Justice Archibong: How Fair Was His Compulsory Retirement? By Suleiman Ibrahim

Aloma MukhtarOn 20th February 2013, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and , Judicial Council, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar compulsorily Justice Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos through a memo reference NJC/F.3/FHC.22/223 over an alleged abuse of judicial process.
The truth of the matter is that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had on 21st , 2009 filed a twenty-eight count charge against the former Managing Director of the erstwhile Intercontinental Bank plc., Dr. Erastus Akingbola, at the Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division, without even having Akingbola in custody. How much investigation had even been done at that point is an open question. These charges were later amended to twenty-two counts when they later had him in custody.
In three years 2009-2012, there was no progress in the case before Justice Archibong as the only thing the SANs on the prosecution team did during the three years was to amend charges continuously. All applications sought by the SANs on the prosecution team were granted by Justice Archibong. Finally, Justice Archibong ran out of patience after three years, and gave the SANs a chance to present fresh charges. Rather than proceed to present fresh charges against Akingbola, the SANs opted to go on an appeal against the judge’s refusal to transfer the case to another judge. In other words, they abandoned the prosecution of Akingbola and made the presiding judge an issue.
What was their reason for abandoning the prosecution of Akingbola when they had been granted every application they sought over the course of three years? A case that had lasted over three years in court without head or tail.
Justice Archibong at this point decided to disband the prosecution for lack of diligent prosecution and directed the Attorney-General of the Federation to commence fresh proceedings against Akingbola with a different prosecution team, stating that the former prosecution team was a drain on the public purse.
The Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) have too much influence over the Judicial Council and appear to be a law unto themselves, and above being reproached. A judge must be master of his court and cannot be manipulated like a stooge.
The Hon. Justice I. Hwande (Chief Judge of Benue state) –led 3-man which included Hon. Justice O.O.Olapade, Chief Judge of Ogun state and Mrs Rakiya S. Ibrahim put Justice Archibong on trial at the behest of J.B.Dauda, SAN, a member of the disbanded prosecution team. Justice Archibong became the accused. Since there was no financial or corruption allegation against the embattled Justice Archibong , one wonders whether his “trial” by the Judicial Council followed due process, as he was never invited to defend himself before the and did not even know a had been set up. Did this committee know that he who kills by the sword will equally be visited by the same measure?
Similarly, it is regrettable that the CJN, as a mother saw no reason to grant audience to Justice Archibong, a Judge of over ten years standing, with several in writing from the Performance Evaluation and Monitoring of the NJC, with the most recent commendation being in February 2013. It is also regrettable that in her letter to the President she stated that Justice Archibong had appeared before her and was heard. Every member of the NJC, including the Attorney-General of the Federation knew that Justice Archibong was not granted fair hearing as he was in far away Malta, an island nation in the Mediterranean sea, on assignment at the time his case was being decided.
For the CJN to have jettisoned the recommendation of the Justice Hwande-led which was a ‘warning’, and superimposed the ultimate draconian sanction of “compulsory retirement” is not only inhuman, but goes to show the extent of power and control J.B.Daudu (SAN) and his band of brother SANs have over the National Judicial Council.
In this judicial coup d’état ,the Attorney-General of the Federation shares a lot of the blame because as the Chief Law Officer of the country, to whom all the proceedings of the Akingbola case were forwarded, he decided to misinform as well as misguide the President into swiftly approving the compulsory retirement of Justice Charles Archibong.
Suleiman Ibrahim, who lives at no 18 Ibrahim Taiwo road, Ilorin. Can be reached on [email protected]

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