A lawyer and human rights' activist, Timipa Jenkins Okponipere, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to sack Supreme Court Judge, Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili over allegations of judicial misconduct and abuse of privilege.
SaharaReporters gathered that Okponipere's troubles with the Odilis began sometime in December 2006 when he led his law firm, First Law Solicitors, to conduct a referendum on corruption and politically-motivated killings in Rivers State under the former governor Peter Odili and Justice Mary Peter-Odili as First Lady of the state.
Following the widely acclaimed referendum, Odili lost the presidential primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held on December 12, 2006, at the Eagle Square, Abuja.
The former governor also lost out in the shadow race for the PDP Vice presidential ticket, as Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was declared the running mate to Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua, the eventual winner of the presidential ticket.
Odili and his spouse, Justice Mary Peter-Odili reportedly saw Okponipere as the architect behind their loss of the PDP presidential and vice-presidential tickets, and promptly got him arrested and charged before Justice Biobele Georgewill of the Rivers State High Court on January 17, 2007.
The matter subsequently progressed from the Rivers State High Court to the Court of Appeal (Port Harcourt Division) and eventually, to the Supreme Court in 2010.
By that time, however, Justice Mary Peter-Odili was already a Justice of the apex court, and she eventually sat on the Supreme Court panel which heard and determined the suit on February 8, 2013: a criminal appeal in which her spouse was the Chief Complainant and Prosecutor against Okponipere.
The lawyer in a statement made available to SaharaReporters said several petitions he wrote to the National Judicial Council (NJC) against the judge were not acted on.
He urged the Nigerian Bar Association to pressure Justice Peter-Odili to submit herself to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the NJC while the commission should redeem its image by standing up to its responsibility.
Okponipere called on President Buhari to rescue the situation as the judge “deserves nothing but dismissal from the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”
He said, “Justice Mary Peter-Odili abused her position as a Judge of the apex court in the country when she simultaneously became the Complainant, the Prosecutor and the Judge in Criminal Appeal No: SC 250/2010 (TIMIPA OKPONIPERE Vs. STATE) which came before the Supreme Court in 2013.
“This unprecedented judicial misconduct is capable of seeing her being dismissed from the Supreme Court bench. In the over 60 years history of the modern Supreme Court of Nigeria, not a single Justice of the revered apex court in the country, apart from Justice Mary Peter-Odili, has been so dragged before the NJC for such an unbefitting judicial conduct.
“The legal principle/maxim of NEMO JEDEX IN CAUSA SUA (one cannot be a Judge in his own cause) is an elementary principle of Law. For a Supreme Court Judge of Mary Peter-Odili’s calibre, she rose through the ranks from the Magistracy to fall foul to such an elementary principle, explains her shallow knowledge of Law but deep involvement in judicial corruption.
“On January 12, 2007 the Rivers State Government filed an 8 counts Information/Charge known as CHARGE NO: PHC/30CR/2007 (STATE Vs. TIMIPA OKPONIPERE) at a Rivers State High Court sitting at Port Harcourt against TIMIPA JENKINS OKPONIPERE, Port Harcourt lawyer and human rights activist, upon a criminal complaint by the then Governor of the State, His Excellency, Sir (Dr) Peter Odili. Certified true copy of the 8 counts Information/Charge is attached herewith.
“All of the 8 counts of the Information/Charge were directly linked or connected with the person of Dr. Peter Odili and his failed 2007 presidential bid. So, under his watch as Governor of Rivers State, vigorous prosecution of the matter commenced before Justice Biobele Georgewill (now of the Court of Appeal). Dr. Peter Odili thus became the Complainant and the Prosecutor in the matter while Mr. Okponipere, being a Legal Practitioner, defended himself in person.
“By means of an Interlocutory Appeal, the matter progressed from the Rivers State High Court to the Court of Appeal (Port Harcourt division) and eventually, to the Supreme Court in Abuja as Criminal Appeal No: SC 250/2010 (TIMIPA OKPONIPERE Vs. STATE). At about the same period, Justice Mary Peter-Odili, wife to Dr. Peter Odili (the Complainant and Prosecutor), had also been newly elevated to the Supreme Court bench.
“By virtue of her status as wife to Dr. Peter Odili (the Complainant and Prosecutor), Justice Mary Peter-Odili ought to have recused herself from hearing and delivering Judgment in Criminal Appeal No: SC 250/2010 (TIMIPA OKPONIPERE Vs. STATE) when the matter progressed to the Supreme Court.
“However, against all known canons of natural justice, equity and good conscience, Justice Mary Peter-Odili shamelessly and brazenly sat on the 5-man panel of Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which heard and delivered Judgment in a Criminal Appeal where her husband, Dr. Peter Odili, was the Complainant and the Prosecutor. Automatically therefore, she simultaneously became the Complainant, the Prosecutor and the Judge, in her own cause. This was a clear and manifest abuse of judicial privilege.
“Judgment was delivered in the matter on February 8, 2013 with Justice Olukayode Ariwoola delivering the Lead Judgment. Other members of the 5-man panel of Justices included Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad (the current Chief Justice of Nigeria & Chairman, National Judicial Council); John Afolabi Fabiyi; Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili (delivered Concurring Judgment) and; Kumah Bayang Akaahs. Certified true copy of the Lead Judgment and Justice Mary Odili’s Concurring Judgment are attached herewith.
“In a petition on oath filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja on July 17, 2020 (over a year ago!) and submitted same day to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria & Chairman of the NJC, Mr. Okponipere urged the NJC to take disciplinary action against Justice Mary Peter-Odili for gross violation of Rules 8 and 12 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers in Nigeria. Copy of Mr. Okponipere’s petition to the NJC is attached herewith.
“Rule 8.1 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers in Nigeria states thus: A Judge shall not allow the Judge’s family, social or political relationships improperly to influence the Judge’s judicial conduct and judgment as a Judge.
“Rule 8.3 of the Code imposes a duty on Judicial Officers to avoid pursuing self-interest. It states: A Judge who takes advantage of the judicial office for personal gain by his or her relative or relation abuses power. A Judge must avoid all activity that suggests that his or her decisions are affected by self-interest or favoritism, since such abuse of power profoundly violates the public’s trust in the judiciary.
“Rule 12 of the Code makes provision for “Disqualification”. Justice Mary Peter-Odili is particularly liable under this Rule. Among others, Rule 12.1 states: A Judge should disqualify himself in a proceeding in which his impartiality may genuinely and reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to the instances where: (a) he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or personal knowledge of facts in dispute; (c) he knows that he individually or as a Judicial Officer or his spouse or child; has a financial or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.
“In a letter with Reference No. NJC/F.1/SC.11/I/241 dated 24th August, 2020 the Honourable Dr. Justice I. T. Muhammad, CFR Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman, National Judicial Council acknowledged receipt of Mr. Okponipere’s petition and assured him that action was being taken. Copy of the letter is attached herewith.
“However, more than a year after, no action has been taken against Justice Mary Peter-Odili. There seems to be a grand design by the NJC to sweep Mr. Okponipere’s legitimate petition under the carpet. Once Justice Mary Peter-Odili retires from the Supreme Court bench in May, 2022 the petition shall naturally become worthless.
“No responsible government would sit idly and watch its Supreme Court being denigrated and ridiculed by the controversial actions of one of the Justices of the same Honourable Court. Accordingly, I call on President Muhammadu Buhari, Africa’s Champion of Anti-Corruption, to rescue the situation. Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili deserves nothing but DISMISSAL from the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“The NBA should be made to call on Justice Mary Peter-Odili to submit herself to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the NJC. 30. The NJC should redeem its image by standing up to its responsibility. Firm and decisive disciplinary action should be taken against Justice Mary Odili, without delay. Finally, the media should jettison all forms of gullibility and display courage and bravery in the overall interest of preserving the integrity and dignity of the Judiciary in the country.”