; in addition to allegations of fraud said to have been perpetrated by Mr. Tsamiya.
The council, in its findings said there was evidence that the petitioner met with Mr. Tsamiya thrice, in his residence in Sokoto, Abuja and Owerri where on each occasion, the judge demanded from the petitioner the sum of N200 million to influence the Court of Appeal Panel in Owerri or risk losing the case. The council, however, found that there was no evidence of conflicting judgements against Mr. Tsamiya, as the cases referred to were different in content. It also found that there was no evidence that the petitioner ever met or discussed with the other Justices – Mukhtar, Akinbami and Tukur – in respect of the appeal before them.“It is in the Light of the foregoing that Hon. Justices Husseini Mukhtar (JCA), F. O. Akinbami(JCA) and J. Y. Tukur(JCA), were exonerated,” the statement said.
THE KANO JUDGE
In the case of Mr. Auta of the High Court of Justice, Kano State, he was recommended to the State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, for dismissal for collecting N125 million from the petitioner. The council said Mr. Auta is to be handed over to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 1, Kano, for prosecution. He was found to have defrauded the petitioner in many ways, some of which Mr. Auta admitted to police officers.
“The petitioner also made cash payment of N72 million to Mr. Auta in several instalments through his Personal Assistant, Abdullahi Bello,” the statement said. The payment was to assist a former Chief Justice of Nigeria who had just been appointed to secure accommodation and for the petitioner to be in turn rewarded by the award of some contracts by the said Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The council said the allegations against the three Judicial Officers constitute misconduct contrary to Section 292 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended and subsections of rule Rules 1, 2, 3, 4 13 and 15 of the 2016 Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers. The judges were suspended pending the approval of their recommendation for retirement.