Judges’ sanction: Ex-NHRC chairman faults NJC’s disciplinary measures

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Court declares sections of Nigerian Press Council
Court declares sections of Nigerian Press Council

Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has faulted the recent disciplinary measures meted out to three judges by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

Odinkalu alleged that the NJC, under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, “has destroyed its own credibility.

He spoke in an interview on Channels TV programme: “Politics Today,” monitored by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja.

NAN reports that the NJC, at its 105th meeting dated May 16 but made available to newsmen on Monday, issued warning letters to three judges and barred two of them from elevation to higher bench for a period.

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Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court (FHC), Abuja was barred from being elevated to a higher Bench for a period of two years “for abuse of discretionary power of a judge by wrongly granting an ex-parte order in suit number: FHC/ABJ/C/626/2023 Juliet Ebere Nwadi Gbaka & 2 Ors V Seplat Energy Plc & 12 Ors.”

Justice G. B. Brikins-Okolosi of Delta State High Court was also barred from being elevated to a higher Bench for a period of three years “for failure to deliver judgement within stipulated period in Joseph Anene Okafor Vs Skye Bank, suit number: A/94/2010 after parties had filed and adopted their final written addresses.”

However, the NJC cautioned Justice Amina Shehu of Yobe State High Court for issuing writ of possession conferring title on the defendant in suit number: YBS/HC/NNR/1cv/2020 when there was no subsisting judgement of any court to enable His Lordship issue the writ.”

Reacting in the interview, Odinkalu said the measures had destroyed the system of discipline and accountability in the judiciary.

“One of the so-called disciplinary measures announced by the NJC last Friday was against a judge of the Yobe State High Court who issued a warrant of possession without an underlined judgment.

“That really is burglary; it is at the minimum, a theft. So a judge decides to issue a warrant to collect somebody else’s property with no judgment underlying it.

“That is a crime! Do you know what the NJC did? They said ‘they are going to write a love letter to this woman to warn her not to do it again.’

“If you did that kind of thing (pointing to the journalist), you will be in jail, either as a pretrial detainee or a convict,” he said.

Odinkalu, who is also a lawyer, said even though the judge was found to have done this, the NJC resolved to write to caution her.

He described the NJC’s act as “a slap on the wrist.”

Citing another instance, he said: “Another of the cases they announced was a judge in Delta State who wasted seven years after address without issuing a judgment.

“They also said they were going to issue a warning and he will not be promoted for another three years.”

According to Odinkalu, that is destroying the system of discipline and accountability in the judiciary.

“You cannot tell me and you cannot tell any reasonable Nigerian that a judge who abuses their power for the purpose of stealing other people’s property under colouration of the rule of law, manifestly, should be written and be cautioned.

“The person does not have any business being a judge, but because this chief justice has wasted the authority of the judiciary, he cannot run a disciplinary system that works. That is the problem.

“So all of those announcements on discipline they made last Friday, absolutely made my point that this current chief justice lacks the authority to say anything credible on discipline and accountability in the judiciary,” he concluded.

The human rights activist, who condemned the recommendation of Ariwoola’s family members as judges in the latest list of 86 judicial officers, advised President Bola Tinubu not to single out judges for salary increase.

He said increasing the salaries of judges without commensurate increase in the judiciary workers’ salaries would be counter-productive because the output of judges depends on the wellbeing of the judiciary staff members.

“You cannot just single out judges because they are not the only people in the system.

“By singling out judges will ensure that this will not be sustainable,” he said.(NAN)

By Taiye Agbaje

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