No fewer than six judges, kicked out of office in 2016 and another one since 2011, have escaped full sanctions due to the failure of the Presidency, the police, and some state governors to implement key recommendations of the National Judicial Council against the affected judicial officers, The PUNCH has learnt.
The PUNCH’s findings revealed that the judges, who were either compulsorily retired or dismissed, have yet to be visited with the full weight of the NJC’s recommendations.
The NJC, in its response to a letter dated June 28, 2017, by The PUNCH, requesting information on the status of the implementation of the recommended sanctions against the affected judges, confirmed that the executive arm of government, at both the federal and state levels, failed to act on the recommendations.
The request by the newspaper was anchored on the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2011.
The affected judges include Justice Mohammed Tsamiya of the Court of Appeal; Justice Mohammed Yunusa of the Federal High Court; Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court and Justice Ugbo Ononogbo of the High Court of Abia State.
Others are Justices Musa Ibrahim Anka of the Zamfara State High Court as well as Justices Idris Evuti and Tanko Yusuf Usman of the Niger State High Court.
President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari; Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje; Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Bello; the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, and the Nigeria Police Force, have failed to implement the NJC’s recommendations against the judges.
Although none of the affected judges is still on the bench, the failure to fully implement the NJC’s full recommendations casts doubt on the sincerity of the government to rid the judiciary of corruption and other acts of misconduct.
The PUNCH’s letter requesting information about the seven judges was addressed to the Secretary of the NJC and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, who is also the Chairman of the NJC.
Both the NJC’s secretary and the CJN received The PUNCH’s letter on June 29, 2017.
The NJC’s response to the newspaper’s request, dated July 17, 2017, was signed by its Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye.
In the letter, the NJC stated that its recommendations, such as the ones requesting that the money, collected by two of the judges for the period which they allegedly overstayed in office through alleged age falsification, should be deducted from their gratuities and remitted to the NJC were not implemented.
Evuti and Usman, recommended for compulsory retirement for allegedly falsifying their ages, fall into this category.
Since the allegations upon which the judges were compulsorily retired were also criminal in nature, this newspaper requested to know if they were prosecuted.
Responding to the inquiries, the NJC stated, “The Council is not aware of the above-mentioned judges of Niger State, who falsified their ages, have been prosecuted or not.
“The Council recommended to the Government of Niger State to deduct all salaries received by Hon. Justice Evuti from September 2015, till April 2016, when he was recommended for compulsory retirement from his gratuity and remit same to the National Judicial Council.
“It also recommended the deduction of salaries received by Hon. Justice Tanko Usman from June 2015 to June 2016, when he was removed.
“However, till date, the money has not been remitted to the Council.”
The NJC also confirmed that the recommendations for the compulsory retirement and dismissal of some of the judges accused of misconduct have yet to be approved by the President or the relevant state governors.
Under Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, NJC’s recommendation for the compulsory retirement or dismissal of a judge requires an approval of either the President or the governor of the relevant state.
Without the approval of the President or the governor, the NJC cannot give effect to its powers to suspend the judges and will remain so, no matter how long, until the recommendation is approved by the relevant executive authority.
Going by the procedure, if the NJC fails to take the step of suspending the judges before the relevant executive authorities give their approval, the affected judges will remain on the bench and continue to receive salaries for as long as the executive’s approval lingers.
The NJC confirmed in its response to The PUNCH that the Presidency had yet to approve the removal of Justice Yunusa, recommended for compulsory retirement in July 2016.
It added that the Zamfara State governor had yet to approve the NJC’s recommendation for the removal of Justice Anka since May 2011 while the Kano State governor had also refused to endorse Justice Auta’s ouster since September 2016, who was recommended for dismissal in September 2016.
Those, who were recommended by the NJC to the police for criminal investigation and prosecution are Justices Auta (Kano High Court) and Ononogbo (Abia State High Court).
Reacting to the newspaper’s request, the NJC’s letter stated, “I am directed to inform you that the Council has not received approval from the Presidency on its recommendation for the compulsory retirement of Hon. Justice Mohammed Yunusa of the Federal High Court since the letter was forwarded to the Presidency in July 2016.
“The Council, in the same vein, recommended to the Zamfara State Governor the removal of Hon. Justice Musa Anka of the Zamfara State High Court for gross misconduct in May 2011, but till date, the Zamfara State Governor has not forwarded any response to the National Judicial Council.
“In September 2016, the Council also recommended the compulsory retirement of Hon. Justice Kabiru Auta of the Kano State High Court of Justice to the Kano State Governor but till date, no response has been received from the Kano State Governor on the letter.”
For Justices Auta and Ononogbo, recommended for prosecution, the NJC stated that it had “become functus officio”, meaning it could not reopen the cases.
The PUNCH also requested to know if the police took up the case against Justice Tsamiya, who was also accused of acts of misconduct, which were criminal in nature.
But the NJC stated, “The answer to your question on their prosecution is better directed to the Police authorities in the various states.”
On September 2, 2016, the NJC announced its decision to recommend to President Muhammadu Buhari, the compulsory retirement of a Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, Justice Mohammed Tsamiya.
Justice Tasmiya was sanctioned for allegedly meeting with a party to a case before him, Nnamdi Oji, three times.
On each occasion of the meetings, Justice Tsamiya was alleged to have demanded the sum of N200m to help influence the Court of Appeal panel in Owerri, sitting on election cases that arose from the 2015 general elections.
The NJC recommended Justice Auta of Kano State High Court for dismissal and prosecution over an allegation of collecting N197m from Alhaji Kabiru Yakassai, who wrote a petition to the council against him.
Justice Auta was accused of collecting about N197m from Yakassai, under the pretext of using the money to help a then newly-appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria to secure accommodation and for Yakassai to be later rewarded with a contract by the CJN.
The judge was said to have agreed to refund the sum of N95m to Yakassai, who had petitioned the NJC, but only for him to admit during his probe before the NJC panel that he only agreed to refund N35m.
The NJC recommended that Auta be handed over to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 1, Kano, for prosecution.
Justice Ononogbo was recommended for dismissal in December 2016.
Ononogbo was said to have made two orders, in a probate case, with lawyers and court officials involved in the case ending up paying to the Probate Registry the sum of N83m instead of N200m.
Apart from recommending the dismissal of Justice Ononogbo to the Governor of Abia State, “the Council also recommended that the Hon. Judge, the Assistant Chief Registrar, Probate Division of Abia State High Court, Udeka N. C., and E. M. Ojiako, Esq., be handed over to the police for investigation.”
When contacted over the cases of Justices Evuti and Usman, who were both compulsorily retired from the Niger State judiciary’s bench, earlier on Friday, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Niger State, Mr. Nasara Danmallam, asked our correspondent to call back on Monday.
When called on Monday, Danmallam requested that he would call our correspondent back later that day but had not done so as of the time of filing this report on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the Governor of Zamfara State, Mr. Ibrahim Dosara, asked The PUNCH to direct the inquiry about Justice Anka to the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Bello Umar.
But Umar did not return calls to him and did not respond to a text message inquiry on Justice Anka, whose sacking by the NJC has yet to be approved by the Zamfara State Governor since 2011.
Commissioner for Information, Kano State, Mr. Mohammed Garuba, also neither returned our correspondent’s call nor responded to text message inquiry on Kano State governor’s alleged refusal to approve the dismissal of Justice Auta and ensure the prosecution of the sacked judge.
However, the Commissioner of Police in charge of Legal Department of the Force Headquarters in Abuja, Mr. David Igbodo, advised our correspondent to direct all inquiries concerning the prosecution of judges to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
Our correspondent contacted the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecutions, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, who expressed doubts if the NJC had sent any recommendations concerning the judges to the Presidency.
Obono-Obla, who works from the office of the AGF, said, “If they have done that, normally, the President will send the case files to this office. What I am saying is that if they (NJC) have recommended, they have to write to Mr. President, saying that the following judges, we recommended the following judges for retirement and then attach the CTC of the proceedings.
“I am not aware. There is no recommendation to the President that will not have the input of this office.”