The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Friday struck out the 13-count criminal charge filed against a serving Supreme Court Justice, Sylvester Ngwuta.
The trial Judge, Justice John Tsoho said the charge was struck out for lack of jurisdiction.
Justice Ngwuta, one of the seven judges arrested in 2016, stood trial for criminal charge of alleged money laundering and unlawful possession of multiple International passports before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
In setting Ngwuta free, Justice Tsoho maintained that as was the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa’s case, all allegations against a judicial officer, with the exception of murder, arson and the likes, must first be investigated by the National Judicial Council (NJC) before the affected judicial officer is taken before the regular court for trial.
Ngwuta had through an application brought by his counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), challenged the jurisdiction of the court to try him when the National Judicial Council (NJC) has not found him culpable of any misconduct or recommended him for the trial
Ruling on the application, Justice Tsoho held that the prosecution did not fulfill “the condition precedent in filing the charge against judicial officers. It is not in dispute that the defendant is a serving Supreme Court Justice.”
Justice Tsoho noted that both the prosecution and defendant counsel are in agreement that the Court of Appeal decision in Justice Nganjiwa’s case applied to the instant one.
“In my humble view, separation of power between the three arms of government is entrenched in the constitution. The National Judicial Council (NJC), is given power to discipline erring judicial officers,” he said.
“By strict adherence , the power is constitutionally vested on the NJC to discipline judicial officers and that power can not be taken away in a democracy.
“It is tidy and safer that all matters relating to the discipline of judicial officers should be first dealt with by NJC.”
Justice Tsoho said that interpretation of the provisions of the laws should be done to avoid absurdity.
He said that the gap left in the provision of the law should stand until the constitution is amended and until that is done any arrest of any judicial officers should be declared a nullity.
The Judge described count 1 to 9 of the charge which listed offences relating to the defendant acquisition of properties as verged.
Justice Tsoho said that count 10 to 13 which deal with unauthorised possession of International Passport, trading and cash payments “fall more within the purview of allegations of misconducts and this court has difficulties in determining whether they fall within scope of its jurisdiction. This court is not persuaded that it has jurisdiction,” he held.
The Federal Government had on November 8, 2016 brought a 9-count charge (which was later amended to 13 counts) of money laundering and corruption against Ngwuta.
Ngwuta was in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/C/232, alleged to have among other offences, stashed foreign currencies in his Abuja home.
Federal Government said the DSS, at the end of the search operation conducted at Ngwuta’s official residence on Oct 7 and 8 , 2016, recovered several sums of cash, including the sum of Thirty-Five Million, Three Hundred and Fifty-Eight Thousand Naira (NGN35,358,000.00); Three Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Five Hundred and Ninety- Six United States Dollars ($319,596.00). As well as Twenty-Five Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifteen Pounds Sterling (GBP 25,915) and Two Hundred and Eighty Euros (EURO 280.00).
It said the search also revealed about four Diplomatic passports, one official and two standard Nigerian passports all in the name of the defendant.
Federal Government told the court that the DSS executed a search warrant at Justice Ngwuta’s home following series of allegations of corruption that were levelled against him.