Misconduct: NJC fires two judges, warns two others
The National Judicial Council (NJC) headed by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen on Friday sacked two serving judges from office.
The two judicial officers are Justice Ugbo Ononogbo of the Abia State High Court and Justice Nasir Gummi of Zamfara State High Court.
The sack takes immediate effect.
The Council which also recommended a lawyer and a non judicial officer with the Abia State judiciary for investigation and possible prosecution also issued stern warnings to two Lagos high court judges: Justice D. O Oluwayemi and Justice M. O Savage.
Oluwayemi J. was handed warning for granting an unnecessary exparte order in Suit No: LD/2393LMW/16 while Justice Savage was found to have held discussion with complainant’s counsel in Suit No: LD/179/2000 which he had judicially acted upon, and for serving as a bridge between him and the other party’s counsel.
The Council took the various decisions at its 80th meeting held between December 14 and 15, 2016.
It was the first meeting to be presided over by the Acting CJN, Justice Onnoghen where a fundamental decision affecting the judicial career of judges would be taken.
The two sacked judges were directed to stop sitting in their courts pending when the executive governors of the two states affected would endorse the NJC’s recommendation that they be removed from office.
The recommendation of the NJC in this regard is rarely upturned or delayed.
Justice Ononogbo was recommended for outright dismissal while Justice Gummi was recommended for compulsory retirement.
The implication is that Justice Ononogho would go home without entitlement while Gummi would only have his judicial career truncated but would enjoy his entitlements.
In a statement issued on Friday by the Director of Information, Mr Soji Oye, it explained why the judicial career of the two judges was terminated.
For Justice Ononogho of the Abia judiciary, the statement said that his trouble started with a petition written against him by Mr. Urum Udensi Ifegwu regarding a controversial order he made in a case involving Mrs Nnenna Enweliku and four others against Udensi Dike Udensi and two others.
The judge was specifically accused to have made a blanket order for the payment of an amount to be assessed by the Probate Registrar as estate fee from the Access Bank Account of late Lord Chief Udensi Ifegwu to the court.
But in the course of preparing the enrolled order, the Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division of the Court, Mr. Udeka U. C. was said to have altered the judge’s order in a letter to Access Bank requesting the bank to release the sum of N200, 000,000.00 (Two Hundred Million Naira) only into the personal account of E. M. Ojiako, Esq, counsel to the applicant in the suit, a request which the bank refused to honour.
Following the refusal by the bank to make the payment, the judge was said to have made a fresh order directing the bank to pay any money assessed by the Probate Registrar for the Estate fee of late Lord Chief Dike Udensi Ifegwu into the personal account of E. M. Ojiako, Esq, without ascertaining the assessment made by the Probate Registrar.
The Access Bank, on the strength of the second order made a payment of N200 million into the private account of Ojiakor who now remitted only N83, 000,000.00 (Eighty-three Million Naira) into the Probate Registry.
The judge was also accused of judicial misconduct by appending his signature to an order he grantef which contained wrong names of counsel that represented parties before him in court.
During investigation of the case, Justice Ononogho not only admitted his mistake of signing the order without verifying the correctness of parties and counsel in the case, he also said that he innocently failed to confirm how much was assessed for payment into the account of Ojiakor by the probate registrar and how much was eventually paid into the probate registry of the court.
A panel of the NJC which investigated the petition found Jstice Ononogho guilty of judicial misconduct and recommended his dismissal from office.
The NJC went ahead by recommending the counsel to whom N200m was paid into his account but remitted only N83m into the account of the court for further investigation and possible prosecution by the Nigerian Bar Association.
The Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division of the Court, Mr. Udeka U. C. who was said to have altered the judge’s order in a letter to Access Bank requesting the bank to release the sum of N200, 000,000.00 (Two Hundred Million Naira) only into the personal account of E. M. Ojiako, Esq, counsel to the applicant in the suit was also recommended for appropriate sanction by the Abia State Judicial Service Commission.
For the other judge, Justice Umar Nasir Gunmi, he was found to have to delivered judgement in suit No: ZMS/GS/13/2013; Chiroma Vs Forte Oil Plc, almost twenty-three months after the final address by all counsel in the Suit, contrary to the constitutional provisions that judgements should be delivered within a period of 90 days.
The NJC was also said to have found that even in the judgment that was delivered in breach of the constitutional provisions, the judgment pronounced in court was different from the one issued out to parties as the word “dismissal” in the judgment was altered by the court registrar to read “struck out” only to inform the judge later that he had amended the judgment for him.
Besides, he was also accused to have assumed jurisdiction in the matter by a ruling, only to dismiss the same action 22 months after, for lack of jurisdiction, after the cause of action had lapsed.
Meanwhile, two judges of the Lagos high court were also warned over their handling of certain cases before them.
The judges are Justice D. O Oluwayemi and Justice M. O Savage.
Oluwayemi J. was said to have granted an unnecessary exparte order in Suit No: LD/2393LMW/16, relying on an affidavit of urgency which disclosed no threat of destruction of rights, or interest, in the subject matter of the dispute without putting the other party on notice.
The judge was warned against recurrence.
His colleague, Justice Savage was similarly warned to guard against recurrence after he was found to have held discussion with complainant’s counsel in Suit No: LD/179/2000 which he had judicially acted upon, and for serving as a bridge between him and the other party’s counsel.