Shake-up: Why Federal High Court Chief Judge pulls out Justice Abang from Abuja, Liman from P/Harcourt  

Federal High Court

  • Redeploys 9 others

The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, has removed a controversial judge, Justice Okon Abang from the Abuja division of the court where a high number of controversial political cases are litigated.

Okon Abang is to resume in the Asaba division of the court on January 30, this year.

Asaba division is not as busy as its Abuja division where political cases from different states of the Federation are handled.

Auta J. also pulled out Justice Mohammed Liman from the Port-Harcourt division of the court.

He is also to resume at the Enugu division of the court from January 30, this year.

It would be recalled that the two judges, Justices Abang and Liman were variously attacked both within and outside the legal community during the last legal year over their handling of the leadership crisis of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and few other cases.

The National Judicial Council headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed felt so strongly about the handling of the PDP case that he attended the legal year ceremony of the Federal high court which held at Sheraton Hotels where he delivered a very powerful speech advising them on how not to further destroy the image and honour of the judiciary.

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Justice Mohammed at the occasion however identified the handling of the PDP crisis by the Federal high court as one that highly embarrassed the judiciary and vowed that something must give on the matter.

He disclosed at the forum that the National Judicial Council had already received a number of petitions on the matter and that appropriate action would be taken.

Mohammed’s successor and incumbent acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen also maintained that something must give on the matter.

Although the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Auta, in a circular said both Justice Liman and Okon Abang together with nine others were redeployed  because some divisions of the court were currently short of judges, Bar and Bench Watch learnt on Sunday that the shake- up was actually done because of the two judges, Justices Liman and Okon Abang.

The circular by the Chief Judge of the Federal high court which was dated December 21, 2016 and addressed to “All Judges of Federal High Court,” reads in part: “In view of the fact that some divisions are currently short of judges following the recent developments in the court, it has become necessary to take urgent steps to fill in existing vacancies.

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“Affected judges are expected to resume in their new divisions by January 30, 2017.

“The judges shall continue with the hearing of criminal cases currently before them, as well as at least two witnesses have testified.”

Apart from justices Okon Abang and Justice Liman, others affected include Justice S. Saidu (moved from Lagos to Port Harcourt); Justice A.O. Faji (from Asaba to Lagos); Justice R. M. Aikawa (from Sokoto to Lagos); Justice B.O. Quadri (from Port Harcourt to Abuja); and Justice Mallong Hoommuk (from Port Harcourt to Lafia).

Others are, Justice K.K. Dagat (from Lagos to Kano); Justice Saleh Idrissa (Kano to Sokoto); Justice H.I.O. Oshomah (from Lafia to Port Harcourt) and Justice J.K. Omotosho) from Kano to Port Harcourt.

But Bar and Bench Watch learnt that the shake-up was done because of the two judges which stakeholders have branded as controversial.

The Chief Judge, it was learnt, was advised to remove them from the busy courts to douse the tension generated by their handling of certain political cases including the PDP’s political crisis suits.

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Bar and Bench Watch reports that the outspoken Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose had last week alleged that there was a plot to remove him from office through the use of the judiciary.

In his petition to the Chief Justice of Nigeria to alert him of the plot, Governor Fayose had listed Justice Okon Abang as one f the judges his political enemies wanted to compromise to resuscitate a dead case and oust him out of office.

A source close to the high echelon of the judiciary said the general redeployment was a façade.

Indeed, a critical analysis of the redeployment details showed that the Chief judge, as it appeared, did not remove  the two judges for instance to fill vacancies in some existing divisions of the court as he claimed

For instance, only Justice Okon Abang was redeployed from the Abuja division of the court.

But in his place, Justice B.O. Quadri  was also redeployed from Port Harcourt to Abuja to fill Abang’s slot.

Likewise, three justices were moved from the Port-Harcourt division of the Federal high court to other divisions while three judges were also moved from other divisions to the Port-Harcourt division of the court.